Wavertree Garden Suburb - or the Liverpool Garden Suburb as it was originally called - was one of about 20 or so similar developments planned and built up and down the country in the decade prior to the First World War. It was a co-partnership housing scheme: the houses being owned neither individually nor by a profit-seeking private landlord.
The owner of the whole estate was a company called Liverpool Garden Suburb Tenants Ltd, in which the tenants of the houses were themselves shareholders. Shares could also be purchased by outsiders, the annual dividend generally being limited to 5 per cent. Since the tenants had a financial interest in the estate, it was assumed that repair costs would be kept down, and investment in the company would literally be 'as safe as houses'.
There was a touch of crusading zeal about the company. "The object", said the initial prospectus, "is to provide a residential suburb for the people of Liverpool amid surroundings which conduce to both health and pleasure". Its telegraphic address was 'Antislum, Liverpool'. The intention was always to plough back a proportion of the profits to pay for the further expansion of the estate.
The idea of building a Garden Suburb here came not from Liverpool but from London. Henry Vivian - the first Chairman of Liverpool Garden Suburb Tenants Ltd - was also Chairman of Co-partnership Tenants Ltd, a London-based organisation dedicated to establishing Garden Suburbs all over the country. He was a carpenter by background; an active trade unionist who did not see why the ordinary working man should not share in the profits of house ownership. He set up the very first co-partnership housing scheme - Ealing Tenants Ltd - in west London in 1901, and by the time L.G.S.T. was established in 1910 there were 11 similar companies in operation in towns as diverse as Stoke-on-Trent, Keswick (Cumbria) and Sevenoaks (Kent).
The first houses on the Ealing estate were not 'garden suburb' type houses at all. They were red-brick terraces, very similar to the sort being built (by speculative individuals and companies) in Liverpool at that time. It was Vivian's political friendship with Ralph Neville, Chairman of The First Garden City Company Ltd at Letchworth, that persuaded him to advocate low-density planning for all the subsequent co-partnership estates, including Wavertree. The overall density of the Wavertree estate was only 11 houses to the acre, rather than the 40 to the acre which was normal in Liverpool at the time.
The architecture of the Garden Suburb was strongly influenced by the cottage architecture of southern England. While the houses have certain features in common - like the small-paned windows - there are variations in design. The 'monotony' of traditional terraces was something the architects consciously strove to avoid. At the same time, building costs were kept down by purchasing bricks, tiles and windows in bulk, and transporting them to the various co-partnership estates around the country by rail.
In fact the bricks and tiles were manufactured (appropriately enough by a co-operative firm) in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire, and it was Letchworth - founded in 1903 - that had set the architectural pattern for co-partnership housing schemes all over England.