We are grateful to Nick Bullock for this note about the history of Barrow Road. This was originally prepared in 2013 as part of a proposal to designate Barrow Road as a Conservation Area.
Barrow Road, 13 January 2014.
Photos: Andrew Roberts.
The layout of the road reflects the leafy vision of “Town-Country” championed by the Garden City Movement and first realised by the architects and planners Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker at Letchworth Garden City (1903-10) and Hampstead Garden Suburb (1907-14). Barrow Road’s broad frontage houses are not only more generous but also quite different in conception from the Cambridge suburbs of the turn of the century like the de Freville Estate or the area like Harvey Road and Lyndewode Road laid out by Gonville and Caius in the 1890s. With their narrow frontages, deep plans and back extensions, these older suburbs look back to a form of town extension that was shaped by the bye-laws of the late 1870s and early 1880s more concerned with minimum provision for public health than the priorities of the Garden City movement: orienting houses to catch the sun and providing gardens large enough to grow sufficient produce to make a contribution to the household budget.
Looking east along Barrow Road, 13 January 2014.
The trees in blossom along Barrow Road, 12 April 2011.
Looking north along the further part of Barrow Road to the turning circle and Barrow Close, 13 January 2014.
Looking north along the further part of Barrow Road towards Barrow Close, 13 January 2014.
The architecture of the road follows the English conventions of the period with the use of the Arts and Crafts for houses in the suburbs or out of town, but it also exemplifies the diversity praised in Trystam Edwards’ contemporary book on domestic architecture, Good Manners in Architecture (1935), welcoming a few houses more classical in feeling and even the occasional exercise in cautious modernism. The predominant Arts and Crafts manner is perfectly suited to easy-going expectations of suburban life: a detached house, most with a live-in servant, and a garden large enough for a tennis court. What had started in the 1880s as a softening and a brightening of the Gothic Revival by architects like Shaw and Champneys, had become by the turn of the century in the hands of Philip Webb, Lethaby and Voysey an informal approach to domestic building that was internationally admired. In Cambridge the Arts and Crafts is best represented by the houses by Baillie Scott, though there is also a house by Lutyens, built as part of the new development of Grange Road and Storeys Way. Myers’ skill was to interpret this way of building for the more modest needs (and pockets) of the middle-classes in developments planned by Trinity on Barrow Road, and by King’s for Millington Road.
Architecturally the design of the houses is varied but follows a few simple unifying conventions. The formal vocabulary of the Arts and Crafts houses, the tiled, hipped and gabled roofs, the large brick chimneys, the simple brickwork or rendered walls, is generally vernacular in inspiration, though up-dated to include Crittall’s metal windows. The compositions of the front elevations vary. Most are informal: something is generally made of the front door to one side of which a two storey bay, with a hip or gable above, may be played against the rest of the front and a forward-stepping garage. Others are symmetrical, demanding a matching set of windows but for very different rooms, balancing a living-room against a kitchen with the whole composition held together under a large central gable.
As occasion and clients demanded, Myers was willing to design in a different fashion. A number of houses are more classical in style, more or less symmetrical, rendered or brick, they look as comfortably at ease with their neighbours as they might in the suburbs of any northern European or a Scandinavian suburb of the time. More daringly, Myers was even prepared to play with motifs that foreshadow the coming of Modernism. The round-cornered bays and the elongated proportions of the Crittall windows on Nos. 29 (and formerly No. 31) are a gesture, however muted, towards the coming stylistic revolution and his last houses are yet more modern in feel with different proportions to the divisions in the metal windows and a simpler style of brick detailing, reminiscent of the houses from Hamburg or Holland photographed by Frank Yerbury for the Architect and Building News
Suburban life has changed since the 1930s. The live-in servants of the pre-war years and the au-pair girls of the 1950s and 60s, vital aids to middle-class family life, have long been replaced by fitted kitchens and fully equipped utility rooms. Our cars, too wide for the garages of the 1930s, now crowd our drives. Our gardens have grown: shrubs have spread, beech hedges have become beech trees; how many of us still play tennis on our lawns? We, collectively, have changed and adapted the road, claiming our freedoms – some architecturally quite ambitious – on the garden side but have generally observed on the road-side the design conventions laid down when the road was first built. In this way the road has retained its architectural qualities. New generations will continue to adapt the houses to their needs but if they can do this by still maintaining the conventions that have served us well so far, we will be able to preserve the special qualities of the road, of layout and architecture, that are such an important part of its charm.