Saturday 5 September 2015

The Great Wash City & Woldsea: two failed schemes for building new cities on the Lincolnshire coastline

The following is just a very quick post offering some details and images of two ambitious twentieth-century plans to build cities on the Lincolnshire coastline that in the end came to nothing. There is little to be found online about either plan, but if they had come to fruition they would have entailed major changes to the landscape and ecology of the Lincolnshire coast, and they are fascinating examples of two very different types of twentieth-century town planning.

Harry Teggin's suggested plan for how the Wash might be reclaimed and developed (plan from Teggin's proposal, via Robinson, 1981)

The question of what to do with the Wash, that great bay with tidal marshes and mudflats into which the rivers of the Fenland and southern Lincolnshire pour, has long occupied people with dreams of its drainage and reclamation. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in particular saw significant 'new lands' recovered from the sea all along the edge of the Wash by these means, but some wished to go much further and alter its character almost entirely. One of the most recent of these dramatic coastal engineering schemes was proposed by the architect Harry Teggin on the BBC's Network Three (now Radio 3) in 1966 and in two subsequent studies published in 1969 entitled City of the Great Wash: A Theory of Cumulative Gain and Britain's Europort: the Real Treasure in the Wash.

Teggin argued for the construction of a massive 'Great Wash City' of 750,000 people on reclaimed silt and sand banks just to the south of Skegness, with an attendant new national freight airport, a vast deep-water 'Europort', extensive reclaimed farmlands, and huge freshwater reservoirs—his plan showing how these resources might be placed within the Wash basin is included above. Although none of these elements were considered to be individually viable, Teggin maintained that the cumulative economic and social benefits of constructing all of them together meant that the scheme was workable, desirable and cost-effective at the estimated price of around £1 billion. Indeed, it was argued that not only would the scheme bring major economic development to an area of England that was 'underdeveloped, underpopulated, and unexploited', whilst also relieving pressure on London and the south-east, but it would ensure effective flood control, improved navigation, and the creation of some of the richest agricultural land in England! Needless to say, the impact on Lincolnshire if Teggin's scheme had gone ahead would have been dramatic, and not simply from an economic standpoint: at a stroke, the county would have lost half its seaboard, along with all the wildlife that currently frequents it.

Looking across the salt marsh to the Wash at Friskney, Lincolnshire, with the top of a grain storage tower on the opposite side of the Wash at King's Lynn visible on the horizon; the wreck was a target for the former RAF Wainfleet bombing range and the object in the foreground is a navigation marker resting on the saltmarsh (image © Mat Fascione, via Geograph, CC BY-SA 2.0).

The proposed layout of Woldsea on the Lincolnshire coast, centred on Huttoft Bank, from the 1908 prospectus; click for a larger version of the image.

The second scheme to be mentioned here was perhaps more plausible than Teggin's fantastic vision of a new metropolis rising from the sand and silt of the Wash, and was presumably inspired by the success of the onshore developments of Cleethorpes and Skegness in the nineteenth century. Published in 1911 by the Woldsea Freehold Town Planning Syndicate Ltd under the title of Woldsea—The First Garden City by the Sea and summarized in The Times that year, it offered a plan to develop a new 'garden city' on a largely unexploited expanse of the Lincolnshire coastline around Huttoft Bank, just to the south of Mablethorpe, Sutton-on-Sea and Sandilands. The town was to have a two mile sea frontage with 'magnificent sands', its own railway station (on the Great Northern Railway, which ran close to the site), and a town entrance in the form of a pseudo-medieval gateway. The sandhills along the shoreline were to be planted with flowering shrubs and trees to enhance their charm, the existing golf course behind the dunes—which was laid out in 1901—was to be supplemented by a large 'Pleasure Gardens' with a band stand and cricket ground, and the 'garden city' townscape inland of these was to be filled with Mock Tudor hotels, houses, bungalows and villas, suggestive of a sort of Woodhall Spa-by-the-Sea.

Illustration of a pair of houses at Woldsea from the prospectus, the proposed cost of which would have been £1,200.

Suggested look of The Green, Woldsea, from the prospectus.

Certainly, the planners were determined that this should be a town very different from the other resorts of the early twentieth-century Lincolnshire coast. Unlike Skegness, Sutton-on-Sea, Mablethorpe and Cleethorpes, which were scornfully derided as populist resorts, this was to be a place designed solely for the upper classes and 'the better middle class', who were said to be poorly served along the east coast up until this point. It was thus to have no fashionable pier or promenade, but was rather planned along 'modern lines' with 'artistically designed walks of natural appearance', ample garden surroundings full of rural charm, and a tight control over development to prevent the sort of 'freak building' and 'jerry-built lodging-houses' that apparently offended the eye along much of the Lincolnshire coast. Furthermore, the site was sold as being perfectly positioned not only close to the sea, but also near to the Lincolnshire Wolds (hence its name), with Hubbard's Hills at Louth being promoted as a potential woodland park 'resort' for the future inhabitants of Woldsea via the GNR railway line north from Huttoft to Louth.

Although the project appears to have attracted considerable interest, with the well-to-do and soon-to-retire colonials coming up to inspect the site and consider plans for picturesque thatched cottages and Tudor villas (the latter priced at £2,000 each), the dream of an upper- and middle-class garden city on the Lincolnshire coast eventually came to naught, perhaps largely due to the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. The only tangible remains of the scheme are the golf course that still runs behind the sandhills from Sandilands down to Huttoft Bank, the Grange & Links hotel in Sandilands—whose style and name seem to recall The Links hotel that was proposed as part of the Woldsea development—and perhaps the design of some of the larger houses in that village too. As to the name of the Lincolnshire seaside resort that never was, this was not entirely forgotten either, although it's survival is only very minimal, being preserved as it is in the name of the isolated Woldsea Farm, Huttoft.

The beach today at Huttoft Bank, which would have lain at the centre of the Woldsea seafront if the project had reached fruition (photo: C. R. Green).

A planned hotel at Woldsea, as shown in the prospectus.

Needless to say, the above two schemes were not the only developments proposed for the Lincolnshire coastline that failed to reach fruition, but they are amongst the most intriguing and most fully thought out. Woldsea in particular might well have been built if World War I had not intervened, and the Great Wash City certainly had a degree of support and was mentioned positively in the House of Commons. Of the two, the Great Wash City perhaps had the greatest transformative potential for the region, both economically and environmentally. Whereas Woldsea was merely envisaged as a rural utopia for the upper and 'better' middle classes, where they could enjoy the Lincolnshire coast away from the horrors of 'day-trippers' and the like, Teggin's vision of massive city and Europort rising from the sea would have provided a new economic hub for the whole East Midlands. In the end, however, it proved simply too ambitious and expensive a project for the government to countenance. Of course, Teggin's proposal would also have wreaked havoc on the ecology of the Lincolnshire coastline to a far greater degree than Woldsea ever could have, but it is worth remembering here that it was not the first nor the last proposal to risk this. Indeed, a generation before only the economic difficulties of the 1930s had intervened to prevent the Wash saltmarsh and coastal zone from Gibraltar Point to the mouth of the Witham being made into the proposed 15 mile long Wash Speedway track with an accompanying 4 mile long grandstand, 12 mile long TT track, motor boat speedway, aerodrome and amusement park, the whole project having the support of Sir Malcolm Campbell!

The proposed Wash Speedway of 1930; click for a larger version of the image.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2015, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.