Thomas Cubitt, Builder, (1788-1855) and Albion Road

This Sale Plan shows the parcels of land bought by Thomas and William Cubitt in the 1821 sale. They then built Albion Road and began to build. They later sold off the piece next to the New River and this eventually became part of the Clissold Crescent estate belonging to Mr. Alexander and is now part of the new Burma Estate.

Note: Find picture of later Cubitt houses in Albion Road ++ Link to Cubit House in the new Extras for for Grasmere School Walks

Houses which Thomas Cubitt built in Albion Road survive and are easily recognised. In her biography of Thomas Cubitt, Hermione Hobhouse says he was called `The Emperor of the Building Trade'. He built large parts of Pimlico, Clapham, Millbank and Kemp Town in Brighton, Osborne on the Isle of Wight, and in dozens of other places.

Cubitt had a reputation for sound, well-planned work, employed his own large staff of over a thousand of all trades, including civil engineers building roads and sewers. He even developed his own brick fields. Windows and doors were mass produced by the most modern machinery available. In the normal building trade system, small builders sub-contracted work to other trades. By bringing all the trades together in one firm, Cubitt tuned the trade on its head.

At this time, most houses were built by small men who had very little capital and who could build only one or two houses at a time. They arranged to pay a peppercorn rent to a landowner for about the first four years. By that time they hoped to have built and sold. A bricklayer might decide to build a couple of houses. A carpenter might build a couple more and a plasterer/decorator, a fifth. Because each had so little capital, they worked as a group, sub-contracting themselves to each other. Each did all the skilled work in his own trade and laboured for the others. The bricklayer did the brickwork and drains: the carpenter did the timbering; and the plasterer all the finishing. They would labour for each other. The carpenter mixed the mortar for the brick-layer and the decorator carried it. They charged their skilled and unskilled labour against each other and hoped, at the end, to come out about even.

From 'Complete Book of Trades or the Parent's Guide and Youth's Instructor,'
by N. Whittock, 1842

All this needed careful book-keeping. John Nash, himself a master architect and builder, kept the accounts of dozens of small groups like this. Many of the groups would have been sub-contractors to big architects like Nash, who took on huge projects like the redevelopment of Regent’s Park, designed the houses and sub-contracted out the work in small lots. Woods designed and built the frontages in Bath and small men built the houses behind.

Nash kept meticulous accounts of dozens of small groups like this, but there were human problems. People did not always work together well. They tended to do their own houses first, leaving others to wait in frustration.

Cubitt cut through this by putting all the trades under one roof - his own roof. He organised in a modern, large-scale way. He bought materials in quantity and supplied smaller men. Eventually his workshops covered eleven acres in Pimlico.

It is interesting that he almost cut his teeth in Albion Road. Look at the houses there, built in the first third of the nineteenth century. You can see similar ones, sometimes greatly enlarged, in squares, avenues and estates, all over London. They were some of the first of an enormous mass of Cubitt building which included housing estates, bridges and railway stations. The firm still flourishes.

However, the small men still built, hoping to claw their way up by building a few houses and selling them before they became bankrupt. Michael Hunter has shown that the vast majority of Stoke Newington builders built no more than four houses each. The terraces may look similar but may have had several builders. Each terrace hides hopes and fears.

++ how to layout

Ref: The Victorian Villas of HAckney, by Michael Hunter, Hackney Society.

Thomas Cubitt - The Master Builder

By 1820 Thomas Cubitt was an established builder, contracting to work on large contracts and employing his own men, of all trades. He had his own large workshops in Grays Inn Road, with hi private dwelling house at the entrance.

His great opportunity came when he won the contract to build the London Institute. Instead of sub-contracting the work, he employed his own men in all trades and ran the job entirely in-house. This was most unusual. This work had taken the firm through the difficult period of 1817 when large numbers of jobbing builders were laid off. By 1819 the London Institute was finished and stood as an advertisement for his high quality work.

He built houses in the streets near his workshop and began to buy in various districts further away. He built in Highbury Park from 1820-32. Over the years he was to build in Bloomsbury, Clapham, Tyburnia, the Isle of Wight and dozen other places. One of his earliest ventures was into Stoke Newington, then still far outside London.

The original Sale in 1810 had not gone well; so on 31 May1821 there was a second sale. This time it was at The Three Crowns public house, in Church Street. Thomas Cubitt bought seven lots. Later his brother William bought a further two to allow them to extend the new Albion Road from the end of the Glebe field to Newington Green.

These were two acre plots, four times the size of the ones offered in 1810. Perhaps the vendors hoped for larger builders who had more capital.

Besides the plots in Albion Road, Thomas Cubitt had bought one plot bordering the New River. It was near the corner of Stoke Newington Church Street and Green Lanes. Cubitt must have recognised its attraction and bought it, but he did not develop this plot himself. Instead, he leased it to others on long building leases. Benjamin Massey took a small part to complete his estate on the west side of Green Lanes, but most was let to Joshua Ramsay. Presumably it was he who built the Willow Walk, (Aden Terrace) houses. Then Cubitt sold the land and ground rents to Cornelius Hanbury. Through him the land must have reached Alexander and eventually the 1891 Sale (but this is to anticipate matters).

To return to Albion Road: J Merrington, a local surveyor, had bought two Albion Road plots near Church Street, but he sold them to Cubitt in 1822 The Cubitt brothers then owned both sides of Albion Road down to the present shopping centre and the east side down as far as the Hornsey Removed Border. South Villa, the first house in Hornsey Removed was not part of the Cubitt Empire.

Cubitt concentrated at first on building the new road to Newington Green, but this was not to be adopted by the Vestry until 1837. By then Cubitt had almost completed his building in Stoke Newington.

The Glebe Field in 1814

The Glebe Field was worked by the Vicar as his private farm. Today it holds Clissold Road, Stoke Newington Secondary School and Betty Layward Primary School

The Cubitt Houses in Albion Road

Cubitt’s completed houses in the Northern End of Albion Road.

There are two sorts of Cubitt houses in Albion Road. The first ones, in the right near Church Street, are built in brick, with well pointed joints, while the later ones further down the road are rendered in plaster and painted white.

The First Cubitt Houses in Albion Road

The stucco style of houses which Cubitt developed and used all over the country.

The brick ones hold a surprise. The outer bricks are of good quality but, if the inner plaster is removed, it reveals half bricks and other pieces of brick mortared in and supported at intervals by wooden battens built into the wall. This was one of the ways that developers saved money. One can find such work all over London at this period. Bricklayers were not allowed to leave small pieces of brick unused. A place had to be found for every scrap. Later, when plaster rendering was common, all the brickwork, outer skin and inner, became suspect.

The second thing to notice about Cubitt's plaster work is its absolute simplicity. Most of his pillars are square. His cornices and capitals are cast using straight lengths of wooden moulding. There are no complicated curves, no Corinthian capitals and all the other elaborate shapes which take time to make. Everything was quick, simple and direct. Cubitt's mass production methods were a century before their time.


Cubitt Houses in Albion Road


++ Perhaps add the block of cubit pictures which are to be added from the new "Extras for Grasmere Walk File"

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Revised: October 25, 2011 8:45 AM