Thompson Avenue, TW9

Place Name

Hard to believe today but Richmond was once at the cutting edge of social reform thanks to the visionary William Thompson (1863 – May 1914). He was councillor for North Ward and known as the People’s Champion for promoting every progressive social scheme including the 1890 Housing of the Working Classes Act was passed. This gave councils the power not only to raze insanitary premises but for the first time the facility to acquire land and build houses for lease at fair rents. Thompson, a newly elected young Liberal schoolmaster, was determined to make the most of these new powers. Despite Richmond being an affluent borough, it had genuine pockets of depravation. He described the housing situation as “insufficient in quantity and inferior in quality” this he said led to “exorbitant rents… overcrowding… and the occupation of dirty hovels and unhealthy slums”. However, he was faced with opposition from two sides, the people who lived in poor housing did not want to lose it as they would face higher rents elsewhere; while the slum landlords (which included 13 councillors) objected to the loss of income and interference. But his drive and expertise combined with the pragmatic case he presented (he argued carrying out the scheme would not cost the ratepayer a single penny – and indeed would make a profit) saw the first municipal housing project in Greater London – and one of the first in the country – approved by the Council in 1892. And so the Richmond Experiment was born with a row of 60 single cottages and six dwellings of upper and lower flats built in and off Manor Road on six acres of land which had once been George III’s farm. Municipal Dreams takes up the story: “Demand for the new homes exceeded supply and a ballot was held – confined to those either living or working in Richmond (who could afford the rent) – to allocate places.  The tenants were stated to be ‘delighted with their houses’. Such was the scheme’s success that in 1896 the Council agreed to develop the remaining portion of the Manor Grove land.  Seventy more houses were built, completed by 1900.  In all, 132 homes were provided at a total cost of £37,812.” In 1908 Thompson served a term as Mayor but he continued to push through progressive change. He helped prepare the Town Planning Act of 1909, he was a founding member and chair of the National Housing Reform Council, a member of the International Housing Congress, a vice-president of the Co-Partnership Tenants’ Housing Council and a member of the Garden Cities Association. He remained equally active in Richmond, where he was behind the purchase of 87 acres in the Old Deer Park for playing fields, the provision of allotments in Manor Grove, suggested a railway station be built in North Sheen (it opened in 1929) and demanded that local charities be better run. He died suddenly, aged 51, in May 1914. His funeral was attended by Liberal ministers Lloyd George and John Burns and Labour MP Keir Hardie. This road was laid out over the last remaining pocket of the Leyborne-Popham estate in 1931.


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