TrustNews June 2019

 

Meadowlands: an everyday tale of demolition and redevelopment
in the ancient capital of England

 

The City of Winchester Trust, as often happens, was asked in April to view some changes to a plan for housing. The application on the council website was headed Meadowlands, Stockbridge Road, and was minor amendments to unspecified work. This set alarm bells ringing for people who knew the house, on the corner of Woodpecker Drive, set back from Stockbridge Road behind wide lawns, and with wonderfully harmonious Arts & Crafts proportions in red brick and tile.

 

It turned out, however, that the application, filed in February this year, was not for Meadowlands itself, but for changes to a plan by McCarthy & Stone for a 61-bed retirement home on a nearby site. it must be said it was not well received by the architects and others on the consultation panel.

 

Meadowlands itself, however, then turned out to have been the subject of an earlier application, in 2017, when demolition consent was granted by officers’ delegated powers, never having been seen by a planning committee. This emerged from two letters to the Hampshire Chronicle, in late March and early April, the second of which had a photo. I immediately thought l should try to get the building listed, to protect it. If it's too big for current occupiers it could be divided into two or three, but should not be demolished.

 

I contacted Andrew Napier at the Chronicle, who kindly put me in touch with Caroline Hayes, the writer of the second letter, who has known the house since the 1950s. She had written that Meadowlands had been the home of early 20th century romantic novelist Ethel M. Dell. As one reason for listing is a building's connection with a significant person, l set about finding out about Ethel M. Dell and also trying to establish when and by whom the house was designed. What follows is an account of guesswork and wild goose chases, of attempted links and frustrated hope.

 

Several hours in the Hampshire Record Office revealed that the house was not nearly as old as l had assumed. lt looks like something from the William Morris/Philip Webb era, that is, from the last third of the 19th century. In fact it appears to have been built in the late 1920s or early 30s – it makes its first appearance on the OS map that was surveyed in 1932. The plan of the house then is just as it is now, as seen on Google Earth. Unfortunately that is about all the Record Office revealed, although l did find that after Ethel M. Dell's death in 1939 it was bought by Herbert Johnson who had commissioned Marsh Court, down the road, from Lutyens 35 years earlier. Meadowlands looks to me not unlike several of Lutyens‘ small-scale works.

 

There is nothing to be found about Meadowlands’ architect or whoever commissioned it. It has similarities to Salters - the two plots were once adjoining, before large slices of both were taken off and sold for development. I prodded the archives to see if the houses might share an architect, to no avail.

 

Salters was designed in 1928 by G. Gordon Stanham, 1857-1931, not a household name but who appears to have been a very successful City of London architect who studied in his father’s practice. He was a Common Councillor in the City of London, and designed for the City of London Brewery Company and for the Orphan Working School and Alexandra Orphanage, said by the Shoreditch Observer when reporting on its annual festival dinner at the Savoy (no irony, I’m sure, intended) in 1911 to be the oldest charity of its kind in the Empire. He was chairman of the Streets committee; when the same newspaper reported in 1913 on its annual dinner one of those present was one John Stopher. It's interesting to wonder if there is any relationship to the Winchester Stophers, father and son, both architects at much the same time.

 

When Stanham died the architectural press barely noticed. He received a few lines in the RIBA Journal and a note with his name and date of death only in the Builder. His City work looks to be standard Edwardian baroque. If his late work mostly resembled Salters - that is only a guess as there is so little on record - he had been left far behind by the modern movement.

 

The Lutyens Society reports that they can find no connection between Lutyens and Stanham, although Lutyens went on designing brick buildings on a similar domestic scale until his death in 1944. His reputation was secure, so being unfashionable was unimportant.

 

Unfortunately being unfashionable has doomed Meadowlands, whoever designed it and whoever it was built for, to ignoble redevelopment.

 

The response from Historic England was that Meadowlands is “a late example of an Arts and Crafts type house, which is conservative and largely derivative in design; the elevations do not form a particularly strong or cohesive composition and do not have the necessary design quality for listed houses of the period; there is no claim that the fixtures and fittings are of special interest, and no mention of any particular features are referred to in the 1949 sales brochure provided with the application."

 

So that’s that. Ethel M. Dell is similarly dismissed as a best-selling author and her connection with the house as of local interest. Ethel M. Dell had, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, nine million followers, and was the subject of jealous derision from Rebecca West, George Orwell and other litterateurs. She never sought to appeal to their readerships. One of her books was, at the time of researching, for sale on eBay for over £300. And there is no mention in the HE decision of the Herbert Johnson connection because the HE officer in charge went on leave before l could prove it and send it in, and it appears no-one else picked up his urgent casework, although l had made it clear at the outset that demolition consent had been given. Only when the wrecking ball is poised nowadays will HE consider most listing applications.

 

I'm told there are moves by developers to acquire much of Woodpecker Drive, built in the grounds of Meadowlands. (This may be the McCarthy & Stone plans.) I shall not be defending their architectural or aesthetic merit, although there are trees worth protecting. But a similar move to flatten Salters would not surprise me in the least. As the setting and context of these lovely, craftsman-like, houses is compromised, they become harder to defend. If these houses for the rich were replaced with houses that ordinary people could afford, it might matter less, but large detached houses, even in cramped grounds, will be unaffordable to most. The losses will not solve Winchester’s real housing problems.

 

At least it’s an easy journey to Stockbridge, where there are still independent shops and considerable character. Although there are designs on the meadows there too...

 

Judith Martin