Building Beginnings

Little boxes

Terraced housing dates back to the 17th century, but began to appear in earnest during the 19th century, providing homes for working families in an increasingly urbanised landscape. The small terraced house provided a compact unit generally of the form two-up, two-down: a living room and kitchen downstairs, with two bedrooms above. An outside toilet preceded the much later installation of a bathroom with hot and cold running water.

Initially, entrepreneurial builders might construct a pair, six or eight houses in a terrace, often giving the row a name such as ‘Myrtle Villas’ or ‘Brunswick Terrace’. Neighbouring plots of land were later infilled with further houses that might have similar or differing architectural features from the existing buildings. Some terraces were purpose-built in their entirety near railways, factories, and other places of work, while others began to appear in the suburbs as improved transport enabled workers to commute.

Terraces were an improvement over back-to-back houses which were only one room deep and whose occupants suffered from overcrowding, lack of ventilation and poor sanitation. The terrace, on the other hand, while often opening directly onto the pavement at the front, had a small garden at the rear and was an independent unit. The houses were economical to heat with small rooms and only two outside walls. The 1848 Health Act set a minimum standard for the provision of services and sanitation following campaigning by social reformers and several outbreaks of cholera, although enforcement during its early life was limited. Street planning legislation gave more order to the layout of roads and ensured sufficient access for services.

Today terraced houses are home to singles, couples, families, old and young, first-time buyers and down-sizers. Many properties have been ‘gentrified’, extended and in some cases the uniformity that bound them as a single terrace has been lost as people have changed windows and doors, painted the bricks or even refaced them. In some places the market price of a terraced house today would have built an entire street when they were first constructed.

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