How the Prosperous Lived in 1885

The houses built by Cubitt in Albion Road in the eighteen thirties and forties were occupied by well-to-do people who employesd at least one and probably more servants. The road is very wide, set out to attract a prosperous clientele who wanted space, clean air, gardens on rich soil, and a chance to show off their money. These houses, which have long been let off as flats, were designed as single dwellings for large families with ser­vants, and perhaps unmarried relatives living with the family. The Booth map shows the street in Red for Well–To-Do, with one or more servants. These were the houses of prosperous people who travelled backwards and forwards to their offices and factories in London each day.

In `Kitchen Fugue', Sheila Kaye Smith wrote about her Late Victorian childhood in another, very slightly more wealthy, family. The house descibed was built in 1885, a period when Albion Road was in its prime.

`Besides the nursery staff we had a cook, a house-parlourmaid and a housemaid. I do not suppose that anyone today in my father's position would keep more than two maids, or indeed more than one. But in keeping three he was doing no more than most. In Arabella's house there also were three maids, and in very other house from number one upwards to the top of the hill. Forty-six houses-one hundred and thirty-eight maids in white caps and white aprons, print dresses m the morning and black dresses in the afternoon - one hundred and thirty­eight maids, sleeping in basement bed­rooms, eating in basement kitchens, carrying meals up basement stairs-up other stairs as well, for we had all our meals carried up to the nursery - carrying hot water to each bedroom four times a day, carrying coals for half a dozen scuttles, lighting and making up half a dozen fires, cleaning and blackleading half a dozen grates, sweeping carpets on their knees with dustpans and brushes, scrubbing floors, polishing furniture and "brasses" with polish they had to make themselves, lighting the gas in every room and passage when darkness fell, besides all the business of cooking and waiting at meals and washing up af­terwards - No, I do not think we were overstaffed.

The house had been built in 1885, and when my parents took possession of it as its first tenants it was regarded as a very latest expression of modernity and domestic enlightenment. It had, for one thing, a "housemaid's cup­board" half way up the second flight of stairs, a sensational improvement on those houses where no water at all was laid on above the basement. We had a bathroom, too, and there was a cloak­room with hot and cold water taps on the ground floor. Nothing could be more up to date.'

When the Albion Road houses were built in the eighteen forties, water would have been laid on only to the ground floor, as it was still carried in pipes made of bored out tree trunks. These leaked badly and lasted only five years before the street had to be dug up again. If the pressure had been increased to force water to the upper floors, water would have sprayed out at every joint. No doubt by 1885, cast iron water pipes would have been laid and the houses would have been similar to the ones described.

Restoring and Rebuilding the Clissold Road Houses

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Last changed : December 31, 2012