Sisters' Place AD 1714 Stoke Newington Church St
These houses were five years old when Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe. It was his first novel: he was 59 and wrote it in his house in Stoke Newington. He had perhaps, watched the house being built and may have walked past it later, while working out incidents for the story.
The house is built in yellow brick with red brick string courses and red framings to the windows. The wooden window frames are set back from the surface of the wall to reduce the danger of fire. London was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666 in this style. Before then London had been a wooden city with the upper floors jettying out beyond the lower ones. This was necessary when building in wood. No piece of timber could be found much taller than one storey of a house. Therefore each storey had to jetty out so that water could dripped off it instead of running into the house at floor level. The wooden houses were very built very close together, so close that one could shake hands with a neighbour through the top floor windows. If a fire started, the heat soon spread the fire to the upper storeys and the thatch, and crossed rapidly from one row of houses to the next.
After the Great Fire, houses had to be built of brick and tile. No timber or thatch were allowed. The brick walls were built with pediments so that the roof joists, which had to be o f wood, were hidden behind brick and projecting eaves were avoided. Exposed wood was so dangerous that by 1707 window frames had to be set back into the walls by the thickness of one brick. Party walls between houses had to be thick enough to resist fire for six hours. (There were no fire hydrants and water had to be brought in buckets or carts, so putting out a fire was difficult). There was supposed to be a balcony on the first floor so that occupants could be rescued by ladder if the staircase was alight. As a result of these Fire Regulations, which still control London building, London changed from a wooden city to a brick one within a few years.
Sisters' Place is a typical London house. There were rows of them in the City, but often much taller.The pediment is in a different yellow brick from the original. It was rebuilt some time ago as we used to able to see from the half-bricks which used to scar the front. Modern builders use steel scaffolding but these ones used wooden scaffolding poles lashed with rope. They cut out half bricks to hold the timbers which supported their planks. They then replaced the wrong bricks with the wrong coloured mortar. A pity. (This was originally written in 1980. Since then Church Street has become a protected area and some of the facede has been restored. The putholes have gone, but so have some of the original bricks. One cannot always win).
A typical, small wooden porch cover gives protection to the door rather than the caller. The door appears to have been doubled but is now single. The fanlight with fine, metal divisions, is delightful.The front garden is paved and railed with square, iron railings and vase finials. Two square pillars support a beautiful, wrought-iron gate. The scrollwork is crisply forged and swags of ribbons, leaves and berries applied to the front. The ribbons and leaves have been hammered out of sheet metal and the berries forged from bar iron. The gates have a French feeling and shows the influence of the continent. The top unit, which is incomplete, was probably an eagle on a ball.
The gates were made by a Bristol blacksmith, date unknown, and come from some unknown house. The railings too come from elsewhere, but the gates and railings are of about the right period and have the correct 'feel'.
Before 1939 the house had cast iron railings but these were taken for the War Effort. After the war the new owners installed these gates and railings and restored the house to its present delightful condition.
Sisters' Place has an 'M' roof to reduce height and keep the roof within the parapet.
Batty Langley shows an 'M' roof construction in 'The Builder's Jewel' 1746.
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