Saturday, May 16, 2015
I always look out for examples of model dwellings (see an earlier post here) built in the Victorian period by enlightened landlords who want to provide decent accommodation for the working classes. In London, many of these were built by the Peabody Trust, which did a huge amount of work to provide improved housing after its foundation in the 1860s. Peabody flats are often built in pale brick and sometimes with access balconies like these, the Coleshill Flats in London SW1, dating from 1871. On the ground floor are shops, and between the pairs of shops are entrances that lead to stairs to the balconies above. Pale brick with a bit of restrained polychromy in the form of narrow red brick bands, plus sash windows, completes the picture as far as the street facade is concerned.
Except, not quite. Looking up, one sees that the building has very decorative French-style pavilion roofs, each topped with ornate iron creating. It’s a surprising touch on what otherwise looks like a rather basic building, a roofing style that’s more at home on grand hotels or big office blocks. And the accommodation up there must, I’d have thought, be quite small (indeed the one Peabody flat I’ve been in had very small rooms, but was no less convenient and admirable for that). How interesting that the builders of these flats gave them this touch of grandeur, as if signalling that these dwellings were better – lighter, more hygienic, more spacious – than the accommodation its tenants were probably used to. As if, also, anticipating the upward mobility of the area a century later.