Howard Cottage Society -
Meadow Way Green
by David Brightwell

Originally printed issue 68  March 1997


Mel Knights's article brought back many memories of my 28 years with Howard Cottage Society.

My first experience of communal housing, was with the Stevenage Development Corporation, and the laying of the under floor heating to Mobbsbury Court, a Department of the Environment prototype of Sheltered Housing as we know it today. That was in 1963 and it incorporated shared bathrooms between every two units of accommodation.

When I joined the Howard Cottage Society in 1967 I was surprised to discover the facilities provided by the Meadow Way Green Scheme. The earliest side, 3-21 Meadow Way Green was built in 1914 and is undoubtedly the most aesthetic, being designed by Courtenay M. Crickmer who Dr Mervyn Miller considers the most important Letchworth Architect outside the Parker & Unwin circle.

Miss Pimm and Miss Dew promoted the development, which was undertaken by Howard Cottage Society. The mixture of properties which included two and three bedroom flats, two three and four bedroom houses and a detached Managers House were designed to be a co-operative scheme for professional women. Dr. Miller states this was further defined as single business women. 

Each tenant had their own dwelling, but it was a condition of tenancy that midday meals should he taken in the Communal Dining Room. The tenants took turns in organising the menus for the week, and purchasing the ingredients, but a Cook was employed to prepare the meals. In addition the landscaped front garden area was maintained on a communal basis.

In 1924 the Southern part of the Scheme was built, numbers 8-32 Meadow Way Green and, this again, contained a Communal Dining Room and kitchen, but was larger to serve 14 dwellings compared with 10 on the North side. Arrangements for management of each side were made independently.

In the Society's archives there is considerable correspondence with the Board of Guardians regarding the first Scheme, centred on whether it fell within the definition of housing for "Working Classes" as this was vital to secure funding from The Public Works loan Board, It is amazing now that the letters were answered within two or three days.

Following the First War, building costs increased dramatically therefore, when the second scheme was built considerable savings had to be made. 

The architectural design was not as imposing as the earlier development, non-galvanised metal windows were used instead of wood and the baths were very unusual having; what is best described as a "petal" formed at the tap end, which provided a washbasin. A wooden mixer box with a swivelled tap spout enabled it to be used in the bath or basin. These were a constant maintenance problem and the baths have now all been replaced.

Both Communal Dining Rooms were still in use when I joined the Society in 1967 and continued until the early 70's when a problem arose on the North side. The Cook applied for a 50p increase to reimburse her for increasing bus fares, but the Tenants' Committee would not agree. The Cook left and the Dining Room ceased to function. Shortly after this the South side followed suit. In retrospect, I think the tenants on both sides had found the communal lunches a problem, as some were by then retired and several worked out of the district.

The Society subsequently converted the Southside dining room and kitchen into a One Bedroom Flat. Whilst work was in progress, Social Services asked us to make it into a "Wheelchair flat" and this has been used for housing the disabled. Social Services now have Nomination Rights as they funded the cost of providing the specialised kitchen equipment and other items.

Several years passed before conversion of the Communal Dining Room on the North side. It was much smaller and far from straight forward, but the bedsit flat was completed in about 1989.

Both developments are Listed as being of Historical and Architectural interest, which enabled the Society to obtain Grants from the County Council and the District Council for part of the cost of Re-roofing., the balance of the monies coming from the Government via the Housing Corporation. Being Listed. When carrying out external repairs and maintenance it is incumbent on the Society to replace "like for like" therefore, the exterior appearance of the scheme is still in its original form.