Albert Town, Stoke Newington

Part 2

Albert Town and the Freehold Land Society

In 1849 the Foy Estate consisted of 28½ acres in the central part of South Hornsey and 6 adjoining acres to the north-west. Most of the six acres had been brickfields and were by then full of stagnant pools. They were in Stoke Newington, not Hornsey Removed, but they were adjoining and so formed one block of land.

Albert Town Tithe Entries
Landowners Occupier No on Plan Name & Description State & Cultivation Quantities Annual Tithe Rent
Acres Roods Poles £ shillings pence
Shore Offley Robert Webb 623 Arable field 6 25 2 10


The entry for the larger area seems difficult to find as it was in Hornsey Removed.

The estate was owned by Offley Shore, a bankrupt who had to forfeit it to his creditors. The assignees, who arranged the bankruptcy, conveyed the land to the National Freehold Land Society, which divided it into small freehold plots and sold them to builders. Speculative building is always a risky affair because so many things can go wrong, so these small plots for only one or two houses encouraged small builders to risk it. As a result Albert Town was built by no fewer than 53 builders. The largest, James Whitcombe of Islington, built 53 houses but many built only a single house.

By 1852 the society had laid out the roads and called them after poets. Nearby, off the High Street, was a small development named after Queen Victoria, so the new estate was called Albert Town. St Matthias School was built in 1849 and St Matthias Church in 1853.

++Find the piece about the occupants of Albert Town


Building Albert Town

The 1861 Cross map of South Stoke Newington

Albert Town, with its streets named after poets, on the 1861 Cross map.

The fields to the east of Wordsworth Road had not developed by 1861 and Allen Road was only half built. Cut Throat Lane, which appears on earlier maps, has been renamed as Wordsworth Road. Matthias Road was called Coach and Horses Lane. Howard Road was called after the prison reformer and Allen Road after the chemist, philanthropist and Quaker who lived in Stoke Newington.

This map shows Victoria Road development which probably suggested the name of Albert Town.


The 1894 Ordnance Survey map showing part of the border of Hornsey Removed

1894 Ordnance Survey map

Most of Albert Town was built on the ‘Hornsey Removed’ field east of Albion Road and on six acres to the north. It was not built on the second Hornsey Removed field to the north east.


The Houses in Albert Town

Construction of houses in Albert Town was by scores, if not hundreds, of independent builders, mostly on a very small scale. Victoria County History says:-

Albert Town, for example, was built in the 1850s by 53 builders, the largest of whom, James Witcombe of Islington, built 35 houses. Many others put up a single house.

We can still see an example of this in Albert Town.At the northern end of Milton Grove the houses are all subtly different. A single house, a block of four, single, single, and so on down the road, as smaller and bigger men built. Why should this be? Compare the small-scale development with the long rows of Cubitt houses at the top of Albion Road.

The varied design of houses in Milton Gardens


Further down the road, with the same pattern of small site developments


The same houses from the opposite direction

In Albert Town the Freehold Land Society had divided their land into single plots, so that very small builders could venture to take one plot and build one house on it. We can still see the effect of that today.

Why was Albert Town built by so many different builders?

The building trade has always been a risky one. Bricklayers, carpenters and other skilled tradesmen dreamed of building complete houses and becoming developers. This way they might make their fortunes. They had seen a few men like themselves succeed, but far more went bankrupt each year and finished up with debts which could take years to pay off. They dared not take large plots, or plan to build rows of houses. They had to start small.

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 Cobden. An account of his speech occupied three columns of The Times on the following day.


The Times, Tuesday, November 27, 1849

There was a meeting about Freehold Land Reform where Cobden made an impressive speech demanding reform of Land to echo the Corn Law Reform. This is reproduced from No Stone Unturned, the History of The British Land Company, 1856 - 2006

Cobden and Bright were both radical figures who were very much in the public eye – hence the extensive coverage of Cobden’s freehold land speech in The Times. They were great Liberal reformers, and had been particularly prominent in anti-Corn Law agitation twenty years earlier.

Later The National Freehold Land Society had to change its nature and became two different organizations.

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 but 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 made possible by new legislation permitting limited liability for shareholders in companies, meaning that they were liable only to the extent of their investment.’

Before this they were liable for the complete loss a company might make, as the shareholders in Lloyds still are. This meant that they might be plunged into debt and be liable to continue paying it for the rest of their lives.

Note. The account of Southwood Smith’s buildings in King’s Cross, and Gibson Gardens in Stoke Newington on this website, are other examples of this problem of Unlimited Liability at that time.

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. Later again the voting qualifications were changed and freehold property ceased to be a requirement for voting. Albert Town is an interesting, if short lived, piece of political history.

Summary of Cobden’s speech to the Freehold Land Society (The Times, November 27, 1849)

History of Albert Town, Stoke Newington - Part 1

24.6.08Freehold land Soc and Cobden.doc

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Revised: October 25, 2011 8:49 AM