House opened a new chapter for town

AS THE decision whether to knock down a unique house draws closer The Comet spoke to the family of the man who built it. Gunnells in Fairview Road, Stevenage, was built for J H Merrington in 1925. The house is the last of its kind in Stevenage but it is

AS THE decision whether to knock down a unique house draws closer The Comet spoke to the family of the man who built it.

Gunnells in Fairview Road, Stevenage, was built for J H Merrington in 1925.

The house is the last of its kind in Stevenage but it is under threat as its current owners want to knock it down and build eight flats on the plot.

Mr Merrington's great-grandson Hugh Madgin, of Middle Row, Stevenage, said he will be sad to see it go.


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He added that he is surprised the occupants want to put so many flats on the site and believes it will be an over development.

"It will be a great loss to the town. It is an architectural landmark because of its de Soissons design and its construction opened a whole chapter in the expansion of Stevenage west of the railway," said Mr Madgin.

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The Merringtons came to Stevenage at the beginning of the 20th century. J H Merrington was a businessman and the country's biggest importer of tissue paper.

He used to live in Julians Road (the house which was later occupied by Dave King - who was murdered in a drive-by shooting in 2003).

In the early 1920s he decided to build a new house. In the early 1900s a road was laid down, now known as Fairview Road, but no houses were built for two decades because nobody was willing to pay the £200 for the gas main to be extended under the railway to the new road.

Eventually Mr Merrington took matters into his own hands and paid the Stevenage gas company to do the work.

In 1924 work started on Gunnells and it was completed by 1925, the garden city builders Armitages of Letchworth carried out the work.

Within a year more houses were built along the road. Merrington laid out extensive gardens and orchards on land now taken up by adjacent houses and industrial units and kept a few cows on two fields which have also been built over.

Mr Merrington's London offices were bombed during The Blitz so he worked from an office at Gunnells. He lived there until his death in 1945 and the house was sold in 1946 for £5,000 at an auction which was such a big event in the town it attracted many locals who watched the sale.

A spokesman for the Fairview Road Residents' Association said: "Large houses of Gunnells' quality in Stevenage from the inter-war period are now virtually extinct. Fifty years ago there was a liberal sprinkling of such buildings around the town.

"There were several examples of these houses in Bedwell Lane, which were flattened to build the new town centre. Gunnells is the last survivor of these."

* A petition with over 1,000 signatures against the demolition of Gunnells was presented to Stevenage Borough Council yesterday (Wednesday).

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