'Our London Letter' The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, December 13, 1873
Monday, 21 October 2013
For three whole days have I had full blaze of gas burning over my writing desk, and this, the fourth day of the fog is not very much improvement upon its immediate predecessors The dense, muddy, sooty fog of Tuesday and Wednesday has changed into a pale blue frosty mist through which some of the light of day can pass; but the visitation is still upon us. What must be the opinion of our metropolis formed by those numerous bucolic strangers who have favoured as with their company this week by reason of the cattle show? I wonder a week like this doss not partially depopulate the town. Life is hardly worth holding on by under such conditions. The mere inconvenience at darkness and partial darkness are as nothing to the actual physical suffering and misery inflicted upon us. The mid-day fog of Tuesday and Wednesday was absolutely intensely painful to the strongest lungs. The air we breathed scarified where it went, and set up a temporary inflammation There was not a fresh inhalation to be had for life's sake. Here were three or four millions of people struggling against conditions which. if they were permanent instead of temporary, would clear us all off this particular spot of earth, and leave the place untenanted. Human life must succumb after a while in such a place. I have no doubt that the fog has already driven some hundreds of the weakest and meet susceptible into their graves, or a long way in that direction; and after a time the strongest would have to succumb. A few poor creatures, indeed, have taken the shorter cut, and in the blinding, muffled air, have gone under cab or dray wheels, or plunged headlong into canals, and given up the attempt breathe such insufficient and poisonous stuff. You could not compel the mist to remain abroad. You might imagine that it could be escaped at night by shutting all your doors, drawing close your curtains, and making things comfortable for the evening by firelight and gas; but on looking up you would find your room filled as with a light cloud, and your children moving about semi-phantemorgue in appearance. There was no room in the house that was not partly filled with fog. Some of the scenes in the street by night rise up before me now as I write. People ran against one another and shouted. Cab. men called out aloud on the suspicion that something was coming the other way. You could not identity the familiar locality in which you found yourself. You came upon the end of a street suddenly, and lost your bearings. On Tuesday night I dodged a cab-horse at my shoulder in crossing a road, reached the base of the gas-standard at the centre of the way; presently took the remainder of the crossing — it was in a locality which I pass through more than once every day— and ten minutes later, suspecting something was wrong, I discovered with great difficultly that I had turned my back upon my intended destination. and had gone half a mile in the opposite direction. Outside the Metropolitan Railway station at Gower street, stood a boy with a lantern, offering to accompany passengers on their way for a consideration of coppers and other boys with little red torches were prepared to pioneer the path to Euston station for twopence. The lights all burnt red in the busier streets, where the fog was most densely mixed with smoke, and in many cases those lurid flickering specks were all that you could see. . . . . The asphyxiation of so many of the prize oxen at the Islington Show by the fog is a calamity of the season which seems somewhat to spoil the first aspects of Christmas; but the event will form an addition to our stock of knowledge respecting the conditions under which highly fatted creatures can exist. It is remarkable that no similar incident has occurred before. The meetings have always been held in December, and London fogs in December are the rule rather than the exception. It has been, I suppose, only a question of degree. I have known fogs equal in intensity to the worst we have seen this week— the difference is that I never knew one to last so long. Two or three hours will generally clear off one of these heavy brown clouds which in the city cover all men and women and things with a thin coating of soot, and no doubt even the fattest of these cattle would have recovered from the effects of only two or three bouts of the infliction. There will, no doubt, be some very fine Christmas beef in the London markets, but I as afraid a tendency will exhibit itself on the part of the consumer to avoid prize beef.
Monday, 7 October 2013
For a while, I assumed this was just pure confusion - not least because Jennings' firm, after his death, went on to install and run many public toilets in London in the early 1900s.
Then I found Jennings' letter to the City of London from 1858, actually offering to build an underground public toilet - so there was some fact behind the mistaken attribution. But, tragically, the accompanying illustration was missing from the City archives ... or so I thought.
It was only after some more digging that:
i. I found a useful reference to Jennnings' underground toilets in the Science Museum Archive
ii. I then remembered that Sarah McCabe had remarked upon the same reference in her master's thesis on late Victorian public toilets (generously emailed for my perusal - many thanks again, Sarah)
The illustration was not lost at all ... indeed, here it is, courtesy of those lovely people at the Science Museum:
|Copyright: Science Museum Archives|
The background, I think, is a generic City-scape, although I'm willing to be corrected. This is surely the same plan sent to the City of London, although this copy was sent to Capt. Francis Fowke, Director of Works at South Kensington Museum, with a view to it appearing in the 1862 International Exhibition (Jennings would also design and run the toilets at the 1862 Exhibition).
The seat on the left is the attendants room, not a toilet (as the fact that it is unconnected with the drainage, and the overview shows):
|Copyright: Science Museum Archive|
No wonder, then, that people have latterly been keen to attribute the work to Jennings himself (who inconveniently died in 1882). Nor that Jennings is reputed to have nurtured a grievance against the City authorities.
Note also the public drinking fountain at the ground level - the latest thing in sanitary improvement in 1850s London when the toilets were designed (Haywood did not bother to copy this in the 1880s).
The best bit of the drawing, of course, is the mid-Victorian gentleman nonchalantly emerging from the WC.
|Copyright: Science Museum|
Victorian urinals would have the instruction 'Please adjust your dress before leaving' painted upon the wall (or, in the case of cast iron urinals, even embossed upon the metal - as one rare surviving example at Twickenham shows). At least our gentleman has paid heed to that injunction.
|[thanks to JL for the image]|
Possibly I am already in too deep.
But - if you have good pics of mid-Victorian trousers and their buttons, I'd like to see them.
Wednesday, 18 September 2013
The following rules were given as a sample by the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes, c.1850 ...
RULES OF THE LODGING-HOUSE FOR UNMARRIED WORKMEN AND LABOURERS
The Lodgers are to be admitted by the Week on payment of ... per week in advance, and to be subject to the following Rules which are intended for the general comfort of the Inmates and the good order of the Establishment
1. The House to be open fro Five in the morning till Ten o'clock at night, subject to alteration according to the season of the year, and to the occupations of the lodgers.
2. The Lamp in the Bed-Room to be lighted from Nine o'clock in the evening to Half-past Ten o'clock when it is to be extinguished.
3. As the occupancy is by the week, each Lodger must give the Superintendent at least two days' notice, before the end of the week, if it be his intention not to remain, otherwise it will be considered that his occupancy is continued.
4. Each Lodger will be provided with a box and locker for the security of his property, the keys of which will be delivered to him on depositing the sum of One Shilling, to be returned on the re-delivery of the keys. All property belonging to the Lodgers must be considered as under their own care, and at their own risk.
5. Each Lodger will be provided with a tray, two plates, a basin, a jug, a cup and saucer, or a metal cup, a knife, fork and two spoons, which are to be under his own care, and on leaving the House they are to be returned to the Superintendent in a sound state.
6. The property of the Establishment is to be treated with due care, and in particular, no cutting or writing on the Tables, Forms, Chairs, or other articles and no defacing of the Walls will be permitted. Any damage done by a Tenant is to be made good at his expense, or any article entrusted to him for his use, which may be lost or broken, is to be reinstated at his expense.
7. No spiritous liquors to be brought into the House, or drunk there. No person to be admitted or allowed to remain in a state of intoxication. No one, excepting the Lodgers, to be admitted to the House, excepting with the permission of the Superintendent.
8. No card-playing, gambling, quarrelling, fighting, profane or abusive language, to be permitted; and it is expected that the Superintendent and his Wife be treated with respect: their duty in promoting the comfort of the Inmates will be to see that these Rules are strictly observed.
9. Habits of cleanliness are expected in the Lodgers, and any person guilty of filthy or dirty practices or rendering himself offensive to the other inmates, will not be permitted to remain in the House. Smoking cannot be allowed in the Living-room or Bed-room, but in the Kitchen only.
10. A wilful breach of any of the above Rules will subject the party to immediate exclusion from the House; but any money paid by him in advance will be returned after deducting the rent then due, and the amount of any damage which he may have done to the property.
11. It is expected that every Lodger will so conduct himself on the Sabbath as not to desecrate the day.
12. For the benefit of those who may wish to avail themselves of the opportunity, the Holy Scriptures and other books of an interesting and instructive character, will be lent by the Superintendent in the hope that the Lodgers in this House will be thereby induced to spend their leisure hours in a profitable manner, as intelligent and accountable beings.
Posted by Lee Jackson at 08:28
Sunday, 8 September 2013
SIR, - I shall be glad if you will allow an outsider to protest against what he thinks an unworthy habit on the part of certain architects, that of placing the watercloset in the bath-room. He noticed a case at Hampstead the other day, where some very fine houses showed this far from refreshing association, which he had not seen before except in certain Scotch hotels and houses. The grouping, in the same small room, of the sewer and the bath is such a bizarre, and is such a very objectionable plan, that it is to be hoped it is rather owing to an odd sense of fitness on the part of certain architects than to any growing sanitary "notion" of the time. The bare idea of a healthy creature going to enjoy his bath in the same cell (for it is never a room) with a watercloset, one would have thought too strong for the nerves of the present aesthetic race of architects, who are, no doubt, responsible for the very fine houses in which he saw this plan carried out. Of all countries in the world, one would expect to meet a thing of this sort least in England, where people happily have, usually, strict notions as to cleanliness. V.R.
[letter to The Builder, 2 August 1879]
SIR, "V.R." in your issue of the 2nd inst. writing on the above subject strikes a chord which will be heard throughout the country, and I for one beg to tender him my thanks, and trust that he will continue to call attention to this matter of defiled bath-rooms. What "V.R." asserts is a notorious fact, and why architects persist in this uncalled-for practice does seem strange to the experienced sanitary engineer.
It is true that often on board ship, where every nook and corner has to be utilised, want of space necessitates the W.C. being screwed into a cell where there is barely room for the user to turn round, but I am glad to say that great changes for the better have been made in this particular in most of our large passenger-ships. It is only necessary to pay a visit to the magnificent vessels of any of our great passenger-carrying ocean lines, such as the Peninsular and Oriential, the White Star, the Anchor Line, &c., to perceive these improvements. In the saloon will be seen perfect sanitary appliances working efficiently, - marble baths, with douches, that would grace a palace, with no W.C. in the same compartment, but these latter fitted up apart from the bath-rooms with the greatest care, and supplied with abundance of water for cleansing purposes.
Now, sir, if on board ship, where every inch of room is valuable, we still are careful to keep the bath-rooms separate from the W.C.s, I wish to know why architects should consider it advisable to join them together in the beautiful mansions which are at present being built. Have them close to each other by all means, but put the latter outside the building, and the bath in a separate room alongside on every floor, taking care to use all the best known sanitary appliances for prevention of disagreeable smells in the closet. It is, unfortunately, only too well known among experienced sanitary engineers and plumbers, that great evils arise from the bad arrangement and construction of the house-drains and soil-pipes and closets from inefficient and bad workmanship, light and flimsy fittings, want of experienced men to supervise, and the inordinate longing on the part of builders to put in the cheapest articles they can get. Is it, then, to be wondered at that, of late years, we have had such an outcry about the prevalence of typhoid fever.
"V.R." has called attention to one evil which has arisen in sanitary arrangements of late years; but there are, unfortunately, many others besides those which I have indicated above, which often make out modern houses at night, when every aperture is closed, mere gigantic retainers of bad atmosphere, thus slowly poisoning the inmates during the very hours that they are most susceptible to that most stealthy and unseen of enemies, sewer-gas.
[letter to The Builder, 23 August 1879]
|Improved Industrial Dwellings flats on Wicklow Street|
The IIDC was a philanthropic venture - building clean, self-contained and affordable flats for the working man - but with a wider mission. The aim was not merely to house Londoners, but to convince property speculators that building homes for the working class could yield a decent return. This was a period when many of the capital's workers lived in overcrowded slums; and the idea of custom-made housing for the working man was a novelty. Waterlow hoped to persuade capitalists to pour money into housing for the masses - and free the lower classes from the tyranny of slum landlords. He was not alone - there were numerous 'model housing' ventures along similar lines both before and after the IIDC (including the flats of the American philanthropist George Peabody).
This, however, is not a tale of the slums, but a very different type of 'model housing' aimed squarely at the middle-classes, the work of Matthew Allen, the builder and de facto architect for the IIDC. It is also a story of the origins of the purpose-built London flat.
Many Victorians took rooms in multiple-occupancy houses, but, prior to the 1880s, purpose-built flats were considered foreign - worse - ah, the horror! - Parisian. The fact that model dwelling companies, like the IIDC, built flats as affordable high-density housing confirmed this innate suspicion - flats were for foreigners or the poor.
|Allens' houses, corner of Bethune and Manor Road, N16|
The buildings you can see, left, are Allen's creation. The picture, stolen from an estate agent, does his work little justice. There is actually a rather fetching row of a dozen identical 'houses'. All are replete with unusual second-floor front balconies, fronted with iron railings. On a sunny day, they are some of the best-looking Victorian properties in the district (well, that's my opinion).
The cottage flat idea is itself intriguing - the need to camouflage flats as houses to make them acceptable . I attended a talk recently [click here] and it seems that very little study has been made of them. But what's really interesting about Allen's development is that it was decidedly aimed at the middle-classes - I think cottage flats were normally more lower-middle - and, in the rear gardens, offered a peculiar sort of communal experience.
Now, let's be clear, there were no objectionable communal facilities here - the sort of thing which middle-class Victorians disliked - no shared entrances, hallways or toilets. The flats themselves had all the latest conveniences, including their own lavatories, and, in the slightly more expensive ones, dedicated bath-rooms (still a novelty in this period). But they had shared gardens - and what gardens they were!
Privacy indoors, yes - but a sort of middle-class pleasure-garden at the rear - potting sheds and pianos. This was a majestic, typically Victorian vision of ideal living for the middle-class.'There is a large croquet-lawn in the rear, which is approached from the drawing-room by means of a French casement ... a long gravelled walk, having on one side flower borders, and on the other side lean-to greenhouses, vineries, &c. Behind the wall of the greenhouses are the gardener's cottage, potting sheds, coach-house and stables; and in a line with these is a row of wash-houses (one for each tenant) fitted with washing coppers, troughs &c. The roofs of the washhouses are flat, and they form a long terrace walk with steps at each end. In addition to the croquet lawns, there is as long bowling-green, skirted by flower borders, and a row of standard roses, and a large playground for the children. All the tenants pay a sum quarterly in addition to the rent, for the keeping in order of the grounds, which require about 10,000 bedding plants annually. In the centre of one of the vineries is a large garden-room which is much frequented by the tenants, and being provided with a pianoforte, is used at stated intervals for dancing and evening entertainments of various kinds. Above the garden-room is a billiard-room, under the management of as committee of the tenants, who also regulate the affairs of the garden-room. The kitchen-garden is at the rear of the vineries and greenhouses, about 1 acre in extent. All the tenants have free access to it, and they can purchase any of its produce on application to the gardener. who calls at every house daily for orders.The arrangement of the buildings ... are partly on the Scottish principle; whilst the laying out of the grounds is after the French system; but Mr. Allen claims to have retained the all important feature of an English home - perfect privacy. The ceilings between each flat being constructed of concrete with iron joists running through the centre of the same, are fireproof. It is stated that little or no sound penetrates ...' [The Builder, 24 June 1876]
Did it prosper? The flats were certainly in high demand, and Allen built more along the same stretch of road. But, ultimately, most Victorian flat dwellers would live in mansion-blocks in the crowded West End. One suspects that most of those who dreamed of the suburbs wanted their own gardens, and, regardless, few were offered anything quite so grand as this.
What became of the magnificent gardens? There are now, in large part, a peculiarly hidden public park - 'Allens Gardens' - resorted to by N16 mums with kids and, I rather think, as night draws in, more degenerate characters.
For more information see here - [link]. If anyone has nice pics of the gardens, please forward and I'll add to the blog.