Tenement house, Gorbals, Glasgow, in 1954. © Edwin Smith / RIBA Library Photographs Collection Hornsey estate, London: plans of different dwellings, 1880s. © RIBA Library Photographs Collection Victorian terrace housing, Nottingham. © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection Peabody estate, London, built 1880s. © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection Artisan estate in Streatham Hill, London, built 1890s. ©MDA  

The rapid expansion of industry in the 19th century stimulated population explosion and movement. Cities such as Manchester, Sheffield and Glasgow emerged with their own ways of life. They were places of production – factories and shipyards – where life was defined by labour. Genteel urban living was not completely absent, but the rapid transformation of how and where we lived was under way.


The speed of growth was such that new home building could not keep up and was largely unregulated. People lived in houses hastily subdivided and in new blocks quickly thrown up that became overcrowded, raising serious concerns about disease and its effect on national prosperity.


In response there emerged a vocal group of reformers and benevolent industrialists who promoted model everyday housing for their workers and 'the industrious poor'. But it was local government regulation that eventually led to a new and familiar housing type - the terrace. At the same time an increasingly mobile middle class pushed the city outwards, seeking new refuges from polluted urban centres.



             From this...

Town centre and carpet mills, Halifax, West Yorkshire
Town centre and carpet mills, Halifax.
© Edwin Smith / RIBA
      ...came this, which...
Terraced houses, Crownfield Road estate, Stratford, London
Terraced houses, Stratford, London.
              ...led to this
High density housing, West Hartlepool
High-density housing, West Hartlepool. 


From the 1870s onwards a series of bye-laws changed everyday house building and set new standards for window sizes, door heights and materials, and even street layouts. The result was the rapid construction of near-identical streets of terraced housing. From Southampton to Sunderland new districts emerged with standard street patterns and features such as the front room and the back-yard with a privy. Although an advance, for many it was the very basic version that came as standard. For those with more money there were versions with extra storeys, bigger rooms or bay windows.



Sarah Beeny: Materials – mass production and emulation

Sarah Beeny


"Homes come in all materials. Builders used whatever was to hand locally – wood, straw, mud and, if lucky, stone. Towns were defined by what lay beneath. Bath and Aberdeen are celebrated geological accidents. Places without quality building materials found ways to emulate them. London, a city sitting on clay, applied techniques to simulate stone. Houses were rendered in painted plaster to suggest stone blocks, disguising cheap brick construction beneath and making it easier to clean off soot."

"Changes in technology also transformed house design. Mass production and use of bricks followed the introduction of the Hoffmann continuous kiln in 1858 and the growth of railways for cheap transport. The widespread change from solid to cavity walls in the 1920s reduced damp and improved insulation. At the same time developments in concrete and steel reinforcement allowed very different buildings to emerge, while breeze blocks and aluminium (and more recently wood) cladding changed how houses were built and looked yet again. Today, new energy-efficient materials are helping us reduce energy loss and emissions to meet new environmental challenges."