English Terraced Housing
In Britain there is a well known maxim that 'An Englishman's home is his castle'. This is derived from an ancient right to refuse forced entry into one’s house but it has become axiomatic of the importance of the home, the private domestic sphere, within British culture.
In the 19th century, Britain was transformed by industrialisation, which had many positive effects but it also created pollution, slum housing and social problems like child labour. Britain’s towns and cities expanded dramatically as people flooded in looking for work. The great influx of people created a demand for housing that far exceeded the existing supply. Below is a typical Victorian tenement. The new urban populace lived in massively overcrowded housing that was rife with disease.
Faced with the problem of housing the new industrial workforce, Britain’s towns and cities developed working class terraced housing as a solution. Terraced housing consists of small individual houses of one repeating design, which are joined together in long rows. Each house shares a wall with the two neighbouring houses. This was economical because it saved materials. So terraced housing was built for working class communities and it formed the structure of working class life in Britain for well over a century.
Not all terraced housing is working class. In the Georgian period, elegant terraces were built for the middle classes. This is Eldon Square in Newcastle, a salubrious residential development in the Neo-Classical style. Unfortunately, most of this was demolished in the 1970s. Even 10 Downing Street, the home of Britain’s prime minister, is a terraced house.
Eldon Square in Newcastle
10 Downing Street
Working class terraces were built across Britain. In each town, terraces were built close to industrial sites like factories, pits and shipyards. This meant that workers didn’t have far to walk to their place of work. Different parts of the country developed their own forms of terraced housing. On Tyneside there was a distinctive type of terraced housing known as the Tyneside flat. This consists of two flats, one on top of the other. From the outside they look almost like normal terraces, but you can recognise them because they have two doors side by side. These are in Camperdown Street, Gateshead.
My home town of Sunderland evolved a distinctive form of working class housing – single-storey terraces known as ‘Sunderland cottages’. The form can be understood as a terraced bungalow. The average Sunderland cottage consists of a front door leading to a narrow passage. Behind the front door is a tiny vestibule. This is like a miniature version of the middle class hall. The parlour was the main front room. There is a kitchen and bedroom at the rear. There is usually a back extension containing a washhouse and sometimes an extra bedroom.
Our experience of the built environment doesn’t just depend on the physical fabric, the buildings and spaces. It also depends on the various cultural representations that we’ve encountered. These shape our understanding of a place and invest it with meaning.
In film and TV representations the terraced house is used as a visual sign of working class life. For example, Coronation Street is a long-running soap opera set in the terraces of Manchester. Coronation Street is a British TV institution, one of the oldest TV programmes in the world. In fact Manchester and its surroundings are known as ‘Granada-land’, after the TV production company that makes Coronation Street. This is an enduring image of working class life, represented in terms of a poor, but supportive community living side by side with each other.
The set of Coronation Street