In 1897 the Woodgrange Estate celebrated its 20th anniversary in, here is a report from the Forest Gate Weekly News, 9th April that year.
It was this time of the year in 1877 that the late Mr. T. Corbett, having bought the 110 acres of land comprising the Woodgrange Estate, for which he gave £400 per acre or some £44,000 in all, commenced those extensive building operations which have had so much to do with the subsequent history of Forest Gate. From Woodgrange Road to Manor Park the estate purchased by Mr. Corbett extended, and its northern and southern boundaries were the great Eastern Railway and the Romford Road respectively. On these 110 acres there had up to that time been growing goodly crops of rhubarb, peas, parsnips, and other things very good in their way, but the period had now arrived when bricks and mortar were to efface the earlier rural and agricultural features.
An effort to the imagination is required to realize the Forest Gate of twenty years ago. A stranger emerging at that time, into the Woodgrange Road, from the old wooden railway station would see market-gardens directly in front of him as far as the eye could reach, and on his way towards the Romford Road would have these same market gardens on his left hand and only a few private houses on his right. The population of Forest Gate, all told, at that time did not exceed 5,000. Now it is at least ten times that number. The houses on the Woodgrange Estate alone number 1,160 and account, probably, for a larger population than the whole of Forest Gate contained in 1877.
The late Mr. T. Corbett was a Scotchman, of attractive presence and admirable business qualities. He was, moreover, exceedingly generous and disbursed large sums in aid of benevolent projects. It is a mistake to suppose that Mr. T. Corbett made his fortune out of the Woodgrange Estate. As a matter of fact that gentleman died within three years of acquiring the property, although, so energetically were the building operations pushed forward that the houses in Hampton, Osborne, Claremont, Windsor and Romford Roads were then complete beyond Richmond Road. It was as a Glasgow merchant that Mr. Corbett (who was entirely what is known as a "self-made" man) acquired his earlier wealth, but when Mr. Donald, the well-known agent for the Woodgrange Estate, first met Mr. Corbett, the latter gentleman had already largely embarked in the purchase of property and in building speculations, including the erection in Glasgow of 29 model cottages, with which, on social grounds, Mr. Corbett desired to supersede the more popular Scottish system of tenements in blocks.
It so happened that Mr. Donald, who had, for twenty years prior to this time, been in the service of the Fairfield Shipbuilding Company and another similar firm, was chairman of a co-operative society, one of whose shops was in Mr. Corbett's new row of cottages, and it was correspondence in relation to this shop that brought Mr. Donald under Mr. Corbett's notice. The ultimate result was that Mr. Donald was first appointed agent for the 29 cottages and afterwards of the far more important estate at Forest Gate.
Mr. Donald has much to say about the Woodgrange Estate that is interesting. One similar circumstance is that building material was dear in 1877 and is dear now. But nine years ago there was a "slump" in building materials. Bricks which now cost 44s. per thousand were obtainable in 1888 for 28s. The year last quoted was the black year in the history of the estate. Bricks were cheap enough but houses were not wanted. Indeed, those already built were falling out of occupation at a rate of twenty in a quarter. Of this period Mr. Donald tells an amusing story. He had several houses on his hands, some of which had stood empty for years. Nevertheless he made great efforts to appear cheerful and invested in a new, don't-care sort of pattern, pair of trousers, which his clerk greatly admired. That very day a gentleman walked in and bought the house of all others that had been considered the least saleable; and Mr. Donald continued to wear those trousers until they bagged at the knees. The general tide of fortune turned at the same time and the Woodgrange Estate has never "looked back" since.
With Mr. Donald, as agent, there had been associated, as builder, the late Mr. J. Kydd, who was recommended to Mr. Corbett, by Mr. D. Kettle, builder, of Wandsworth (brother of Councillor Kettle, of Forest Gate). The late Mr. T. Corbett died in 1880 and Mr. T. L. Corbett and Mr. A. C. Corbett (now Mr. A. Cameron Corbett, M.P.), who were then quite young men, assumed the responsibility of the estate for the succeeding three years. Mr. Donald, Mr. Kydd and Mr. Strachan (who was in Mr. Corbett's city office), then entered into partnership for five years, and built the estate on their own account, buying the land from Mr. A. C. Corbett. At the end of the term Mr. Corbett resumed possession of the estate, and it still remains in his hands.
The entire estate was finished some five years ago and Mr. Corbett then turned his attention to Ilford, where he has since finished the Clementswood estate of 93 acres and 1,100 houses and the Grange estate of 72 acres and 450 houses; and is commencing the Seven Kings estate of 107 acres, affording facilities for 1,000 houses. At Catford Mr. Corbett has secured 278 acres on which 300 houses are already built, and where there is room for 2,700 more.
All the shops on the east side of Woodgrange Road, from Mr. Craddock's to Messrs. Page and Sons, with the exception of those between Claremont and Windsor Roads (which formerly were private houses) were built as part of the Woodgrange Estate property, and originally let at £72, but now only three of them belong to the estate, all the rest having been purchased by the occupiers or others. There has been a striking increase in the value of these shops during the past twenty years. A trader would consider himself extremely fortunate who was enabled to secure one now for £72 per annum, or for half as much more than that amount.
From the laying of the first brick of the Woodgrange Estate to the present moment, Mr. T. Donald has been associated, as agent, with the enterprise, and is one of the best known men in Forest Gate. His familiar office, at the beginning of Hampton Road, was the first place visited in Forest Gate by hundreds of present residents when they made their initial acquaintance with these parts. Mr. Donald was for some years a member of the East Ham Urban Council, and only retired from the position at the election which has just taken place.
(Originally published as Local Studies Note No 77 by Newham library service)