Wavertree Garden Suburb was a co-partnership housing scheme. This means that the houses were 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. (You can still see the initials L.G.S.T. on manhole covers and rainwater heads all over the estate). Shares could also be purchased by outsiders, the annual dividend generally being limited to five 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 eleven similar companies in operation in towns as diverse as Stoke-on-Trent, Keswick (Cumbria) and Sevenoaks (Kent). Vivian had become an M.P. in 1906, having been elected as the Liberal member for Birkenhead.
The first houses on the Ealing estate were not 'garden suburb' type houses at all. They were redbrick 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.
Walk along the left-hand side of Southway until you reach No.10. The extra-wide garden at the side of this house was a bone of contention between L.G.S.T. and the City Council when the estate was first laid out. On the original plans it is shown as a side road, but the company had no intention of ever building one. The reason for including it was that the Liverpool Corporation (Streets and Buildings) Act of 1908 required an intersecting street every 150 yards, in order to ensure the circulation of air around long terraces. The Council decided that no concession could be made in this case, even though the overall density of the estate was only 11 houses to the acre, rather than the 40 to the acre which was normal in Liverpool at the time.