When Housing Was A Prior-ity

In 1924, much of what is now Prior Park was merely land belonging (probably) to the Bonarstead Farm (latterly a pub until the building of Farmfoods).  According to the 1847 tithe map, it was occupied by James Bonner, hence Bonner’s Stead[ing].  Shielfield Terrace is late 19th century and there was a smattering of buildings, some 18th century, around the Grove pub.  Dominating the area was the Allan Brothers sawmill and woodyard (I remember that!) which stood on the Homebase retail park site.


Allan Brothers sawmill and woodyard looking south.  Note the absence of the Spittal Hall estate south of the Billendean. (Courtesy Historic England)


Allan Brothers sawmill and woodyard looking north.  Bonarsteads Farm is in front of the woodyard.  This area is now occupied by Tweedmouth retail park. (Courtesy Historic England)

There were a number of quarries in the area.  The King’s quarry and Queen’s quarry by the cemetery had been major sources of building material for Berwick but by the 20th century were disused.  Another was at the junction of the Etal Road and the road to East Ord.  Just off the south end of Dean Drive up the hill, is a small row of obviously older buildings which made up Brickfield Lodge.  The name gives a clue:  local clay here (and Scremerston) was used to manufacture bricks and pantiles.


Prior Park area (from the 1924 Ordnance Survey map)

In the 1930s, much of the housing in Berwick along Walkergate and behind Marygate was squalid and a programme of new house building was instigated.  


Weatherley Square, part of the rabbit warren of alleyways between Marygate and Chapel Street that were deemed unfit for habitation in the 1930s.

The council house estate in the West End of Tweedmouth had been completed by 1932 and in Berwick, Highfields was built by the end of the decade.  WWII halted the building work which was resumed after the war.
In January 1946, Berwick Council outlined its plans for capital expenditure in the forthcoming financial year.  Of the nearly £1 million pounds on new roads and footpaths, street lighting, and sewers, nearly £78,000 was to be spent on the construction of 80 new houses at Shielfield Terrace.  They were of two types.  The “No Fines” house, was designed by the Ministry of Works and produced by George Wimpey.  They were built with a ten-inch (254mm) concrete shell cast in situ. The concrete for the entire outer structure was cast in one operation using reusable formwork.  ”No-fines" refers to the type of concrete used – concrete with no fine aggregates).  


A typical “No Fines” house in Braeside.

The “Airey” house was designed by Sir Edwin Airey for the Ministry of Works.  They were pre-fabricated and consisted of concrete columns reinforced with steel tubes recycled from surplus military vehicles!  A series of shiplapped concrete panels were then tied to the posts.


A typical “Airey” house in Dean Drive.  Many have had pebbledash render added, but the example still shows the original shiplap concrete slabs.

The Housing Committee had hoped the first 40 houses would be ready by August 1946 with the remaining 40 to be finished in October.  However, constant (and understandable) shortages of building materials meant long delays.  In June the following year, the Berwick Advertiser reported that 22 houses had been occupied with the remaining 58 well under way.  Notwithstanding, 100 more “No Fines” houses had been ordered and the foundations cut.  Eventually, the work rate picked up; a Council minute records the building of one house a day.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Etal Road, there was much excitement as the Mayor, Mr Fred Stott (the artist’s father) opened the first temporary prefabricated bungalows at Valley View.  One new tenant was James Frizzell with his wife and 10 year old son.  He described their previous home, 

“…an antiquated building lacking modern conveniences and overtaxing the occupants.  Fourteen people shared a lavatory.  Water had to be carried from outside—typical of many houses in town.”  The paper enthused, “The fittings were novelties to the Frizzels—the bath…hot and cold water…and the all-electric kitchenette.”
“The ‘pre-fab’, equipped with furniture, seems quite spacious.  There are two bedrooms, a living-room, and kitchenette.  The lavatory is in a separate compartment to the bathroom.  Ample cupboard accommodation is available.
“It is estimated that rent and rates will cost the tenants approximately 15s[hillings] (75p!) a week.  Whether the all-electric kitchenette will prove to be within the means of the average wage-earner is considered debatable.”


David and Robin Hill proudly show off their new bicycles in front of their prefab at Valley View.  These “temporary houses, like elsewhere, proved popular and were eventually demolished in the early 1970s. (Courtesy David Hill)


The interior of a prefab house in Gloucester, probably similar to those in Valley View, retaining its original kitchenette.  Compared with the photo of Weatherly Square above, it is easy to see how miraculous these new homes must have seemed.  (Courtesy Historic England)

A perennial question asked is, why is it called Prior Park?  It is oft said there was a priory on the site.  Prior Park was originally called the Shielfield Estate.  The new estate name and the street names were announced in the Berwick Advertiser following the Council’s Housing Committee meetings to discuss this thorny issue.

382.  With reference to the proceedings on 14th January 1947, the Committee considered suggestions for naming the permanent housing estate at Tweedmouth, and the streets therein.

RESOLVED:  That consideration of the matter be deferred pending enquiries as to names of the fields upon which the estate is erected.
22nd January, 1947

448.  With reference to the proceedings of the Committee on 22nd January, 1947, the Town Clerk reported the land purchased from Lady Francis Osborne was known on the title as “Etal Way”.
Moved and seconded: “That the estate be known as ‘Prior Park’.”.. 
Amendment proposed and seconded: “That the estate be named ‘Etal Way’.”
On a division, there voted for “Prior Park”, 4, and for “Etal Way”, 3.
11th February, 1947

So it’s named after (presumably) Prior or Priory Field.  A reminder of this comes from the names of two properties on the Etal Road either side of Springhill Lane; Priory Hill Farm and Priory Hill Cottage.  There is no record of any priory having been on the site.  The name will derive from Lindisfarne Priory which owned much of the land on the south side of the river—hence the district, Norham and Islandshire, part of the County Palatine of Durham.  This ownership, arguably, goes back to the 7th century.  
The estate was extended south forming Springdale, Hawthorn Crescent, Braeside and Hillside, in July, 1949.

As an aside, Lord and Lady Osborne are remembered in Osborne Road and Crescent.  Blanche Ruth Brooke Tatton Grieve was married to Commander Lord Francis Granville Godolphin Osborne a younger son of George Godolphin Osborne, who from 1872 to his death in 1895 was 9th Duke of Leeds.


Commander Lord Francis Granville Godolphin Osborne, 1864–1924.


Blanche Ruth Brooke Tatton Grieve of Ord House (1869–1956).


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