Sampson Society

Friday 10th March 2017 – Annual Lunch, Victoria Hotel 12 noon for 12.30. Tickets for a 3-course lunch including coffee and mints will be £25 and will be on sale from Friday 3rd February to Friday 3rd March at Sidsoft in Church Street or by post from Alan Weaver using the form at the end.

We are delighted to have Jonathan Ball MBE, Architect, and a Bard of Gorsedh Kernow, as our 'after lunch' speaker.  Some of you will have met Jonathan when he came across from Bude to represent the President of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) at our Sampson Memorial ceremony last March.

Qualifying as an architect, he set up his practice in his home town of Bude, and was appointed MBE for Services to Architecture in 1992.  Together with Tim Smit, he co-founded the acclaimed Eden Project, but his subsequent removal from the Project against his will, losing his architectural practice in the process, became the subject of three high profile appearances in the Royal Courts of Justice over four years in order to save his name, his home and professional reputation. 

We are sure his talk will be both entertaining and informative as he is a larger than life personality, and a natural raconteur.  We are also hoping that he will be able to bring and sign copies of his book "The Other Side of Eden". 

Sid Park Road – Sampson’s (and Sidmouth’s) first scheme of council houses - it is not possible to show the photographs referred to here.

Martin Mallinson has researched and written a fascinating history which follows.  As our Chairman responded to Martin, it is quite remarkable that Sampson should offer to do the work for a partial fee and even that only payable if planning approval was given!

From the beginning of the 20th century there was increasing concern in Sidmouth about the lack of appropriate housing for the working men of the town. There were few houses available and rents were high compared to local wage levels. The poor condition of many existing houses was of particular concern to the local Medical Officer of Health. So it was that Sidmouth UDC began to consider the idea of building houses for rent, and set about a search for suitable sites.

About 1902 there was a failed attempt to start the process, and it was not until 1913 that the issue was looked at seriously. Col Balfour offered a 3 acre site adjacent to Woolbrook School, ‘subject to Mr Sampson being employed as architect’. Sampson agreed to prepare plans on the understanding he would only charge a fee if the scheme proceeded. The proposal, for 51 houses, was costed at £11,300 and an application was duly made to the government for loan sanction.

However, the Council appears to have had second thoughts about the Woolbrook site and ultimately it was abandoned. By November 1913 it was known that the Glebe land, a site much closer to the town, was about to come on the market. A further review of alternative sites was concluded early the following year when the Council agreed to purchase land at Higher Salter’s Meadow. The land was owned by local builders, Messrs Pidsey and Son, and the Temple Street frontage was already earmarked for development. Sampson was employed to design a scheme for 52 houses and the Council applied to borrow the projected costs of £12,526.

In May 1914 the Sid Vale Association promoted improvements to the scheme on behalf of Mrs Leigh Browne. Land on the Temple Street frontage was included to give a larger area for housing. An area adjacent to the River Sid was to be safeguarded as public open space. By designing semi detached houses and shorter terraces the number of houses was reduced to 48. Mrs Leigh Browne, a generous benefactor to the town, offered a gift of £600 to finance the additional cost of the revised proposal.

Sampson prepared plans for the new proposals, and the Council appointed Mr Dingwall as clerk of works. Having approved Sampson’s specifications and quantities, the Council put the scheme out to tender in September 1914. The following month 12 tenders were received. In November, the tender of £9,365 from Mr A J Carter of Exmouth was accepted.  And so it was that Sidmouth’s first Council houses came to be built at what is now known as Sid Park Road. Including that for the abandoned site at Woolbrook, it was the third scheme that Sampson had designed. Contemporary reports suggest that he charged his fees only in relation to the six houses on the Temple Street frontage.

Building work started almost immediately, but progress was slow because of the shortage of labour caused by the ongoing war. Towards the end of 1915, with some of the houses nearing completion, the Council set provisional rents of 5/3 (26p) per week, including rates. For the larger houses on the Temple Street frontage, the rents were set at 6/6 (32p) per week to exclude rates. During January 1916 applications were invited for those wishing to take on a tenancy and the following month 15 of the houses were ready for occupation. Building continued throughout 1916, with the provision of pathways and landscaping at the end of that year.

Sampson designed the houses to include a scullery, with larder, coal store and WC, and a single kitchen/living room. The 6 larger houses on Temple Street included an additional sitting room, and all the houses had 3 bedrooms. The scullery was fitted with a copper and bath with hot and cold water, the bath provided with a top forming a table when not in use.

Porch detail and boot scraper alongside each door.

Externally, Sampson incorporated the typical features found in many of his buildings. The houses were finished in roughcast render with tarred plinths. The steeply sloping pitched roofs were covered in plain tiles and had deep overhangs with exposed rafters.

The low eaves were pierced by gables of various sizes, thus adding interest to the front elevations. Casement windows were used throughout, although the originals have long since been replaced. Open porches with a mix of roof designs sheltered the front doors. Semi-circular boot scrapers of a simple but classic design were provided alongside each entrance door.

Throughout the country Arts and Crafts architects like Sampson were heavily involved in the provision of early social housing. Many worked for industrial philanthropists to create model villages, whilst others were involved in the creation of the world’s first garden city at Letchworth.

These architects believed that good design should not be the exclusive province of the wealthy, and Sampson adhered to this principle at Sid Park Road. Despite some concern that the Council was venturing into uncertain territory, the scheme appears to have been self financing, and indeed provided the opportunity to subsidise later more expensive projects. Crucially, contemporary reports suggest that the scheme was regarded from its inception as a credit to the Council and the town as a whole.

The assistance of Sidmouth Museum in the preparation of this article is acknowledged.


Martin Mallinson January 2017