19 December 2022

Stony Stratford’s housing
includes some of ‘Britain’s
hidden architectural gems’

Galley Hill, started half a century ago in 1971-1972, was the first large housing scheme built by Milton Keynes Development Corporation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Suburban housing is often unremarkable architecturally. But the suburban housing on the south side of Stony Stratford includes the houses in Galley Hill and Fullers Slade, regarded as innovative and revolutionary when they they were built half a century ago and the houses in Latimer, which has been described as one of ‘Britain’s hidden architectural gems,’ offering ‘superlative modern living in landscaped surroundings.’

The housing development in Galley Hill was built as a rent-to-buy housing scheme and was designed under the influence of the architect Professor Derek John Walker (1929-2015), then the Chief Architect for Milton Keynes Development Corporation.

Derek Walker is remembered primarily for his work in urban planning and leisure facilities through his firm Derek Walker Associates. He studied architecture at Leeds Art School and planning at the University of Pennsylvania before setting up an architectural practice in Leeds in 1960. From 1970 to 1976, he was the Chief Architect and planner of Milton Keynes.

Walker recruited a team and over seven years produced a landscaping strategy for the new city, eleven village plans, the structure for the programme for producing 3,000 houses a year with supporting community, leisure, retail and sporting and cultural facilities.

He designed many buildings, and possibly the most celebrated is the Central Milton Keynes Shopping Centre. When it opened in 1979 it was a unique concept for 1 million sq ft (93,000 sq m) of retail space planned around covered landscaped streets. It has since been giving Grade II listing.

Walker was involved with the architects Norman Foster and Frank Newby in New York, and he was Professor of Architecture and Design at the Royal College of Art in 1984-1990.

Galley Hill, started half a century ago in 1971-1972, was the first large housing scheme built by Milton Keynes Development Corporation. Concrete shells were delivered to the site and clad with brick. The mono-pitched roof design was reflected in later developments in other parts of Milton Keynes.

Some of the houses intially served as a post office, a temporary school, a doctor’s surgery and a curate’s house for Saint Mary and Saint Giles Parish.

The Local Centre in Galley Hill was the first of its type in Milton Keynes. It was built alongside a grid road, which was part of the plan for Milton Keynes, with a mix of shops, meeting place and a community workshop. The meeting place and workshop in the centre have been partly refurbished in recent weeks.

Fullers Slade was conceived as a reinterpretation of the traditional terraced house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Neighbouring Fullers Slade was the second large fully council owned estate built by Milton Keynes Development Corporation in the early 1970s. It was also important in establishing the architectural reputation of the city. The original design was conceived as a reinterpretation of the traditional terraced house and was built using simple modular techniques to get around the shortage of traditional building skills at the time.

The long terraces in Fullers Slade were originally cedar clad and were set in copious parkland with no rear garden overlooked at the back.

Fullers Slade was influenced, directly or indirectly, by Wayland Tunley working with Derek Walker, and it has been widely illustrated in publications, including in the Architects’ Journal (1975). However, the estate became very run down in recent decades, was beset by building condition and site security issues. It was considered one of the most deprived estates in Britain, and was one of seven similar estates in Milton Keynes earmarked by the council to be regenerated as part of an ambitious billion pound programme.

The architectural significance of all these developments is recognised in the second edition of the Pevsner Architectural Guide to Buckinghamshire, edited by the architectural historian Dr Elizabeth Williamson.

Latimer was used frequently in advertising to set the modern design agenda for Milton Keynes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Nearby Latimer is a significant early courtyard-based private housing scheme. It too has been recognised in Pevsner and in important publications such as the Architect’s Journal (1975). Latimer was used frequently in advertising to set the modern design agenda for Milton Keynes as a developing new town from the mid-1970s on.

The houses at Latimer were built in 1974-1975 and are perhaps the best built during this period, in terms of both location and architectural design. They were sold originally with an asking price of £18,250.

The houses at Latimer were designed by the architectural practice of Frost Nicholls in collaboration with the landscape architect Michael Ellison.

Brian Frost (1939-2021), who died last year, belonged to a generation who believed good architecture would contribute to a better future for all. Most of his work was in housing – more by chance than intention, he later maintained – and demonstrates a passion for care and quality in buildings. The partnership of Frost and Nicholls lasted until 1977, and Brian Frost later worked with the prize-winning architect Sir James Stirling (1926-1992).

Professor Cliff Nicholls studied architecture at South Bank and Greenwich Universities. He won the European prize for Architecture in 1991. He became Dean of Design at Chelsea College of Art and Design in 1994 and Head of the School of Architecture and the Visual Arts at the University of East London in 2003. He has been a visiting professor in Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Jinzhou, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

No 13 Latimer was used as the show-house when the development first opened (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

In their competition-winning design for Latimer in Calverton End, Frost and Nicholls were inspired by the Danish architect Jørn Utzon (1918-2008), particularly by his houses in Fredensborg and in Kingo near Helsingør in 1963. Utzon is best known for his design of the Sydney Opera House (1973), and Frost and Nicholls were inspired at Latimer by Utzon’s courtyard form.

No 13 is a good example of the houses at Latimer and it was used as the show-home when the development first opened. It is a detached four-bedroom house arranged over three levels with a large, open plan living and dining space at its core. The house is a rare example in Britain of a ‘courtyard house’ where the accommodation is arranged around an open courtyard.

The use of glass throughout the house allows for plenty of light, while the surrounding planting of trees ensure a high degree of privacy. Aside from glass, the house’s exterior is formed of dark brick and dark stained timber, which is also visible throughout the interior, beside white-painted brick.

The Architects’ Journal in 1975 devoted 11 pages to an in-depth study of the Frost Nicholls houses at Latimer, with a set of photographs by the celebrated architectural photographer John Donat (1933-2204).

The Journal covered almost every aspect of the project from the construction of the houses to discussions of details such as the timber trellises on the exterior of the houses.

Writing in the Architects’ Journal, Peter Collymore described how ‘inhabitants returning home through the open rolling landscape of Buckinghamshire will arrive in a private sheltered haven that could be pleasant and calming.’ He praised ‘the remarkable light quality – and a sense of space which is most pleasing,’ while the ‘private gardens are positioned to receive maximum sunlight and minimum overlooking.’

Half a century after it was built, Latimer remains one of the best courtyard schemes built in Britain during a golden age of low-rise housing. At the time Latimer was built, sustainability was not a significant concern, but its compact setting and choice of materials continue to offer much to learn from today.

The Local Centre in Galley Hill was the first of its type in Milton Keynes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying in Advent with Lichfield Cathedral
and USPG: Monday 19 December 2022

‘O Radix Jesse’ … the Tree of Jesse (1703), an icon in the Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Yesterday was the Fourth Sunday of Advent and today we are less than a week to Christmas Day.

The traditional counting of the ‘O Antiphons’ began on Saturday (17 December) with ‘O Sapientia.’ The phrase O Sapientia appears in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer without explanation. For eight days before Christmas, the canticle Magnificat at Evensong has a refrain or antiphon proclaiming the ascriptions or ‘names’ given to God through the Old Testament.

Each name develops into a prophecy of the forthcoming and eagerly-anticipated Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God. O Sapientia, or ‘O Wisdom’, was followed yesterday by ‘O Adonai’, then O Radix Jesse (‘O Root of Jesse’) today, followed by ‘O Key of David’ tomorrow, ‘O Dayspring’, ‘O King of the Nations’ and finally on 23 December ‘O Emmanuel’.

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

During Advent, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, The reading suggested in the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar produced by Lichfield Cathedral this year;

2, praying with the Lichfield Cathedral Devotional Calendar;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘O Radix Jesse’ … the large ‘Jesse Tree’ window by Clayton and Bell in the North Transept of Lichfield Cathedral illustrates the Biblical genealogy of Christ, crowned in the upper section of the centre light with the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 1: 5-25 (NRSVA):

5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ 18 Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’ 19 The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 ‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.’

Saint John the Baptist with his parents, Saint Zechariah and Saint Elizabeth, in a mosaic at the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Lichfield Cathedral Devotional Calendar:

Here is another dream and vision, with a messenger and the fulfilment of a promise. Think of the name given by the Angel to the promised child. Note the insights given into the child’s future. Pray for our future and what forerunners we need to help us prepare for it. Ask to be ready to hear reminders and new truth about how we are with one another and with God.


God our redeemer,
who prepared the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of your Son:
grant that, as she looked for his coming as our saviour,
so we may be ready to greet him
when he comes again as our judge;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Heavenly Father,
who chose the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of the promised saviour:
fill us your servants with your grace,
that in all things we may embrace your holy wil
l and with her rejoice in your salvation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Eternal God,
as Mary waited for the birth of your Son,
so we wait for his coming in glory;
bring us through the birth pangs of this present age
to see, with her, our great salvation
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘International Migrants Day.’ This theme was introduced yesterday with a reflection on International Migrants Day by Bishop Antonio Ablon, Coordinator of the Filipino Chaplaincy in Europe, part of the Philippine Independent Church.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for all who leave home in search of work and a better life. May they be met with understanding and hospitality along the way.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord’ (Luke 1: 11) … the Holy Trinity and angels in the Herkenrode windows in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org