The Schoolkeeper’s House, 1910

The Schoolkeeper’s House

The School keeper's house was built in 1910 at the end of the stucco terrace, in a completely different style. Instead of stucco, it is in London Stock bricks, with red brick window heads and a red string course at the first floor. The first floor is rendered in pebble-dash which has been painted white. A central panel in red brick has an occulus [circular] window with a square pane in the centre. These occulus windows are typcal of Arts and Crafts houses. The doorway is protected by a wooden porch-cover supported by wrought iron stay bars. The central disks forged into these stay bars is another typical conceit found in houses of this type. Blacksmiths liked to show off their skills and these central disks are quite diffucul to make well. The tiled roof projects beyond the windows on exposed wooden joists, giving decorative shadows, but also allowing full light to enter the windows.

The whole house is typical of the Arts and Crafts buildings so popular from about 1870 to about 1914.

William Morris had wished for a house where everything was designed to the smallest detail to be pleasing and harmonious, designed by artists and pleasing to craftsnen of all trades. His Red House, in Bexley Heath, was the first example and had a wide influence. The design of the new School-Keeper’s house is stronly influenced by this idea. Everything has been thought out with the greatest care. Nothing was unnecessary.

It is interesting in the history of London because it flouted the Fire of London Building Regulations. In 1666 London, which was full of wooden houses, burnt for three full days and large areas were destroyed. This caused new Fire of London Building Regulations to be brought in and strongly enforced.

How Wooden Houses were Built

A drawing of Staple Inn by Will Owen
From Old London Town, 1921.

These wooden buildings still exist in Holborn, opposite the end of Gray's Inn Road. They survived the Fire and, because they were outside the City Walls were not replaced by brick buildings. Imagine two rows of buildings like this on either side of a narrow city street. They would almost meet at the top.

Before the Great Fire in 1666, London was full of houses like this. London was still encircled by its old City Walls. Every inch of space was valuable. and it became ever more congested as more and more Dick Whittington's came to London. They had fled their feudal life on the farms and came to London make their fortunes.

London streets were already so narrow that pedestrians had to squeeze against the walls to let a cart go by, yet people built taller and taller to squeeze in more people. Each storey projected beyond the one below so that the two top storeys on opposite sides of the street almost touched. A man could shake hands with his neighbour across the road, through the top windows. There one could hear everything, so a new bye-law was enforced. People could pass on any information they had heard in the normal way, but eaves-dropping was forbidden. It was against the law to pass on any information one had heard in the eaves. Roads were tunnels with only a narrow ribbon of light above.

Imagine a second row of houses opposite the ones in the picture and a very narrow lane between them. Heat was trapped by the overhanging jetties so thatf fire spread rapidly from one side of the street to the next. Huge areas of London were lost in a couple of days.

Building Wooden Houses

Early London had been built largely of wood. Each storey projected beyond the next, so that people on the top floor could shake hands with those on the other side of the narrow roads. London was built originally within its protective walls. Every inch of space was valuable. The streets were tiny lanes, so that pedestrians had to squeeze against the walls to let a cart go by. Roads were tunnels with only a narrow ribbon of light above. Imagine a second row of houses opposite the ones in the picture and a very narrow lane between them. Heat was trapped by the overhanging jetties. Fire spread rapidly from one side of the street to the next, and huge areas of London were lost in a couple of days.

More information on Building Wooden Houses and the Great Fire Fire of London.

At the time of the Great Fire of London there had been regulations against wooden building but they had been ignored. After the Great Fire of London the exisitng Building Regulations were elabroated and enforced.

The Fire of London Building Regulations

  1. All houses were to be in brick or stone; no wooden eaves were allowed.
  2. Roofs were pushed back behind brick parapets.
  3. Wooden window frames were reduced. Later they were recessed behind brick so that only a narrow edge of the wooden frame was exposed to possible fire. This give the later houses of Swift's time their delicate proportions.
  4. Thatch was forbidden. Roofs were to be in slate or tile.
  5. Party walls between houses had to be thick enough to withstand two hours of fire. This would give the neighbours a chance of rescuing the people and extinguishing the blaze before it could spread.

These regulations changed the face of London for ever. They have been modified and altered since to suit later requirements but the regulations still govern our building.

Fire of London Building Regulations transformed London. A new style of building was born.

A Brick London

After the Fire in 1666 laws were passed immediately to ban wooden buildings. All London buildings had to be in brick oer stone. New Building Regulations insisted that all houses had to be built with thick party walls between the houses to slow the spread of fire sideways. House fronts had to have brick pediments with no projecting eaves which could trap fire. The roof timbers were to be short, hidden behind the pediment.

We can see all these rules being followed in the remaining houses the old terrace which used to run along Compton Road up to St Paul’s Road and hide the school site from the road. This house obeys the old Fire of London Rules. So does the School itself. Both have pediment walls with the roof timbers safely protected from fire.

The remaining Canonbury Road house from the front.

Originally a row of houses like this stretched right up to St Paul's Road.

The rear of the the remaing Canonbury Road house.

This is a typical Post Fire of London house. This rear view shows the short roof timbers safely protected inside the two party walls and the front pediment wall. The two shallow roofs slope down to a central valley and drain to the back.

A roof built safely behind a pediment wall.

The frontage is flat. There were no projecting ledges to trap the heat and so help a fire to spread. In this design the water from the front roof drains through a lead-lined hole into a drain pipe at the front. Water from the back roof drains to the back. In the School keeper’s house, all the water drains to a central valley and to a drainpipe at the back


An early house in Walberswik

There had been houses with short roof timbers for centuries to save timber, but the ones after the Fire if London were safely protected by surrounding walls.

The 1910 School-keeper's house broke these rules by having projecting eaves and long roof joists. There had been houses like this in Chelsea, Highgate and Hampstead since the 1880s, but not in Islington I think. Somehow this house managed to creep into London and is one of the earliest local examples to be found.

The Waterman’s House in Lordship Road, 1911

The Waterman’s house, between the two reservoirs in Lordship Road, is a very similar Arts and Crafts building and was built the years after the Compton Road one. Presumably fire engines were more powerful and houses in this style had been common in Hampstead for years. In any case, the firemen would have had plenty of water, with two reservoirs to choose from.

Cannonbury School

How The School Building
Changed Over The Years

The Area in 1914

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Revised: April 5, 2021