Francis Crittall’s growing workforce
In 1925 Silver End was only a tiny hamlet of a few cottages, a farm and an inn, mainly centred around where the end of Western Road is today.
Meanwhile, Francis Crittall was busy growing his empire with the Manor Works Window Factory in Braintree and another factory in Witham. The turn of the century had given him contracts to produce metal windows for The Records Office in Chancery Lane, the kitchens of the House of Commons, The National Gallery and the stables at Marlborough House and the end of The Great War with housing shortages had grown demand for his metal windows in smaller domestic buildings.
He therefore had a growing workforce and people were coming from far and wide to work for the ‘Guv’nor’ so he started to make plans for building houses for his own workers. He was also making plans for a new ‘Small Parts’ factory where workers who were disabled from the war could do light jobs. In a time where living conditions were rather cramped for all but the wealthy, and inspired by the opennes of the Garden Villages of Port Sunlight in Merseyside and Bourneville near Birmingham he began to make his plans. He wanted a place where his workers could live and socialise without ever having to leave the village. He wanted open spaces and large gardens, modern houses with indoor bathrooms and hot running water.
The idea of a Garden Village
One day while driving between his two factories in Witham and Braintree, he turned off the main road and discovered this small hamlet of cottages and acres of surrounding land, which at the time belonged to the owners of Boars Tye Farm. Meetings were had and arrangements were made and the land was purchased. Architects were consulted and the plans were underway for the Garden Village of Silver End. (The converted barn at the top of Silver Street, the Residential Care Home on Boars Tye road and the wood-yard next to this are all that is left of the farm now.)
Francis and his son Walter ‘Pink’ Crittall desired that their workers should live in houses with ‘elementary rights of every home’, amenities such as hot running water, gas and electricity, indoor bathrooms and a proper garden, not a backyard or an allotment half a mile away. He commissioned architects Murray Hennel, C.B.H. Quennell, Thomas Tait and Frederick Macmanus of Sir John Burnet and Partners. By using different architects, Francis hoped to avoid repetitiveness in the house designs. Richard Reiss was the ‘village planner’ and designated different zones for living, socialising and working.
‘Modern’ House design
Crittall’s feelings of the architectural trends at the time were… “houses had been designed and the rooms were made to fit”. Crittall wanted to reverse this trend and… “design in the cause of air and light and space.” This was typically a Modernist strategy, allowing everyday living needs and health to be considered before the outside of the house was even thought about.
Laying the first stone
Murray Hennell’s houses were the first to be built in Temple Lane and Valentine Way. The ceremonial ‘foundation stone’ was laid in the house on the corner of Valentine Way. Quennell also designed houses for Temple Lane and Francis Crittall’s own house ‘The Manors’, in Francis Way, set opposite the village hall.
It was Thomas Tait and Frederick Macmanus’s modern vision for houses in Silver Street and Boars Tye Road which certainly set the cat among the pigeons within the architectural critics! The initial 3 detached houses on Boars Tye Road, Wolverton, Craig Angus and Le Chateau set the modernist style of the workers houses in Silver Street. The Modernist houses were ivory coloured with emerald green windows. Doors were either emerald greem, ultramarine blue or orange.
Creating the village
The farmland around the village was purchased and developed to provide the village with food. This included a poultry farm, three piggeries, a slaughterhouse, bacon curing, a sausage factory and a bakery. The produce from all these were sold in the new department store on Broadway. Unfortunately this burnt down in 1952 and in it’s place today stands a parade of shops including the Co-op, the library, a charity shop and an opticians.
Oppostite the department store a hotel was built. It is said to be ‘a more rspectable place to serve liquor than a public house.’ The largest village hall in the country was built close by and housed a 400 seat theatre/cinema. It also had a dance hall, restaurant, lecture room, library, billiard rooms, club rooms, portrait gallery and an infant welfare clinic.
The 2 playing fields provided tennis courts as well as huge green spaces on which to play team sports. The Memorial Gardens were opened later in 1952 and still offer today, a place to walk, picnic, play and explore.
And so the collection of these larger developments all helped Crittall’s vision for a life provided by the village. Where everyone’s needs were met and no-one needed to travel to find the services they required.
In 1968 the village was put up for sale and purchased in it’s entirety by Braintree District Council to prevent any fragmentation. However, since the Right to Buy council housing was introduced, many of the original features of these unusual houses have been lost by general maintenance, extensions and improvements. The Council have since designated the area containing the Crittall houses as a Conseravtion area in an attempt to hold onto the original feel of the village.
This is by no means an exhaustive history of Silver End and much more information is held by members of the parish council. It is our desire to create a museum in the village in order to display all the photographs, articles and documents that exist and hold a place in telling the story of Silver End.