London through the years: the changing face of property

The London property landscape is as quirky as its population – it’s one of the things that makes our nation’s capital so diverse. Every borough of the city has its own distinct personality, which is down to the era in which the housing stock was built, the type of people who lived there and the trends at the time of construction. Depending where you look, you’ll come across all different types of architecture, often in a small area. From Chelsea, working east along the river, you’ll encounter grand Regency mansion houses, the regimented 1950s brick apartment blocks of Pimlico’s Churchill Gardens estate, the striking Victorian Gothic elevations of the Houses of Parliament and the soaring dome of St Paul’s Cathedral – just a few examples all within five miles. Here we explore how London has changed over the years through its varied and most popular property styles.

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Popular types of London housing

The style of character housing in London is mainly four different types of architecture: Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Deco – the latter we’ll group into 1920s-1930s, after which we start to see the concrete Brutalist apartment blocks and ‘kit’ houses after the Second World War. Knowing about these periods and the types of housing on offer is very useful when looking to buy a house in London. You’ll have a good idea on what character features you can expect: stucco frontage, bay windows, different coloured brickwork, high ceilings, cast iron railings and fireplaces, or internal detailing like crown mouldings or ceiling roses. It can also help you to see what can be restored or repaired if the house is in need of refurbishment. Period properties are most concentrated in the centre of London, for example in Kensington & Chelsea, more than 65% of homes are pre-1900. In Tower Hamlets, however, the majority of the housing (21%, with about 5-8% in other time periods) was built after the Millennium, from 2000-2009, so it has a much more modern look and feel.

Georgian – 1714 to 1837

Grand, elegant Georgian properties were built after the Great Fire of London – in a marked contrast from the cramped streets preceding this time, they were designed to be spacious and airy. Many of the buildings were built by John Nash, the architect who designed Buckingham Palace – you can see how the style of the palace is replicated, albeit with less pomp, in the streets of Chelsea and Bloomsbury. Georgian houses are usually built in tall, three- or four-storey terraces, with large sash windows on the lower floors and small windows on the top floor, which were usually home to the staff. The houses have flat fronts covered in stucco (render), often bricked-out windows (to avoid window taxes!) and small gardens. Many are built around ‘garden squares’ which are available for residents to use at leisure – these are highly desirable when property hunting in London. The later part of the Georgian era was known as the ‘Regency’ period – these houses have all-white stucco fronts, very grand elevations with pedimented and colonnaded doorways in the Greek or Roman style, and ornate wrought-iron details.

Best Georgian streets in London:

  • James Square, Theed Street, Aquinas Street and Roupell Street, Waterloo
  • Regent’s Street and around Regent’s Park
  • Highbury Place, Thornhill Square and Richmond Crescent, Islington
  • Montpelier Square, Knightsbridge
  • Ossington Street, Notting Hill

Victorian – 1837 – 1901

This was an exciting time for construction, with the Industrial Revolution providing access to more building materials and meaning more housing was needed to accommodate factory workers. Construction needed to be quick and sturdy – houses built at the start of the era were simply designed, usually in long brick terraces with little gardens at the front and sometimes long, narrow gardens to the rear. Another design principle was the ‘back to back’ house; these terraces were literally built backing onto one another, to save space, so gardens were very limited. You can see lots of these in the former industrial areas of East London, like Docklands and the Isle of Dogs. Towards the later part of the Victorian era, houses became more elaborate, with high pitched roofs, decorative barge boards, bay windows and cast-iron railings to the front, with cast-iron fireplaces inside. The finest Victorian homes in London, in our opinion, can be found in Richmond. The houses are more spacious, and the area is perfect for families seeking roomy character homes close to Central London.  The Victorian era lasted for 63 years, so there are a huge number of Victorian properties to choose from in London.

Best Victorian streets in London:

  • The Green and Petersham Village, Richmond
  • Nightingale Triangle, Balham
  • Reece Mews and Cresswell Place Mews, South Kensington
  • Warren Mews and Wimpole Mews, Marylebone
  • The Paragon and Cator Estate, Blackheath

Edwardian – 1901 – 1920

The Edwardians desired more space than their predecessors, so Edwardian homes were generally more spacious: a wider design, with two rooms across instead of one, and often three floors instead of two, and larger hallways providing space to welcome visitors. As London grew in the early part of the 20th century, so did its suburbs; that’s why you’ll find the best examples of Edwardian homes in London on the outer edges of the capital. The extra space available gave planners and builders more room to incorporate front and back gardens.

 Edwardian houses are usually built with red brick on the ground floor and painted or Tudor Revival on the upper storeys, often with wooden framed porches to the front. The streets are leafier and wider, too. One of the loveliest Edwardian areas of London can be found in Wimbledon. Not just home to tennis and lots of posh cafes, the area has lots of Edwardian streets making it popular with those seeking slightly more space within easy reach of central London.

Best Edwardian streets in London:

  • Eldon Grove, Hampstead
  • Merton Hall Road, Wimbledon
  • Cranley Gardens, Alexandra Park Road and Coppetts Wood, Muswell Hill
  • Rusholme Road and West Hill, Putney
  • Iverna Court Mansion Block and Sheffield Terrace, Kensington
  • River View, Chase Side

Art Deco – 1920s – 1930s

The area after the Edwardian period saw many exciting changes in architecture. First came the Art Deco period in the 1920s and 1930s; this style is one of the most distinctive in London and isn’t to everyone’s taste, but these properties are very striking and often command a high price tag. Art Deco homes feature sleek, linear and rectangular architecture, geometric patterns, porthole and semi-circular windows – a stark contrast to the very staid lines and ornate Gothic styles of Victorian architecture. These homes were built in the London suburbs and as such are usually very spacious and leafy. These properties are usually quite boxy – sharp lines, geometric windows and flourishes, and extensive gardens as there was more space to be found outside of central London. 1930s homes that aren’t Art Deco are still very desirable, as they were built to last out of solid, reliable materials. Most famous of all is Battersea Power Station, which was built in 1932 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. Now converted into fabulous apartments, its distinctive shape remains while the cavernous space has been repurposed into (very nice) housing. Thanks to the redevelopment, the surrounding area is also seeing a lot of change as it is transformed into an impressive riverside quarter with lots of shops, restaurants and bars to entertain its affluent new residents. Clapham South is another option where you’ll find lots of 1930s homes, without quite such a high price tag.

Best Art Deco streets in London:

  • Princes Tower, Canada Water
  • Cholmeley Lodge, Highgate
  • Battersea Power Station, Battersea
  • Nightingale Lane and Trinity Close, Clapham Common
  • Windsor Court, Clapham Old Town

London of the future?

As the demand for housing increases, so does the building of new homes. In London, most of the developments are either gentrification of existing sites (usually turning older buildings or plots into high-rise apartment buildings) or large developments in the suburbs – London is continually evolving and expanding. Our modern homes may not be as characterful as in previous generations, but we’re certainly looking more to the future and building sustainably, forgoing gas and oil heating for more ‘green’ choices. Keep an eye out for a future blog on some of the ways we’re building London for the future.

If you have a Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian or Art Deco home that you are looking to sell, get in touch to find out how we can make your home stand out from the crowd.

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