Alton Estate

Alton Estate, Wandsworth

An extensive and historically significant municipal estate situated on Roehampton’s border with Richmond Park

The Alton estate, image scanned from a photoprint

Much of the land here­abouts con­sti­tut­ed the grounds of Park­stead, a Pal­la­di­an vil­la built in the 1760s for Lord Bess­bor­ough and lat­er renamed Man­re­sa House. Parts of its grounds were devel­oped from around 1850 as a high-class sub­ur­ban estate known as Coombe Park or Roe­hamp­ton Park. Alton Lodge was an ear­ly-19th-cen­tu­ry vil­la on the Kingston Road, occu­pied by Dr Thomas Hake from around 1854 until 1872.

In 1951 the architect’s depart­ment at the Lon­don Coun­ty Coun­cil select­ed this area as the site for one of the largest and most rad­i­cal hous­ing devel­op­ments ever under­tak­en in Lon­don. The best vil­las and some of the land­scap­ing were pre­served but 130 acres were oth­er­wise total­ly cleared to make way for the project.

The Scan­di­na­vian-inspired Alton East was com­plet­ed in 1955 and it was fol­lowed four years lat­er by the much larg­er Alton West, which was influ­enced by the high-rise cre­ations of the French archi­tect Le Cor­busier. Both stages include a mix of tow­er blocks, maisonettes and ter­raced hous­es, per­mit­ting a com­bi­na­tion of high pop­u­la­tion den­si­ty with exten­sive open spaces. The slabs on stilts of Down­shire Field were the estate’s most impor­tant inno­va­tion but nov­el con­struc­tion, heat­ing and ven­ti­la­tion sys­tems were also employed.

In 2002 Wandsworth coun­cil took back con­trol of the estate from the res­i­dents’ man­age­ment organ­i­sa­tion, fol­low­ing its dec­la­ra­tion of insol­ven­cy. This brought to an end the largest such ven­ture in the UK, which had been over­whelm­ing­ly sup­port­ed in a bal­lot of ten­ants three years ear­li­er.

The Alton estate has an eth­ni­cal­ly diverse pop­u­la­tion, speak­ing Croa­t­ian, French, Por­tuguese and sev­er­al African lan­guages. The estate is now a con­ser­va­tion area and most of the build­ings also have list­ed sta­tus.

Dr Thomas Hake of Alton Lodge was a cousin of General Gordon of Khartoum and a friend of Dante Gabriel Rosetti. The poet and painter stayed at Alton Lodge in 1872 while recovering from a mental collapse.

Postal district: SW15