Wates: The brothers who changed New Malden

In my September 2022 piece I noted the dominance of  developer Wates in shaping modern New Malden, especially south of the A3. This month I’m writing about the firm; next month I’ll concentrate on their archetypal chalets with their “exterior of outstanding loveliness”*.

The Wates business began around 1900 when Edward Wates (1873-1944) set up a furniture store in Streatham, South London, his brother Arthur joining him in 1902. The store, E & A Wates, sold furniture and furnishings and handled removals. It closed in May 2021 and the buildings are now being converted into flats under the name Wates Yard. Younger brothers William and Herbert, who were builders, joined the firm in 1904 and persuaded their older brothers to invest in some land in Purley to speculatively build two new houses. Wates was in the housebuilding business and by 1914 they’d built 139 houses.

During the 1920s Edward’s three sons, Norman (1905-69), Ronald (1907-86) and Allan (1909-85) joined the firm, progressively taking over from the first generation. Norman was the dominant figure: in 1926 under his leadership it embarked on ‘what was then an enormous speculation’, an estate of 1,000 houses in Streatham Vale, which took five years to complete. Ronald trained as a surveyor and took responsibility for site acquisition, later pursuing a second career as a borough and LCC councillor, for which in 1975 he was knighted. Allan joined the firm in 1930; from 1936 he was responsible for the contracting side of the business. All three brothers took an active role in community and philanthropic activities, something which younger members of the family have continued: since it was formed the Wates Foundation has made grants totalling over £100 million, which have provided vital support to thousands of charities.

The period up to WW2 saw enormous expansion, though activities were largely confined to a relatively small geographic area to the south of London from Twickenham in the west to Sidcup in the east. By doing this Wates could maintain a permanent workforce rather than using casual labour. By WW2 Wates  had completed 30,000 houses, 1500-2000 a year.

During the 1930s Wates built more homes in Malden than any other developer. From memory the first houses built by Wates in Malden were some  terraced houses on the south side of Kingston Road – built around 1930 IIRC. After this Wates moved on to build many of the houses in Cromwell Avenue estate. Kenneth Bland (1909-83) joined Wates as chief architect in 1933 and would be there until 1970s – he may be responsible for the Dutch gables found on later Wates houses (they’re not exclusive to Wates of course). Estate layouts, road and utility service design and the like were generally handled by Chart, Son & Reading, a Croydon firm of architects and surveyors.

With the opening of the Kingston Bypass (A3) on 28 October 1927 the land to its south was fair game for development and between 1928-34 Wates bought up multiple parcels of land. During the 1930s they were building houses by the hundred – Wilverley Park, Motspur Park, Barnfield and Wendover estates, the Worcester Park Station estate and several infill developments such as Burford Road.

From 1936 speculative house building in Greater London started to wind down. Most easy-to-develop land had been developed and the flow of new buyers had probably slowed down. The last Wates houses built in Malden before WW2 were for the most part larger detached houses pitched at a slightly different demographic.

As with other pieces in this occasional series, some of the information given here is drawn from memories of my time (1976-84) working at R.B.Kingston upon Thames Building Control and may be incorrect. If you can add anything or see any errors in what I’ve written please add a comment. Unfortunately the British Newspaper Archive has yet to digitise copies of the Surrey Comet for the period covered by these pieces.

* Weekly Dispatch (London) – Sunday 21 January 1934


The title I’ve given this page is a bit tongue in cheek. Wates were responsible for most of the interwar housing between the A3 and the Chessington railway line but a number of other builders were active in the Malden & Coombe BC area including

  • E&L Berg: Notable for their halls-adjoining semis in the High Drive area and their Berg Sunspan houses in Woodlands Avenue.
  • Crouch Group: Builders of many semis in the Kenley Road area.
  • Gleeson: Built lots of houses between the large Wates developments and the Hogsmill river. Their attempt to copy Wates chalets doesn’t IMO come off.
  • R.Lancaster (Wembley): Kingston Vale estate, SW15 (Bowness & Ullswater Crescents, Derwent, Grasmere and Keswick Avenues, Windermere Road). Large houses for better off buyers.
  • Lavender and Farrell: Developed the Worcester Park end of M&C: Manor Drive, Highdown and Leyfield. For a detailed history see Worcester Park Life, Dec 2012, Local History article.
  • New Ideal Homesteads: Set up in 1929 and grew to be the largest homebuilder in the 1930s. Undertook development to the north of Clarence Avenue
  • For more information see ‘Dictionary of British Housebuilders‘, Fred Wellings, 2015

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