Victorian London - Houses and Housing - Suburbia - Suburbs

The vastness of suburban London distinguishes the city eminently from the continental cities. A mile beyond Paris you are in a wilderness of sand hills, gypsum quarries, sterile rocks, and windmills; beyond the walls of Rome there is literally an immense expanse of desert; whereas London, if we may borrow a bull, surrounds itself, suburb clinging to suburb, like onions, fifty on a rope. The suburbs, which George Colman described emphatically as described emphatically as "regions of preparatory schools," have a character peculiarly their own; once seen, they cannot be mistaken. They are marvellously attached to gardening, and rejoice above all things in a tree in a tub. They delight in a uniformity of ugliness, staring you out of countenance with five windows in front, and a little green hall door at one side, giving to each house the appearance of having had a paralytic stroke; they stand upon their dignity at a distance from the road, and are carefully defended from intrusion by a bodyguard of spikes bristling on a low wall. They delight in outlandish and ridiculous names : a lot of tenements looking out upon a dead wall in front, and a madhouse in the rear. club together and introduce themselves to your notice as OPTIC TERRACE; another regiment is baptized by the christian and surnames of PARADISE PROSPECT; while a third lot, standing together two and two, after the manner of the Siamese Twins, are called MOGG'S VILLAS, BUGSBY'S COTTAGES or GEMINI PLACE. The natives of these outlandish places are less wealthy than genteel ... they are eloquent on the merits of an atmosphere surcharged with dust, which they earnestly recommend for inhalation, under the attractive title of "fresh air".
All shopkeepers, tradesmen, and others in these regions are insufferably bad and dear; every body is supplied with the staple of their consumables from town, and it is only on an emergency that the suburban dealers are applied to. Knowing that their articles are not required for the regular consumption, they take good care to make those pay well whose necessities compel them occasionally to have dealings with them.

The World of London, by John Murray, in Blackwoods Magazine, July 1841

'My dear wife Carrie and I have just been a week in our new house, 'The Laurels', Brickfield Terrace, Holloway - a new six-roomed residence, not counting basement, with a front breakfast-parlour. We have a little front garden; and there is a flight of ten steps up to the front door, which, by-the-by, we keep locked with the chain up. Cumming, Gowing, and our other intimate friends always come to the little side entrance, which saves the servant the trouble of going up to the front door, thereby taking her from her work. We have a nice little back garden which runs down to the railway. We were rather afraid of the noise of the trains at first, but the landlord said we should not notice them after a bit, and took 2 off the rent.'

George and Weedon Grossmith The Diary of a Nobody 1892

Her place of abode favoured neither health nor mental tranquillity. It was one of a row of new houses in a new quarter. A year or two ago the site had been an enclosed meadow, portion of the land attached to what was once a country mansion; London, devourer of rural limits, of a sudden made hideous encroachment upon the old estate, now held by a speculative builder; of many streets to be constructed, three or four had already come into being, and others were mapped out, in mud and inchoate masonry, athwart the ravaged field. Great elms, the pride of generations passed away, fell before the speculative axe, or were left standing in mournful isolation to please a speculative architect; bits of wayside hedge still shivered in fog and wind, amid hoardings variegated with placards and scaffolding black against the sky. The very earth had lost its wholesome odour; trampled into mire, fouled with builders' refuse and the noisome drift from adjacent streets, it sent forth, under the sooty rain, a smell of corruption, of all the town's uncleanliness. On this rising locality had been bestowed the title of 'Park.' Mrs. Morgan was decided in her choice of a dwelling here by the euphonious address, Merton Avenue, Something-or-other Park. 
    The old mansion--not very old, and far from beautiful, but stoutly built--stood grim and desolate, long dismantled, and waiting only to be torn down for the behoof of speculative dealers in old material. What aforetime was a tree-bordered drive, now curved between dead stumps, a mere slushy cartway; the stone pillars, which had marked the entrance, damaged in the rending away of metal with a market value, drooped sideways, ready at a touch to bury themselves in slime. 
    Through summer months the Morgans had suffered sufficiently from the defects of their house; with the coming on of winter, they found themselves exposed to miseries barely endurable. At the first slight frost, cistern and water-pipes went to ruin; already so damp that unlovely vegetation had cropped up on cellar walls, the edifice was now drenched with torrents of water. Plaster fell from the ceilings; paper peeled away down the staircase; stuccoed portions of the front began to crack and moulder. Not a door that would close as a door should; not a window that would open in the way expected of it; not a fireplace but discharged its smoke into the room, rather than by the approved channel. Everywhere piercing draughts, which often entered by orifices unexplained and unexplainable. From cellar floor to chimney-pot, no square inch of honest or trustworthy workmanship. So thin were the parti-walls that conversation not only might, but must, be distinctly heard from room to room, and from house to house; the Morgans learnt to subdue their voices, lest all they said should become common property of the neighbourhood. For the privilege of occupying such a residence, 'the interior,' said advertisement, 'handsomely decorated,' they were racked with an expenditure which, away in the sweet-scented country, would have housed them amid garden graces and orchard fruitfulness.

George Gissing, In the Year of Jubilee, 1894