Major Constructions in London - 1860-1880

Stoke Newington expanded rapidly between 1860 and 1890. It is not easy to see why until one realises what an uncomfortable place the City of London became in this period. There was so much build work going on in London one can see why people ran away to the fields of Stoke Newington.

Building the sewers and the many new railway stations in London took a long time. From 1860 to 1880 London was like the Wild West. John Summerson's little book called The London Building World 1860-1880 is a gem. He trawled through volume after volume of The Builder in the R.I.B.A. library and condensed the changes in the two decades into a tiny book. The Builder was published fortnightly and successive editions gave details of all the buildings planned, being built and completed. They could be traced from volume to volume.

'In the seventh decade of the nineteenth century, London was more cut about,
more rebuilt and more extended than at any time in its previous history'.
John Summerson, 'The London Building World of the Eighteen-sixties'

By careful checking Summerson compiled a summary of the building activity in London from 1860 to 1880.

Building Work Carried out in London , 1860-80

  • Main drainage. Four sewers zigzagged west to east. This took ten years.
  • Metropolitan Railway built by 'cut and cover' all the way from Paddington, along Marylebone Rd and Euston Rd and thence to the City. This means that a trench wide enough to take two railway trains side by side was cut, platforms built and the whole trench then arched over and these main roads built on top. We call it the Circle and Metropolitan Lines.
  • District Railway built ( Inner Circle ).
  • Victoria Embankment built with a sewer and highway above.
  • Pimlico Railway - bridge and Victoria Station.
  • South Eastern Railway reached Charing Cross (17 bridges, 119 brick arches, an iron viaduct, destruction of a hospital, 8000 bodies removed from a cemetry, Charing Cross Railway Bridge).
  • North London Railway linked Broad St Hampstead and Kew.
  • Midland Railway reached St Pancras, Victoria Street still raw.
  • Queen Victoria St cut through the City from Blackfriars to Mansion House, holding a sewer, the District Railway, gas and water mains in its belly.
  • Holborn Viaduct bridged the Fleet Valley.
  • Smithfield Market built 1867-8.
  • Blackfriars Bridge 1869.

Reading it through makes your head spin and explains exactly why Stoke Newington expanded so violently at this time. The whole of the City of London and the West End was a building site and residents who could do so, fled along the railway lines to the suburbs.

Imagine the disruption caused by all this rebuilding of London.

The building of Holborn Viaduct

Illustrated London News, 23 April, 1864

Baron Haussman, who tore the heart out of Paris after the 1870 Paris Commune and rebuilt it as wide boulevards which could be cleared by cannon fire, could have learnt his trade in London a decade earlier.

Householders had no rights. They were not automatically rehoused, but had to scurry to find a home wherever they could. About 1864 Gladstone had forced the railways to introduce Workmen's tickets with very low fares for early travellers. Those who could afford these fares moved to new houses in the suburbs. There were thousands who walked two or three miles backwards and forwards to work every day. Those who could not afford the rents, or fares, or shoe-leather, were forced to crowd into the rookeries of Seven Dials and Lisson Grove.

As a result of all this activity, the City of London 's population fell sharply. In 1861 the City of London had a population of 113,000. By 1871 this was reduced to 76,000.

'The masters had gone to Bayswater or Kensington or perhaps Hornsey or Clapham: the clerks to Camberwell or Peckham, Stoke Newington or Highbury.

John Summerson again

To return to Stoke Newington, the builders of Lordship Park clearly hoped to attract some of the masters. They began an impressive development in the shadow of the romantic castle of the Water Company Pumping Station. There were pillars with heraldic figures at the Green Lanes entrance. A few huge houses were built with mews behind, but the masters did not come.

Who Built All the New Houses?

The names of particular builders can be found by examining the Drainage Applications, which give the building date and often an outline plan of the house. They may too include some correspondence, but the general picture is clear.

In 1861, 10% of the male, adult, working population of London were employed on 'Houses and buildings.'

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Most were very small people. Michael Hunter shows in 'The Victorian Villas of Hackney' that 53 builders constructed an average of under four houses each in the period 1851-1852. Few builders employed more than 10 men. The tendering system ensured that there was a great deal of work for quantity surveyors and estimators. Most of the calculations would have been done by the individual builder, but most came to nothing. Bankruptcies were common and the bankrupt reverted abruptly to being a workman again.

The reference book here seems to be 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' by Robert Tressal, which has harrowing detail of the lives of small man, often talented, without capital. It is set in Hastings but the plight of the small builder has always been the same in London and everywhere else.

1858 Post Office London Directory Map

1863 Ordnance Survey

Updated: October 22, 2011