Context 145 - July 2016

26 C O N T E X T 1 4 5 : J U LY 2 0 1 6 PAUL LATHAM Richard Norman Shaw’s hidden legacy Combining picturesque romance with orderliness, the architect Richard Norman Shaw helped to open the door to social acceptance of the new practice of flat-dwelling in London. Before the 1870s, blocks of flats were almost exclu- sively built by the housing reform societies such as the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company and Peabody Trust, whose model Peabody Square was built in 1865. The first London apartments for the aspiring upper middle classes were built to Italianate designs of Henry Ashton in Victoria Street between 1852–4. There were only a handful of similar developments in the following 30 years due to a deep rooted English prejudice against apartment living which, according to the Builder in 1879, was considered to be ‘the Parisian mode of life’ – with the implicit alien, cosmopolitan overtones implied.This prejudice began to break down as developers realised there was demand for the convenience of a pied-à-terre in town from a wealthy, socially mobile section of society, where the cost of servants could be shared by the landlord’s provision of communal servicing. London’s first major speculation to meet this demand was Queen Anne’s Mansions (1873–90), built between Victoria Street and St James Park by the wealthy merchant banker and speculator Henry Hankey. The ‘Hankey system’, as it became known, was based upon the idea of cooperative living, the absence of private kitchens and landlord’s provision of servants, communal dining and recreation facilities. Queen Anne’s Mansions was marketed more like an apartment hotel, ‘not 10 minutes from all the clubs, combining the advantages of a private house, the freedom of a hotel, and the luxury of a club’. This scheme was initially an undoubted commer- cial success, but Hankey’s mansions were openly regarded as an architectural abhorrence, reinforcing the established middle-class prejudice against flat living. James Knowles, architect of the Grosvenor Hotel in Victoria Street, complained the Mansions constituted ‘an eyesore so offensive as would disgrace the whole neighbourhood of Westminster, overshadowing all its splendid and historic buildings, and turn this quarter of London into a laughing stock’. TheTimes described the mansion block as ‘the most elevated thing in bricks and mortar since theTower of Babel.’ Hankey was also in bit- ter dispute with the Metropolitan Board ofWorks over fire safety due to the height of an extension proposed to his building. It took the architectural skills of Richard Norman Shaw, the patronage of the Commissioners of the Great Exhibition and the construction of Albert Hall Mansions to alter the negative perception of flat-living created by Hankey. While the 1851 exhibition was an international suc- cess, both in promoting the arts and technology, and Far right: Albert Hall Mansions as planned by Driver and Rew on the Hankey system, elevated by Richard Norman Shaw, 1877 Lowther Lodge, 1873. The site of Albert Hall Mansions is in the background. Queen Anne’s Mansions, c1898 (LCC Photographic Library, LMA Record 167794)