Much of the area we now call the Watling Estate had been Goldbeaters farm. In 1924 the London County Council decided to establish a number of housing estates in the areas around London, as part of the 'Homes fit for Heroes campaigns. The fourth largest of these areas was the Watling estate.
- the intention, according to the LCC, was not to clear the London area of slums, but to provide new housing
- nearly 4,000 working class dwellings were to be built in what was then a rural area
- only 14% of the final community originated from active slum clearance
- at first the plan was to use around 400 acres taken evenly from both sides of the road near to the new Burnt Oak Station, however the LCC was able to buy 387 acres of land from the purchase of Goldbeaters farm alone
- Goldbeaters had only 8 acres on the western side of the Edgware Road
Plans were drawn up by George Forrest (the London County Council's chief Architect) and 45.8 acres were put aside for use as allotments and parks, 16 for schools and other public buildings, and the rest for housing. Construction work began early in 1926. Most of the houses were made of brick, 464 were timber, and 252 were "Athol steel" houses (houses made with steel plates).
- rents ranged from 12s. 8d. to 21s 9d and there was provision of 2 roomed flats to 5 room houses
- the first family was able to move in in April 1927, and in under a year a further 2,100 families made their home on the estate
- many of the old trees from Goldbeaters farm were retained, but in June 1929 the land put aside for Watling Park was cleared of building materials
- Watling Park opened in 1931
Life on the estate
Life on the new estate was not easy. The weekly cost of commuting into London was 6 shillings, a substantial sum for working people.
Many of the new residents were from the St Pancras area of London where there were plenty of shops and other services. On the new estate however there was little in the way of infrastructure, with few of the roads made up and most of the shops in Mill Hill and Edgware.
Until 1932 the estate was one large building site, and even the first Doctor had to live in a caravan until his house was ready.
Some of the residents in the surrounding areas, referred to in the local press as the "snobocracy", did not want a working class district in the neighbourhood, and the new community was at first not made welcome.
Many could not keep up with the expense and were evicted for not paying their rent. Between 1927 and 1937 3,900 families left the new estate.
The Watling Association
In order to counter the isolation and other issues, such as under representation, a number of residents formed the Watling Association in December 1927.
A new community centre, organised by the Watling Association, was opened by the then Prince of Wales in January 1933. The aim was to provide a centre for the 20,000 or so residents, and was paid for with money provided by The Pilgrim Trust (£3,850) and the Association itself.
By 1933 when there were 3,805 separate buildings with 4,021 "separate lettings". In 1980 the estate was taken over by the London Borough of Barnet.