Tuesday, 23 August 2011

History of Albury Street. Part 6.

At the time of his death, Thomas Lucas still owned the land although mortgaged on which thirty-one houses had been built. His requirements for capital had been so great that he commanded his executors to sell three houses on the North-side of the Union Street at its east end in order to repay mortgages on them and on his other property ‘as far as that is possible’. In the event, they were not able to repay all the mortgages immediately, and one, as has been said, was not paid until 1748.

With all the means at his disposal for raising capital, Thomas Lucas still did not complete Union Street with an unbroken terrace running down both sides of the street from end to end. Apart from at least one gap on the north side, the east end was taken up by back yards of houses fronting Church Street. Whether this failure to complete the two terraces was through lack of capital or because of the demand for houses of this type in Deptford had been satisfied by what Lucas had already built is not known.

How Thomas Lucas financed the development of Union Street is interesting in a wider context. It appears that prices fluctuated considerably as the example of the house built by Ryalls and Pearce and other later transactions show. These transaction affecting Union Street, and the way its builders were paid in materials purchased, provide examples of the results of an only partly accepted money economy. Capital had its value but commodities were as equally acceptable as cash for payment. Bricks had a more consistent value than money, which was often in short supply.

Although it seems that Union Street was not finished at its east end, it is of great significance both locally and more generally in the context of the whole of London. Almost certainly Union Street was the first newly-planned street of brick terrace houses built to an overall pattern and laid out as a speculative development in Deptford. Beforehand, only the larger individual houses there were brick built and most streets were lined with fairly haphazard rows of timber structures. Again, it is almost certain that there were no other developments similar to Union Street in Deptford during the first half of the eighteenth century, or ever again on a comparatively grand scale.

What Thomas Lucas built before Union Street is not known but he must have learnt his skills in the metropolis, not in Deptford. Terraced house planning had become standardised by the eighteenth century with two rooms to a floor, one at the back and one at the front with a staircase at one side. In Union Street all but the wider houses and a single smaller house had this plan. The front walls of the houses were built of ‘grey’ stocks enriched with bright red brick surrounds to the openings and this again was a feature of the metropolis.

The fronts were terminated by parapets capped in stone, not with wooden eaves cornices which survived well into the eighteenth century. They were prescribed by the Building Act of 1707, and though the act did not apply as far from the centre of London as Deptford, it is clear that whether Lucas began building in 1705 or 1707, by employing parapets, he brought to Deptford the newest building style. 

Building Act 1707. It was this pattern that fueled the Great Fire of London in 1666, which wiped out 80% of the city. That disaster led to the London Building Act of 1667, the first to provide for surveyors to enforce its regulations. It laid down that all houses were to be built in brick or stone. The number of storeys and width of walls were carefully specified. Streets should be wide enough to act as a fire break. This first Act applied to the walled City of London. The Building Acts of 1707 and 1709 extended that control to Westminster. They added a prohibition on timber cornices and required brick parapets to rise two and half feet above the garret floor. A comprehensive Act in 1774 covered the whole built-up area. Its detailed set of regulations included the stipulation that doors and windows should be recessed at least four inches from the front of the building.

Similarly with the windows: in Union Street, although some of the rear windows have original casements, the front windows seem always to have had sashes and these to were then a new fashion. The Heads to the basement and first floor windows are cambered. There are sound structural reasons for this where the basement is concerned but the reasons for using cambered heads to the upper storey is aesthetic: to provide variety from the ground storey windows which have straight heads. Cambered heads are a feature which became popular in the second decade of the eighteenth century, and as in his choice of sashes which again only became popular during the reign of Queen Anne, it is clear Thomas Lucas was fully conversant with the latest architectural style and was willing to apply in Deptford what one might have expected to see only in the City, Holborn and Westminster. Another building act, again only applying to the centre of London, was passed in 1709. It attacked flush frames and ruled that frames should be set back 4 inches behind the face of the brickwork. 

Pre 1709                Post 1709
 These regulations seem to have been less effective than the earlier one regulating cornices. It is not clear that the changes in style which took place in Queen Anne’s reign were so much the result of these acts as a result of a desire for aesthetic change. Lucas employed flush frames, which, on a flat wall, do not give so great an appearance of solidity as recessed frames. That aesthetic quality he achieved in a different way by providing recessed panels some six courses deep immediately below the sills of the windows on both storeys and again above heads of the windows of the upper storey extending ten courses right to the parapet, and he gave each house a blank window panel on the upper storey above the door opening.

So its front elevation was clearly divided by well articulated verticals and horizontals. The verticals edge in red brick marked the solid wall between the openings, and the horizontals marked the storey divisions. The fronts of the houses in Union Street are, in their modest way, Baroque in style rather than the Palladian of a later generation, where the brickwork is flat and the articulation achieved by recessed window openings of carefully graded heights to each storey.  This Baroque sensibility distinguishes the Union Street facades from these developed after the Great Fire which have flat walls of red brick, with squarer, casement windows, all dominated by heavy, and often luxuriously carved eaves cornices. In Union Street luxurious carving was reserved for the brackets of the door-hoods, which seem earlier in style than the houses to which they are attached.     

Part 6 extract from A Quiney's paper on Albury Street 1979.