A brief history extracted from 'Darlington Memories'
Alfred Banting Armstrong and William Bussey were both working in the building trade when they decided to form a partnership in 1902 and set up their own building business Their first premises were at Hopetown, from where they began building the first houses in Trafalgar Terrace using imported timber and horse-drawn carts.
At the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, Mr Henry Fell Pease, Liberal MP for the Cleveland Division, lived in a fine Victorian mansion named Brinkburn. The lodge for Brinkburn was in Woodland Road and the entire estate is now covered with modern housing. The house stood on ground which is now the yard occupied by Bussey & Armstrong Homes.
Help for the unemployed
In 1928 they were sufficiently well established to be able to purchase a 25 acre site at Cockerton from the Darlington Corporation. They planned to build a new garden suburb of 300 houses, ensuring work for 120 employees for the next three years.
The scheme was popular as it also provided additional employment in trades supplying materials. The site was near the then new chemical factory, bounded by Bates Avenue, West Auckland Road, the LNER Barnard Castle branch line and Stooperdale Avenue.
Mr A.B. Armstrong, then principal of the firm, was proud of using local materials. "There is no other trade that gets more of its materials from the local vicinity than ours. I estimate that the 800 houses will necessitate the use of over 5,000,000 bricks so that should mean steady work at the brickworks."
The garden suburb scheme had been devised primarily to provide accommodation when the chemical works opened. The houses priced at £400, were throughly modern, semi-detached, each with three bedrooms, living room, kitchen and scullery, together with a garden plot. Even for the times, this was a bargain price but Mr Armstrong was concerned for his clients. "People cannot afford to pay big prices because their income has been curtailed. I will do my utmost to build these houses at £400 each."
Mr Armstrong had a very responsible attitude to his customers and his town. An early advertising publication promises not only that the firm's houses will be as modern and comfortable as he can make them, but also that they will be 'designed so that every scheme enhances the beauty of the district.'
A 'new' garden city
Bussey & Armstrong wanted to bring to Darlington the 'garden city' atmosphere typified by Welwyn.
It is interesting to consider what exactly constituted 'every modern convenience' at this between-war period. Mr Armstrong was offering sunk switches in oxy-copper as the hardly-to-be-resisted feature.
A whole section of Mr Armstrong's booklet is devoted to the purchasing of houses by ordinary people, an idea not taken for granted at the time. It points out, 'after all, you do not rent your furniture or your car; why should you expect someone to loan you a house?' Clear instructions are given on how to apply to a building society for a loan and how the society will expect to be repaid.
A change in direction
In 1984, after the demise of both the original Mr Armstrong and his son, the present management took control. Because of the demand in Darlington in the eighties and nineties from the top end of the market, the company began to build properties in the £200,000-£300,000 price range.
These properties are traditional in design using real Welsh slate, stock bricks and leaded glazing. The company employs an artist blacksmith to make finials and railings. The Woodland Estate is typical of the current style. It is a residential development in a walled parkland setting which has won a RIBA design award.
Whatever the price or style, the company has a reputation for housing Darlington people in houses that can be depended upon for convenience, quality and value for money.
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