Albert Town, Stoke Newington

Part 1

Albert Town and Hornsey Removed

(Partly quoted from the Victoria County History Vol. 8)

14.5.08 Albert Town final.doc
21.6.08 Albert Town Part 1.doc

last revised: June 28, 2008 5:10 PM

Albert Town, at least at first, was different from most other housing developments. This is the story of a political idea which eventually backfired against the people who started it.

Albert Town was built between in the 1850s on ‘Hornsey Removed’ (shown on the 1814 Prebendal map below) and partly on Stoke Newington land. The two fields marked on the map as ‘Parish of Hornsey’ were not then part of Stoke Newington but were administered by a separate authority as part of the Borough of Hornsey. It had its own rather palatial town hall in Milton Grove, on the site of the present Leet House and ‘Zoom Around’ and ran its own affairs.


The 1814 Prebendary Map of Stoke Newington.

The 1814 map covers Stoke Newington, with Manor House and the North, on the right and Newington Green on the left. The north is to the right and Newington Green to the left. The map includes part of ‘Hornsey Removed’. This was on the two fields which have ‘Parish of Hornsey’ written across them and the two narrow strips with the words ‘Parish of Hornsey’ at the top. The fields are coloured slightly lighter than the nearby Stoke Newington ones. The rest of Hornsey Removed, on the other side of Green Lanes, is not on this map.

Hornsey Removed also included the Manor of Brownswood, which reached to Blackstock Road, and half of Clissold Park. The boundary between The Manor of St Mary and the Manor of Brownswood wove its way through the area. Clissold House, for example, was in Stoke Newington, but most of Clissold Park was in Hornsey Removed. Incidentally, this accounts for the shape of the proposed ‘Albert Park’, which was planned in about 1851 to stretch from Highbury Corner to Finsbury Park. It was designed to rival Victoria Park in size, but only the Finsbury Park section was ever created, so the rest is now a ghost park covered with houses, but nice to imagine as one walks through the modern streets. (See Albert Park).

‘Hornsey Removed’ did not become part of Stoke Newington until 1900, when there was a general tidying up of these old administrative districts in London, fifty years after Albert Town was first planned.

To return to the 1814 Map

This Prebendal Map was made for the 1814 Act of Parliament. The story of the map has been told in detail in The Darlington Sale. Link to Darlington Sale.

All we need to say here is that the 1814 Act allowed Stoke Newington landowners to grant 99 year building leases, instead of much shorter ones which were all that was permitted earlier. As a result, Cubitt and others bought leases which allowed them to sell houses with 99 year leases but not freehold properties. The church still held the freeholds. At this time the owner of a freehold house had the right to vote and this right was always jealously protected, as we shall see.


Freehold Houses and the Right to Vote


The 1814 Map

The site of the new Albert Town which was mainly on the ‘Parish of’ field of Hornsey Removed.
The map has been rotated and shows southern end of the 1814 map, with the north at the top.

So far as voting was concerned, in the 1840s England was still in feudal times. In order to vote you had to own land. If you owned a stretch of barren heath land, or a deserted village with nobody still living on it, you had the right to vote. If you owned a huge mansion on a lease, but did not own the land it stood on, you had no vote. The minimum qualification for the right to vote was to own a piece of land worth £1 a year in Ground Rent. This made you a Freeholder and gave you the right to vote.

Historically the contrast between English peasants and French ones has been extreme. French peasants own their land and hold on to it tenaciously, dividing it and dividing it between members of the family as people die and the property descends to the next generation. This still accounts for the French attitude to the Common Agricultural Policy today

*****

At every election un the early 19th Century there were allegations of corruption, of buying the votes of freeholders with money or drink, and about the limitation of the right to vote. The majority of people in the country had no vote, or any say at all in who was elected.

In 1800 a famous novel was published .which satirised this

 

CASTLE RACKRENT

By Maria Edgeworth (first published 1800).

In it, Sir Condy Rackrent, a roistering Irish gentleman, is standing for Parliamen, and the story is told by an Old Thaddy, a very loyal family servant, and a wordy old boy who gabbles on without a full stop to his name.

‘My master did not relish the thoughts of a troublesome canvass, and all the ill-will he might bring upon himself by disturbing the peace of the county, besides the expense, which was no trifle; but all his friends called upon one another to subscribe, and they formed themselves into a committee, and wrote all his circular letters for him, and engaged all his agents, and did all the business unknown to him. There were grand dinners, and all the gentlemen drinking success to Sir Condy till they were carried off; and then dances and balls, and the ladies all finishing with a raking pot of tea in the morning. The day of election will come some time or other, says I to myself. and a glorious day it was as any I ever had the happiness to see.’

‘Huzza! huzza! Sir Condy Rackrent for ever!' was the first thing I heard in the morning, and the same and nothing else all day, and not a soul sober only just when polling, enough to give their votes as became 'em, and to stand the browbeating of the lawyers, who came tight enough upon us; and many of our freeholders were knocked off, having never a freehold that they could safely swear to, and Sir Condy was not willing to have any man perjure himself for his sake, as was done on the other side, God knows; but no matter for that. Some of our friends were dumbfounded by the lawyers asking them: Had they ever been upon the ground where their freeholds lay?

Now, Sir Condy being tender of the consciences of them that had not been on the ground, and so could not swear to a freehold when cross-examined by them lawyers, sent out for a couple of cleavesful of the sods of his farm of Gulteeshinnagh; and as soon as the sods came into town, he set each man upon his sod, and so then, ever after, you know, they could fairly swear they had been upon the ground. We gained the day by this piece of honesty. I thought I should have died in the streets for joy when I seed my poor master chaired, and he bareheaded, and it raining as hard as it could pour; but all the crowds following him up and down, and he bowing and shaking hands with the whole town.’

This is a novel which is still as readable today as it was when it was written two hundred years ago. This quotation happens to show that owning freehold land was a condition for having a vote in Ireland as well as in England, but there is no suggestion that this method of making sure voters were able to swear that they had stood on their freeholds was practised in Stoke Newington of course. It was the whole voting system that was at fault.


Political Reform

The period from 1830-1850 , in England was a time of great change. The 1832 Reform Act changed voting rights drastically. Rotten boroughs (where the parliamentary constituencies had declined in size but still retained the right to elect members of the House of Commons) were swept away. Old Sarum, for example, had become infamous for consisting of an old wall but had still sent its member to Parliament. The seats from the Rotten Borough were given to the new manufacturing towns like Birmingham and Manchester.

The 1832 Act did not repeal the Corn Laws. For years these laws had forbidden the import of cheap corn from abroad. Plenty of cheap corn was available from overseas but nobody was allowed to import it until the price of English corn had risen above a certain (very high) level. This caused great hardship to the poor – rather as modern food shortages have made prices shoot up. Finally, in 1849, after great agitation, the Corn Laws were abolished and the power of landlords to hold people to ransom was reduced again. The Freehold Land Society was set up in the same year and in the same period of enthusiasm.

The 1832 Reform Bill had begun to loosen the power of the landowners. The Corn Laws loosened it further. What was wanted next was to give more people the vote and so, over time, to change the composition of Parliament. The Conservatives (Tories) were the party of the landowners and controlled Parliament because they controlled the vote. The Liberals were the party of the new manufacturers and business people and they wanted to increase their vote. To do this they had to create a body of people who owned a small piece of land and, with it, the right to vote.

Albert Town and the Freehold Land Society

A plan to increase the Liberal (Anti-landowner) vote.

The Society offered a new idea. Instead if selling land on building leases, they would sell it in small freehold lots, so that houses built on them would also be freehold. The Society would buy up fields, divide them into pieces large enough to take one or two houses and the owners of the houses built on them would become freeholders with the right to vote. Albert Town (as yet unnamed) would become an island of voters, in a sea of leaseholders who had no vote.

The Society planned to buy up land near towns and divide it up into ‘Twenty Bob Lots’.

As explained before, to have the right to vote, a person had to own land worth One Pound a year in rateable value. A pound was a much more formidable sum than it is today. For many people it was a complete week’s wage and agricultural workers got even less. In old currency there were 20 shillings in a pound and a shilling was called a ‘bob’, so calling the plots ‘20 bob lots’ must have made the cost sound smaller.

The Freehold Land Society held a packed meeting at the London Tavern addressed by Richard Cobden and others to advocate their ideas. This was reported in The Times next day over three columns. He called on the meeting to invest in freehold land and so increase the number of householders who had the vote. Blocks of freehold land would be bought and sold at cost price to anyone who wanted to uses it as an allotment or for building. He said that the Houses of Parliament needed to be controlled in the interest of ordinary people and not for the sole benefit of the landed gentry. The meeting was enthusiastic and freehold estates were around London began to be bought and then sold on in small pieces, together with their potential voting rights.

Link to Cobden's Speech

The idea of freehold properties with the right to vote appealed to small craftsmen, people of independent minds, and liberal reformers of al kinds. Agricultural fields were bought up and divided. Albert Town, between Albion Road and Wordsworth Road (which we know as the Poets Roads) was one example. There were other ones nearby but unfortunately the records were destroyed during World War 2 so it is not easy to trace them.

The law controlling Building Societies did not allow them to own land. This meant that in 1856, only a few years after it was set up, t he Freehold Land Society had to be split into two parts. One part would own the land, while the other would arrange mortgages.

The land ownership and developing side became British Land, which is now an enormous international development company. The mortgage side became the Abbey Building Society. The Abbey is now one half of the Abbey National Building Society.

In 2006 British Land was 150 years old and celebrated it with a book called No Stone Unturned, buy John Weston Smith ISBN13978.0.9554406.0.1 These quotations are relevant

Quoted from the modern British Land website

‘The National Freehold Land Society, which was the immediate precursor of British Land, was established in 1849 by two Liberal Members of Parliament: Sir Joshua Walmsley and Richard Cobden, joined a year later by another illustrious MP, John Bright. The Society was not the first of its kind, but no other organisation grew to such prominence or was active on so wide a scale, especially in London. The public first became acquainted with the project through a meeting held on 26 November 1849 at the London Tavern in Bishopsgate in the City of London, where the principal speaker was Richard Cobden. An account of his speech occupied three columns of The Times on the following day.

 

The business of this new company was to purchase land and to resell it on the best terms it could get to any customer who might be willing to purchase. The political impetus, so strong in 1849, quickly disappeared. Indeed a member speaking at a social evening of the building society in 1861 complained that they had lost sight of the original intention in the formation of the Society. He remarked that Mr. Cobden had advocated the land societies mainly with a view to the enlargement of the franchise but by 1861 that objective had faded out (changes to the qualification requirements and the removal in 1859 of the property clause had, rendered it largely redundant). Henceforward the main business thrust of the Company was definitely towards home ownership, not voting. Indifference to politics, so much bemoaned in the 21 st century, has a long history.’

From ‘No Stone Unturned’: a History of the British Land Company 1856-2006.

For other examples of the difficulties before the Limited Liability Act was passed see Southwood Smith and his trial brocks of healthy flats in King’s Cross and Gibson Gardens in Stoke Newington

Let British Land sum up the position when Albert Town was built.

‘When the National Freehold and other land societies first came into being it was hard to say what the Tories liked least - the threat of an increase in votes for their Liberal opponents, the proliferation of new houses, or the freedom for the "lower orders" to gain a place on the property ladder and thus get ideas above their station. There were legal difficulties too. Because the National Freehold Land Society was actually a building society, in spite of its name, it was unable to own land and all dealings in land had to be carried on by the directors as individuals at their own risk for the benefit of the Society. This was clearly unsatisfactory and, from 1856 onwards, land dealings were entrusted to a separate organisation, The British Land Company. British Land operated from the same address as The National Freehold Land Society and with the same directors. The formation of this new company was rendered possible by new legislation permitting limited liability for shareholders in companies, meaning that they only were liable to the extent of their investment. If' the company went bust owing money to creditors, there could be no call on the shareholders beyond the share capital.

The Scheme Backfires

At first the creation of freeholders may have increased the Liberal vote, especially in areas near the centre of London. Later however the various Land Companies began to buy land in the countryside around London and there they created many more freeholds. This is what we now call the stockbroker belt, so that in the end the freehold land holdings created more Tory votes than Liberal ones. Later again the voting qualifications changed and freehold property ceased to be a requirement for voting. Albert Town is an interesting, if short lived, piece of political history.

This has been a brief overview of the politics behind the creation of Albert Town. Let us now look at actual building of the houses.


FROM HERE Part 2

Building Albert Town

 

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