30 November 2012

Georgian Terraces #1: Paradise Street

The Georgian Terrace was, as Harry Mount states, 'the most popular building in Britain'.** They were an excellent choice for expanding towns, box shaped and placed side by side they took up little room, but there was still often space for expansion to the front and to the rear. Birmingham utilised this to a high degree, building shops and even manufactories on the front of grand terraces, and ever expanding onto the rear gardens with manufactories, warehouses and with even more dwelling houses.

Terraces were built in a remarkably similar way across the country; take the houses on Paradise Street, above.These were brick terraces from about the 1760s; there is a basement accessed through a gate in the railings, and then the ground floor entrance is reached by a short flight of steps. The ground floor sashes (windows) are slightly shorter than those of the first floor, and the attic sashes are much shorter again; the attic was usually where the servants would sleep, and their working quarters (the kitchen and wash-room etc) would be in the basement. The roof is neatly concealed by the parapet which is itself decorated with the cornice. Whatever the individual style of the terrace they followed these basic principles.

The terraces in the photograph were also captured in Samuel Lines Senior's late 1840s painting of the area which is now Victoria Square. You can see them opposite the Town Hall, where they stood till they were replaced by a new Post Office building in the 1870s.

Paradise Street was lined, mostly, with these smart middle-class terraces, in 1830 the street was;

'the residence [...] of several highly respectable professional gentlemen, as well as the establishments of some eminent merchants and manufacturers; among the latter, are the bronze, chandelier, lamp, lustre manufactory, and gas apparatus concerns of Mr. T. C. Salt, who has also an establishment in London. Mr. Mole also has a manufactory in Paradise-street, of bronzes, or-molus, &c. Some recent productions of this gentleman, do him great credit; his models from celebrated engravings, and the fine casts from them in bronze, or-molu, &c. are beautifully executed, and are a novelty in the market. [...] There are several other respectible gentlemen in this street, who manufacture plated goods, and coach harness brass mountings; here also, is the extensive manufactory of Papier Mache and japanned articles, of Messrs. Small and Son.'*
Even in a street filled with these 'highly respectible professional gentlemen' the spaces that lay behind the terraces were packed with manufactories, whilst maintaining genteel frontages. This was one of the attractions of the terrace, they could be adapted for many different purposes and by different classes. Houses for the wealthier were larger, they had more floors and would often have more detailing and decoration. The houses photographed were relatively plain, but over the road were some slightly smarter terraces, left, with bay fronts set with sashes. The line of terraces here shows that the streets were not always uniform in appearance; wealthier individuals could build their houses as a status symbol to stand out from those around. It all depended on whether the houses were built in a single block by one developer or whether the land was sold off piece by piece. The centre of Birmingham was generally always a mish-mash of styles, but as houses were built on virgin land the styles tended to be more uniform in design. Only fast growing towns could achieve this look.

The raised section in front of the terraced houses, above, would have been produced when the foundations were built; the land for the 'terrace'*** would have needed to be flattened and the excess earth placed in front of the new buildings. This, on Paradise Street, was kept raised from the road and an iron railing* was added for safety. The road itself was paved with wooden blocks.*

Being the most popular form of building in the period this blog covers, I will be looking at many more of Birmingham's absent Georgian terraces; as well as the cresent, which was a row of terraced houses in a curve, and the square, which was terraced houses at right-angles. The terraced house also included a great deal of additional design, including doors, knockers, fanlights, porches, boot scrapers, and, of course, the ubiquitous sash window.

* References on request.
** Harry Mount, A Lust for Window Sills (2008)
***The word 'terrace' comes form the flat land (often made flat) that the houses were built on, so houses at stages aren't true terraces even though they may join in a line.

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