Victorian London - Houses and Housing - Flats

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Flats.—In few points does London, or, indeed, English life in general, differ from that of the Continent more remarkably than in the almost absolute ignoring by the former of all possibility of having more than one house under the same roof. Within the last few years, however, symptoms have appeared of a growing disposition on the part of Londoners to avail themselves of the Continental experience which the increased travelling facilities of the day have placed within the reach of all, and to adopt the foreign fashion of living in flats. The progress of the new idea has been slow, as is the progress of all new ideas in this most conservative of countries. But progress has been made, and signs are not wanting that it will before long be more rapid. At present almost the only separate etages to be found in London are those in the much-talked-of Queen Anne’s Mansions, a good number of sets in Victoria-street, a few in Cromwell-road, just between the railway-bridges, and a single set in George-street, Edgware-road. Of all these, however, the last named, with a few sets in Victoria-street, are the only examples of the real self-contained “flat,” the inhabitant of which, whilst relieved from all the responsibility and most of the troubles of an isolated house, yet enjoys to the full all the advantages of a separate establishment. The houses in Cromwell-road, nominally divided off into fiats, are really mere shapeless buildings, the exigencies of whose site have necessitated a plan of construction incompatible with the dealing with each building in its entirety, and which have therefore perforce been let off in tenements, to which has been given the name of “flats.” In the case of the Queen Anne’s Mansions the building has been constructed with an especial view to the separation into tenements but in this case the self-containing principle has been deliberately set aside, and one kitchen has been built for the use of the entire establishment. One great obstacle to the building of houses laid out in regular flats on the Continental principle has been in the Building Act; under the provisions of which the expense of construction of houses for such a purpose on any really convenient scale is enormously increased in proportion to that of the ordinary ten, twelve, or fifteen-roomed dwelling house with its 9-inch walls, its five or six narrow storeys piled one above the other, and its domestic treadmill of six or seven dozen weary stairs, the mere climbing of which necessitates the keeping of at least one or two extra servants. Another obstacle is found in the fact that most modern London houses are run up by some speculative builder almost entirely without capital, who mortgages the site to obtain money to build the ground-floor, the ground floor for the funds to carry the building up a storey higher, the drawing room floor for the means of building the best bed-room, and so on, until by the time the slates are laid it becomes an absolute necessity to dispose of the building en bloc for what it will fetch, that he may close accounts with the bank, which is the true speculator, and realise—if so happy result be obtainable—his own profit on the transaction. Such flats however, as are to be found, let in spite of all their drawbacks so readily, and at such enormous rents in comparison with ordinary houses of an equal area of accommodation, that it cannot be much longer before the supply begins to adopt itself a little more nearly to the demand.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

see also George Sala in London Up to Date - click here

FLATS. - The popularity of the mode of living in flats has long since been demonstrated, and the large buildings containing them in the West and other well-to-do districts of the Metropolis from prices of £150 to £200 per annum downwards to £40 or £50 is a sign that the fashion, originated in the form of mansions, has come down to lower grades, and that the advantage of a self-contained flat to people of small family is appreciated. It is decidedly convenient for those living in town a part of their time, giving them freedom to move about without the responsibility and care of a house. For the larger family the associations of home are more felt, with the extra breathing space of a garden attached to it. It is probably the born Londoner who has taken to flats most readily. Country people living in town are more likely to prefer the separate house. Perhaps the general tendency, with more rapid and constant communication by electric railways and cars, is taking people more into the outside suburbs whether in flats or houses. We live in an age when the next invention may enable that to become more general; the aeroplane has not yet come to stay, but the time may arrive when after business we may fly away home into a remote country village. 

Charles Dickens Jr. et al, Dickens Dictionary of London, c.1908 edition
(no date; based on internal evidence)

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Albert Mansions

Albert Mansions - photograph


Albert Mansions may be described as excellent specimens of the modern red-brick houses or residential fiats that are being built with such rapidity on many eligible sites in London. No situation could wall be pleasanter than this in Kensington Gore, the road leading from Knightsbridge to Kensington, which obtains its curious name from Gore House, made famous by William Wilberforce, as well as by Lady Blessington, who attracted to her nearly all the contemporary men of genius in letters, art, or science. The Royal Albert Hall, whose stately entrance west of Albert Mansions is shown above, stands on the site of Gore House, which, with its grounds, was bought by the Commissioners of the Great Exhibition for £60,000. The Mansions face Kensington Gardens, and command a view of the Albert Memorial.

[writing of the 1890s, ed.] A London of solid homes, which regarded the introduction of flat-life as something Not Quite Nice; in fact, Fast.

Thomas Burke, London in My Time 1934