Nostalgia: Elm Park - a garden city

Elm Park station was instrumental in the development of the suburb. PIC: Rosalind Butt

Elm Park station was instrumental in the development of the suburb. PIC: Rosalind Butt - Credit: Archant

Elm Park began in 1933. It was developed by Costains, the builders, with finance from the Halifax Building Society.

The Elm Park Hotel - the town's first pub

The Elm Park Hotel - the town's first pub - Credit: Archant

The name came from a farm (remembered in Farm Way) but Costains probably wanted to borrow the cachet of a smart street in Chelsea, Elm Park Gardens.

The aim was a population of 35,000 people, living in owner-occupied houses. Elm Park would have eight schools, five shopping centres, two churches and an inn.

Costains donated Harrow Lodge Park.

The proprietor of a major Oxford Street cinema bought a site to erect a 3,000-seater picture house, part of a chain that already operated cinemas at Upminster, Hornchurch and Chadwell Heath.

But when Elm Park was formally launched in May 1935, only 500 houses had been built.

Elm Park was a downmarket project. Sir Enoch Hill, President of the Halifax, spoke of encouraging “the migration of the working class population from rented houses in overcrowded areas to healthy, up-to-date houses in the outer suburbs.”

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To our ears, Sir Enoch sounds patronising, but he had turned the small-town Halifax Building Society from a local benefit club into one of the world’s largest financial organisations, offering cheap mortgages which made house purchase possible for ordinary people.

Costains’ market research found that housewives wanted a large family kitchen, where they keep an eye on the kids while they cooked. This was a feature of early Elm Park houses.

Two factors helped launch Elm Park. One was the arrival of Ford’s in Dagenham. Ford workers were well paid and wanted to live near the factory.

The other was the District Line, which was extended from Barking to Upminster in 1932, alongside the existing Fenchurch Street railway. Electric trains ran every twenty minutes, right into central London.

On May 18, 1935, the Minister of Health, Sir Hilton Young, formally opened Elm Park Station, unlocking the gates with a silver key.

Then he entered Elm Park through a ceremonial arch and cut a ribbon to declare the estate open.

By 1939, 2,600 houses had been built, and Costains were now calling the suburb “Elm Park Garden City”.

In April that year, there was a week-long community festival, which featured “a display of ju-jitsu by women.” Elm Park ladies enjoyed unarmed combat.

World War Two ended the Garden City. Post-war housing needs led to large-scale building of council housing.

Maybe Elm Park could become a Garden City again?