Thomas Cubitt, Builder, (1788-1855) and Albion Road

Houses which Thomas Cubitt built in Albion Road, survive and are easily recognised. In her biography of Thomas Cubitt, Hermione Hobhouse says he was called 'The Emperor of the Building Trade'. He built large parts of Pimlico, Clapham, Millbank and Kemp Town in Brighton, Osborne on the Isle of Wight, and in dozens of other places.

Cubitt had a reputation for sound, well-planned work, employed his own large staff of over a thousand of all trades, including civil engineers building roads and sewers. He even developed his own brick fields. Windows and doors were mass produced by the most modern machinery available. The normal building trade system, where small builders sub-contracted to other trades, was turned on its head.

At this time, most houses were built by small men who had very little capital and who could build only one or two houses at a time. They arranged to pay a peppercorn rent to a landowner for about the first four years. By that time they hoped to have built and sold. A bricklayer might decide to build a couple of houses. A carpenter might build a couple more and a plasterer/decorator, a fifth. Because each had so little capital, they sub-contracted themselves to each other. Each did all the skilled work in his own trade and laboured for the others. The bricklayer did the brickwork and drains: the carpenter did the timbering; and the plasterer all the finishing. They would labour for each other. The carpenter mixed the mortar for the brick-layer and the decorator carried it. They charged their skilled and unskilled labour against each other and hoped, at the end, to come out about even.

All this needed careful book-keeping. John Nash, himself a master architect and builder, kept the accounts of dozens of small groups like this. Many of the groups would have been sub-contractors to big architects like Nash, who took on huge projects like the redevelopment of Regent's Park, designed the houses and sub-contracted out the work in small lots. Woods designed and built the frontages in Bath and small men built the houses behind.

Nash kept meticulous accounts of dozens of small groups like this, but there were human problems. People did not always work together well. They tended to do their own houses first, leaving others to wait in frustration.

Cubitt cut through this by putting all the trades under one roof - his own roof. He organised in a modern, large-scale way. He bought materials in quantity and supplied smaller men. Eventually his workshops covered eleven acres in Pimlico.

It is interesting that he almost cut his teeth in Albion Road. Look. at the houses there, built in the first third of the nineteenth century. You can see similar ones, sometimes greatly enlarged, in squares, avenues and estates, all over London. They were some of the first of an enormous mass of Cubitt building which included housing estates, bridges and railway stations. The firm still flourishes.

However, the small men still built, hoping to claw their way up by building a few houses and selling them before they became bankrupt. Michael Hunter has shown that the vast majority of Stoke Newington builders built no more than four houses each. The terraces may look similar but may have had several builders. Each terrace hides hopes and fears.

From 'Complete Book of Trades or the Parent's Guide and Youth's Instructor,'
by N. Whittock, 1842

Cubitt Houses in Albion Road

Stoke Newington 1821
Updated: October 13, 2011