The saga of the gardens
Once the pride of the area, the Estate gardens fell into a sorry state of disrepair before a solution was found and residents won control.
As recorded earlier, until the early 1950s all the properties on the eastern part of the Hanger Hill Garden Estate were rented from Capital and Counties Property Company Limited. The Company then started to dispose of its holdings. In March 1954 the title of the ornamental gardens and accommodation ways was vested in Hillside Gardens Limited. On 1 April the houses in Princes Gardens, Vale Lane, the east side of Monks Drive, and nos. 1 to 7 and 6 to 20 of Queens Drive were sold to Warwick Estates Limited. Within a few months, however, Warwick Estates put their entire holding up for sale: no overall buyer being found, over the coming years all the homes were bought individually.
From the summer of 1954, freeholders and tenants of the 325 houses were required to covenant with Hillside Gardens Ltd for the upkeep of the ornamental gardens and service roads. The covenant ran:
"occupiers will at all times hereafter pay to the Company the annual sum of TWO POUNDS TWO SHILLINGS on the 29th day of September ….the Company (will) expend every such annual sum paid….upon….
(a) the preservation or improvement of the amenities of the Hanger Hill Garden Estate,
(b) the maintenance of the roads, accommodation ways and ornamental gardens on the said Estate, or
(c) the care and maintenance of the hedges on the front boundaries of the said property".
In 1960, Hillside Gardens Limited (1954) sold the lands to Hillside Gardens Limited (1960). At first the arrangements under the covenants worked well. Hillside Gardens had inherited the most lovely and well-maintained gardens, well stocked with trees, shrubs and flowering plants. Several gardeners were employed who not only tended the ornamental gardens but also cut the privet hedges of the houses twice a year. There were greenhouses in the triangular plot at the north-east corner of Princes Gardens.
Things fall apart
Within a few years, however, it became evident that the sum of £2-10 per household, which produced an income totalling less than £700 per annum, was not sufficient to pay the wages of the workmen together with the materials required for the upkeep of the gardens and service roads. The situation was not helped by some residents not paying their covenanted money. Inflation exacerbated the problem. Inevitably, the amount of work being carried out on the gardens declined.
With the deterioration in the standard of the ornamental gardens, other residents refused to pay their annual dues to Hillside Gardens. The company threatened, in turn, to sue residents who were in arrears on their annual payments. In 1954 the residents in the 325 houses on the eastern part of the Estate formed the Hanger Hill Garden Estate (Acton) Residents' Association. This had the two prime objectives of (a) to maintain the amenities of the Estate and (b) to advise or at the discretion of the Committee to act upon all matters affecting the Estate in the interest of the member or members.
During these early years, the officers of the Residents' Association attended many meetings and wrote many letters in their efforts to resolve the problems over the gardens and service roads. Around 1961 the situation became particularly acute, with the Association having great difficulty in making contact with Hillside Gardens Limited. At the outset of the garden problems, the old Acton Borough Council (later to be absorbed into the London Borough of Ealing) showed sympathy and in January 1964 made an offer to:
(i) Spend £10,000 on remedying the condition of the service roads but would have to recover this sum from owners on the basis of their frontage to the roads. It was recognised that this means of recovery would be unfair to those with corner access to the roads but it was all that Acton Borough Council had legal power to do.
(ii) Maintain the gardens for £600 per year, provided that missing fences were first replaced and arrears of covenant were paid. In essence the existing covenant would still be collected by Hillside Gardens Ltd., which would pay over £600 each year to the Council. Residents would also have to make additional payments to cover the cost of fences plus arrears of payments.
The proposals did not find favour with residents, neither did another proposal at that time which was that residents should form themselves into a company limited by guarantee and take over the property of Hillside Gardens Ltd.
One of the difficulties then - and present throughout the years - was that the Residents' Association could not speak and act with 100% authority since not all residents were members. Throughout the 1960s efforts were pursued with Hillside Garden to get them to face up to their responsibilities. In 1969 the Residents' Association was asked by Hillside Gardens Ltd to propose how residents might pay over time the capital cost of making good the service roads, along with a draft maintenance agreement with an increased annual charge to supersede the original covenants.
The Association replied that it would be unable to do that. Hillside Gardens Ltd. therefore made its own proposal, to introduce a new agreement to cover maintenance of the ornamental gardens (estimated to cost £3,350 per annum plus administrative costs and profit), giving an annual charge of £l5 per householder. In addition, an extra charge of £6,000 to £7,000 would be levied for arrears of maintenance of the service roads.
By this time residents had no confidence in Hillside Gardens Limited and this proposal was also rejected. The Residents' Association also noted the nearly insurmountable difficulty of arranging for all 325 householders to change their individual covenants. In some desperation, Hillside Gardens Ltd demanded payment of £2,900 in arrears of Covenant payments, failing which they would suspend all maintenance work.
This, in the event, is what happened and on 16 November 1973 notice of the winding up of Hillside Gardens Ltd appeared in the London Gazette. By that act, the "ownership" of the ornamental gardens and service roads officially passed to the Crown. On l8 July 1974, the Crown gave official notice of disclaimer to the title (which is usual in such situations): the Crown thereby denied any responsibility for the upkeep of the lands and said that it would not do anything that might be construed in any way as indicating ownership of the property.
Following this, the new London Borough of Ealing was asked whether they could help in solving the seemingly intractable problem. The Council responded that it could not accept responsibility for the service roads, as this would set a precedent that would lay it open to similar claims by the many other estates throughout the Borough with private roads. It would however take over the ornamental gardens if residents would bring them up to the standards of the Borough and if the Crown Estate Commissioners would transfer only the gardens (i.e. not the service roads as well).
The Residents' Association's efforts had reached an impasse. The Council would not take on responsibility for the service roads and would only take over the ornamental gardens if they had been brought up to a good standard. The Crown would not take responsibility at all, and would not pass over the property to any organisation unless 100% was transferred (i.e. gardens and service roads.)
Over the next few years, the Residents' Association continued its efforts to find a solution to the problems, with serious consideration being given to arranging an Act of Parliament that would require all householders to pay towards the upkeep of the gardens by Ealing Council. This idea eventually came to nought. During this period, sterling work was done by volunteers in maintaining the gardens, especially the north lawn, the central reservation gardens in Princes Gardens, the triangle between Princes Gardens and Tudor Gardens, the south rockery in Princes Gardens, the corner plots by Queens Drive, and the grassed plots at the junction of Vale Lane and Princes Gardens.
Mention must also be made here of the three weekend mass clear-ups of the Estate by residents in the early 1970s. In the summer of 1979, the Residents' Association again approached Ealing Council in an attempt to find a lasting solution. The Council's officers reviewed the situation and the costs that would be involved.
For the service roads it was ascertained that simply making good the running surface (i.e. not putting in a drainage system) would cost approximately £16,000, with the bill falling to abutting owners. For the ornamental gardens, it was estimated that the initial costs in bringing them to a maintainable standard would be over £8,000 with annual maintenance costs being in the region of £2,000. The Council therefore declined to take any responsibility in the matter. The annual cost of the contractors was now £1,000 and so in April 1982 the house residents' subscription was increased to £6 per annum.
At the Annual General Meeting of the Residents' Association in April 1980, the state of play concerning the gardens and service roads was put before the residents (as it had been regularly in previous years). It was agreed to have a number of blocked drains in the service roads cleared at a cost of £l00 and that the worst of the pot holes be filled in at around £300. It was further confirmed that a contractor should be engaged to maintain the gardens on a simple care and maintenance basis. This covered the cutting of lawns twice a month from April to October, together with twice-monthly care of shrubbery areas all the year round. As much as possible of the Estate would be covered, except for the top of Princes Gardens where effective self-help by volunteers was continuing. The annual subscription for householders was increased from £1 to £3 to provide the funds for the contractor's services.
Excellent work was done by contractors on the gardens over the next two years, including particularly the restoration of the rockery and a clean-up of the loop-sides of Princes Gardens. At the AGM. of the Residents' Association in April 1983, the Chairman was pleased to report "worthy of note....the completion of the task…..of cleaning up the gardens….think residents will agree that the results have been money well spent". It was agreed that the contractor should continue to be employed in future years.
A lasting solution is found
Tribute was paid to the member of the Executive who had acted as gardens organiser for several years . But more important than that, it was reported that the Residents' Association had come upon the opportunity to settle the long outstanding problem of the ornamental gardens and service roads, once and for all. In essence, Metgate Ltd (developing Park Western) was seeking to buy all the Estate's lands resting with the Crown, but were prepared to keep only the very small piece of land they needed to gain access from Tudor Gardens, being ready to pass the remainder free gratis to the Residents' Association. This indeed was the breakthrough sought for so long!
For the successful outcome, read on to the section "The battle of Park Western".