Julia Atkins, former Senior Lecturer in Housing and Planning

Julia Atkins, former Senior Lecturer in Housing and Planning (currently studying for PhD at London Metropolitan University)

Memories of Chessington: One of Macmillan’s 300,000 new homes

It must have been the end of 1951 that we moved to Sanger Avenue because my youngest sister arrived there in March 1952. We had been seven, including my grandparents, in a small 2/3 bed, owner occupied house, with a ground floor bathroom and one WC. It had a brick built bomb shelter in the back garden and there were chickens and gooseberry bushes at the end.

The new, semi-detached, council house built by Surrey County Council was red brick, had three bedrooms and plenty of pre-Parker Morris storage space. There was a bathroom upstairs with a WC and a WC downstairs near to the kitchen and the back door to the garden. There was a room at the side of the house with coal and wood bunkers, a washing machine (eventually) and lots of other junk, including bikes. If the weather was bad this room became the ‘centre’ of whatever secret society the girls in the street had formed.

I am a ‘baby boomer’ and there were lots of children on the estate. We were four girls and there were friends’ households with more girls; and, as I remember, relatively few boys who were much ‘put upon’. Our Mums did not go out to work. The street was effectively one long road of houses and there were a couple of crescent roads, in and out, joining it. The estate was also surrounded by private housing and the infants and primary schools were all safe walking distance away. To the south of the private and public housing estates, there were farms and I had a school friend whose Dad had a poultry farm.

All the houses had back gardens. Ours had a mature sycamore tree and hawthorn bushes at the bottom, which were used for making camps in the summer. There was a square lawn and a veranda, a raised patch of concrete, where we would put on plays for paying audiences – other children and parents – sat on the lawn.

We also had a small front and side garden but there was no gate to the house or any walls, fences or privet hedges. Either side of the street’s pavement were banks of grass to roll down and areas of shrubbery to hide in.

Life on our council estate was about being outside – roller skating down the hill, skipping with long ropes, ‘two balls’ up the brick walls (bump, bump …. driving my Mum inside mad),playing cricket, football or tennis, building trolleys to rival the boys’ and following ‘spies’ (unsuspecting workers walking home). We would be out most of the day in the summer.  We could decide to go to some derelict land with a ruined house to light bonfires or to the Bones Gate stream to fish or pick blackberries (to sell) or just go to the recreation ground – boring. I expect it rained but looking back it always seemed to be sunny; and every day we set off for adventures. 

We left the house and estate and moved locally. After sixteen years, my Dad bought a 1930s detached house with a garage. It was sad to leave the estate behind but, by then, I was going off to university.

It has privet hedges now and is advertised as a freehold for sale at £452,000. 


In the garden, doing a play, 1959


The estate 2022