Context 145 - July 2016

28 C O N T E X T 1 4 5 : J U LY 2 0 1 6 Plans and a section of Albert Hall Mansions, 1879 development was to be started on the Kensington Gore frontage only and would be divided into three identical blocks, each with its own staircase and entrance. This would enable phased construction as the demand from purchasers was established. All communal facilities incorporated under Hankey’s system were abolished, except provision of a porter’s and servants’ rooms in the basement. Seen from the park, the scale, completely over- whelming the adjoining Lowther Lodge, is articulated by three giant Dutch gables atop projecting bays linked by horizontal balconies, emphasised by a two-storey mansarded attic. To focus on wealthy families, Shaw planned 15-feet-tall reception and dining rooms overlooking the park, with a split-level arrangement at the rear accommodating three bedrooms, a kitchen and pantry. Bachelors were accommodated in a two-storey attic accessed by a top-lit central stairway discharging at ground level into a grand public lobby in the Parisian tradition. The first phase three blocks of Albert Hall Mansions facing Hyde Park was planned without passenger lifts, necessitating a climb by staircase for the bachelors of up to seven storeys. However, by 1884 the London Hydraulic Power Company had completed the first public high-pressure water-power distribution system, extending to Kensington in the west. The American Elevator Company retrospectively installed hydraulic passenger lifts in the completed blocks and subsequent phases the same year. Shaw’s design incorporated a back staircase accessed from a separate service entrance to the apartments architecturally paired with the main entrance. A rope- and-pulley lift to transport coals to the upper floors from basement under-pavement cellars was located within the service stairwell.The basement was dedicated entirely to service accommodation, housing a porter’s living room towards the front, 11 ‘spare rooms’ and a kitchen, presumably housing the small army of servants required to transport coals to set the numerous fires. Six trunk cellars, one allocated to each of the split-level apartments, were housed in the basement. Trap doors within the service entrance lobby enabled trunks to be moved between the cellars and waiting carriages. Flats were a novelty in London at the time Albert Hall Mansions was completed. Charles Dickens (junior) writes in his 1897 Dictionary of London :‘As for the foreign fashion of living in flats, the progress of the idea has been slow. At present almost the only separate étages to be found in London are those in the much-talked-of Queen Anne’s Mansions, a good number of sets in Victoria-street, a few in Cromwell-road, just between the railway bridges, and a single set in George-street, Edgware-road.’ By the 1870s Shaw had made the so-called Queen Anne revival style his own. It appealed to English artistic sensibilities and was adopted by Shaw when he succeeded EdwardWilliam Godwin as architect of the first garden suburb at Bedford Park, an estate occupied almost exclusively by artists (1877–9). Ultimately, Richard Norman Shaw must be given full credit for defining the architecture for blocks of flats in a neo-Flemish style, combining picturesque romance with orderliness. It was his skill that opened the door to social acceptance of ‘the Parisian mode of life’ by an aspiring middle class inVictorian London and which was much emulated well into the Edwardian period. Paul Latham is a director of the Regeneration Practice.