The Pioneering Days of the Early Post-War Years (15 June 1973)
One of the fascinations of living in Bletchley for the past 27 years has been to observe its growth from a town of around 9,000 people to one of over 30,000.
It has been a real pioneering job in almost every way, not so very unlike an American Mid-west development except for the absence of six-shooting sheriffs. And it has given local endorsement of the old saying that life is just “one damned thing after another.”
I arrived at about the time the old Greater London Plan was published. This envisaged the expansion of Bletchley and Aylesbury to populations of about 60,000 each in the following ten years, but there was to be practically no development of other towns in North Bucks.
The Gazette’s comment on the proposal was:
‘The planning of this new Bletchley will, one imagines, be subject to the control of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and there seems no doubt that considerable financial assistance will be forthcoming from government sources.
No town of the present size of Bletchley could possible finance its own growth to seven times its present size in ten years.’
Nevertheless, the expansion prospect was greeted enthusiastically by Bletchley Council. If any considerable number of the resident population did not agree, they did not show it at the ballot box.
The plan itself soon ran into practical difficulties.
A certain Col Turner, sent by the government to investigate the practicalities of the proposal, concluded that because of the likely effect on the drainage and water supplies of this and other areas downstream, Bletchley’s growth should be limited to no more than 20-odd thousand souls.
There was then much to-ing and fro-ing between Bletchley Council Offices and Whitehall. There was also so much apparent hesitation at the Whitehall end that the prospective Conservative candidate for North Bucks, Major Sydney F. Markham, now Sir Frank Markham, roundly declared that It would be better if Bletchley went ahead under its own steam.
His favourite word for the Labour government of that day and especially for its planning minister was “dithering.” It reminded me of the wartime speeches of Churchill and his favourite word, “sombre” (sic).
In due course, the financial problems attending artificially-expanded towns were partly ironed out in the Town Development Act, 1952. It is no secret that Bletchley was the guinea pig for that statute and that many of its terms resulted from problems first encountered here and solutions first suggested here.
The Saints estate was the first local development under that Act and the fact that its shopping centre bears the date, 1950 – two years earlier than the Act – is an indication of how far Bletchley was involved in its preparation.
Later the development did run into financial trouble for all that and it was actually halted by the council for a time pending an improvement in terms.
The target then was 25,000 but the then clerk of Bletchley Council, Mr. R.L. Sherwood, confided to me with that characteristic twinkle in his eye that in the natural order of things development would be hardly likely to end there!
Later, as we all know, it was decided that this self-same place, was capable of serving not merely 22,000 or 25,000 people but of becoming a major part of a new city of quarter of a million!
That sudden transformation of opinion has always astonished and puzzled me. Is it really possible that in less than 20 years there has been such a revolution in the technology of drainage and water supplies? Or was Col Turner all wrong about it in the first place? If there ever has been a direct explanation, I don’t remember it.
One difficulty about the expansion has been that two apparently conflicting national requirements have been involved. One has been the need to hive off London’s “overspill” (what a word!). The other has been the need to generate peak performance in the brick-making industry to meet the perpetual housing shortage.
The expansionists who have been in an ever-increasing majority, have been concerned with making the district as attractive as possible to newcomers. They have seen the intensification of brickmaking as an environmental nuisance.
On the other side, there was urgent need for bricks, especially after the war to make up the five-year leeway. To have more bricks you had to have more brickworkers and this first meant providing houses for them to live in. To achieve this, Bletchley received special quotas primarily for housing brickworkers but also for relieving its own post war waiting list.
The result was that for several years Bletchley headed the country’s urban districts for the number of houses built.
Further than that, local prosperity has long been bound up to some extent with the prosperity of the brick-works. This is not so apparent as it used to be.
Thanks to various factors which I need not go into, the brickworks do not seem to hold the same environmental threat as formerly. Gravel extraction now bodes to become as great a problem.
Despite everything, Bletchley has continued expanding. But at what real rate? No doubt you, dear reader, find it as intriguing as I do that Bletchley, far from growing sevenfold in ten years, has not yet grown fourfold in the 27 years that have elapsed since that original idea. And this will please you or not, according to your lights.