Elsinore - on the way towards the Welfare State
|From 1919-1946 the dynamic mayor Peder Christensen was the leading force behind the attempt to turn Elsinore into a Social Democratic model municipality. Similar efforts took place in several Danish municipalities in accordance with the socialist ideas of the time.
In present time Elsinore you can still see the results of this. Primarily in the extensive council housing estates which were started then.
Elsinore – community spirit and solidarity
Seen from a contemporary perspective the period 1900-40 is remarkable because of a stubborn determination to insist on a collective and solidarity based outlook on life. The flight from the country into the towns, and the violent attack by the industrial society on the cultural and mental position of the rural workers, made these first generation industrial workers get together to maintain the feeling of community which had existed within the former agricultural culture.
For the labour movement the crucial efforts therefore became the gathering of the unions into a communal organization, the development of cooperative enterprises plus a direct political influence within the state and municipalities.
The fundamental idea behind this came to Denmark from abroad.At an international congress in Paris in the year 1900 the Social Democrats from all over Western Europe decided that socialism was to be introduced gradually via the municipalities. Opposite Sweden Denmark had a decentralized state government and a number of municipalities in Denmark therefore made an effort to live up to the recommendation from the congress to introduce the so-called municipal socialism. Thus also in Elsinore.
Elsinore Iron Ship and Engine Building
Elsinore Shipyard from 1882 ushered in the industrialization of Elsinore. It quickly became the city´s largest employer unconditionally: From the outset, there were approx. 700 employees, in 1907 ca.1000, in 1932 approx. 1300 and in 1957 approximately 3600. It was from here that the co-operation and many of the city council members and mayors were recruited. First and foremost, shop stewards of the large Black-smiths and Operator Union.
In periods the shipyard employed both Swedish and German blacksmiths, and from 1920, there was a a good contact between the Elsinore smiths and smiths in Helsingborg. In 1930 there were alternately trips across the Sound-for both members and companions! The gregarious element was therefore quite large. But one of the largest excursions was, however, during the great lockout in 1936, when several hundred members from Elsinore were invited to the celebration and moral support from the Swedish colleagues in the People’s House in Helsingborg.
The shipyard hooter
Elsinore shipyard 1929
The shipyard blacksmiths
Municipal socialism was not implemented anywhere in Denmark but the labour movement became the frontrunner during the inter-war period in what after WWII was called the Welfare State. A state in which the local authorities, among other things via taxes, took responsibility for the whole population to a much higher degree than before.
In Elsinore this took place in a complicated interaction between the Communal Organization, the Co-operation and the Town Council.
The Communal Organization
On a national basis the Communal Organization was an organ for co-operation between the various trade unions in the individual towns in Denmark. A powerful organ which got a foothold at the Gothenburg Conference between the Nordic Social Democratic parties in 1886.
The main organization in Denmark gained an important influence in the 20th century when later like in Sweden it got the name “Landsorganisationen” (The Federation of Danish trade unions). Now just LO (TUC). The purpose was to promote the common interests of the workers within the unions as well as organizationally and culturally.
In Elsinore the local branch of the Communal Organization was formed in 1888 and became an important agent in the dominance which the Social Democratic Party was to exert in the town during the next century.
The headquarters were established the following year in the cultural stronghold of the movement, the People’s House in Søstræde. Among other things it was also from here that the establishment of a number of co-operative enterprises were organized.
The motive power behind this was the manager from 1907, the trade union chairman Peder Christensen. And from 1919 the political influence of the organization was established by the fact that Peder Christensen became the first popularly elected mayor in Elsinore. A mayor whose life blood was the co-operative idea.
The People´s House
The trade union
The co-operation - the third chord in the labour movement
The co-operative idea was an internationally discussed one – namely that the workers by producing, purchasing and distributing together various goods and services could have their daily needs covered. In Denmark the idea had been found very satisfactory and at the Congress of the Social Democratic Party in 1908 it was made clear that the co-operation was considered the third chord in the labour movement – next to the trade union movement and the party.
Up until WWI a number of trade co-operations were now established, and besides the housing co-operation was established, too. In a historical perspective it is obvious that it is within the main areas of the agricultural production: milk, bread and the heating of houses that the idea of co-operation was most successful. Perhaps not so strange since it was here the new first generation industrial workers came from. They possessed the skills.
The co-operation grew to play an important part in the childhood of the workers’ movement, but after WWII the co-operative enterprises were gradually driven out of competition by national and international Big Business.
But in Elsinore of that time like in Copenhagen it was the establishment of the Workers’ Co-operative Bakery that became the flagship of the co-operation in the local area.
Elsinore Co-operative Society
Elsinore Co-operative Society was originally founded by railway workers in 1904 under the name, the State Railway Joint Purchasing. From the beginning they were members of the Social Democratic-led FDB, but they also bought goods in private grocery wholesalers. In 1917 the name was changed to Elsinore Co-operative Society, and the following year the Co-op was established in 9, Fiolgade.
The main objective was to get good groceries at reasonable prices. This was to be done by avoiding some costly intermediaries. It is hard to overestimate the importance of this part of the work of the Co-operation. The entire period 1900-1940 were tough times for the working classes and even a few pennies saving of daily goods were important in the small budgets.
From a modest beginning The Co-operative Society developed gradually to become North Zealand´s largest retail business. In the interwar period there was thus established Co-operative Societies in the "Negro village" at Rosenkildevej (1923), Hamlet Vænge and at Esrumvej and Solbakken at Rønnebær Alle. Around 1960 the number had gradually grown to 13 stores, with 100 employees and 3000 members.
With the construction of Kvickly in Stjernegade in 1965 and Kvickly 2 in Prøvestenscenteret in 1979 the Co-operative Society cemented its significance for the city and its hinterland.
Elsinore Coop 1935
The Co-op in the “Negro Village”
The Co-operative Bakery
In the 1880’ties bread was the principal food of the working classes. In spite of the downward tendency of prices of grain the private bakers did not lower the prices and with falling real wages the workers in Copenhagen felt provoked to establish “The Workers’ Co-operative Bakery in Copenhagen”. In many ways this initiative became a success which spread to the whole country. During the nineteen hundreds many of the co-operative bakeries united into a community which was called the Rutana Union. During the 1900s the union factory in Copenhagen, Rutana, almost became synonymous with the idea of rye bread, which was sold under the same name in the local co-operative bakeries.
The success also spread to Elsinore where the Communal Organization also established a co-operative bakery around 20 years later.
Immediately after his nomination as manager of the Communal Organization Peder Christensen entered into negotiations with a privately owned bread factory in Elsinore and in 1907 the Workers’ Co-operative Bakery was a reality with financial backing from a number of members’ unions.
After that followed some rough years with price wars and competition from the bakers of the town, but around the outbreak of war in 1914 the bakery was an accepted, modern and well-consolidated enterprise with a number of bread shops and bakeries in the town. An enterprise which functioned up until the 1970’ties.
Elsinore co-operative bakery 1907
”Kooperativa Bageriet” 1910
The oven of the co-operative bakery
The Town Council of Elsinore
Already from 1894 the Social Democratic Party had been well represented in the Town Council. And in 1919 the Social Democratic Party became so strong that the chairman of the Communal Organization, Peder Christensen, could be nominated as the first Town Council elected mayor of Elsinore. For the first time the Town Council now had an absolute majority of workers with 10 seats as against 9 non-socialists, including 2 from the Social Liberals. And with a Social Democratic mayor at the front.
During the next 25 years the mayor and the Social Democratic Town Council members became the locomotive in the efforts to get the municipality to give financial support and backing for the benefit of the common good. And it was needed. The model municipality were to give financial support during the following years to among other things:
- Housing for senior citizens
- Municipal housing, the garden cities
- Allotment gardens
- Public production enterprise, The glass works
- Harbour construction, Nordhavnen
- Day-care institutions, Mother and Baby help
From 1919 to 1943 the Social Democratic Party had absolute majority in Elsinore Municipality. For instance in 1938 they had 11 out 19 members. Here gathered at a party meeting with “King Peder” well-established at the end of the table.
Elsinore City Council 1938
Housing for Senior Citizens
In the Town Council the Social Democrats managed to get the municipality to purchase the entertainment park “Hammershøj” and convert it into an Old people’s home.
And with the newly elected mayor Peder Christensen as promoter the housing estate for senior citizens at Gurrevej was constructed 1919-21. It was the first independent municipal senior citizens’ housing estate in Denmark.
The former entertainment park “Hammershøj” was converted into “Elsinore Old People’s Home” in 1915.
The Senior Citizens’ Housing Estate at Gurrevej, which was constructed during the years 1918-21, is still a conspicuous edifice.
The Foundation on Gurrevej
Municipal Housing Policy
At the present time it is the state- and municipal initiatives of the period in the disastrous housing situation of that time which catch the eye. Among other things because the buildings still exist.
In a progressive way the workers’ movement left its stamp on municipal housing policy. In 1916 the Communal Union in Elsinore called on the Town Council to build “a suitable number of buildings in villa-style” in order to relieve the housing shortage in the town. There was great resistance from the non-socialist parties against involving the municipality in these plans, but the Social Democratic and the Social Liberals´ votes carried the motion. The municipality was able to sell a suitable plot at Esrumvej to a newly established housing society and along the way they could grant a contribution. And in 1917 the construction could commence. Along the way the economy went bust for the housing society so the result was that the municipality became the building owner and landlord.
The estate, “Hamlets Vænge”, was inspired both architecturally and with regard to town planning by the British garden cities which in those years popped up in parts of Europe. A type of housing which it is worth paying attention to.
The Garden Cities in Elsinore
One of the reformist thoughts which became important for urban development in Europe in the 20th century was the British idea of the “The Garden City””. It was supposed to be a completely new town. Preferably right outside the metropolis. It was supposed to unite the benefits of the big city: social life, jobs, institutions etc. with the benefits of the countryside: light and air, low dwellings with gardens and green areas.
The inspiration was to come from the old villages and the nationally domestic pre-industrial style of building.
Both during and after WWI this development took place in Denmark and the result was a number of garden cities with a distinctively Danish character. Especially inspired by the building style of Southern Jutland with Frisian attics and bay windows from Tønder. In Copenhagen you will find that Grøndalsvænge and Præstevangen are both good examples, and in Elsinore you can still enjoy the cultural gems Hamlets Vænge and “The Negro Village”.
Hamlets Vænge was constructed in 4 stages during the period 1917-1928. The estate, which was supported by the state, consists of 43 houses and the architect during the period 1917-1921 was Poul Holsøe ( 1873-1965) from Elsinore. He was also one of the architects behind Grøndalsvænge in Copenhagen and is almost as “Southern Jutlandish” in his style of building with various forms of bay windows. Common to the graceful houses are the red half-hipped roofs.
The houses were constructed around a common access, Hamlets Vænge, as detached and semidetached houses with comparatively small flats. But with common wash-basements and nice green common grounds around each house.
The substantial financial support given by Helsingør Skibsværft (shipyard) towards the expansion of the built-up area down towards Gl. Hellebækvej meant that these flats were mainly reserved for workers and employees from the shipyard.
The last stage, the buildings along Esrumvej were designed by another architect from Elsinore, Karl Zandersen (1889-1973). Zandersen was locally famous for having designed a number of villas in Elsinore, but maybe mainly for his version of another contemporary beautiful garden city in Elsinore. “The Negro Village”. See below.
Karl Zandersen did not have the same financial means at his disposal at Esrumvej as Holsøe did and therefore he left out the bay windows. Neither did the finances allow for Holsøe’s more varied buildings, so all the houses were identical semidetached houses. Still the buildings possessed Zandersen’s characteristic solidly built quality houses. See for instance his own house at no 10, Møllebakken.
Hamlets Vænge 1920´ erne
Bay windows in Hamlets Vænge
Hamlets Vænge Esrumvej
Hamlets Vænge 2009
Hamlets Vænge 2009
Hamlets Vænge 2009
The Negro Village
The Negro Village is from 1920-21 and was created by the local architect Karl Zandersen in the heavily undulating grounds which were originally laid out for allotment gardens.
The garden city consists of 41 houses with altogether 68 flats. It is an enclave of 1- and 2-family houses.
The background for the construction was also in this case the great housing shortage around WWI. A number of housing societies were set up supported by the council. Thus the council put an area at disposal where Rosenkildevej joins Gefionsvej for “Andelsbyggeforeningen Helsingør” (a building society), established in 1920 by some employees. Primarily teachers and railway workers.
One of several theories for the somewhat politically incorrect name of the estate: The Negro Village, was supposed to be the black uniforms of the railway people!
The Social Democratic Mayor, Peder Christensen, was – here,too- the dynamic starter and had his way when the roads around the estate got prestigious names, named after former mayors. For instance: Olriksvej, Rosenstandsvej and Stenfeldtsvej.
The praxis and evaluation of the posterity
Gradually the interest shifted from the suburbs of the industrial towns to functionalistic house blocks, and culturally radical architects and town-planners among others called the ideas behind the garden cities reactionary and oldfashioned.
The middle classes and the bourgeoisie were mainly interested in individualistic, detached villas.
After WWII the interest in the idea behind the garden cities was renewed, though. In Denmark in the 80’ties under the name high-density/low-rise housing. People had got fed up with the conformist blocks and high-rises.
The Co-op in the “Negro Village”
The Negro Villag
The Negro Villag
Bust of King Peder
Elsinore and the crisis in the 1930s
The worldwide crisis that spread from the United States from 1929, the Wall Street Crash, was in Denmark primarily an agricultural crisis. It was serious enough. But Elsinore was not particularly affected by this crisis. Among other things because the town never became a town where commerce and industry was based on agricultural production. And this now became a benefit for Elsinore.
The period was a period of prosperity for the shipyard, and with the social reform from 1933, it also meant a need for a growing number of public employees. In addition a series of state laws on housing and the law on two-week summer holiday for the whole population was brought to light. With the establishment of the Swedish factory, Tretorn, in the municipality with 300-400 employees and the relevant collateral benefits for the city´s vendors and retailers as one of Elsinore historians, journalist Birger Mikkelsen explained, " Elsinore was merely spectators to the crisis."
In practice this meant that the socialist majority in the City Council, undeterred, could continue its efforts to transform the local authority into a municipality model.
Public buildings and recreation areas
In 1928 and 1934 the municipality now bought the land around the old country houses like the Belvedere and Bergmannsdal. Here new neighborhoods were laid out around Pontoppidansvej and Mads Holmsvej.
On the other side of Kongevejen, along the newly built Stubbedamsvej, the so-called Jutland Road district was established. In this context, a green wedge from Stubbedamsvej to Kongevejen was exempted. The first piece of this wedge is known popularly, as Smørhullet.(A park)
The allotment Park "Solbakken"
In the early thirties the City Council had been considering how to accommodate the demand from the many industrial workers to have their own small allotment with the opportunity to grow vegetables for the daily household. That was an old tradition in Elsinore, but because of the mayor´s building zeal multiple allotments had been confiscated.
In 1935 therefore The City Council decided to acquire new land for this. They chose one of the most beautiful countrysides in Elsinore. A 37 acres of land large area, which belonged to the country house, "Sophienlyst", at the corner of Gurrevej and Rønnebær Alle.
The area and the development
The area in the beautiful, rolling countryside, was divided into 210 plots of land and for an almost symbolic amount of money, the workers could now hire such a plot and build a small allotment house. The municipality asked the later very famous landscape architect in Gentofte, Gudmund N. Brandt, to come up with proposals for a carefully planned allotment park that would also function as a publicly accessible recreational area. Like the natural park of Stubbedamsvej.
Especially the municipal guarantee that it was a permanent measure made Brandt feel that allotment owners would defend the place and respect a number of restrictions relating to hedges height and a uniform planting. For instance at least one fruit tree should be planted in every garden.
The allotment house
It was the famous architect, Valdemar Drosted (1890-1956), who was commissioned to make suggestions for the layout and appearance of the small houses. Again a harmonious overall impression was to be ensured. Drosted came up with several types of which the residents could choose from.
A contemporary stroll through the beautiful area, however, illustrates in an exemplary fashion how the Danes feel about such construction restrictions when it comes to our national gem, the allotment house.
Thanks to King Peder
That allotment owners knew who was behind the initiative for this splendid park is marked by the fact that the garden association on 1 April 1944 raised a memorial stone in gratitude to the mayor´s initiative.
The parcelling out of Solbakken 1935
Solbakken in the 50ties
Sketching of the gardens in Solbakken (extract)
In the late 1920´ties the Social Democratic majority in Elsinore, for employment purposes, tried to get the municipality to engage in industrial production. This should be done by acquiring the privately-owned glass factory at Grønnehave. However, it should perhaps not have been done!
Mayor Peder Christensen put all his prestige on the project and got the city council in the municipality to provide guarantees. But the project met with strong resistance. Also from the state. And in 1930 the company was declared bankrupt, with heavy losses for the municipality as a result.
Instead, it was the industrialist from Helsingborg, Henry Duncker, who in 1934 was to promote employment in Elsinore. He assumed, in the midst of the world economic crisis, the collapse hit factory and established a rubber factory, Tretorn.
The Glass Works
Tretorn Factory in Elsinore
In 1934 the mayor, Peder Christensen, could inaugurate an entirely new port, Nordhavnen, on the other side of Kronborg. It was one of the mayor´s key issues which now became a reality, after a long fierce controversy in the City Council with the bourgeois politicians and hate-filled articles in the bourgeois newspapers.
Why a new port?
The background was, inter alia, that the state port at Elsinore Station could not accommodate the many fishing boats and the growing number of yachts. They wanted a widening on the north side of Kronborg. But the project was coupled with a large-scale private-based water park, which only very few found realistic. Among other things because the Swedish-owned rubber factory, Tretorn, was established simultaneously in the same area at Grønnehave. From the Helsingborg side the lesson was that the factory sent evil-smelling smoke from the chimneys.
From Miami Beach to the rubber factory and camping site
It was indeed a significantly reduced project that the mayor held the inauguration speech for in 1934. The lofty ideas about the American-inspired waterpark remained on the drawing board.
In the present the area works as a popular campsite. The Rubber factory was demolished in the early 21st century. It was no beauty. But it provided much needed employment in Helsingør’s crisis periods.
The Rubber beach
In turn, the construction of the long wide beach with dunes has been preserved. In the local area known as "The Rubber beach". A popular recreation area for many Elsinore citizens in the hot summer months.
Of widespread regret, however, then and now is that the restaurant, Kronborg Havbad, in Nordhavnen, with its beautiful art-deco style has since been replaced by a far less charming wooden building.
The North Harbour Project
Helsingør Nordhavn 1934
The activities at Nordhavn
The diving tower at Nordhavn 1938
Kronborg Open Air Bath
Elsinore / Helsingborg cooperation
The idea of community also reached across the Sound. Especially The Elsinore / Helsingborg cooperation in the 1920s and 30s reached an intensity which, except for the last two war years 1943-45, it has been difficult to live up to.
It was Helsingborg´s socialist mayor, Johan Bååth (1911-1936) who, via the "Norden Society", got the Elsinore mayor to intensify the great interest he already had for a close cooperation between the two border cities. It happened in May 1925, when Johan Bååth, the head of a southern Swedish delegation visited Peder Christensen at Elsinore City Hall to thank him for his zeal in the Nordic cooperation.
The Norden Society
Immediately afterwards the Elsinore mayor received an invitation from the "Norden Society" to create a local branch in Elsinore. With himself as chairman Peder Christensen now with heart and soul entered into this work. The result was among other things a common decision on a close collaboration between the urban schools, libraries, theatres, concerts and more. And the plans were largely realized. For example within the school area.
School collaboration, sports organizations, trade unions etc.
The starting point was to make school youth Nordic minded among other things by exchanging classes. The Principal folk school teachers and the high school headmaster from Elsinore were elected to the local branch of "The Norden Society" and stood at the head of a large number of mutual school visits and exchange of lecturers between the public school in Elsinore and "läroverket" in Helsingborg.
In addition a large number of exchange visits between trade unions, sports organizations, choir, youth, etc. Elsinore / Helsingborg cooperation was, at the nearest, an exemplary example of how friendly neighboring cities could benefit from each other.
At the political level
A case which was the concern of both mayors after the first world war was to resume the extensive cross-border trade. But here governmental initiatives were needed to change the customs union and passport compulsion when travelling across the sound.
Another important issue was to lower telephone charges between the two countries.
Nordic celebration of Elsinore town horn
The brotherhood with the many rallies, educational exchanges, etc., culminated in a huge party in 1938 in Elsinore, where they celebrated the 100 anniversary of a large drinking horn, which was in Peder Christensen´s cabinet at the mayor´s office.
The silver-gilt drinking horn was a gift from the heyday of Scandinavism when Helsingborg’s mayor, Lundberg, in 1838, had given this to Elsinore Mayor Stenfeldt.
The two festive-mooded mayors now both drank from the horn under big press coverage at Marienlyst Hotel in August 1938. Of course filled with Wibroe’s quality beer. Reliable witnesses report that the former machinist, Peder Christensen, took a large swig while teetotaller, Johan Bååth simply marked by inserting the tip of his tongue down into the golden drops.
The King and the Duke
The Elsinore City Horn 1938
The City Horn
Theperiod is quite well-illustrated in a variety of popular depictions. Especially from the Town Museum. Please see the literature list.
The Danish high school teacher, Jan Horn Petersen, compiled a detailed section that can be downloaded in full text of the chapter: Extra material.