Alton Estate, Wandsworth
An extensive and historically significant municipal estate situated on Roehampton’s border with Richmond Park
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.