Nevill Estate - monument to long past anger

Thirty years ago I was a member of an organisation in Crawley called Stop the Sale of Council Housing. A few weeks ago, I went to a meeting at the King’s Church in Lewes given by the Lewes History Society about the History of the Nevill Estate. The two came together.

I read a booklet about the history of council housing. The first were built about 1890 and almost immediately some were released for sale. The two high points in council house building followed both world wars. Why? They were the bread crumbs off the table of the rich to attempt to counter working people’s militancy. Nevill Estate was ordered in 1920.

1919 saw the largest wave of anger arguably ever. Gun boats were sent by the government of the day up the Mersey and Clyde to counter the class anger bubbling in the factories and workplaces of those locations. That very same year at the very tip of this iceberg of fury even the police went on strike – in Liverpool and London.

Close to this period, Italy saw ferocious gun battles between factory occupiers and the state in the northern industrial cities. Throughout Germany lorry loads of armed working people took over city after city. America saw the birth of the Wobblies – International Workers of the World. A truly rank and file, anti-racist outfit bent on challenging the elitist and sectional (narrow) craft unions that were thought to be holding back the employed class.

The high point of course was an actual revolution. The 1917 Russian explosion. A fire extinguished by 19 foreign armies that blew their society, and with it the revolution, apart. Stalinism was the left over once these fire men had gone home.

The Nevill Estate? Stuck on the side of the cold Downs that decades earlier even a workhouse was decided not to be built because of the ferocity of the weather in that location. The Nevill Estate is a monument to long ago anger. A gift from the rulers of the day. Or, as one Tory peer proclaimed in the closing days of the next war, ‘If you don’ t give the people social reform, they will give you social revolution.

Colin Herbert