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Notes on the Geography of The United Kingdom: London 10: Suburbs

If the rich always liked a central location when they were in London, the working and middle classes moved out of town as soon as better transport made it possible for them to get a bit more light and space.

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The United Kingdom: London 10: Suburbs picture 1

They had some help. Here we are at Kennington Park, two miles southeast of Buckingham Palace. At the Exhibition of 1851 Prince Albert had asked Henry Roberts to design a model house suitable for "the labouring classes." When the Exhibition closed, the house was moved here.

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The Medallion suggests (probably falsely) that the residents would display a sign of their gratitude toward the queen and her husband.

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Still, the house wasn't bad by the standards of the day. One up, one down.

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There were windows front and rear but not on the end walls.

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It took another 50 years for something like the prince's model to be put into practice. We've come to the Totterdown Estate. On the authority of the Housing of the Working Classes Act (1900), the London County Council between 1900 and 1910 erected over 1,229 homes and housed almost 9,000 people. The houses are lined up on long streets without public green space, but every house has a bit of yard both front and back. This was the Council's first attempt to replace slums with suburban houses rather than apartment blocks.

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Several floorplans existed, ranging from four to six rooms, with the larger units spread over two floors. Some of the houses even had baths.

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There was some minor variation in the surface materials and in the use of tiles, gables, and bay-windows.

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Alistair Service writes, "The buildings can provide a fairly depressing environment on dull winter days with no leaves on the trees, but with sunshine and summer greenery one can still see what a brave new standard they set in 1900 for slum-dwellers" (London 1900, 1979, p. 34). Some of the front gardens have bit the dust.

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The local primary school.

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The fence makes you wonder.

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Somebody's worried, whether for good reason or not a passerby can hardly tell.

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The local church, All Saints, was built at the same time as the rest of the neighborhood through a bequest from Lady Charles Brudenell-Bruce in memory of her husband, the Marquess of Aislesbury. Childless, neither she nor he lived to see it.

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Would you believe we're less than four miles from the Houses of Parliament? We're in the middle of one of the meander lobes of the Thames. As late as 1920 more than half the land was in water, with names including Russian Dock and Canada Dock. Here logs were stored for shipbuilders. Most of the old ponds have been filled, but a couple of ponds survive, including Canada Water and Surrey Water, along with this Ecological Park formerly flooded by the Russia Dock.

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The whole area was administered by the Surrey Docks Company.

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The clocktower of that company.

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A playground in the housing estate now on the site.

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The houses were designed by a disciple of William Morris. You can't see much of them from the parks, but Morris probably would have liked that.

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What about the middle class? We're come out to Bedford Park, about five miles west of Buckingham Palace and just north of the Turnham Green station on the Piccadilly Line. That subway was crucial to development here, where several hundred houses were built speculatively in the 1880s by a developer with the smarts to hire Norman Shaw as his architect.

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St. Michael's and All Souls church was built next to the railroad station. Pevsner calls it "Shaw at his best, inexhaustible in his inventiveness."

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Adjoining it is a parish center, used now, among other things, for a nursery school.

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Pevsner: this was the "first example where the relaxed, informal mood of a market town or village was adopted for a complete speculatively built suburb." Jonathan Carr started with 23 acres but by 1883 had 113 with 490 houses. From 1877 to 1880 Norman Shaw was the designer, and he was followed by his assistant, E.J. May.

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Few of the homes were detached; most were semi-detached duplexes set close to the street but with screened front yards. Bay windows were common, along with balconies.

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A variation.

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Stamp and Amery quote a visitor in 1882: "Am I dreaming! Right before me is the apparition of a little red town made up of quaintest Queen Anne houses... This dream of old-time homesteads! ...their gables sometimes fronting the street, their doorways adorned with various touches of taste, the windows surrounded with tinted glass... For those who dwell here the world is divided into two great classes--those who live in Bedord Park, and those who do not" (p. 156; Stamp and Amery are quoting from Moncure Conway's Travels in South Kensington).

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William Morris in 1880 praised Bedford Park for its "quaint and pretty architecture," and if that sounds like mocking praise perhaps we are too jaded.

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Another detached home.

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Something much simpler, but still in Bedford Park.

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We've jumped to Hampstead Garden Suburb and this monument to its founder, Henriette Barnett, wife of the founder of Toynbee Hall. In 1903 she proposed a garden suburb for the working class; a prospectus followed in 1905. A trust the next year acquired 243 acres in Golders Green (about half of the final development) but left building to partnerships such as Hampstead Tenants, Ltd. Only skilled artisans or tradesmen could afford the five-pound membership fee. The trust hired Raymond Unwin as architect from 1906 to 1914; he had previously worked on the layout for Letchworth, touched on below.

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Pevsner calls this "the aesthetically most satisfactory and socially most successful of all C20 garden suburbs. The conception of the garden suburb is not the same as that of the garden city [such as Letchworth]. The garden city, industrially and commercially an independent unit, was first proposed by Ebenezer Howard in his book of 1898, and first realized at Letchworth, Herts, founded in 1903. The garden suburb goes back to Bedford Park, Acton, begun in 1875, and to Port Sunlight and Bournville. In its social character the Hampstead Garden Suburb comes nearest to what Bedford Park was in its beginnings. The population is on the whole comfortably off and ranges from true sensibiity to amateur arty-craftiness. While the garden suburb is not meant to have its own factories, warehouses, etc., it yet needs a social centre to be more than a dormitory. This the Hampstead Garden Suburb has, and it is something to be proud of, as it should be" (1:138).

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Geometrically, the focal point of the suburb is a park called the central square, with churches on two sides and a school on the third. Shops were planned here but never built, so the square never became a social center in fact. When Pevsner refers to one, he may have in mind the shopping center at the development's western edge.

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Both the churches were fortunate in having a distinguished architect, no less than Edwin Lutyens. This is his Free Church, begun in 1911. He did the facing one, too, shown in the previous picture. "Romantic Byzantine-cum-Nedi," he called it. Nedi was his nickname.

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The Henriette Barnett School, 1908.

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Hampstead Garden Suburb's commercial center developed where several streets converged on Finchley Road. The central block, Arcade House, has been compared to medieval towns in Germany such as Rothenburg-am-Tauber.

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Behind Arcade House, Queen's Court offers terrace housing built about 1927.

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Farther into the suburb, there are detached homes separated from the street only by hedges, never walls. The maximum density was eight houses per acre.

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Another example.

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Lucas Square, 60-82 Temple Fortune Lane, was an ateempt to bring prices down.

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So was Litchfield Square, 84 Temple Fortune.

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Last stop: Letchworth Garden City.

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A hotel close to the station.

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The main shopping street, pedestrianized but too wide to be comfortable.

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Garden City indeed.

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Setback for sure.

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Traffic circles make their first British appearance here.

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The date: 1909.

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A house.

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Another.

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Something cheaper.

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In between: detached but close together.


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