The London Building World of 1860-1880

Twenty years of noise and confusion

Based on John Summerson’s ‘ The London Building World of the Eighteen-Sixties'.

How London was rebuilt and the people of London fled
to escape the dirt, noise and inconvenience of it all.


Major Constructions in London 1860-1880

`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.

Stoke Newington expanded rapidly between 1860 and 1880. It is not easy to see why until one realises what an uncomfortable place the City of London became in this period. The list below shows why people ran away to the fields of Stoke Newington and elsewhere.

Work done in these twenty years in London

Main drainage. Four sewers zigzagged west to east. Took 10 years.

Metropolitan Railway ‘cut and covered’ the lengths of Marylebone Rd and Euston Rd and thence to the City. This means that a huge ditch wide enough to take two lines of trains was cut from Paddington, along Praed Street, Marylebone Road, Euston Road, Farringdon Road to Broad Street and the City. This huge cutting was then floored, lined with brick, roofed, and arched over. Then main roads were built on the top strong enough to take heavy traffic. Houses on the way were demolished and the people had to find somewhere else to live. Imagine the noise and confusion and the way people had to uproot themselves and find somewhere else to live.

District Railway built (the Inner Circle Line). Again this was in a cutting which had to be covered in some places and bridged in others.

Victoria Embankment with 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 Street, which was the terminus, to Canonbury, Hampstead and Kew

Midland Railway reached St Pancras. Another old cemetery had to be exhumed and the bodies rebuilt. The architect and novelist Thomas Hardy supervised some of this.

Victoria Street had just been built and was still raw.

Queen Victoria Street was cut through the City from Blackfriars to Mansion House, holding a sewer, the District Railway, gas and water mains in its belly

Holborn Viaduct built to bridge the River Fleet Valley. (Today we can look down from Holborn Viaduct to the roadway far below which coves the Fleet River.

Smithfield Market built 1867-8

Blackfriars Bridge 1869


Baron Haussman, who tore the heart out of Paris after the 1870 Commune, and rebuilt it, could have learnt his trade in London twenty years earlier.

‘As a result of all this activity, the City of London's population fell. 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.’

The Effect on Stoke Newington

Stoke Newington became home to hundreds of clerks and foremen. The poorer workers had to crowd into the rookeries of Seven Dials and Lisson Grove because they could not afford the daily train fares to Stoke Newington, or the other new suburbs, and so had to live near their work.

In 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 with mews behind were built, but the masters did not come. They filled Highbury, but Stoke Newington was a step too far for them. A couple of bocks stood lonely surrounded by growing corn. Much later building continued in the same, or different style.

++PICTURE OF MANOR PARK FRON THE HMT VERSION OF GROWTH S N Page 45.This has already been shaded but is embedded.

Sale Plan of the Manor House, on the corner
of Church Street and Bouverie Road

The sale was probably about 1875 when owners of old houses with large gardens were cashing in on the sudden increase of land values by selling up and moving away.

Summerhouse Road, built on the site of the Old Manor House.


A row of Victorian Gothic houses in Grayling Road in 2007


Lancell Street in 2007


Many of the first occupants of all these houses may have been refugees from the rebuilding in London.

Who Built All the New Houses?

The names of particular builders could be found by examining the Drainage Applications, but the general picture is clear. In 1861, 10% of the male, adult working population of London were employed `on Houses and Buildings.

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 theyears 1851 and 52. Few of them employed more than ten men. The tendering system ensured that there was a great deal of work for quantity surveyors and estimators, but most of the calculations would have been done by the individual builder and most came to nothing. Bankruptcies were common and the bankrupt reverted painfully 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, poverty and lowly position held by both skilled men and labourers in this precarious world where there was no unemployment pay. The book is set in Hastings but the plight of the small man was the same in London.


Last Changed: October 22, 2011