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From Brentham News, September 2017

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Humber­stone Garden Suburb

In the early 20th century, Garden Suburbs were springing up across the country but not all survived as well as Brentham. In the last edition we heard about Penkhull, in Stoke-on-Trent; this time Clive Evans tells the story of little known Humberstone.

Humberstone Garden suburb in Leicestershire has many parallels with Brentham, and was indeed inspired by it. The workers who formed the initial management committee were from the growing footwear industry, for Anchor Tenants Ltd with the same objects as Ealing Tenants Ltd. They had several meetings with Brentham’s founder Henry Vivian, and adopted the same Co-partnership finance model. They duly began collecting money from would-be tenants.

The shops
Terrace of shops at the heart of Humberstone

This did not go smoothly, but eventually in 1907 they bought 48 acres of land near Humberstone Village, which has its own long history. Henry Vivian was at the meeting to Terrace of shops at the heart of Humberstone formally take over the land.

Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker, who designed Brentham, were asked to help with the layout of the new suburb but this was not wholly accepted: the notion of country cottages set along \inding country lanes was rejected in favour of solid semi-detached houses along straight roads! The first pair of houses was opened in October 1908 at a rent of 6/6d per week. They had cost a total of £450 to build.

As time progressed, Humberstone - like Brentham - had its cash-flow problems, but these were overcome and building continued. By 1913 there were 350 people living there. Recreational facilities were added: a cricket pitch, bowling green, tennis courts. Unlike Brentham, shops were built and over them a large room for recreational purposes. A community spirit was encouraged, a regular magazine appeared, there were dances and lectures, whist drives and Christmas Carols.

The First World War changed everything, and building slowed. The Anchor Boot and Shoe Society closed, part of the slump of the 1930s. Leicester City extended its boundaries to include the whole suburb, and took over the playing fields by Compulsory Purchase.

Humber­stone Garden Suburb never became a conservation area, but interestingly it is still financed on co­partnership lines -probably the last one in existence. The management committee still runs the suburb, but is more interested in cost-effective management than in conservation. Recently, they replaced all the wood framed windows with plastic, double-glazed alternatives and likewise all wooden doors with plastic. Imagine the outcry in Brentham!

The shops
Humberstone today

On a recent visit to Leicester, I asked to be taken to see Humberstone Suburb, but it took some while to locate it in the midst of a large housing estate. However, the houses are still there, as is the meeting hall, and the shops. A plaque marking the centenary in 2008 declares: ‘Anchor Tenants - Not greater wealth but simpler pleasures’

The plaque
The plaque on the first house

It is to be hoped that the community spirit still survives.

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