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

Cornbank, Cuiken, 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 future.


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.


Four decades: 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 be different. 


In discussions 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


So the 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.


At Cornbank 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



What had made Wimpeys a success?





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..



500 “no-fines” poured concrete houses were built for Glasgow Corporation in 1947.

 Wimpey’s technique was used to build more homes for local authorities than any other system.



 The Company was already a major public works contractor north and south of the border.

By 1973 – with the Cornbank complete   Wimpey had become Britain’s biggest housebuilder.



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 

               Fall 2004 Edition              

Radburn: One of the Seven Wonders of Fair Lawn

Fair Lawn News readers voted Radburn as one of the Seven Wonders of Fair LawnHere's some of the things they said:


·              Whenever I visit Radburn, I think "Wow, it's like heaven on earth."

·              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 community does.

·              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 tight-knit community.

·              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 enjoy.

·              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 2009


The Scottish Veterans' Garden City Association (SVGCA)

was founded 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 centre.



Pioneer town planner: from Carlops to New York


Fitness, Fatness and Cars: see Dr Howard Frumkin’s Glasgow Lecture 2006




Clydesdale Bank

Penicuik Co-op

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

Thanks for trying to help us save the old JACKSON STREET SCHOOL BUILDING where this exhibition was first shown –see how we failed at -a fine strong Victorian school was sadly reduced to a dismal pile of rubble early in 2010..

 Then between 2010 and 2011 we tried to make BANK MILL come good! that project’s on hold just now.

Our ambitious project begun in spring 2012 is growing and going well, take a look, it’s : THE LOST GARDEN OF PENICUIK

Later that year we began the purchase of the PEN-Y-COE PRESS -since March 2013 it’s a busy community trade centre.  Come and see!



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