Watson Street– Watson Close

The story of change over seventy years


Watson Street was a cul-de-sac built about 1905. By the 1930s they were in a sorry state but were to survive yet another thirty years.






Picture of Watson Street cul-de-sac


The Green Lanes / Watson Street corner in 1966,
shortly before the cul-de-sac was demolished.

About 1936 Stoke Newington Borough Council began a Slum Clearance programme LINK TO 1. BUILDING BY STOKE NEWINGTON COUNCIL 1936 and back

2. Building the Howard Estate and back

A Sequence of Maps Showing the site of the Howard Road Estate over the Years

(It is now called the Hewling Estate)

Howard Road and Matthias Road in 1894, before Watson Street was built

Howard Rd and Matthias Rd in 1914


Later Maps

The Ordnance Survey maps showing the Watson Street site and the new Watson Close today are still in copyright and cannot be shown here, but they are available and schools will have the right to print and use them.

There is an interesting story about these two maps. Joe Sadler was born in Watson Street and grew up there. He saw the end of the street and, as this tale tells, even helped it on its way.

Joe Sadler, writing in 2008.

“The houses were built around 1900, I do not know by who, but there was a mixture of 2 and 3 storeys. It looks like by several builders at different times. How do I know? In the late 60s, Watson Street was set to be demolished. You read about homes that were knocked down and should not have been, but Watson St was not one of them. Sandra Imber and her family had already moved out of the corner house, and the wall that looked into her back garden was crumbling away. We used to run at it to try to climb the wall and into her garden. So, I ran at the wall and it shook. It felt like a mini earthquake and a young boy less than 4 feet tall pushed this huge wall over! Was I scared? Oh yes, but not a single person saw me! When I looked down I spotted, in the yellowish crumbling of concrete, a squashed florin with the date of 1897 on it. First thing I thought was that I could I spend it, but by then florins were not tender. So I stuck it in my pocket and scarpered!” 

(The coin date fits in well with the maps. Some labourer or bricklayer had lost perhaps about a fifth of his weekly wage).

“We were one of the last to leave Watson St, my Gran, a stubborn Irishwoman, held out for a decent house from the council. Me and my brother were the youngest and by then, all my Gran’s children had left home, so all she had to worry about was us.”


The wall of 43 Watson Street in 1938.

This is the sort of wall that Joe Sadler must have demolished, old and with its mortar crumbling. It was so unsafe that it had long been supported by wooden braces. This is the sort of brickwork Joe Sadler knocked down photographed about thirty years earlier. Fortunately his was a garden wall or the tale might not have finished happily.

Howard Rd and Matthias Rd in 1936

Building the Howard Road Estate in 1938

As part of the Slum Clearance Movement in the years immediately before the Second World War, a large estate was started in the Howard Road area, between Matthias Road and Howard Road. The Victoria County History (p.158) says briefly:-

'Another 3 blocks containing 90 flats were built on the Hewling Street site between Howard St and Matthias Rd in 1939'

The problem, as usual, must have been to find a site. There were plenty of houses in Stoke Newington which called out to be demolished and replaced but managing to do it was a gigantic game of chess. People had to be moved out of their old housing into new, before the old houses could be demolished. The problem was where to start. Back gardens had been enough for Wordsworth Central School (the present Grasmere Primary School site). Here a much bigger site was needed. It was decided to clear the old streets between Matthias Road and Howard Road and rebuild, working slowly along the site.

Matthias Road council housing estate under construction.

The picture includes the rear of housing in Matthias Road and Watson Street, and Hewling, Derwent and Matthias Houses in the course of being built. Photographed sometime between 1938-9.

Supplement to The Builder, 25 August 1939

At the moment the Second World War started The Builder published a supplement about the new Hewling Street Estate, which can be consulted today to give not just the facts but for the atmosphere of the period.


Howard Road Estate picture looking east towards St Matthias's Church in 1938


The building of Derwent House in 1938, with its foundation stone in place.


Block A near completion.

It is not clear from the picture which block this is.

The Second World War

During the Second World War almost all new building was halted but it restarted soon after.1945 with increased urgency. Slowly and impatiently the old Albert Town houses, which we know as the Poets Roads, were rebuilt as flats. They were new, clean, full of blossom, but Watson Street still endured its unchanged houses.

Joe Sadler describes them.

“This was I thought strange, now looking at it. I suppose you would think that all the people in Watson St were poor, but not so. There were poor, and not so poor. Our home was sparsely furnished. My upbringing was shared with my grandmother’s children who, although were my uncle and aunts were more like sisters and brother. None of them begrudged my sharing their mother with her grandchildren.

All the homes had outside toilets. We had buckets in the house at night, as it was too dark to go outside. We had a scullery, dining room and front room downstairs, two bedrooms on the first floor and two on the second although we could not use the front bedroom at the top because it was damaged and the floor boards were loose with holes in them. My grandfather stored his paint there (he was a painter and decorator but never took care of his own home).  Coal used to be stored outside but was also kept under the stairs. We bathed in tin baths, once a week and hated it, (I was a smelly kid, permanently dirty). Water was heated with gas by then. It was a shilling meter, as was the electricity, but the homes had no central heating. Every chimney smoked. In the winter we all lived in the front room. Our TV was black and white, and second hand.

The time I lived in  Watson St were the best times of my life and I want it known that although the conditions were by today's standards considered harsh, the people I knew and played with will be in my memories for the remaining years I have left on this Planet.”


The New Watson Close

Today Watson Street has been demolished and this new square of flats built. They are in modern red brick, with cavity walls, far removed from the smoky chimneys, leaking roofs and outside toilets described by Joe Sadler.

Watson House in Watson Close.


Cavity Walls

How High Fuel Prices Change the Building Regulations
and Demanded Cavity Walls.

When the price of oil and other fuels rocketed in the 1970s, the government altered the Building Regulations. All new buildings had to be built so as to save and retain heat. A double skin with a layer of air between them has always been known to hold heat well. It is difficult for heat to pass across a cavity of still air, so this air gap helps to conserve heat. The Cavity Wall became compulsory and in addition, the inner skin had to be made of Thermal Concrete. This concrete mix is particularly good at holding heat as it is full of tiny air cavities. These make it difficult for heat to pass across them and therefore they help to keep the heat in a building from escaping through the wall. The design will save the householders a great deal in heating costs over the years.

Details of the construction

Drawings of cavity walls

There are other examples of cavity walls in Church Path, described in Grasmere School Walk 2, which use ordinary bricks. The outside walls of the new Watson Close houses have been built with specially shaped red facing bricks. They are thicker and slightly narrower than standard bricks. This means that the outside walls are thinner than usual and fewer courses of brickwork are needed to build the same height of wall. The brick shape reduces both the volume of brick and the time taken to build the wall.

The new cavity wall bricks in similar cavity walls in Cowper Road.

These special cavity wall bricks measure 19 cms x 9 cms x 9 cms. The length of a brick = 2 widths = 2 thicknesses. This means that, allowing 1 cm for mortar, they are in the proportion 2 x 1 x 1.

Normal bricks are in the proportion 3 x 1.5 x 1. The length of a brick = 2 widths = 3 thicknesses.

This change of shape means that the outside skin of these walls can be thinner than normal bricks but the individual courses are deeper. Thus it takes slightly fewer bricks to build a wall and bricklayers can work faster. It took the fuel crisis of the 1970s to change the shape of the standard brick.


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Revised: January 10, 2009 4:51 PM