Thursday, 15 March 2012

Dickens houses

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) is an interesting source of information about period houses. Dickens’ writing is full of first hand observations drawn from his own experience. His illustrators also give us many details of both Regency and early Victorian interiors such as the way rooms were still lit by candles.

 A candlelit interior illustrated by George Cruikshank from Sketches by Boz (1836) 

Dickens’  earliest published work is a series of sketches of his contemporaries and their domestic arrangements during the early 1830s. His first short story, A dinner at Poplar Walk, appeared in Monthly Magazine in 1833 but was also included in his first book Sketches by Boz (1836). (Dickens used Boz  as a pen name but the book had the explanatory sub-title : Illustrative of Everyday Life and Everyday People). In the short story, he described a wealthy clerk,  Augustus Minns, who lives on the first floor of a house in Tavistock-street, Covent-Garden.

Mr Minns is invited to dinner by his cousin, a retired corn chandler who lives in a cottage in Poplar-walk, Stamford-hill. He travels by stage coach to the occasion where he joins his fellow guests in the first floor drawing room. From here they process down to a dining-room on the ground floor. It was relatively new development to have a permanent dining-room but it was old fashioned for a medium sized house to have a first floor drawing room.

a tea party in Camden town in which the kettle sits on the coals in the grate

The other domestic arrangements in these early sketches are more modest; in Miss Evans and the Eagle he describes a tea party in Camden town at which the kettle is boiled by placing it directly on the coals of an open hob grate. This would have been common practise in rooms where the occupants did not have access to a proper kitchen. George Cruikshank’s illustration shows a typical modest interior with a hearth rug over bare floor boards and light table and chairs which could be arranged for a meal or pushed back against the walls.

17 Buckingham Street. Dickens lived next door at number 15

Before the development of suburban railways brought about the building of outlying suburbs, renting a floor or a pair of rooms was a common arrangement. In 1831 Dickens himself lived in a pair of rooms in Buckingham Street. He was working as Parliamentary reporter for the Morning Chronicle. In David Copperfield  he installs David Copperfield in a singularly desirable, and compact set of chambers, forming a genteel residence for a young gentleman,  in Buckingham Street. It is at the top of the house and promised a view of the river. It consisted of a little half-blind entry where you could see hardly anything, a little stone-blind pantry where you could see nothing at all, a sitting-room, and a bedroom. The furniture was rather faded, but quite good enough for me; and, sure enough, the river was outside the windows.

 In The Mistaken Milliner a wedding party dine in Somers Town in a small house –no lodgings or vulgarity of that kind– four rooms and a delightful little wash-house at the end of the passage. The parlour has a beautiful Kidderminster carpet– six bran new cane-bottomed stained chairs–three wine glasses and a tumbler on each sideboard – farmer’s girl and farmer’s boy on the mantlepiece… long, white dimity curtains in the window

recreation of a Regency interior with a fitted carpet (Geffrye museum)

 This tells us that even modest interiors had fitted carpets. These came up to about a foot short of the walls. They were one of the first products of mechanised production for the mass market. Although Dickens praises it, by the middle of the century critics such as John Ruskin would deride the contents of that parlour as the products of  ‘soulless, repetitive industrialism’ 

48 Doughty Street, Dickens home from 1837-9 (now the Charles Dickens museum)

 Dickens’ own houses moved steadily up the social scale. About the time that The Pickwick Papers was published (1837) he moved into a large, (late Georgian) terraced house in Doughty Street (which is now the Charles Dickens museum).
A house in Devonshire Terrace. Dickens lived at number One 1839-1850

Characters like the Veneerings in Our Mutual Friend had to live in a newly built house because they were bran-new people in a bran-new house in a bran-new quarter of London.  People wanted houses with more rooms, especially bedrooms. In 1839, Dickens and his growing family moved to a larger newly built  house in Devonshire Terrace. This was in Paddington which was then a bran-new quarter of London. In fact, fashionable London was moving West so fast that Cruikshank drew a satirical cartoon entitled London Going out of Town - or - The March of Bricks and Mortar!'

London Going out of Town - or - The March of Bricks and Mortar!'

In 1851, Dickens moved to an even larger house, Tavistock House, in Tavistock Square. It was large enough for him to stage amateur theatricals in front of 90 people in the schoolroom. Here he wrote Bleak House,  Hard Times, Little Dorrit  and A Tale of Two Cities.

 Dickens at work in his final home, Gads Hill Place

 In 1857 he moved to Gads Hill Place in Kent, a (late Georgian) country house.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Regency: large & medium

The Regency period of domestic architecture  spanned a generation from 1810 to 1837. It was distinct from late Georgian although it was still flat fronted and classical in style. The Regency period was a time of mechanisation, innovation and abuse. During this period the effects of the industrial revolution began to really have an effect on both exteriors and interiors. Mechanisation affected the production of materials such as bricks, cast iron, fabrics and wallpaper. New developments were introduced including the villa suburb and semi-detached houses. But in fast growing industrial cities such as Birmingham and Manchester, the working classes, as they were first called at this time, were housed in overcrowded, unhygienic conditions.

Regent’s Street in 1822, designed by John Nash

The Prince Regent’s own patronage was influential. But it was not just his own taste for crimson & gold but the designs of his architect, John Nash, which had the greatest influence. In 1813 plans drawn up by Nash were submitted to Parliament. They proposed a development to link the Prince Regent’s own residence, Carlton House, with the Crown estate in Marylebone Park. The development would become Regent’s Street and Regent’s Park. But it was the residential terraces around the Park which would be the most widely copied. Nash also designed suburban estates of houses in their own grounds near the Park. These included the suburban villa development of St John’s Wood. To attract less wealthy residents who wished to enjoy this healthy environment, some of the villas were divided into two separate homes: semi-detached houses.

Park Crescent, in Regent’s Park, designed by John Nash

The residential terraces around the Park were emulated by the builder developers of Belgravia and fashionable London as it expanded westwards.  As well as London, large Regency houses were built in towns such as Brighton, Cheltenham and Bristol. 
The main difference between Regency houses and their late Georgian equivalents was in size. Regency large & medium sized houses were bigger, with more rooms, particularly bedrooms. The houses became taller by adding more floors but the front was given a strong horizontal emphasis by first floor balconies, heavy cornices and parapets.

large Regency houses in Eaton Square, built by Thomas Cubitt (c. 1832)

During the Regency period, typical large houses were still three bays (windows) wide.  Their additional rooms were accomodated on the additional storeys. The fronts continued to be classical in style but the taller houses lost the neat proportions of their late Georgian predecessors. Stucco began to be used much more extensively on exteriors; for decorative pilasters, architraves and cornices. Large Regency terraces used giant orders to assert their classicism. These were columns or pilasters running up both the first and second storeys to a horizontal cornice. They might be applied to blocks in the centre and at either end of the terrace. As well as the heavy cornice the facade was further divided horizontally by a rusticated stucco finish applied to the ground floor and a parapet rather than a blocking course at the attic storey. During this period, stucco was coloured to resemble local stone. This made it much darker than the cream or white it is painted today. External ironwork was ‘bronzed’; powdered copper was added to green paint to give an aged patina.

Another major difference was the half basement which raised the ground floor by several steps above the street level. As well as making the front look grander, it reduced the amount of excavation for the builders. The front door might be further emphasised by a portico with freestanding columns on either side.

Eaton Square provides excellent examples of Regency large terraced houses. They were built by Thomas Cubitt , a builder developer who preferred to call himself a master-builder rather than an architect. Writing in the early 1830s Dickens mentioned ‘Eaton Square then just building’ (Sketches by Boz). The end and centre blocks have giant orders. The houses all have half-basements and first floor balconies; the supporting iron girders can be seen underneath them.

There were also substantial changes in plan. Downstairs, the changes were all located towards the rear. The kitchen was moved out of the main body of the house into a large rear extension to avoid the ‘fry and fat smell’ in the reception rooms. A new service room appeared - the scullery. The piped water supply was located there and washing became separated from cooking. More space was now available at this level for other servants rooms.

Upstairs, the basic plan of the main house also changed - the drawing room was still on the first floor but the dining room became a standard feature on the ground floor.

The additional bedrooms gave girls and boys separate bedrooms. The families also employed more servants and they too needed accommodation.

As the rear extension became larger it provided a third main room for the family on the ground and first floors.  In many houses this additional space provided dressing rooms for master and mistress. The rear extension also accomodated a separate staircase for the servants.

 Regency medium sized houses in Chester Row (c.1838)

The facade of a Regency medium sized house shared as many features  as it could with the large houses - the use of stucco, heavy cornice and decorative ironwork. They were still only two bays (windows) wide so the front door and window on the ground floor remained offset rather than aligned with the windows above. In this they were similar to their predecessors but they might have a second storey.

The ground floor was often elevated and the steps and area protected by iron railings. The larger scale production of cast iron meant that more elaborate patterns were available at a lower price. The decorative ironwork featured forms like anthemion or heart and honeysuckle. The typical plan of a Regency medium changed to accomodate a small rear extension. On the ground floor this held a small closet room, in the basement the new scullery. The kitchen was still in the basement although it could be placed in the back, adjacent to the scullery. This allowed the front basement room to be used as an informal parlour. Some medium sized houses had a first floor drawing room with a dining room on the ground floor. In A dinner at Poplar Walk, published in 1833, Charles Dickens describes a dinner party in which the guests are received in a first floor drawing room; they process down to a dining room on the ground floor of a house in Stamford-hill. In modest mediums both drawing room and dining room were on the ground floor.

New periodicals on home decoration were published such as Ackerman’s Repository of the Arts (1809-28). They offered advice on colour schemes and furnishings: ‘colour schemes  should be harmonious with carpet colours, walls & furniture in unison or proper combination of the parts’. Warm reds were suitable for dining rooms and halls, green or blue for drawing rooms. Yellow was regarded as a controversial wall colour. After 1818 gold was regarded as extravagant.

From 1824 onwards a distinctive stripe became a feature of Regency interiors. By the 1830s machine woven cotton fabrics such as chintzes& callicoes were used for for bed hangings and curtains, loose covers and upholstery. They were relatively cheap and washable. Curtain rods or poles were popular and can be seen in many of the interiors illustrated in Dickens books.

recreation of a Regency drawing room (Geffrye museum)

 a George Cruikshank illustration of a modest drawing room from Sketches by Boz (1836)