Semi-detached houses in England

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    The Development of English Semi-detached

    Dwellings During the Nineteenth Century

    Pamela Lofthouse*

    All of the listings of English semis sampled forthis paper contained detailed descriptions offabric, but negligible historical data. A simplesearch of English Heritages National Herit-age List online database in July 2012 revealedonly four listings for semi-detached. Anadvanced search for semi-detached, domes-tic, dwellings provided 1,931 listings whichalthough more encouraging, still seems tobe low given that England has over 7 million

    semis (Department for Communities andLocal Government 2011).

    Yet although most people consider semis tobe a twentieth century invention, and there-fore not worthy of attention by architecturalhistorians or heritage professionals, semisplayed a key role as rural cottages for the work-ing classes and suburban villas for the middleclasses during the nineteenth century and thiscultural value deserves to be recognised.

    The English population doubled between1801 and 1851. There was also a huge shift ofpopulation from rural areas to the cities andtowns; the percentage living in rural areasdeclined from 80% in 1801 to less than 50%in 1851 and this trend continued for the restof the century. Together with rapid industrialexpansion, these factors had transformedboth rural and urban areas by the end of thenineteenth century.

    During the eighteenth century the doc-trine of laissez-faireprevailed - the belief thatthere was no need for interference, especiallyby governments, in the structure of society(Morris nd). However, as the industrial revo-lution progressed much of the earlier hous-ing in cities and towns disappeared underdevelopments such as docks, roads and rail-ways, and a high proportion of that whichremained deteriorated rapidly through over-

    crowding. As squalid industrial towns pro-liferated, the philosophy of laissez-fairewas

    PIA Volume 22 (2012), 83-98 DOI:


    Buildings in England are heritage listed if they are of special architecturalor historical interest, and based on the signicance, appropriate conservationpriorities can be determined.But to list, and then conserve, one must rstidentify, then research and assess. The problem is being able to recognise animportant example of a semi-detached house (semi) if it is neither very oldnor aesthetically appealing. The semi is the most common dwelling type inEngland, yet because it is typically suburban and ordinary, very little researchinto its origins and development has been carried out. As a result, semis areunder-represented in heritage listings. And once listed, it is dicult, if notimpossible, to set priorities for ongoing conservation work or adaptive reuse,without knowledge of the historical or social underpinnings of its signi-cance. Even those ordinary buildings which do not reach the thresholds forlisting risk being unnecessarily degraded, through demolition, decay or unsym-pathetic alterations, if there is no understanding of their stories or meanings,and no safeguards are built into the planning guidelines.

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    The Developement of English Semi-detached Dwellings During the XIX Century84

    gradually replaced by a realisation that hous-ing reforms and some interventions wererequired for working class housing (Morrisnd). The ideal housing for artisans (skilledworkers) became something imposed on

    them by well-meaning philanthropists anddesigners of model dwellings who linkedarchitecture, artisans and morality (Guillery2004, 298). Similarly, as the vernacular tradi-tions declined, the housing for rural tenantsbecame more standardised as pattern bookspromoted model cottages (Long 2002).

    In contrast, the growing middle classes dur-ing the nineteenth century were able to graspthe opportunities for advancement created by

    the industrial revolution, including the abil-ity to move out of the city centres and intothe surrounding suburbs. For them, housingbecame less uniform, with the developmentof fashionable new suburbs such as the pic-turesque styles of St Johns Wood and the laterdomestic revival styles of Bedford Park.

    This paper traces the trajectory of the semiup and down the social spectrum during thenineteenth century.

    Housing the Rural Working Classes

    As a result of the parliamentary enclosuresof rural land, which occurred for around100 years after 1760, some people in openvillages continued to build their own dwell-ings, but most of the building was carriedout by the new estate owners in their closedvillages. The estate villages of the eighteenthcentury tended to reflect the formal land-scaping fashions of the time, but using thetraditional vernacular styles of their regions.With the spread of the pattern books,advances in building techniques and theavailability of new materials, the vernacularstyles were gradually replaced with stand-ardised, model cottage designs. The authorsof pattern books for labourers cottages alsosought to improve the morality and virtue ofthe labourer, by placing neo-classical archi-tecture (good architecture) into the land-

    scape, to address the negative social impactsof enclosure (Maudlin 2010, 13). The fashion

    for the picturesque gradually replaced theneo-classical and by the early nineteenthcentury a new estate village was expectedto conform to the picturesque ideals, ratherthan just be an element in the landscape.

    The most economical form for the newestate cottages was the attached brick orstone dwelling, based on the form of theexisting farm buildings, many of which hadalready been converted to attached dwell-ings. The double farm cottage was built notbecause land was too scarce for detachedhouses, but as a means of reducing costs(there was a saving in materials by sharing awall) and keeping the houses warmer in win-

    ter. It was said that this species of cottagecan be built cheaper than two single ones,and, in general, these double cottages arefound to be warmer and fully as comfortableas single ones (Smith 1834, 27).

    Fig. 1: Estate cottages, constructed by the Earl ofLeicester for his labourers at Holkham,in Norfolk (HMSO 1842, 313).

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    The Developement of English Semi-detached Dwellings During the XIX Century 85

    Fig. 2:A pair of labourers cottages. The cottages are shown in a picturesque setting (Hall 1825,Design No 5).

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    The Developement of English Semi-detached Dwellings During the XIX Century86

    It was not only the pattern books whichinspired the picturesque rural cottage build-ers. The prominent architect John Nash(1752-1835), with his assistant George Rep-ton, in 1811 designed Blaise Hamlet, a group

    of houses around a green, for retired employ-ees of Blaise Castle House. Unusually, eightof the cottages are detached, the additionalexpense and care for the tenants perhapsbeing justified because the owner was aQuaker philanthropist. The ninth building isa double cottage. Blaise Hamlet became anexemplar for the picturesque, although formany estate owners their new villages hadonly the minimum of picturesque styling

    enough to satisfy fashionable tastes, butbuilt as cheaply as possible (Figure 1).

    As the industrial revolution increasinglyimpacted on the working classes in the cit-ies, towns and rural areas, some concernedmiddle class citizens formed societies totry and improve the living conditions ofthe labouring class. A group known as theSociety for Improving the Condition of theLabouring Classeswas formed by Benjamin

    Wills in 1825 (Curl 1983, 75) and the sameyear the Secretary to the Society, architectJohn Hall, published a book of designs forcottages and schools for the rural poor. Inthis book Hall notes that the objective ofthe Society was: increase of comfort and happi-ness to the labouring classes:- an en-couragement towards the attainmentof a true independence, which, while

    it makes them superior to idleness, in-temperance, and parochial relief, willtend to lessen their vices, and createa pleasurable observance of all theduties of society. In short, an induce-ment to preserve health by the exer-cise of cleanliness, delicacy, and indus-trious morality (Hall 1825, 7).

    He added that For Delicacy:- There must bethree sleeping rooms, to enable the parents,

    the boys, and the girls to sleep separate; anarrangement very little known at present.

    These were ideals which picked up many ofthe concerns expressed earlier by the archi-tect John Wood the Younger in his patternbook of 1781. The designs in Halls bookwere mostly of pairs of pis (rammed earth)cottages, which for the period were remark-ably spacious (Figure 2). Adopting Woodsprinciple from more than 40 years before, hebelieved that it was:

    best to build them in pairs, not onlyas respects economy, but for the pur-pose of vicinity, supplying neighboursto minister to each other in times ofsickness &c. &c. (Hall 1825, 8).

    Hall went on to specify that each pair oflabourers cottages should be on 2.5 acres ofland, to allow for the growing of wheat, fruitand vegetables for consumption and sale.The book was targetted at the nobility and

    gentry in the hope that they would improvethe lives of the labourers on their estates - it

    Fig. 3:Pair of cottages, Shooters Hill, Kent, 1827.One of six pairs built by the LabourersFriend Society (Bardwell 1854, 13, 15).

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    The Developement of English Semi-detached Dwellings During the XIX Century 87

    was also calculated that the landowner wouldreceiv