Monday, 18 April 2011


Before the speculative builders of Georgian & Victorian England there were several famous or infamous seventeenth century entrepreneurs. At the time they were known as Projectors; men who undertook ‘projects’. We might call men like Nicholas Barbon or Thomas Neale ‘Wheeler Dealers’ or ‘Developers’. 
Nicholas Barbon (c1640 – c1699) was responsible for building much of the Middle Temple and surrounding streets including Essex Street, Buckingham Street and Devereux Court. He began in medecine as a physician but he abandoned it to take advantage of opportunities in business after the Great Fire of London (1666). Two lines of business were thriving: insurance and building. Barbon became involved in both. He borrowed money to hire gangs of workers to build on the sites of old aristocratic mansions such as Essex House, the present site of Essex Street  off the Strand. If necessary they demolished the building whether they had permission or not.

Above: Barbon houses in Buckingham Street

They built in the latest style: brick, flat fronted terraced houses which had sash windows with frames level with the front wall. They were also fitted with modest doorcases with rectangular fan lights. All these features conformed with the 1667 Rebuilding Act. The Act would have described them as ‘buildings of the second or third sort’ which were built on larger streets or main roads. The Act  was intended to prevent the ‘mischiefs’ caused by fire. But many of Barbon’s houses had parapets which actually anticipated the requirements of  the 1707 Act. The original style of Barbon houses can be appreciated in the Middle Temple Courts such as Pump Court and New Court which he also built. Although these were laid out as barristers’ chambers rather than dwelling houses, many Barbon houses have had their fronts altered or were rebuilt later under stricter regulations with stucco rendering or fully recessed windows. Due to the new system of leaseholds, seventeenth century houses were only intended to last as long as their leases but many of Barbon’s houses still stand perhaps because of the building regulations to which they were subject.

Above: a typical Barbon terrace in Holborn

Thomas Neale (1641 – 1699) was another developer or projector who was active nearby, north of Covent Garden. He is commemorated by Neale Street and Neale’s Yard. His houses survive above the shops in Neale Street. They are similar to Barbon’s houses ‘of the Second sort’ in brown brick with sash windows and parapets.

Above: a Neale terraced house above a shop in Neale Street. The window frames are as they were built.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Stuart: rare but relevant

Above: Houses showing the transition from timber framed to brick (c1614)

 Above: Classically styled terrace, attributed to Inigo Jones (c1641)

 Above: How builders copied the new classical style in bare brick (1658)
 Above: The oldest speculative buildings by Nicholas Barbon, in Crane Court off Fleet Street (c1670)
  Above: A prime example of the new style: Dr Johnson’s house, near Fleet Street built c.1700

Typical period houses from the Stuart period (1603-1714) are rare but relevant. During the Stuart period classical styles were first applied to typical houses and the brick built terrace replaced traditional forms of construction such as timber framed. Speculative builders began to supply the demand for urban houses in these new styles. The new style was flat fronted, brick, with sash windows.

The new developments were led by the outstanding Stuart architects, Inigo Jones and later, Christopher Wren. When the Edwardians rediscovered classical style they derived their forms from the Stuart period more than the later Georgian. The leading Edwardian architects called the Stuart period the English Renaissance, Edwin Lutyens referred to it as the ‘Wrenaissance’. Jones’ designs had the most influence on typical houses. In 1631 he designed the first brick built classical terrace for the Duke of Bedford’s development of Covent Garden. Only drawings of his terraces have survived. It was an example of really significant design because  speculative builders like Nicholas Barbon, were able to copy them.  Speculative builders would build the vast majority of Typical period houses. Speculative building was building in advance of demand, for rent.

 One of the earliest surviving classical terraces (c. 1641), in Lincoln’s Inn fields, is attributed to Inigo Jones. The oldest surviving brick-built terraced houses in London, on Newington Green (1658) show how the speculative builder made cheaper copies of features such as pilasters and capitals using bare brick. Speculators such as Nicholas Barbon and Thomas Neale turned the disaster of The Great Fire of London into an opportunity. The Fire destroyed  14,000 buildings (80% of the houses in the City of London). The Building Acts which followed specified that new houses should be built in brick or stone for the better preventing mischiefs that may happen by fire’. Successive Acts followed. The 1707 & 1709 Acts were passed during the reign of Queen Anne ( 1702-1714; as the daughter of James II, she, too, was a Stuart).
 Speculators like Barbon and Neale were pretty unscrupulous but they had to build in brick. Barbon built between the City and Westminster, around Fleet Street.  Neale built Neale Street , Neale’s Yard (Covent Garden) and Seven Dials. Above the colourful shops some of his speculative buildings still survive.
 My next post will describe Barbon’s houses in more detail.