Desirable Dwellings – Chapter One: Choice Locations

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1. Migration of the new middle classes

Crowded courtyards and clattering industrial cottages were not the only dwellings characteristic of the new industrial age in Preston. Socially exclusive neighbourhoods for occupation by the ‘middle classes’ formed at the same time, neatly distinguished from one another according to the ambitions and the means of families at different social levels. The pre-eminent centre of middle class residence in Preston was Winckley Square, in the south-west quarter of the town.

Map 1. The Avenham district of Preston, as shown on an Ordnance Survey map at the end of the 19th century, where most of Nigel’s ‘desirable dwellings’ were located.

A stroll through the best parts of this urbane locality – from Fishergate, through the Square, and up Ribblesdale Place to Bushell Place overlooking Avenham Park – still conveys a sense of Georgian civilisation, the pleasing spaces and the classical proportions of the buildings giving an almost timeless impression of calm stability. This is deceptive (and was perhaps intended to be so), because the formation of the neighbourhood was a rupture in the social life of the town, which some early-19th century Prestonians regarded as undesirable and even dangerous.

Just as the handloom weavers and mill hands were new social classes, so the manufacturers and mill owners who employed them, and the bankers and lawyers who financed the new industry, constituted an urban upper class which was also new. Unlike the country gentry of the l7th and 18th centuries, who had kept houses in town for the winter season, and whose incomes from farmland were relatively static, the new men, who invested in mills and machinery and building land, or who provided professional services for such people, were enriched by the rising tide of the Industrial Revolution – some of them apparently limitlessly. And, in contrast to the traditional merchants, master craftsmen, and such like, who employed only a few people but lived among many, the new mill owners and capitalists employed many but chose to live among few. In a newspaper discussion, printed in the Preston Chronicle in 1829, one contributor wrote as follows:

None of the present evils bears a more dismal aspect or threatens to be more destructive . . . than the erroneous notion which has ingratiated itself into the minds of the higher orders of society, that they maintain their dignity only in proportion as they keep themselves distinct and separate from their interiors [Preston Chronicle 13 June 1829]

Architecturally, this is just what was happening: the new middle classes were building homes for themselves which were ‘distinct and separate’. The successive addresses (printed in local trade directories) of some of the families who were becoming the most powerful in the town show that they were separating themselves from the many-layered social scene of the old main streets. Addison, Ainsworth, Birchall, Catterall, German, Horrocks, Jacson, Lawe, Miller, Pedder, Swainson, etc., one by one, but with the cumulative effect of a mass migration, they deserted their old houses in Fishergate and Church Street, and moved into new houses, a few of these at a distance but most of them in Winckley Square or its vicinity. By the middle of the century the relationship between the residents of this neighbourhood and the town as a whole was summarised (not unfairly) as follows:

My friends! You have long achieved a distinguished fame for ruling this town and making all obedient to your will. Distinguished names, noble deeds, and mighty patronage have constituted the Square, the Downing Street of Preston . . . (You have) the prestige of long purses and tall chimneys . . . You make most of the councilmen, you make all of the aldermen; why should you not make the Board of Guardians too’? [Preston Guardian 31 March 1855]


2. Desertion of the old town houses

It would be easier to recognise the architectural evidence of this social change by comparing the old houses with the new, if the old houses had survived; but none has, except in a much-altered and fragmentary form. and even these are few and scarcely recognisable. The Victorians were not conservationists. Busy about their present and future concerns, and eager for land and premises for new purposes (as our age is too), they either pulled down the old edifices or cannibalised and converted them, apparently without a qualm.

Perhaps the most symbolic case was Patten House, the Preston residence of Lord Derby’s family in Church Street. The Derbys (who were of the political party known as the Whigs) had become accustomed to taking both of Preston’s parliamentary seats almost as a matter of right, but by 1800 they had to concede one seat to the Tory Corporation, and in the next thirty years the bribery and treating necessary to win elections were costing ever larger sums of money; finally, in 1830, Lord Stanley (Lord Derby’s son) was defeated at the polls by working class supporters of Henry Hunt, a Radical who wished to do away with the influence of such landed gentry. The Derby family abandoned Patten House, which was demolished in 1835. Within five years its site was obliterated by a new street, leaving only the name -‘Derby Street’ – as a reminder of what had once been in that place

Fig 1. Edwin Beattie’s painting of Patten House. This image is reproduced here on a ‘fair use’ basis. It will be taken down if the copyright holder wishes.

There were many other such losses. A spectacular timber-framed Jacobean house at the south end of the Market Place was pulled down in 1855 to make room for a new Town Hall (which was not begun until 1868). A nice little brick house of about 1776 in Lancaster Road was being used as a warehouse when it was painted by Edwin Beattie towards the end of the century. A fine Renaissance-style house of the 1690s, in Church Street (opposite the parish church) was taken over by Pedder’s Bank in 1776, and replaced by the Preston Savings Bank (now the TSB) early in this century. As long ago as 1857 the local historian Charles Hardwick was writing:

There are several other houses, since converted into shops, about Church Street and the southern side of the higher end of Fishergate, which yet bear evidence of the class of persons by whom they were originally tenanted.

Fig 2. The old houses in Preston Market Square – a print facing page 434 in Charles Hardwick’s History of Preston. This probably captures the scene in the mid-1850s, shortly before they were taken down.
Fig 3. The Old Bank in Church Street – a print facing page 456 in Charles Hardwick’s History of Preston. Dated 1857.

And so they went, and continued to go, leaving a hidden timber-framed wall here, a 17th or 18th century staircase there, and a few dated rainwater heads, the very last of which has been thoughtfully preserved on a rebuilt facade in Friargate. One of the last vestiges of these old gentry houses, the rear wing of a former Fishergate house, with an upper-cruck roof, was still standing on the west side of New Cock Yard until recently, but it was demolished in 1980, the now Boots store on its site leaving no trace of it at all

Little now remains of the pre-Industrial Revolution houses of Preston, but there are still a few ‘sleeping beauties’ disguised behind modern facades. One is the little 17th century building on the west side of the Market Place, which retains some of its timber-framed walls and its original roof timbers. Another, just round the corner, is a shop in Friargate which has deserted 17th century rooms upstairs, including a panelled drawing-room and the upper flights of a once beautiful but now rather battered staircase. A block of building on the north side of Church Street, now containing seven shops, seems to have originated as three rather fine early Georgian town houses, for the tops of all three staircases are still inside, and the first floor contains two panelled drawing rooms (one now partitioned and the other used as a workshop). The west side of this block, facing Guys Row, has recognisable early 18th century brickwork, and the other side has a fluted doorcase, but otherwise there is nothing outside to suggest the original character of the houses or that any might might remain inside [since demolished].

Few of these exteriors would lead one to suspect their interior secrets. and there may be others lurking behind equally unlikely facades, but in the last hundred or so years Preston has vandalised its inheritance. To see what must have been lost it is necessary to go to Lancaster, which has many fine Georgian houses still properly cared for, both inside and out.

We are therefore left with only one side of the comparison, the new housing of the first half of the 19th century. Fortunately, most of it is still intact, especially the characteristic heart of it in the Winckley Square Conservation Area. This makes it much easier to find and describe the housing of the middle classes in earlier 19th century Preston than the lost working class housing of the same period

3. Middle Class Distinctions

For the purposes of this chapter the term ‘middle class’ in the singular covers too wide a range to be useful for understanding the houses which are its subject. From a national point of view the great cotton manufacturer, his lawyer, his wine merchant, and his children’s dancing master, were all middle class’, but their ways of life were quite different. Their houses make the differences plain. I have distinguished four different levels of middle class houses in Preston, relating their architectural structure (which is still visible) to the composition of their households as revealed by the Land Tax and Census records. In a nutshell, it is apparent that houses were designed according to the number of resident domestic servants which families at different social levels could be expected to employ. The extremes are those who had staff not only to cook and wash for them but also to transport them to work and to care for their children, and those who had separate space in their houses for laundry but not necessarily any resident servant to do the washing for them. Including the intermediate levels between these extremes, the four classes I identity are the Grand, the Stylish, the Comfortable, and the merely Respectable.

Those who lived out of town, and came in by carriage, I call the Grand. In town, the Stylish and the Comfortable can be distinguished from the merely Respectable because on the one hand every household contained resident servants, usually at least two, and on the other only about half the houses had any living-in domestic servant, and those with two were exceptional. This major difference is so clear that it can be drawn on the map The difference between Stylish and Comfortable standards of living is not so clear and in one or two streets running along the top of the Ribble escarpment there were clear differences in degrees of comfort between one side and the other: those on the side where the land fell away had better basement accommodation for servants, and more servants

4. The Architectural Characteristics of Middle Class Houses

In the south-west quarter of Preston, Avenham, there is nowadays no difficulty in recognising middle class housing, because nothing else is left, the humbler streets to the east haying been demolished in the 1950s. This may seem surprising to anyone who walks down the social gradient from Winckley Square in the west to Avenham Road, Chaddock Street, and Frenchwood Street in the east, because at first sight the rows of houses on the eastern edge of the area look like the so-called ‘terraces’ usually thought typical of working class housing in Lancashire. They are not. These streets were laid out in fields which fringed the southern edge of the ancient core of the town, the houses built in them were designed for and occupied by middle class families, and collectively they formed a small suburb (though within the Borough boundary) of people whose social expectations, clothing and household possessions had more in common with the richer folk to the west than with the industrial workers immediately to the east. The social character of even the smallest houses left in this area is still recognisable by the features which they share with the largest. These are: the evidence that they were provided with cellars or basements; the number of chimney pots (showing that they had more than two fireplaces); the type of brickwork: and their architectural style, including various kinds of decoration such as doorcases, fanlights, and railings.

Cellars or basements, recognisable by the windows and coal-holes which opened into them (though some are now blocked up) are the most important features, because they provided space where such things as cooking and laundry could be done without imposing on the living rooms. The number of rooms in the cellar determined how many of these functions could be removed from the social space above. The most basic arrangement was a single room for laundry, under the front room and lit by a small window at pavement level, with a compartment under the front steps for coal which was delivered through a hole in the pavement covered by a round iron plate. The most elaborate, found in the very best houses, was a complete basement floor containing kitchen, scullery, pantry, laundry, wine cellar, and so on. In these, the rooms at the front were illuminated by windows opening onto a sunk cellar ‘area’ which was surrounded by iron railings to prevent passers-by from falling into it, and to complete the perfection of this kind of service basement there was a door to the ‘area’ and a flight of steps up to a gate in the railings, which allowed servants to go in and out of the house without intruding on the family. Every single house in the Winckley Square area, including its merely respectable fringe, had a service cellar, but only a few had such an elaborate system.

Fig 4. Assorted chimney pots in Chaddock Street

Chimney pots, or rather the number of them, are next in importance for recognising middle class houses. Whereas working class houses commonly had no more than two (or at most three) fireplaces, in middle class houses all the main living rooms and most of the bedrooms were heated by coal fires. Thus a small house with a front parlour, rear dining room, bedrooms above them, and the kitchen in a back extension, would have a main chimney stack with four chimney pots on it, and a rear chimney stack for the kitchen; but where we would expect to see only four pots on the main stack we sometimes find five. The extra chimney pot served a fire which heated a washing boiler in the cellar. In the more modest houses one chimney stack was usually shared by two adjoining houses, so it has twice as many chimney pots as would be needed for one house alone: ten or more pots in a row looks ridiculous until one remembers this fact, but if they are arranged in two rows the explanation is more obvious.

Fig.5. Garden wall bond brickwork in Ribblesdale Place
Fig. 6. Flemish bond brickwork in Chaddock Street

Brickwork can also indicate superior status. Locally made brick was the normal building material for Preston houses in the first half of the 19th century, and for all ordinary purposes the bricks were laid in ‘English garden wall bond’, five courses of ‘stretchers’ alternating with one course of ‘headers’. For superior building, however, the more expensive ‘Flemish bond’ was used, headers and stretchers alternating in every course of bricks. This gave a more pleasing textured pattern to the wall, and when the best quality bricks were used they could be laid with such precision that very thin layers of mortar were sufficient to bind them, leaving extremely thin joints. The joints could be ‘pointed’ with a fine mortar of either a similar or a contrasting colour, known as ‘tuck-pointing’. One expects to find Flemish bond and tuck-pointing in Winckley Square but perhaps not at the lower end of the social scale, yet it is almost universal throughout this area and some of the finest examples are in Chaddock Street and Frenchwood Street. (The only exceptions are in Avenham Road and Great Avenham Street, which were built earlier than the rest of these streets.)


The architectural style of early 19th century houses, on the other hand, reflects social differences only in a very muted fashion, because the principles of design were just as suited to small houses as to large ones. This is one of the most appealing virtues of Georgian architecture. Differences were expressed mainly in details such as doorcases, fanlights, and railings (if there were any); but the important thing was the style, and that concerned the composition as a whole, regardless of the details.

In the earlier 19th century the Georgian taste for architecture based on classical models still prevailed, imposing a strict discipline on the design of facades. The original model had been a Greek or Roman temple with regularly spaced stone columns on all sides supporting horizontal beams on which the roof rested, known as the ‘entablature’. Large country houses in the 18th century copied some of these features, especially in the centre of their main facades, which were made to resemble the portico-end of a temple with its gable or ‘pediment’ above, while the ranges on either side were sometimes provided with semi-columns or a flattened equivalent known as pilasters (as if three sides of a temple had been folded flat), the windows being placed in the spaces (or ‘bays’) between the columns; but more usually these columns were left out, their positions simply implied by the spacing of the windows. Such a design was given additional dignity if it was raised up on a plinth or a basement, which formed a ground floor (known as the ‘rustic’) from which the columns or pilasters rose. Lytham Hall, built for the Clifton family near the south coast of the Fylde about 1760, is an excellent example of this style of architecture.

Fig 7. Lytham Hall

More modest houses, especially those built in towns might have a vestige of the classical columns in the form of pilasters at the corners, and sometimes between the bays as well, but normally columns and pilasters were left out entirely, so that only the spaces remained to represent the bays of the classical model. Each bay normally had a window on each floor, the windows a vertical-rectangular shape and of diminishing height on successive floors so as to enhance the sense of vertical perspective; and if an actual opening was either unnecessary or impossible a ‘blind’ window was provided instead so as to maintain the rhythm. The imaginary columns were only implied by the horizontal separation of the openings, but the vertical separation between the ground floor ‘rustic’ and the upper floors was still usually marked by a horizontal stone band to signify where the columns or pilasters would have begun if there had been any, while a stone cornice at the eaves of the roof marked their imaginary tops, fulfilling a stylistic function as an ‘entablature’ and a practical function as concealment for the gutter.

In the end little was left of the ancient Greek temple except a sort of architectural accent: the spacing of the openings, and the bases and tops of the implied columns. Such pared-down Georgian architecture is therefore difficult to understand at first sight, because most of its essential elements are invisible: little but the proportions remains. On the other hand, the regularity of the design was ideally suited to houses built very close to one another, as they usually were in towns

By the early 19th century Georgian town houses were usually built in rows and designed to look like continuous terraces even if they were actually built piecemeal (normally because the ground landlord stipulated uniformity of materials and design). Each row or terrace should therefore be composed entirely of houses of the same height, normally either two or three storeys, the doorways and windows regularly spaced, and the separate houses linked together visually by horizontal features such as bands and cornices.

Windows had stone sills and were usually completely undecorated; ideally their heads were formed of carefully gauged bricks arranged in a wedge-shaped ‘flat-arch’ (which was not an arch at all), but in Preston a wedge-shaped stone lintel was mostly used instead of gauged bricks. The windows were double-hung sashes, their box frames containing the counter-weights being built into the thickness of the wall, and (in the earlier 19th century) the sashed leaves divided into twelve or sixteen vertical-rectangular panes with wooden glazing bars. Unfortunately windows are notoriously vulnerable to alteration, and to decay and replacement; during the later 19th century it was fashionable to replace the small panes with larger sheets of glass, either making four large panes or removing the glazing bars altogether; and in our own times many of the sashes themselves have been replaced with other types of window, some of which are so unsympathetic to their setting as to make otherwise decent Georgian buildings almost unrecognisable.

Doorways, given the overall simplicity of Georgian town houses, were usually the only part of the exterior which allowed for variety of treatment and decoration. Some of the earliest have simple brick arches over them made with carefully gauged brick, and the best of them in an elegant elliptical shape. In Preston, however, almost all doorways have surrounds of local sandstone, and this is where classical columns make their appearance in various forms. The variety of types of column, and of ways of using them, gave some scope for the expression of social status.

The columns were copied from one of the classical ‘orders’: usually the Tuscan, which had a simple ring-shaped cap and a plain entablature, but sometimes the Ionic with its pretty cap of two scrolls or ‘volutes’ (which are thought to represent the shape of a woman’s hair). The Ionic order always proclaims middle class status, because the columns with their volutes had to be wholly or partly free of the wall, which required an entablature across the top; it could only be used for a porch, for a doorcase which stood proud of the wall, or for one which was set into a very wide doorway, all of which were not only expensive but used up a relatively large area of the facade. The Tuscan order, on the other band, could be used not only as free-standing columns in a porch or as a semi-columns in a doorcase attached to the wall, but also as quarter-columns incorporated in the jambs of the doorway. In the last of these versions it means no more than economical respectability and not necessarily that: in mass-production, it was used on working-class houses in Preston from about 1830. The most humble form of middle class doorway, also found in lesser houses, had square-cut jambs with simple moulded caps or ‘imposts’, and a double roll-moulding round the semi-circular head of the door. (Post-war demolition of early 19th century housing in the town has reduced this once-common form to a threatened species.)

Grand houses (such as Penwortham Hall) might indulge in porches, which were sometimes so deep that a carriage could drive through from one side to the other, allowing passengers to descend without getting wet in the rain. In town, however, a porch of any kind was exceptional until towards the middle of the century: No.3 Ribblesdale Place has an Ionic porch, and so has No 14 Winckley Square (No 13 also had a porch, recently demolished because it was unsafe), all these dating from the 1830s. The most spectacular use of porches in Preston occurs elsewhere, in Deepdale Road, where every house in Stephenson Terrace has a porch; but these were built about 1850, when the simplicity of Georgian design was giving way to something more elaborate. The porch of Thomas Miller’s house at No.5 Winckley Square, built in 1854, is part of a design which is not Georgian at all, but ‘Italianate’ (meaning that it derives from fashions for merchants’ palaces in Italy in the 15th or 16th centuries; as some of the banks on Fishergate do also).

Fig 8. Porch at 3 Ribblesdale Place

An entrance hall separating the doorway from the front room, which was the very minimum of respectability for people who did not want the rent-collector to step straight into the living room, required its own light. This was provided by a window over the door, known as an ‘overlight’ if it is rectangular or a ‘fanlight’ if it is arched. Most small houses in Preston in the earlier 19th century had round-headed doorways, so they had fanlights whether they needed them or not. Proof that a house was of middle-class status was provided by decoration in the fanlight, such as radiating glazing bars or other forms of elegant tracery, which made the entrance more attractive from both sides; but unfortunately many of these decorated fanlights have been replaced with plain glass.

Finally, there are two indications of middle class status which are found outside houses: area railings and front gardens, one a practical necessity and the other a luxury

Fig 9. Railing detail 3 Ribblesdale Place

Railings were needed where there was a basement or cellar which pedestrians might otherwise fall into, and are therefore a sign of Stylish or Comfortable living. Like doorcases and fanlights, they also provided an opportunity for decoration. Although many have been removed or re- placed, some fine examples can still be seen in and around Ribblesdale Place: No.3 has the most stylish, with open-work panels in which the classical motif of a stylised honeysuckle flower (or ‘anthemion’) alternates with rosettes, the standards between the panels rising to tall finials which once carried chains (evident from the rings they were attached to). This set of railings has discreetly disguised gates at the corners, and there are other examples of railing gates which are so cleverly disguised that they are almost impossible to detect (one of them in which disguise seems to have come before common sense and even decency, since the servants would have had to crawl through it).

Gardens were obviously a luxury in town houses, taking up parts of valuable building plots. Their most important characteristic is that they were almost invariably at the front rather than the back (in Preston the only exceptions during this period are the houses which backed onto the escarpment of the Ribble, in Ribblesdale Place, East Cliff and West Cliff. The reason for this is that the back was normally reserved for the yard, which was definitely not a place for sitting out on warm days (see Deadly Dwellings). Another distinctive feature of the gardens of 19th century town houses is that, unlike the gardens of town houses in earlier periods and of suburban houses later, they were generally semi-public rather than private spaces.

In Preston the supreme example of this is Winckley Square, laid out about 1805 and copying an arrangement which was fashionable in the Georgian squares of London, Edinburgh and of some provincial cities, such as Bath, in which the gardens were supposed to be a communal amenity for the residents of all the surrounding houses, each house having a key to one of the gates into the garden. In a pathetically humble fashion the pattern of Winckley Square was imitated elsewhere in Preston, at St Peter’s Square, St Paul’s Square, and St Ignatius’ Square, where churchyards of the 1820s and 1830s were surrounded by houses as if they were communal gardens: the aspect may have been relatively open but the smell – by the 1840s -was dreadful, except perhaps at St Ignatius’ Square, where the burial ground was off the north end of the square.

Fig 10. Bushell Place gardens

While Winckley Square had a communal garden in the centre, the houses on Bushell Place, begun about 1830, have individual front gardens; but they are fairly small, and they face onto Avenham Walks, which had been a public promenade since 1690. Although their planting and up-keep were (and remain) private concerns, their enjoyment on fine days must have been something of a public display in the 19th century. They should be regarded as on the borderline between communal and private gardens. Perhaps the same should be said about the very small front gardens to a short row of much humbler houses which stood on the east side of Avenham Road until about ten years ago: suburban front gardens when the houses were built in the 1820s, they were soon engulfed and rendered almost meaningless by the surrounding streets of town houses which had no such luxury.

Fig 11. A Bank Parade garden

This leaves the front gardens of Bank Parade, which are separated from the houses by the street. The gardens run down the slope towards the brook, and most of the houses were provided with a tunnel under the street connecting the cellar with the garden, so that the residents could go into it privately. These houses were built at various dates about the middle of the century, and their tunnels clearly represent a flight from the public to the private use of gardens.

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