Peabody through the ages
Read about our growth and development over the years
- 1864 – 1875: The early years
- 1875 – 1939: From slum clearances to the Great Depression
- 1939 – 1956: War damage and post-war recovery
- 1956 – today: New developments and acquisitions
The first Peabody estate was opened in Spitalfields in 1864, followed a year later by the Islington estate on Greenman Street. Consisting of four blocks arranged round a square courtyard, the architectural style of the Islington estate was Italianate, with yellow stock bricks used for the walls and slate tiles on the roofs. Each block was five storeys high, with shared laundries on the top floor. Railings separated the estate from the surrounding streets, and the gates were closed at 11pm each night.
Each flat contained between one and four rooms; it cost two shillings and sixpence (12½p) to rent a single room, and five shillings (25p) for three rooms. The flats were not self-contained, and there were shared sinks and lavatories on the landings, in a style known as 'associated dwellings'. This enabled the facilities to be inspected regularly for cleanliness.
Our architect for all the pre-1900 estates was Henry Darbishire. The trustees believed that improving the health of the tenants was important, and so blocks were separated from one another to allow good ventilation. The central space provided a safe playing area for the tenants' children.
Peabody was initially limited to building within an eight-mile radius from the Royal Exchange in the City of London. Once the trustees had identified suitable sites to purchase in order to build the early estates, Islington was followed by estates at Shadwell (1866), Westminster (1868, although later demolished), Lawrence Street in Chelsea (1870, pictured below) and Blackfriars Road (1871).
At Blackfriars the architect abandoned the long corridors used on the earlier estates, and grouped the flats round staircases. Usually there would be four or five flats per floor in each block. Rubbish could be put into chutes which sent it to ground level, and many estates had shared laundries and bathhouses. Coal stores and pramsheds were also provided.
Each of our estates had a resident superintendent and several porters. The superintendent dealt with applications for rooms, collected the rents, and enforced Peabody's rules. The residents were required to sweep the passages and steps every morning before 10 o'clock, and took it in turns to clean the laundry windows and the shared sinks and closets. Every resident had to be vaccinated against smallpox, and the superintendents kept records of all cases of infectious disease. Typical resident occupations included labourers, porters, coachmen, printers, bookbinders, messengers, hatters and tailors. At one time the residents included numerous police constables.
From 1875 onwards new housing legislation made London's first slum clearance schemes possible. The Metropolitan Board of Works carried out these clearances and sold the sites to a number of buyers, including Peabody. Purchasers were required to build new estates to re-house the slum dwellers.
As a result, our Whitechapel estate was built in 1881, Wild Street in 1882, Whitecross Street in 1883 and Clerkenwell in 1884. In addition, Peabody purchased extra land so that more blocks could be built on existing estates. This rate of development could not be sustained indefinitely, so after 1887 no new building was undertaken until the next century.
In 1900 our powers were updated and set out in a Royal Charter. This extended the area we operate in to a radius of 12 miles from the Royal Exchange. By this time improved public transport made it possible for tenants to live further from their workplaces.
Bethnal Green estate, built in 1910, was an early example of creating self-contained dwellings with their own lavatories, although shared bathhouses and laundries were still provided. Examples from this time can also be found at Fulham (1912), Vauxhall Bridge Road (1913) and Walworth (1915). Externally the blocks still resembled the ones built in the 19th century, except that red brick tended to be used rather than yellow.
Also, for the first time we built cottages as well as flats; these were at Herne Hill, now known as Rosendale Road, which was built between 1901 and 1905, and at Tottenham (1907, pictured below).
The First World War
By 1916, over 10% of our residents on, at that time, our 25 estates were ‘serving with the colours’. Memorials to commemorate the men who died in active service were subsequently constructed on four estates: Pimlico, Abbey Orchard Street, Old Pye Street and Rosendale Road.
New estate designs
From 1910 to 1947 Peabody's architect was Victor Wilkins, and the estates he designed in the 1920s were more ornate in appearance than those that were the work of Henry Darbishire. Hammersmith (1926, pictured below), designed by Wilkins, was the last of our estates to have a separate bathhouse.
The Cleverly estate in Shepherds Bush (1928) was the first to be built with a bathroom in each flat. Cleverly has the most elaborate exterior features of any of our pre-war estates, and was based on the style of Sir Christopher Wren.
A general economic downturn in the 1930s meant that plainer blocks had to be built to reduce construction costs. Separate bathrooms were abandoned for a while, and instead each new flat was provided with a covered bath in the kitchen. The estates at Chelsea Manor Street (1931, pictured below), Dalgarno Gardens (1934 to 1938) and Clapham (1936) are typical of this period.
The outbreak of the Second World War brought a halt to building. Enemy raids on London caused extensive damage to many of our estates. This began during the Blitz in September 1940 and continued to the V1 and V2 raids in the latter years of the war. Two hundred tenants and three members of staff were killed, with the greatest loss of life occurring at the Whitechapel estate on 8 September 1940 when nearly 80 people died.
A total of 110 blocks and 35 cottages were either completely destroyed or severely damaged, leaving a huge recovery programme to be tackled afterwards.
The Peabody Donation Fund Act, a private Act of Parliament, was passed in 1948. Its purpose was partly to give us the extensive powers we needed to complete our post-war recovery programme. The Act also extended Peabody's area of operations to a radius of 25 miles from the Royal Exchange.
The worst of the war-damaged blocks were either replaced by totally new blocks, or cleared altogether to reduce the density of the dwellings on some of the more crowded estates. Blocks that had suffered less severe damage were repaired according to the original design.
In a pioneering scheme, the Roscoe Street estate north of the Barbican, which had been particularly badly damaged, was completely cleared and additional land was acquired to extend the site. In the mid-1950s redevelopment began on an entirely different layout, which included two 13-storey tower blocks. They were the first blocks of that height in London which the planning authorities allowed to be constructed with a single staircase.
At the same time, we launched a modernisation programme to convert all the oldest estates to meet current standards, abolishing the shared facilities and making each flat self-contained. This was achieved by amalgamating some of the smaller flats so that there was an overall reduction in the number of dwellings in every block. New housing legislation enabled much of this work to be grant-funded rather than having to be paid for from our own reserves.
Although other organisations had been working in the same way as Peabody for many years, by the 1950s a number of them were struggling financially. Most were considerably smaller than us and did not have the same financial strength. We were able to acquire existing estates from these organisations and take over their work. The oldest was Parnell House in Bloomsbury, which had been built in 1850 by the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes. One of the newest was the Nags Head estate in Bethnal Green, completed in 1947 by the Nags Head Housing Society.
Other notable examples included the Shaftesbury Park estate in Battersea, which had been built in the 1870s by the Artisans' Labourers' and General Dwellings Company; the Carlton Square estate in Mile End, built in the 1850s by the Pemberton-Barnes family; the Ebury estate, built in the 1870s by the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company; and the Tachbrook estate in Westminster, built between 1935 and 1947 by the Westminster Housing Trust. Like our older estates, most of them needed extensive modernisation and improvement work.
The formation of the Housing Corporation in 1974 brought further changes. New funding opportunities enabled us to purchase land and build new housing to modern standards. Several of these developments have shop units at street level, and some of the estates include extra facilities such as sheltered housing for the elderly. In the 1990s Peabody acquired scattered properties for the first time, as well as three former council estates. 2011 saw the purchase of four estates from the Crown Estate: Cumberland Market in Camden, Millbank in Pimlico, Lee Green in Lewisham and Victoria Park in Hackney and Tower Hamlets.
A number of the older estates owned by Peabody are now Grade II listed buildings, because of their significance in the history of working-class housing. The listed estates include Blackfriars, Islington, Shadwell, Parnell House (pictured below) and part of Ebury. Many other estates are covered by local listings or are designated as conservation areas.