Town ahead of the times with 1960s council house sell-off

The first houses on the Western Avenue estate
The first houses on the Western Avenue estate

Back to the Past with historian Ed Grimsdale

The Pightle-Overnhill estate is to the post-Second World War era what Bourtonville was to the years after the Great War – new ‘council’ housing for an era of peace.

The first pillar box on the Western Avenue estate

The first pillar box on the Western Avenue estate

Let’s clarify its ungainly name.

Pightle is a dialect word commonly used in these parts to indicate a smaller holding of land, often enclosed by a hedge, carved from a larger unit.

Frequently, a house was attached to the pightle in a chicken and egg relationship.

Buckingham’s pightle was 15 acres in size with an attractive Victorian cottage, dated 1899.

Pightle Cottage

Pightle Cottage

Overn hill was just that: raised ground, probably named after an early owner.

Buckingham Town Council bought most of the land in 1946 from Mrs Mabel Bull, of Castle House.

Mr J.H. Stevens, Buckingham borough architect and surveyor, created the designs within government guidelines for ‘Council Housing’.

Progress was slow, due to bureaucracy and post-war shortages of materials.

The initial tranche was 10 permanent dwellings of a ‘non-parlour’ type.

Grouped mainly in semi-detached pairs, they occupied the higher land near Moreton Road.

The word ‘Permanent’ is significant. Early council housing was temporary ‘pre-fabs’ – indeed, some of these were built on Pightle Crescent and replaced later by flats.

‘Non-parlour’ was a transitional term that morphed into ‘living room’ – an informal, all-purpose, family space with a fireplace, close to a kitchen so small that we might term it a kitchenette.

Ruth Hubbard, the Mayoress, opened the estate in 1946 by cutting ribbons, naming its roads Western Avenue and Overn Avenue and handing keys to its first residents, Mr and Mrs Burgess.

No garages were provided in those early days but it wasn’t long before the town council had to consider providing them - on separate plots.

It then offered a deal so residents might rent a TV aerial!

Times they were a-changing in Buckingham long before the 1960s.

New ground continued to be broken by Buckingham’s burgeoning estate.

In April 1955, Buckingham’s first pillarbox was placed halfway along Western Avenue.

The report in theAdvertiser read as follows:

“This week arrangements have been made to provide Western Avenue on the new Housing Estate with a postal pillar box.

“This is an innovation in so far as Buckingham is concerned and we understand that it may herald the introduction of more pillar boxes into Buckingham during future years.

“These, we think, would be welcomed, because the present wall-boxes are not conveniently placed, cannot always be easily be seen by strangers to the district and there are some in which the opening is not large enough for the posting of a newspaper or a fair-sized package.”

Six months later, Mayor Edmonds opened the first shop on the estate.

It had been rented to Gilbert Cantell, who operated a popular grocery store in West Street.

The annual rent for his new ‘lock-up’ was £104 for 21 years.

And what did our Mayor buy from the ‘immaculatel’ dressed assistants, Mr and Mrs Bunce?

Some sweets and 20 cigarettes. Holy smoke!

Around 1964, in a very popular move, Buckingham Town Council allowed tenants to buy their council houses.

That bold act was long before Maggie Thatcher rolled out the concept nationwide.

Buckingham may be the ‘ancient and loyal borough’ but often it’s ahead of the times!