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The Rise of SPAN Houses
Grand Design Magazine in 2005 said “Ever wished you lived somewhere where a sense of community still existed, where kids could play safely outside and neighbours were friends, not strangers? Well, places like this do exist: they’re called SPAN developments.”
Some years later Wallpaper Magazine followed up with “Yes, Span houses are post-war, but they’re design classics. Better still, they’re undiscovered design classics. But hurry, because they’ve garnered a cult following among suburbanised arties, architects and youngsters priced out of the Smoke
The dominating presence of the British property development company Span were the architectural and landscape talents of Eric Lyons and Ivor Cunningham and the development capability of Leslie Bilsby and Geoff Townsend. During the 1950s and 60s they built thousands of modern homes in London and the South East, mainly set on estates and consisting of two and three bedroom single family homes and apartment buildings.
The developments are distinctly different to other architectural styles although they are uniform in design being based on a modernist style combined with attention to detail and harmony within a suburban environment. The Span ethos was in part a reaction against the “mock Tudor” so prevalent in post war architecture, part an illustration that individually designed and affordable homes could “span” the middle ground between large council estates and mansions for the wealthy and that planned estates could be genuine communities.
Typically a Span design has mono pitch roofs, large floor to ceiling windows and other areas of glass, hung tiled or white timber facades and open-plan interiors. They are light, airy and give the impression of living outside. Exterior space is a recognised feature and many Span developments are car free which was a radical difference from other post war developments.
The input of landscape designer Ivor Cunningham enabled Span to build ‘homes within a garden’ and to “think about a community first, the buildings second and to use the placing of dwellings to shape the communal space”. As a result most developments include large landscape communal gardens to the front of the properties.
One of the key inputs of developers Leslie Bilsby and particularly Geoff Townsend was their ability to find extraordinary sites, usually off the beaten track, tucked away in quiet corners with a sense of tranquility but also with easy access to shops, schools and public transport.
Another peculiarity of Span developments is their protection by legal covenants which purchasers are automatically obliged to observe and abide by. Each estate is run by a committee of management which is elected each year by the residents and who are mandated to enforce the covenants.
Changes within the control of individual owners are normally limited to the house interior and their “non-communal” garden. Amongst the many rules are restrictions on letting the property, on parking of cars, housing of pets; garden gnomes, hanging baskets and “For Sale” boards are all banned.
Such restrictions mean that a Span home will not be for everyone.
Some Examples of Span Developments
Speaking of Park Gate in Hove one of the earliest Span developments architect Eric Gates said “My particular interest was the formation of the courtyard which I thought was a neglected form of living environment. The courtyard is not a dead space. It is actually circulation. All access for trades and services is on the perimeter and the courtyards are used for pedestrian access only.”
Park Gate is an attractive, low-density Grade II listed housing development which consists of 47 two- and three-bedroom flats and a single studio flat, contained in two L-shaped blocks, each of four storeys, accessed by lifts and stairs and set around an internal courtyard standing in well-maintained, landscaped grounds next to St Anne’s Well Gardens.
A slightly later development is at Weymede on the border where Byfleet morphs into Weybridge where an estate of 141 houses was built in the mid-1960s set in 15 acres of private, fully enclosed landscaped garden featuring a wide variety of mature trees and shrubs. The estate benefits from its own totally private frontage to the river Wey and is perfectly situated for Weybridge or New Haw stations, Mercedes Benz World, Brooklands museum/shopping and fine local schools.
Weymede in common with most Span estates shatters the dominance of the road and car and brings the garden closer to each home by “placing landscape first, landscape second and landscape last”.
Marsham Lodge in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, is a development of twenty-five houses completed by Span in 1969. Designed by the usual team of architect Eric Lyons and landscaper Ivor Cunningham, it is a car-free estate built around landscaped gardens within close proximity to Gerrards Cross town centre, the railway station and common.
Marsham Lodge is one of only two Span estates in Buckinghamshire and was completed after such bitter disputes with the planning authorities that Lyons refused ever to develop again in the county. As it is, the estate remains somewhat flawed by his main defeat, the obtrusive wide tarmac road and turning areas insisted on by the council, which mark the main entrance.
Templemere is a secluded Span development of 65 town houses in 12 acres of landscaped gardens in Oatlands Village, mid-way between Walton-on-Thames and Weybridge in Surrey. Built in 1963 the estate won a coveted Civic Trust award the following year for ‘making an outstanding contribution to the local scene’.
Also near Weybridge is Lakeside described by its own website as “Stunning Modernist housing, in a lakeside setting with exceptional family homes”. Situated on the banks of the north eastern end of Broadwater Lake, in Weybridge/Oatlands, the houses are designed to be part of the landscape and have large interiors, flexible inner walls and large windows that allow for exceptional use of natural light.
Occupying one of the most picturesque sections of the Lower Thames between Teddington and Twickenham, Mallard Place describes itself as having the “perfect balance between Convenience, Community, Architecture and Riverside Living”.
Fieldend in Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, is a group of 51 houses set in acres of landscaped gardens and is accepted as one of the finest examples of Span housing in the UK. Completed in 1960 the estate was awarded a Housing Gold Award in 1961 and a Civic Trust Award in 1962. Most recently it has been made a conservation area by Richmond upon Thames council in recognition of its architectural merit. The estate is within 10 minutes walking distance of Teddington town centre and also close to local schools (primary and secondary) and public transport.
The price gap between Span and alternative family homes is narrowing. Until two or three years ago Span tended to attract people who were out-priced on period properties but now they are nearly on a par with both period and modern homes of a similar size and their popularity is expected to increase.
An untouched 3 bed Span property in Blackheath sold last year for £700,000 which is probably a record for a Span house outside of London.
If you either own a Span property and are thinking of selling or would like to buy into this attractive way of living please contact us at thehomecloud.xenacia.com