I’m delighted to feature another guest post today, this by Ray Rogers. Ray is a conservation and historic buildings specialist with a long-standing interest in housing policy and design going back to his early experience of designing council housing in a London borough architects’ department. He is currently writing a series of conservation area appraisals and management plans.
The Campsbourne Cottage Estate in Hornsey, north London, is an early example of council housing built following powers granted to municipal authorities by the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1890. The first part of the Campsbourne estate pre-dates the London County Council’s better-known cottage estates such as Totterdown Fields in Tooting and Tower Gardens in Tottenham.
The design and detailing of the houses and the quality of materials and workmanship give the estate its distinctive character. Apart from some bomb damage sustained in World War Two and some recent alterations to individual houses, the estate remains substantially unchanged in appearance and is exceptionally well preserved. However, it is the story behind the creation of the Campsbourne estate that illustrates the pioneering nature of such developments in responding to the housing issues of their time.
Early housing legislation such as the Artisans’ and Labourers’ Dwellings Improvement Act of 1875 gave local authorities powers to clear entire areas of ‘insanitary’ buildings but few municipalities (with the exception of major cities such as Glasgow, Liverpool and the London County Council) fulfilled the requirement to replace housing lost through slum clearance, and those that did so mainly relied on philanthropic bodies such as the Peabody Trust to undertake rebuilding.
Most new housing was provided by private speculative builders and in Hornsey as elsewhere these houses were aimed at the emerging lower middle classes. It was the skilled working class that was most directly affected by cyclical slumps in speculative building and the rising cost of housing, and advocates of housing for working people made the case that: (1)
working men of all grades and occupations have been unable to get a decent cottage to live in and have had to choose between occupying part of expensive and overcrowded houses, quite unsuitable for more than one family, or occupying a dilapidated and insanitary dwelling … commonly described as slums.
From the last decade of the 19th century a new type of municipal housing emerged, not just replacing ‘unhealthy’ housing lost through slum clearance but providing a net addition to the housing stock. This was given statutory basis by Part III of the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890. The new Urban District Councils, created under the Local Government Act of 1894, were well placed to take advantage of these new powers and Hornsey U.D.C. lost little time in implementing the opportunities offered by the 1890 Act, following its adoption by the authority in 1896.
Hornsey is now part of the London borough of Haringey but until the late 19th century it was a historic settlement straddling both sides of Hornsey High Street. Development of the surrounding open fields proceeded rapidly following the opening of Hornsey station in the late 1860s. Twenty-four acres of land north of the High Street were acquired in 1866 by the British Land Company which laid out an estate of speculative terraced houses that followed the grid iron street pattern and narrow fronted houses typical of ‘by-law’ housing.
Further development was delayed until after 1896 when the Priory estate was sold, of which four and a half acres of land to the west of Nightingale Lane, on the southern boundary of Alexandra Palace, was acquired by Hornsey U.D.C. in 1897. By 1899 the council had built 108 cottages in Nightingale Lane and in Northview and Southview Roads. Another six acres were bought in 1902 and a second scheme of another 140 cottages was started in 1904. (2)
Hornsey is an exceptionally healthy and well-managed urban district in the northern suburbs of London, contrasting very favourably with other urban districts further eastwards. Realising that ‘prevention is better than cure’ the Council and its officers have endeavoured to prevent the growth of new slum areas by themselves establishing a good supply of model cottages for workmen rather than have their district unduly disfigured and deteriorated by the objectionable and overcrowded products of the jerry-builder.
Both schemes (and a third scheme in Highgate) were overseen by Edwin J Lovegrove, the Borough Engineer and Surveyor, who had designed an earlier cottage development for Richmond Town Council, the ‘Richmond Municipal Cottages’, regarded as one of the first successful cottage developments and described in detail by William Thompson in his Housing Handbook of 1903. Thompson also describes the Hornsey cottages development, then known as the Nightingale Lane scheme, with special attention given to the costs and financing of the project, resulting in a self-financing development with rents considerably lower than those in the private rental market and with no impact on the local rates. On reviewing the Campsbourne schemes in 1905 James Cornes wrote: (3)
No wonder that, with so much knowledge of this subject, he (Lovegrove) has been able … to rear a colony of self-contained workmen’s dwellings unsurpassed in the country. This for London is a revolution in cottage building, and clearly indicates the thought, care, and real ability that the Surveyor must of necessity have put into this work. The Housing Committee and Corporation must be congratulated upon the excellent results of this undertaking, and for the splendid example they have been able to set to other municipalities.
On the east side of Nightingale Lane, the Campsbourne School, opened in 1897, was contemporary with the cottage estate. Designed by Thomas Chatfield Clarke, architect to Hornsey School Board, the school buildings are a good example of a late Queen Anne style Board school.
The first Campsbourne scheme had two classes of houses, Class A having a sitting-room, living room, scullery and three bedrooms and Class B having similar accommodation but smaller and with two bedrooms. The sitting room was in fact the ‘front parlour’ and the living room was the kitchen with scullery attached.
The second scheme was more ambitious in the range and size of cottages provided. There were four classes of dwelling: Class A had a sitting room, living room, scullery and four bedrooms; Class B the same but with three bedrooms and Class C had two bedrooms. Class D contained a living room, small scullery, bathroom and two bedrooms. The innovation in this scheme was the use of Cornes and Haighton’s combined range, copper and bath in each cottage. The bath could be covered when not in use. The Class A cottage provided for the larger family, as described with typical Edwardian moral condescension by James Cornes in 1905: (3)
… attention should be given to the highest rented cottage in the scheme, providing as it does four bedrooms and a larger sitting room and living room, let to the working man with a wage earning family, thus keeping in a comfortable home grown-up sons and daughters who, too frequently, are turned out into the world and, as a result, contract early and undesirable marriages which might have been avoided had the home surroundings been of a different character.
The completed cottage estate consisted of four streets of two storey houses arranged in short terraces of six to eight houses each. The houses are built in red brick with shallow brick arches over window and door openings. Each of the end of terrace houses are stepped forward slightly and have large projecting gables with barge boards, with two smaller gables within the terrace. The houses have flat street fronts and there are no bays or other projections apart from some porches on the second phase of building.
The plain uniformity of the terraces is lightened by the use of simple repetitive detailing in the brickwork. All of the houses have a scalloped brick relief panel set beneath each window cill and a course of dog tooth brickwork set between two projecting brick courses runs along the full length of each terrace.
The houses in Nightingale Lane, Northview Road and Southview Road formed the first phase of development. On these houses the dog-tooth band course runs across each elevation at first floor window cill level. On Nightingale Lane and Northview Road the large chimney stacks also have a dogtooth detail. Northview Road, together with the Nightingale Lane frontage, is the best-preserved of the two streets as Southview Road was affected by bomb damage in World War Two.
Hawthorn Road and Beechwood Road comprised the second phase of the development and show some changes in form and materials, although still based on terraces each of six or eight houses. The main difference is the use of yellow London stock brick for alternate terraces on both sides of the road, giving the street frontage a more varied and picturesque appearance than in the first phase. The dogtooth band course is retained on the red brick terraces but it runs in a continuous band midway between ground and first floor instead of at window cill level.
On some of the yellow brick terraces the dogtooth detail was replaced with a continuous projecting band of dentilled brickwork in red brick and a similar detail can be seen on some terraces in the LCC’s Tower Gardens estate. The window arches and scalloped relief panel are also all in red brick. Five of the later terraces have paired porches either side of the projecting party wall with a lean-to slate roof and small paned windows.
By 1914 the rest of the land south of Alexandra Palace and to the west of Nightingale Lane had been developed by private builders, completing Northview, Southview, Hawthorn and Beechwood Roads with speculative terraced housing, some using the eclectic pattern book of local architect John Farrer and others in the form of ‘Tyneside’ flats, in which the street frontage has two front doors, one leading to a ground floor flat and the second leading directly to a staircase to a first floor flat.
Building in Hornsey stopped in 1914 and after the war councillors could not agree on the need for further council housing in the borough, with many feeling that adequate provision had been made pre-war. The council resisted complying with the Housing and Town Planning Act (the Addison Act) of July 1919, which charged local authorities with building more working-class homes with controlled rents, even though poor housing and insanitary conditions, particularly in the Campsbourne area, had been brought to the attention of its Public Health Committee. An editorial in the Hornsey journal of 7th February 1919 said: (4)
Inasmuch as Hornsey is not altogether what is superficially described as a “working-class” area, it will be seen that the Town Council have not lagged in the provision of workmen’s dwellings. The first of the four schemes was completed in 1898 and the last in 1912. We have reason to believe that the dwellings are almost exclusively occupied by men who actually earn their living in the borough – the local police, the postmen, municipal employees, and others.
The Council can say with the strictest veracity that they have provided for a considerable number of families, but that no further accommodation is needed is not so incontrovertible. Is there no overcrowding in Hornsey? Is there no “unsuitable accommodation”? Are the artisan and the labouring the only classes for whom cheap provision should be made?
Towards the end of 1919 the council eventually gave in to pressure and instructed Edwin Lovegrove to draw up plans for 79 houses to be built on land that had been requisitioned during the war for allotments. However, the housing scheme was never progressed, being dropped on grounds of cost, and the land was bought by the council in 1923 as part of the newly laid out Priory park. This marks the end of a chapter in the pioneering of council house building in Hornsey.
The Campsbourne Cottage estate makes no pretensions to great architecture or town planning, being barely touched by the influence of the early Garden City movement, but nevertheless it remains a significant milestone in the provision of affordable housing for working class families and when compared to the housing typical of the time this was no mean achievement. (3)
… Within a few miles of the heart of London he (E J Lovegrove) has succeeded in building a self-contained cottage with a forecourt, garden at the rear and four rooms including a bath and every other modern convenience, to let at 6s. 6d. per week inclusive rental.
The houses are still much valued today. The estate was designated as a conservation area in 1994. A conservation area appraisal and management plan has recently been prepared and it is hoped this will assist the planning authority in controlling some of the piecemeal changes being wrought by ‘home improvements’ that are beginning to detract from the unified appearance of the estate.
If you’re interested in learning more of Hornsey’s local history, do visit the website of the Hornsey Historical Society.
(1) William Thompson, quoted in The Lowestoft Journal, 25 February 1899
(2) William Thompson, The Housing Handbook (1903)
(3) James Cornes, Modern Housing in Town and Country (1905)
(4) Janet Owen, Hornsey’s Post-War Housing Problem, Hornsey Historical Society