Through the eyes of German architectural historians

and I have now been living in our house on Monks Way for almost 27 months; of the places we looked at, it was the largest we could get for what we could afford, and was in a pretty good location as well. It’s also the only place I’ve ever lived that’s been mentioned (albeit in passing) by that cataloguer of British architecture, Nikolaus Pevsner. Of course, the entry for Swaythling was actually written by David Wharton Lloyd, his collaborator on The Buildings of England: Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, but this is much like Leslie Halliwell getting someone else to write dismissive film reviews in the style of someone who loathes all films made after 1965…but I digress.

The comparison with Halliwell is probably a little unfair, because Pevsner didn’t dislike modern buildings, only buildings designed without a view to aesthetic appeal. Lloyd’s description of the University campus – presumably endorsed by Pevsner – is very complimentary about many of the buildings, most notably those designed by Spence (particularly Law, the Faraday tower and the Lanchester building) but also Ronald Sims’ Maths tower.

The description of the area as Swaythling is also a little inaccurate; properly speaking, we live in Mansbridge, but the distinction is largely academic. The estate we live on is an interesting one because of the circumstances under which it was built. The Swaythling Housing Society built our estate in the 1920s and 1930s (our house was built in 1936), partly subsidised from the profits made on other developments in the Highfield area of the city, most notably Orchards Way and Glebe Court, both off Highfield Lane. Having looked around ‘s house, I can say that the difference in build quality between Orchards Way and Monks Way is minimal. The main differences are that the external brickwork of our house is rougher and hidden by a cement render, and our house as a whole is built on a smaller scale than those on Orchards Way, although the design and layout remains excellent.

But again, I digress when I could be letting Pevsner and Lloyd do the talking:

Swaythling is an old village near the tidal head of the Itchen estuary, adjoining the church and manor house of South Stoneham. E of the railway it retained quite a lot of rural character until recently, but suburbanization (which has been a gentler process here than in many other parts of the city) is now almost complete. It still remains a distinctive area, with the University Halls of Residence in its midst and the river and the newly created riverside park in the background.

A perambulation of Swaythling ought to begin with South Stoneham Church and the adjoining Halls of Residence. WESSEX LANE leads N, still faintly countryfied, past the Station to what was the village centre, where the simple Georgian FLEMING ARMS, distinguished by a pillared porch, stands by a tributary of the Itchen. Further E, SWAYTHLING FARM, C16 to C18, has recently been swept away (although it was listed Grade II by the MHLG), and THE GRANGE opposite (also Grade II) is now doomed […] The Grange and the site of Swaythling Farm adjoin a particularly awkward road junction and, once the obvious road improvements have been carried out, there will be a chance to create a new focal centre to what was the old village. To the E of the junction, WESTFIELD CORNER is a two-storeyed clumsy neo-Georgian curving terrace of shops and flats by Herbert Collins which is effective because of its position on a steep bank. It is the frontispiece to an area of suburban housing developed gradually since 1925 by the Swaythling Housing Society (architects Herbert Collins and J.C. Birkett) in the garden city manner, not so good as Collin’s housing in the Orchards Way area of Highfield but, in its earlier parts, effective. Three closes succeed one another on the N side of Mansbridge Road. PILGRIM PLACE is dated 1925, long, low terraces on three sides of a rectangular green, connected at the angles with round-arched screens; roughcast and Roman-tiled, with simple round-headed doorways and windows of the Georgian cottage type. Three splendid trees on the green. It might be at Welwyn. CAPON CLOSE, 1926, is similar, but with classical door hoods and plain tiles, and only a small tree on the green. HOWARD CLOSE, 1927, is again slightly different and altogether bleaker because there are no trees […] The later development, S of Mansbridge Road, partly of the late 1930s and partly post-war, is pleasant, but altogether more insipid; there are plenty of grass borders and little greens (and notices forbidding one to play on them) but few felicitous general effects, and the simplified designs of the homes lack the conviction of the earlier examples.

So, our road is described as “insipid”, and the flat that recently mentioned is “clumsy”. Overall, I think that the winner in the des-res stakes must therefore be , whose road is described elsewhere by Lloyd/Pevsner as “The sort of suburban housing development which set the pattern in the better council housing estates for about ten years after the Second World War, but the stand here was seldom if ever reached.”

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