Domestic Architecture 1700 to 1960

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5 Victorian Architecture - Introduction

Regency architecture survived Victoria’s accession in 1837 and houses with ‘Regency’ characteristics continued to be built through the 1840s but gradually and imperceptibly, Victorian architecture emerged as a style of its own, shaped by rapid population growth, the influence of new technologies and new materials and also, the intellectual input of theorists such as Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52), John Ruskin (1819-1900) and William Morris (1834-96). But first population: during Victoria’s reign, Britain’s population doubled with the urban based proportion increasing from 54% in 1851 to 79% by 1911. The result was a massive expansion of towns to which the speculative builder responded building suburbs which were sharply delineated by class. Working class districts were built cheek-by-jowl with the collieries, mills and factories which provided employment for their inhabitants. The housing generally consisted of rows of tightly packed terraces: although no longer fashionable after the 1850s, the terraced house remained the builder’s solution to the demand for cheap urban housing until the early 1900s. Cheap on land and materials they were either built back-to-back so that the rooms had no rear windows – or as through houses - which usually had a two storey rear extension containing the kitchen and a small third bedroom and with a privy (or W.C) and coal shed in the back yard. Whilst the back-to-backs and the poorest through houses were completely devoid of any embellishment or ornament, bay windows, moulded brickwork and other details were added to larger terraces which commanded higher rents and pretensions to respectability. But there was no mistaking the true Victorian middle class dwelling. Whether detached or semi detached, these solidly built and substantial houses were large enough to accommodate resident servants, the employment of at least one being a clear indicator of middle class status.

Back-to-back houses from Woodsettton, south Staffordshire, c. 1850s, rebuilt at the Black Country Living Museum, Dudley.
Through terraced houses with parapet facade, Barton Hill, Bristol, c1875
Through terraced houses, Albion Terrace, Chester
Hallway of through terraced house, Bedminster, Bristol, c1890

Whilst a typical working class house contained between four and six rooms, a large middle class villa of the 1850s or 1860s could contain twelve rooms or more with separate family and service areas. The family rooms included bedrooms with adjacent dressing rooms, a W.C. but rarely a bathroom, large reception rooms with high ceilings, elaborate moulded plaster cornices and marble fireplaces. The servants were usually accommodated in attic rooms whilst the service area continued to occupy a basement containing kitchen, scullery, pantry and larder - a separate servants’ W.C. - and in the largest, a housekeeper’s room or servants’ hall. The houses were private and respectable. They were usually given names which reinforced their grandeur and respectability – ‘Albion’, ‘Richmond’ and ‘Belmont Villa’, for example, and they were usually set back from the road in gardens which, for the first time since the middle ages, became an important part of the urban home environment.

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except where acknowledged
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