Landscape at Fieldend
- Heritage Category:
- Park and Garden
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Statutory Address:
- Fieldend, Twickenham, TW1 4TF
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- Statutory Address:
- Fieldend, Twickenham, TW1 4TF
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Greater London Authority
- Richmond upon Thames (London Borough)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
A private estate of 51 houses designed by Eric Lyons and Partners for Span Developments in 1959-1960. The landscape is by Michael Brown, working alongside Lyons and Ivor Cunningham. The private gardens of the houses are not included in the registered area.
Reasons for Designation
The landscape at Fieldend, 1959-1960, by Michael Brown with Eric Lyons and Partners, is registered at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as one of the most distinctive of a series of infill schemes which typified the work of Span Developments, important for the shared vision of architect and speculative developer at a time when good design was otherwise almost wholly in the hands of the public sector.
* strongly encapsulating the holistic approach to landscape, architecture and planning at the core of Span’s work, the site integrates the built and natural environment to engender a sense of community and identity; * Collaboration: as one of the first examples of an architect and specialist landscape architect working in close collaboration on a housing estate outside the new towns; * Planting: combining formal and informal elements, varied scale and grouping to create a rich series of spaces drawn together into a unified, naturalistic ensemble; * Authorship: as an early work, and sometime home, of a highly distinguished landscape architect of the post-war period.
Fieldend is a small housing development in Twickenham built in 1959-60 by Span, a development company established by Geoffrey Townsend and Eric Lyons. The landscape was designed by Michael Brown, working alongside Lyons and his assistant, Ivor Cunningham.
The site had previously been used as nursery gardens, with the surrounding streets developed for housing from the early 1890s through to 1900. The nursery site was partially covered by large greenhouses, abandoned by the 1930s and their dereliction completed when a bomb landed in November 1940. The land was partly worked for gravel in the late 1940s and was then infilled by tipping, with the rest used as allotments.
Townsend bought the land in 1958-1959, when he made a planning application in the name of Priory Hall Ltd. Each of his developments before 1963 were financed separately although the completed houses were marketed as by his umbrella company ‘Span’. Twickenham Metropolitan Borough granted permission on 30 November 1959 for 51 houses and 43 garages (another seven garages behind 12 Waldegrave Park were approved the next year), at a density of 49.03 persons per acre (usually given as 50 ppa in the literature). The houses, which were designed to Lyons’ standard ‘T7’ and ‘T8’ type, were completed in December 1960. The scheme won a Ministry of Housing and Local Government Gold Award in 1961 and a Civic Trust Award in 1962.
Geoffrey Townsend (1911-2002) and Eric Lyons (1912-80) met when studying architecture part-time at Regent Street Polytechnic in the mid-late 1930s. Townsend set up his own practice in 1937 and was joined by Lyons a year later. Their work was interrupted by the war, but in 1945 they renewed operations and began to develop small infill sites in the Twickenham and Richmond areas. Most were short terraces of houses to a standard design, with a couple of larger developments of flats (one with shops) in Richmond. However, until 1982 the RIBA did not allow its members to act as both architect and developer on the same project and, unable to find a client in tune with their ideas, in 1953 Townsend resigned his membership to work full-time as a developer. They continued to work together, with Lyons providing most of the subsequent designs for Span housing while continuing in independent practice.
Lyons and Townsend’s first large-scale scheme was Parkleys, Richmond-upon-Thames, 1954-55 (listed at Grade II), which brought them to wide attention. Townsend devised a system of covenants and management whereby every leaseholder belonged to a management company responsible for the maintenance of the estate through a committee elected from among its number. The three elements of a simple modern design, lavish planting and a strict programme for continued management and maintenance were all rolled out across subsequent estates, which share a strong common appearance. The residents’ associations are the chief reason why nearly all Townsend’s estates have a very strong sense of community and survive little altered.
Lyons brought in Ivor Cunningham (1928-2007) as his chief assistant in 1955. Cunningham had studied architecture at the Architectural Association and landscape design at Newcastle (then part of the University of Durham), and assisted Brenda Colvin and Sylvia Crowe before in 1954 he spent a year in Stockholm with Eric Anjou. Cunningham introduced a more sophisticated approach to landscaping, including the introduction of open front gardens. Landscape was fundamental to the ideology which underpinned Span developments. For Lyons, landscape was not just the treatment of the spaces left between buildings, it was the arrangement of the buildings to create spaces, ‘visual spaces and functional spaces’. He stated that ‘landscape should be the functional design of the space, not just a matter of bringing in a landscape-decorator to sprinkle some trees and cobbles around the place.’ (Eric Lyons and Span, p 40). Thus Span landscapes were approached holistically, with Lyons contributing to the spatial decisions early on in the planning stages. The emphasis on landscape, the separation of cars and parking from the housing areas to make safe areas for young children to play and the organisation of the estates into small communities reflected contemporary Scandinavian practice. Cunningham set the way, but subsequently he and Lyons brought in designers with a still greater specialism in landscape: first Michael Brown and then Preben Jakobsen. Lyons was responsible for the signage on Span developments, usually using a Clarendon typeface, and he designed a low mushroom topped aluminium light to illuminate the footpaths. A few of these survive on some Blackheath estates but most, as at Fieldend, have been replaced.
The critic Ian Nairn was one of the first to recognise the importance of Span’s work. Following an influential article, ‘Spec Built’, that denounced private developments, he singled out ‘a few successes’, including two schemes by Lyons ‘whose housing for Span Developments stood alone for so long and to whose pioneer work the other schemes illustrated clearly owe much’ (Architectural Review, March 1961, p 170). Fieldend was one of the two he illustrated; the other was the listed Hallgate block of flats. Today Span’s work is admired for bridging the gap between speculative housing and the best public schemes.
Michael Brown (1922-96) studied architecture at Edinburgh University. He worked for the London County Council before securing a scholarship in 1955 to study landscape design at the University of Pennsylvania under Ian McHarg, a landscape planner originally from Scotland who had a strongly ecological approach, interweaving natural and designed elements. His use of levels greatly influenced Brown’s work. Brown went on to work for the eminent designer Dan Kiley in Vermont before returning to London to work for Lyons. He settled at Fieldend, where in 1962 he set up his own practice specialising in landscape design for housing. Commissions included the Brunel Estate, Paddington; Beavers Farm in Hounslow and the Grahame Park Estate on the site of Hendon Aerodrome, both for the Greater London Council; Euston Square Gardens and the landscape plan for Redditch new town (from 1964), where ecology was a guiding principle.
In the early 1970s Brown’s practice had twenty staff and was one of the largest in the country, but with the decline of public housing it declined. Brown moved away from design work, dissolving his practice in 1981 and instead opening his own conference and field study centre to study issues such as sustainability, Yoga, Buddhism as well as landscape. He fell out with the harsh commercialism of the 1980s and produced relatively little, although his landscape for Redland Brick at Horsham won the Brick Development Association Award in 1987.
A private estate of 51 houses designed by Eric Lyons and Partners for Span Developments in 1959-1960. The landscape is by Michael Brown, a specialist landscape architect who worked alongside Lyons and his assistant, Ivor Cunningham. Fieldend is a saucepan-shaped cul-de-sac, with an outer road encircling a staggered rectangle of terraced houses facing onto a parking square and a two linked greens. There are three terraces of garages at the northern, western and eastern edges of the site. The private rear gardens contained within the common stock brick walls belong to the individual freeholders and are not included in the registration.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING Twickenham was largely developed following the arrival of the railway in 1873 as a quintessential middle-class commuter suburb, which enveloped a number of important C18 villas near the River Thames. Fieldend is on a backland plot behind the south side of Waldegrave Park. It is entered off Waldegrave Park, with a terrace of three houses to the left of the entrance facing onto the main road, and a further terrace of four just inside to the east. Otherwise the houses form a staggered rectangle of short terraces around the communal spaces of a parking square and the two linked greens. The outer boundaries, visible from the estate’s perimeter road, are the back walls and fences of the older houses in Waldegrave Park, Teddington Park Road and Arlington Road.
The largely flat site of 5.2 acres / 2.06 hectares is gravel covered with a deep layer of consolidated sand replacing 1950s infill after the site was used as a tip.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES The only entrance is from the north, off the leafy 1890s street, Waldegrave Park. The single road of the development –Fieldend – runs due south from Waldegrave Park to the parking square, and then splits to form a circular perimeter route around the back of the housing. The roads, street lighting and the main footpaths, were adopted by the local authority – unusual among the better Span schemes.
BUILDINGS The houses at Fieldend are made up of a mix of T7 and T8-type houses built between November 1959 and December 1960 with Myton Ltd of Ealing as the builders. A show home, Number 1, opened in December 1960. Because of the landfill, the houses were built on concrete slabs that rode on the sand, devised by Lyons’s favourite engineer, Z Pick, from which projecting prefabricated porches were cantilevered.
The houses are built of stock brick with large areas of glazing and weatherboarding to the main façades, with stock brick walls, originally of second-hand bricks but with repairs and renewals in a matching new brick. All have floor to ceiling picture windows in the living room giving views across open front gardens to the common greens. The houses were originally sold on a 99-year lease. Span remained the freeholder until the Leasehold Reform Act in 1967 threatened to disrupt Span’s careful management structure. At Fieldend the freeholds of the houses are now held by individual householders, subject to a ‘Scheme of Management’ ratified in 1977, but the Fieldend Residents Association Ltd bought the common areas and garages in 1986.
LANDSCAPING The front gardens of each house are legally part of the communal gardens, so the landscape reaches to the front doors, a visual touch devised by Ivor Cunningham after Townsend worried at the effect of having leaseholders (now freeholders) doing ‘their own thing’ without controls.
Brown planted 38 mature plane trees on the site, his detailed design comprising formal lines of London plane trees (Platanus x hispanica) round the entrance drive and parking square, and the east green, with a softer drift of birch trees (Betula pendula) across the centre. Other trees include European larch (Larix europaea), Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), Pride of India (Koelreuteria paniculata) and Japanese pagoda tree (Sophora japonica). In 1968 some of the plane trees were removed under his direction, as was a willow. A programme of selective removal was interrupted when a tree preservation order was served in 1974 but ten large trees were lost in the great gale of October 1987. The tree planting is now more varied, but the plane trees and birches still provide the intended contrast between more and less formal planting and the overall character is sylvan.
The greens are left to grass, with areas of low and medium-height ground cover around the pathways, separating the two greens and in front of each house. This planting was originally mainly Erica carnea, Vinca minor and Hypericum. The Hypericum was replaced and there is now a more varied but carefully managed assortment of evergreens, including Mahonia, Viburnum tinus and ground cover conifers such as junipers. Soft evergreens such as Choisya ternata 'Sundance' have been grown in front of the some of the houses to ensure that children’s ball games remain compatible with the full-height front windows. Bulbs were added at Fieldend from 1962 and include Narcissus, Galanthus (snow drops) and English bluebells. Though carefully managed, the planting is informal, mixing a general sense of openness with areas of enclosure.
Paths are a mixture of square and hexagonal concrete slabs and brick setts are used to subtly delineate space. Dome-topped concrete bollards around the parking court protect the adjacent footpaths. The back gardens of the Fieldend houses are of yellow stock brick, approximately 2m high and have white-painted timber gates.
Brown was one of the first residents of Fieldend and returned to produce a maintenance plan. The Resident’s Association has a Garden Committee which oversees the management of the planted landscape. While new species have been introduced in response to particular needs or circumstance, the spirit of the landscape is much as Brown designed.
The original 2’6” mushroom lights were replaced in the late 1990s and are now simple black columns of a similar height with a curved head. The area of children’s play equipment in the north east corner is also not original.
Books and journals
Cherry, B, Pevsner, N , The Buildings of England, London 2: South, (1983), p. 552
Strike, J, The Spirit of Span, (2005)
Woudstra, J, 'Landscape First and Last' in Simms, B, Eric Lyons and Span, (2006), pp. 35-51
Nairn, I, 'Houses at Twickenham' in Architectural Review, , Vol. 129, (March 1961), pp. 170-1
Obituary, Michael Brown, accessed 20 January 2019 from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-michael-brown-1340740.html
This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by Historic England for its special historic interest.
End of official listing