North Prospect History Project

Aug 25, 2015 | 0 comments

42 Cookworthy Road’s days are numbered.  With an ongoing regeneration project bulldozing the surrounding houses to make way for a new housing development, number 42 will disappear in a couple of years.  As part of the Plymouth History Festival, the North Prospect History Project have turned number 42 into an amazing exhibition and museum, showcasing the lives and history of North Prospect’s people and homes.  They are currently trying to secure funds to keep the house open until it’s scheduled demolition.

Plymouth’s first “garden suburb”, Swilly (as North Prospect was originally known) was developed in the 1920s to re-house returning war veterans and some of the 9,865 people displaced in the clearing of Plymouth’s slums.  Swilly was seen as a “paradise” to the first tenants, but after fractious communities were moved to the area during the second world war, Swilly became an increasingly difficult place to live, blighted by bad housing, neighbour troubles and out of control youths.  It’s chequered reputation remained through the 1960s, with the council renaming Swilly as “North Prospect” in an attempt to persuade new tenants to move in.  A troubled area until recently, a local group (the North Prospect Partnership) moved to create a development plan for North Prospect which focused around two community centres.  Plymouth Community Housing took on the running of the city council’s housing stock in 2009, and have been redeveloping the area around the needs of the community.

Redevelopment across the road

Redevelopment across the road

42 Cookworthy Road

42 Cookworthy Road

The living room at number 42

The living room

Objects found in the local area

Objects found in the local area

Some of the wallpaper desigsn from demolished houses in the area

Some of the wallpaper desigsn from demolished houses in the area – there was even a ‘Swilly’ wallpaper

Number 42 is an incredibly interesting, but also very personal and emotional place to visit.  It’s a home, rather than just a house or an exhibition, and the lives of the people who lived in this home are still obvious – from the pen marks and dates recording children’s heights on the kitchen doorframe to the handprints decorating a bedroom door, this house still feels lived-in.  As I watched bulldozers and cranes constructing new houses on the other side of the street, I was hit by a wave of sadness as the old houses of North Prospect are replaced.  It’s certainly for the better and the area definitely needs reconstructing around the wishes of tight community it has become, but those visions of a “Paradise at 12/- a week” from the first residents back in the 1920s and all the history since then is disappearing fast.

However, number 42 is here for the minute, and it was a great experience to look around.  The house is part exhibition (upstairs) and part home, with various eras and furnishings poking through.  Local residents have been bringing in photographs and memories about North Prospect and these are hung on the walls – including the first tenancy agreement from 1921!  The huge back garden has been redone as a wartime garden, complete with an Anderson Shelter and ‘grow-your-own’ veg patch.  Downstairs, the kitchen and living room look and feel like a home – I half expected someone to pop back from the shops with a pint of milk.  The bedrooms upstairs have been turned into exhibition spaces, with various interesting items and photographs from Swilly/North Prospect on display.  I was fascinated by the scraps of wallpaper from the different houses in the area which have already been demolished – apparently, local wallpaper firms created new styles for the area, so there is an actual ‘Swilly’ wallpaper style!  Tim Mills’ photographs of the redevelopment of North Prospect are incredibly emotional, and there is a great display of toys, shoes and items found in people’s gardens.

I sincerely hope that the North Prospect History Project are able to keep 42 Cookworthy Road open.  It’s a fascinating place to visit, and so many people are involved in recording their history through this home that number 42 feels like a community hub.