8. Guest contribution: Worcester comparison (Dr Janet Dunleavey)

Comparison with Worcester (and Gloucester): by Dr Janet Dunleavey

References for this contribution are: Janet Dunleavey, ‘Suburban residential development 1880-1939: polite or vernacular architecture?, The Local Historian, Vol. 32 No. 3, August 2002 p 178-195 (Gloucester and Worcester) and Janet Dunleavey, ‘Suburban residential development in Worcester during the Bye-Law Period, 1866-1939’, Transactions of the Worcestershire Archaeological Society, Third Series, vol. 19, 2004, pp.175-99. The latter goes into greater detail about development proposals made by builder/ developers. These articles derive from my unpublished PhD thesis, ‘A comparative study of urban expansion in two provincial cities between 1870 and 1939’, University of Birmingham, 1999. The Local Historian article can be read or downloaded at http://www.balh.org.uk/publications/local-historian/the-local-historian-volume-32-number-3-august-2002


Historic British cities such as Lincoln consist of buildings of many periods, and urban historians exploring such old city centres wish that more is known of the ‘agents of change’ responsible for the form and architectural style of the buildings lining the streets. Unless they formed part of a large estate or institution which retained an archive it is unlikely that records of urban development dating from before the middle of the nineteenth century have survived which could identify the owners and architects responsible. However since the introduction of building controls in the 1860s it has been possible to learn who was responsible for the character of each phase of urban expansion. These application forms provided the name of the landowner, details of the proposed building work, a specification, a location and site plans and some applications included a drawing of the front elevation. Crucially the forms also identified the agent responsible for submitting the application, usually described as an architect, although such a title was claimed by many who had not received training as a pupil in an architect’s office. The most highly-trained architects were usually employed by wealthy landowners to plan large houses and they would have been paid sufficient to spend a bit more time on drawing elevations for grand houses (figs.8.1-8.3).

Fig.8.1. Two new villa residences on Lot 15 of the Battenhall Park Estate, Worcester, for Mr John Hooper, west front elevation, J H Williams, architect, from building application no.1281, May 1888. Courtesy of the Worcestershire Archaeology and Archive Service.

Fig.8.2. Section on line C-S of houses shown in fig.8.1, with the particulars of the architect: John Henry Williams, 15 Foregate St., Worcester, May 1888. ‘No.1626’ (bottom right) seems not to relate to this application which was no. 1281 according to the Sanitary Authority’s date stamp. Courtesy of the Worcestershire Archaeology and Archive Service.

Fig.8.3. View of the Battenhall Park houses taken in 2017. Comparison with figs.1-2 suggests that the builders did not conform exactly to the elevations sent with the architect’s application. Courtesy of Janet Dunleavey.

In Worcester the bulk of the building applications were retained, each one stored in an individual envelope on which appeared the name of landowner, details of the proposal, the site location and usually the name of the agent submitting the application. Presumably these were all recorded numerically in date order in ledgers, but these have been lost in Worcester. In Gloucester the ledgers have mostly survived, but only a selection of the applications were retained.

The application form used by Lincoln City Council in 1895 lumped architect and builder together. In Worcester professionally qualified architects with city centre offices were responsible for the larger houses but they were responsible for less than half of residential applications up to 1914; there were many applications made by draughtsmen of a lower rank, possibly working from a suburban address, who may have had the knowledge of what was required to satisfy the building inspector but did not operate from a city centre address and probably did not serve a pupilage in an architect’s office. They could draw adequately and knew building construction and what was required by the building inspector. The Worcester applications did not mention the builder of proposals.

However there were also many building applications made by builders themselves, who knew how to provide the basic information required by the building inspector and could draw simple plans and provide a building specification and who were thus able to save themselves the expense of employing an architect of any rank. One shortcoming apparent on applications made by many developers was that the location plan only gave the names of the owners of the two adjoining houses on each side of the plot under consideration which may have become a street with dozens of similar terraced houses, making identification today very tricky as those names have been long gone.

Fig.8.4. Block plan for a terrace of four houses at the corner of Pitmaston St and Skinner St, Worcester, showing Mr Badgery as the neighbour to the right. There is a fragment of another name on an adjoining property at the top of the plan. A six-inch drain, always an important feature, leads to the sewer. From application no. 1871 dated 1894. Courtesy of the Worcestershire Archaeology and Archive Service.

Fig. 8.5. Transverse section of houses shown in fig.8.4 indicating that they were to have three floors. There was no elevation with this application, but a longitudinal section was included. From application no. 1871 dated 1894. Courtesy of the Worcestershire Archaeology and Archive Service.

Fig.8.6a. Ground floor plan for the houses within the block plan shown in fig.8.4 indicating that they front into Pitmaston Road. The rooms are labelled parlour, kitchen and scullery from front to back, with internals WCs. The coal stores are external for the left pair of houses, but internal for the other pair. The gradient of the fall into the sewer is indicated and the size of the drain, which is to take both rain water and foul water. From application no. 1871 dated 1894, drawn by P.H. Seckham, whose name was appended bottom right. Presumably ‘W.C.’ was the authority’s clerk dealing with the application. Courtesy of the Worcestershire Archaeology and Archive Service.

Fig.8.6b. A 2017 photograph of houses at the corner of Pitmaston Road and Skinner Street. Comparison with figs.5a and 6 suggests that the builder generally conformed to the submitted plans. The plan shows the manner in which the end wall was to be built parallel to Skinner St, rather than at right angles to Pitmaston Road. This is difficult to detect in the photograph. Courtesy of Janet Dunleavey

Table 1 in my Local Historian article gives a list of professionally qualified city centre architects. Table 2 shows the names of the most active draughtsmen in the city. Top of that list was P H Seckham who submitted 35 applications for residential development between 1884 and 1894. One of his applications can be used as an exemplar as its location is easy to identify (figs.8.4-8.6). This application, no. 1871, was made in 1894 for four terraced houses at a junction of two streets in St John’s on the west of the river. It consisted of a sheet with plans of each floor of the building, transverse and longitudinal sections and a location plan with the names of adjacent owners, Mr Badgery on the right, the name on the left not identifiable (fig.8.4). There was also a hand-written sheet giving details of construction and materials to be used. There was no sketch of the front elevation. This application was typical of the majority of applications, perfectly adequate for its purpose but did not waste time on the luxury of artistic sketches of the front elevation. A good example of what a well-established city centre architect working for a wealthy client could produce is in figures 8.1-8.3, part of application no. 1281 made in 1888 by John Henry Williams of 15 Foregate Street, for two large houses to be built on a piece of prime land at the edge of the city when an estate was apportioned for development.

Analysis can also be made of the building applications to show the period when and for how long developers were active and where they worked. For example in Worcester, a city divided by the River Severn which runs north/south, the builder/developers in Worcester restricted their activities to either the east or west of the city before the 1920s when motor transport became more widely available. It also became evident that the most active builders tended to have another related building trade, such as operating a saw mill or working as a stone mason. These connections would be revealed by advertisements in local directories.