Monday, 14 October 2013

Mansion Flats

When `I lived in London, I used to envy my friend's flat. His home was in Fulham, and it was beautiful. This was a 'mansion flat,' a type of building, I think, unique to London: an apartment designed in late Victorian/early Edwardian times and built to the highest specification.

What made it so good? Perhaps this stems of my years in stunted, rickety newbuilds or shoddy conversions, but I was then, and still am now, amazed by the costly, understated comfort, and easy grandeur. The rooms had cornices, occasional examples have plaster mouldings and decorative fireplaces. The rooms open onto a long, elegant corridor, some even have balconies, and then there are 'pantries,' or what we might today call utility rooms. The doors are thick wooden panels, and the ceilings are high.

When they were first built, the original residents would have employed domestic servants: a daily maid-of-all-work at least - perhaps a resident maid. Laundry would have been sent out, so there was no need for drying space, as is palpably the case now.

The grandest, the best of the high-end mansions flats overlooked well-tended communal gardens. They also had open fireplaces, ranges in the kitchen, and probably a porter, to accept post; to fetch and carry. Life was good for those lucky occupants. The 'gentleman of the house' would have worked, while the 'lady' would have... been a suffragette? Were they renting their home? Possibly. It might have been a convenient, city-centre pied-a-terre, used by those who owned land, perhaps an estate, or even another home or farm in the country, reached by the new rail system. Amenities like parks were close by.

Mansion flats had lifts, lobbies, and were never second best. These new style of homes aimed high, since they were intended for a 'better sort' of resident: professionals, academics, surgeons, bankers, or business people. Class is the key issue here, since it wasn't simply that richer people could afford better (larger, brighter, warmer, safer) homes. They were considered to be entitled to them.

What this meant for those lucky enough to live in mansion flats was dignity borne privacy, seclusion, space for study, and room to socialise. Storage for shopping, a sense of separation, room to live but space to gather when required. There would also have been a bathroom, complete with actual bath, in a time when cleanliness really was next to godliness and not a simple matter of personal hygiene. Occupants collected kept possessions, like books and spare clothes.

And poorer people? Some new housing associations and foundations gave a (highly judgemental) damn about the poor - The Guiness and Peabody Trusts built some fine housing for their tenants, provided they worked to 'better' themselves, avoiding 'idleness,' ‘godlessness’ and drink. Remind you of anyone? As for these poor people who worked for the owners of mansion flats, or who served them, begged from them or obeyed the orders they issued? Well they lived in slums or tenements. More on them next in my next post.


Anonymous said...

I agree, they are lovely places to live.
Unfortunately they are very expensive to heat. Usually EPC band 'F' or 'G'.
If the proposed ban on letting properties under 'E' comes in, it will make it very difficult for renters wishing to live in this type of accommodation.
Even if landlords want to improve the energy efficiency, it is often not possible.

Regards HB Welcome

Rich Tee said...

There is a village in Yorkshire called Saltaire. It was built by the mill owner Sir Titus Salt for his workers (Joseph Rowntree did similar in York).

It didn't have a pub because Sir Titus didn't want his workers drinking (it does now, next to the river).

Some people sneer at this "paternalism", but his workers were probably quite grateful. The area is now a World Heritage Site and these Victorian homes are highly desirable.

space cadet said...

"If the proposed ban on letting properties under [EPC Band] 'E' comes in.."

I had no idea, but good to hear.

Anonymous said...

@space cadet,
Have a read-

Suits me- if it happens.

If they are sold off cheap, I'd love to buy and live in a property of the type RG describes.

Not so good for renters who would only be allowed to live in modern eco rabbit hutches.

After all, the State knows what's best.

Smacks of Orwellian style social cleansing.

space cadet said...

In Scotland, we have the Private Rented Housing Panel, to enforce The Repairng Standard.

So a tenant can (at least try to) seek redress from their landlord. I hope the rest of the UK gets something very similar when regulation comes!

MattW said...

A shame that today most developers can't build blocks of flats as architectually interesting as those ones. Architects of the time really thought about how it's residents would live in the property. Fast forward to the 1960s/70s and beyond and it's ground down to lowest possible cost for highest potential gains over aethetics. Although at least many 1970s homes tended to have big windows letting in lots of light.

I have a weakness for Art Deco/Modernist properties, like the apartment that Agatha Christie's Poirot lived in.