Penicuik’s Radburn estate from the 1960s
Exhibition first shown in Jackson Street School on 31 March 2007 by
Penicuik Community Development Trust
Repeated in Penicuik Town Hall with modifications and additions on 25 October 2008 and 3 January 2009
See more about
the work of the Trust at the end of this page
Material is hard to
come by, so this is just a start for future exhibitions
Deanburn, Eastfield, Eskhill, Greenhill, Kirkhill,
Ladywood, Mauricewood, St James –these and the other
parts of Penicuik need their stories told. Help put a record together for the
Back in 1961
only around 17% of Penicuik residents in employment worked in Edinburgh. Back in 1961
there were just as many jobs for women in Penicuik as there were women in jobs.
All that was to change as the sixties progressed. In Penicuik, there had been council housing
in the Cuiken development, and Cuiken
school up on the hill was finished in 1961. Work would
soon start on building over the nursery gardens at Eastfield. The Burgh Council was proud of its record in
clearing away older properties in the town centre. Sometimes demolition was
delayed for a while, while Robert Naismith the Burgh
architect tried to put together a scheme of restoration, but in due course the
surveyor would find they were “riddled with dry rot” and down they would
come. A good many neat replacements
designed for the council by Naismith can be seen
around the town. But the pace of change, before Cornbank,
was still slow.
In the fifties Midlothian had been
planning for big public sector housing developments. The National Coal Board
confidently expected a steady rise into the sixties and beyond, and building
was started on the slopes between Dalkeith and Gorebridge.
But the mines expansion proposals were cut after 1959, and large-scale
overspill from Glasgow was stopped. At
the same time, private sector housing interest around Penicuik began to warm up
rapidly. The Edinburgh market had
traditionally looked southwards and westwards for its housebuilding
opportunities. Developments at Fairmilehead, Colinton and Barnton had filled
up all the attractive sites and private developers began to operate outside the
city. At Currie (in those days part of Midlothian) large-scale
private housebuilding began in 1961 and the few
attractive south facing slopes were soon used up. Rather than build on the bleak north-facing
Pentland slopes, the builders transferred their operations to the Penicuik side
of the hill where most sites had a southern aspect and where the council did
not apply the same green belt restrictions that they imposed at Currie.
before and after
And so the Cornbank
housing development was conceived, and Wimpey
prepared to lay out houses on what till then had been Penicuik’s most
productive fields. The Clerk Penicuik
estate had sold land to the builders. So, too, had the Errington
Beeslack estate at Mauricewood on the road to Edinburgh where the south-facing
meadows were taken up by Wimpeys great Scottish housebuilding and public works rivals Crudens
of Musselburgh. Many of the incomers to
Edinburgh’s booming economy preferred the kind of straightforward houses these
modern system builders could offer, rather than run the gauntlet of bidding for
older properties that Edinburgh’s traditional housebuyers
were familiar with but people from elsewhere found daunting.
Wimpey were going to build at Cornbank. And Cornbank would
with Wimpey, Penicuik’s Burgh’s distinguished town
planning adviser Robert James Naismith (1916-2004)
came up with the idea of a Radburn layout with its inner park and footpath system linking to schools, shops and
town centre. Radburn
was being used for some public sector developments in Britain but this was to
be a uniquely large private housing example.
Naismith referred directly to Radburn by name when the first proposals for Cornbank were put before the burgh council in 1961.
Robert J Naismith :
Planning adviser to the Burgh of Penicuik
development of Penicuik’s Cornbank estate was carried out by the Wimpey
building company according to Radburn principles from 1961 under Naismith’s careful supervision. It is one of the UK’s largest
examples of a Radburn layout, with green spaces,
pedestrian routes and schools at the heart of the development and road access
around the outer edge. Radburn, in Fairlawn, New Jersey had been developed in 1929
as a “town for the motor age” by Clarence Stein and Henry Wright following
practical garden city ideas advocated in Britain by Patrick Geddes
and Ebenezer Howard, and its design as a landscaped people-friendly
neighbourhood recognised by Thomas
Adams, pioneer town planner on both sides of the Atlantic.
In Radburn, “The Town for the Motor Age”, houses faced a
network of footpaths and parks, with road access behind
In the field of planning and
architecture, Radburn has been called by Anthony
Bailey, "the most significant notion in 20th Century urban
development". American planning pioneer Lewis Mumford
considered it "the first major advance in city planning since Venice". Radburn is unique because it was envisioned as a town for
better living, and it was the first example of city planning which recognized
the importance of the car without permitting it to dominate the environment.
Traffic ran around the area, but people could move safely and easily within it. The Radburn concept
was also important to builders because of the unique way that the parks and
grading were funded.
The genius of the Radburn
approach was in creating value: using the small plots and cul-de-sac
construction to help finance the layout, grading and landscaping of the
parkland. The cost of living in such an
attractive community was therefore set at a minimum for the new homeowner, and
the cost to the builder was small enough to make the venture profitable.
The open spaces in the Cornbank were not an afterthought, allocated on a map for
future laying out at public expense. They were graded, formed and landscaped
during the development process, using Wimpey’s
expertise as earthmoving and public works contractors, and paid for as part of
the investment by each housebuyer.
the total Wimpey scheme grew to over 1,100
houses. It was a key experiment for
George Wimpey and Company under the chairmanship Sir
Godfrey Way Mitchell (knighted in 1948) –who had always been open to
construction ideas from America. For a decade, the area became Europe’s
largest private housing development.
Penicuik became Scotland’s fastest
growing town. And George Wimpey and Company Ltd became Britain’s biggest housebuilders.
Wimpey use the newly-founded Penicuik Town Crier to advertise
Cornbank house types in 1965
BUILDING FIRM: GEORGE WIMPEY & CO
What had made Wimpeys a
REVOLUTIONARY BUILDING FIRM:
GEORGE WIMPEY & CO
WIMPEY'S SHOOTER'S HILL ESTATE, GREENWICH
With a solid basis
in public works contracts, Wimpey had set out to be a
model business between the wars. As ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) was in
chemicals, so George Wimpey & Co would be in
construction, with modern management, attention to logistics, good staff
welfare and pensions, and extremely well resourced research facilities. Like ICI, the company was able to deliver
enormous contributions to the national effort in wartime, and to meeting housing
shortages in the years of austerity that followed..
REVOLUTIONARY BUILDING FIRM:
GEORGE WIMPEY & CO
“no-fines” poured concrete houses were built for Glasgow Corporation in 1947.
was used to build more homes for local authorities than any other system.
GODFREY WAY MITCHELL WAS WIMPEY’S ENERGETIC
CHAIRMAN UNTIL 1973.
The Company was
already a major public works contractor north and south of the border.
By 1973 – with the Cornbank complete – Wimpey had
On 1 March 1955 Sir Godfrey Way Mitchell endowed a charitable trust with a
gift of shares in George Wimpey & Company
Ltd. In 1979 this trust became known as
the Tudor Trust. Since 1955 Tudor has
given over £430 million in grants, spread widely across the social welfare
field. When Sir Godfrey endowed the trust over 50 years ago he determined that
the trustees should be able to use the funds for any charitable purposes. This
allows the trustees to reassess regularly how best to use the Trust’s funds.
The success of
the Cornbank meant catching up with schools, shops
and public transport. A few of the new residents expected to find commuter
trains to Edinburgh, but though the station was still there at the foot of
Bridge Street, passenger services had been withdrawn long before. At least the Burgh Council had ensured that Rullion Road would be wide
enough for buses. New primary schools
were built and the High School was expanded.
Attention was given to increasing the supply of council houses, and the
town’s thousandth council house was completed in Edinburgh Road by October
1969. All the new development on the
edge made one councillor call for more clearance in the centre, calling
Penicuik “a rosy apple with a rotten core”. The Scottish Special Housing
Association (a government agency building for let, with more radical designs
than local councils) built a large estate at Deanburn
from 1966, and this also incorporated some Radburn
principles, though not landscaped spaces and footways to the same extent. When the council tried to put five shops into
the Cornbank in 1966, local house-buyers objected to
the loss of their woodland and open space.
Shown on 31 March 2007 25 October 2008 & 3 January 2009
The original Radburn continues to be popular with residents
Fair Lawn News
Radburn: One of the Seven Wonders of Fair Lawn
Fair Lawn News readers voted Radburn
as one of the Seven Wonders of Fair
some of the things they said:
visit Radburn, I think "Wow, it's like heaven on
Because everybody walks in Radburn,
I've met so many people. In a way that I
never have in other places I've lived.
The paths bring people together in a way that no ordinary suburban
People are safe from cars.
The pedestrian paths allow people to go to homes, school, parks,
playgrounds, and swimming pools. Without
ever crossing a street.
There is almost no crime in Radburn. I think it's because the houses are close
together and the people know each other. That helps a lot.
It's a great place to grow up in. That's why there are so many 2nd and 3rd
generation Radburn families.
The parks and paths allow little and big kids to meet their
friends, play ball, go swimming and go to school with great freedom.
The design of Radburn has created a
Because the homes and the layout of them do not provide a lot
of privacy, Radburn attracts very sociable people.
It has great social programs like summer camp, exercise
programs, and Family Day.
The paths allow children to walk to school or to their friends
without having to cross a street. It
means the Radburn kids all know each other.
Because our neighbors all know each
other, we all keep an eye out for each other's kids.
The separation of cars from pedestrians and the superblocks have been influential in the design of many
other communities around the world.
Even now, many new communities are striving to be configured
to encourage the neighborly environment that we
We do not
suffer from the anonymity that is inevitable in so many other places. This
provides an extra measure of security to the old, to children, to us all.
Note for the second display of the exhibition in Penicuik Town Hall on 25 October 2008: “When we
first showed this exhibition in the old Jackson Street School, we illustrated it with some presscuttings and photographs of the Cornbank’s
early days. These are not available for
today’s showing, but we’d like to add them again to build up a much fuller
picture of the Cornbank story in future. Please help if you can.”
Shown on 25 October 2008 & 3 January
The Scottish Veterans' Garden City Association
during the First World War by a group of five professional people in Edinburgh
who noted the plight of wounded veterans returning from the Front with no
prospect of finding suitable places to live and support themselves. A network of volunteers grew up to raise
funds and obtain land to build houses with gardens, and many of the old burgh
and county councils played their part.
On this side of Edinburgh
some SVGCA villas were built on the road to Penicuik near Captains
Road, and four SVGCA cottages were
built here in Penicuik at Carlops
Road east of the corner of Bog
Road, with growing areas
behind. In the few years since this display
was prepared, the growing spaces have been built on with extra residential
units and the car parking areas for the council’s new fitness and leisure
Pioneer town planner: from Carlops to New York
Fitness, Fatness and Cars:
see Dr Howard Frumkin’s Glasgow Lecture 2006
GARDEN OF PENICUIK
other Penicuik Town Hall Exhibitions
In the Penicuik Trust, our business is rescuing community assets for
regeneration, that’s why we book Penicuik Town Hall every weekend to run exhibitions like
this, a community café and a cinema www.kosmoid.net/penicuik/upcoming
Thanks for trying to help us save the old JACKSON STREET SCHOOL BUILDING where this exhibition was first
shown –see how we failed at www.makers.org.uk/place/penicuikheritage -a fine
strong Victorian school was sadly reduced to a dismal pile of rubble early in
Then between 2010 and 2011 we
tried to make BANK MILL come good! www.makers.org.uk/paper/bmlatest that
project’s on hold just now.
ambitious project begun in spring 2012 is growing and going well, take a look, it’s : THE LOST GARDEN OF PENICUIK
year we began the purchase of the PEN-Y-COE
March 2013 it’s a busy community trade centre.
Come and see!
< next one up
NUMBER 29 of the 100
next one down >
PENICUIK EH26 8HS