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.