Nos 207-223 Stoke Newington Church Street

This shallow crescent of four storey houses with basements, appears on the 1855 map but not on the 1846 so they were built at about the same time as the new St Mary's Church next door. The following is the description of one typical house but details have been taken from several as none is in exactly its original condition.

The house is built in yellow brick and the ground floor and basements rendered to imitate stone. The Ground Floor is approached by a flight of seven stone steps and a square porch. The porch has two simple, round pillars built of brick and rendered. Porch and steps have cast iron railings (No. 221) screwed into a wrought iron handrail. The tops of the porches are linked by a narrower balcony on stone brackets, which runs the whole length of the crescent. The balcony and porch tops give a pleasant sitting-out area and a place of rescue in the case of fire. The First Floor held the main Drawing Room, the tallest and most impressive room in the house, with french windows leading to the balcony. The Second Floor (family bedrooms) have shorter windows. Above, are the Attics in a Mansard roof, set back behind a pierced pediment (No 223). Similar pediments have been replaced in various ways along the crescent, over the years.

A Mansard-roof (named after a French architect) is an economical way of putting rooms in the roof. Instead of bricks, there was a draughty screen of wooden laths and hung slates. There were no fireplaces but plenty of air which was said to be good for servants. In the original houses, the windows would have been very small. This had a big advantage from the architect's point of view. His house appears to have a definite shape. As you look at the house from the front, the windows are very large on the First Floor, smaller on the Second, smaller still in the Attics. Keeping these proportions, with the windows getting smaller as they go up, the house could not go any higher, or the top windows would have disappeared entirely.

This is the difference between designing a house where the owners have the best rooms (but the servants can be kept in the cellars and attics) and designing a democratic block of flats. Today, the windows and ceilings of the top flat must be as tall as the lower ones. This is much better for the people living there but, from outside, it is much harder to stop the eye from rising. The flats seem to go on, one above the other, and then stop for no reason. In this crescent, the old attic windows have been replaced by modern ones as large as will fit, but the architectural effect is similar to before, The chimneys have been retained but the chimney pots replaced by perforated, clay air-bricks for central heating, gas fire, or ventilating openings.

The Basement has been converted into a flat. Originally it would have been the kitchen and sculleries, with coal cellars and an open Area in front, railed off for security.

It is a very successful conversion of attractive buildings which might easily have been demolished.

1855 Parish of St Mary,
Stoke Newington

Stoke Newington Lecture

Updated: October 19, 2011