The concept of 'speculative building' by 'developers' dates from the mid-17th century, and rebuilding after the Great Fire of London of 1666 stimulated the design of standard house types. But standardised homes and ways of building them really accelerated in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Georgian 'town house' became a defining part of our urban landscape, arranged in long terraces, squares or crescents. The booming economy from the late 1820s onwards led to further expansion of mercantile and resort towns and cities like London, Bristol, Liverpool, Cheltenham and Brighton.
The early 1800s – the 'Jane Austen era' – was largely defined by a genteel form of urban living with an expanding class of people keen to spend, acquire and entertain. Developers and builders provided houses arranged over three or four storeys with more or less standard layouts for various classes and incomes. The merchant class could choose lavish interiors from catalogues and style guides. For others, the town house was a simple affair – indicating modesty and respectability. In all cases however, it proved highly adaptable to suit the means or extravagances of an emerging industrial and consumer age.
Banqueting House, Whitehall, London, 1715.
...came this, which...
Design for a second rate house, 1823.
...led to this
South Kensington terrace, London.
The straightforward layouts and cheap construction of the town house meant it was easily replicated, though builders across the country often had their own versions. Various building acts defined 1st, 2nd and 3rd rate housing with standard proportions, with additions being made for various income groups using different materials. 3rd rate houses were simple affairs in brick with lower ceilings and minor detailing, 1st or 2nd rate were built in stone or faced in stucco plaster and grouped into grandiose blocks with Italianate-inspired features framing ever-larger windows. Today the Georgian style is much admired, though by the mid-19th century many felt it too restrictive, leading to the evolution of new housing types and styles.
Sarah Beeny: Society, the arbiter of taste
"Thinking about what a home should be has been influenced as much by taste and fashion as by family size or comfort. We all have a straightforward idea of needs – a flushable toilet, a sink with taps, a bed – but class, peer pressure and advertising also shaped desires. People's aspiration to improve has influenced house design. Everyday objects and styles in other parts of society became things to emulate. Even having an individual front door onto the street, rather than a shared corridor, became status symbols, while a porch with columns implied much more again."
"A constant game of one-upmanship has pushed style into new areas from building materials to window styles. 200 years ago, if you could afford a balcony in front of a window it might have a railing of wood, plaster-covered brick, wrought iron or stone, depending on money and taste. Now glass balustrades are the height of fashion and with them a place with a view. Whether through billboards or viral pop-ups, advertising and mass media is a constant reminder of the styles and objects to which we aspire."