by James Wisdom
Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 2 (1981)
We take ordinary suburban houses for granted and rarely think of them as ‘architecture’. A large collection of building plans, submitted for local authority approval from the end of the 19th century to the present day, has been preserved on microfiche at the Civic Centre. These make it possible to identify the work of individual architects in Chiswick and also to date the work and find the names of the builders and developers involved. (This article was written at a time when research access to these building plans was possible.)
For houses built before the 1880s few such plans exist, so it is useful to compare them with contemporary houses in other parts of London. We are all familiar with the formal arrangements of the Georgian terraces around squares in the Bloomsbury area of London, and with the work Nash did in developing Regents Park. But in Park Village East and West, and even more so in St John’s Wood, we can see the process by which those formal terraces were broken up into smaller, more varied units and finally into semi-detached houses – the house plan that conquered the suburbs. In Chiswick we have two terraces of a similar date (the 1820s and ‘30s) in Heathfield Terrace and Grove Park Terrace where symmetrical pairs of houses are linked by recessed doorways. Stand in a certain position and these terraces appear to be a row of ‘semis’.
By the 1860s and ‘70s this style had developed into the fully-fledged semi-detached houses of Oxford Road and Cambridge Road – having the same basic ground plan, but with heavier, Italianate stonework trimmings. Many of the early houses on the Grove Park estate were built in this ltalianate style – it flattered the City merchants with its dreams of the city-states of Renaissance Italy.
Another of the dreams that house-builders incorporated came from medieval and Tudor building styles. A good group of these gothic houses in Chiswick stands in Grove Park Road at the southern end of Strand on the Green. Their gables, turrets, leaded glass and carved stone-work contrast sharply with the square lines of the classical houses. In this case we know that the architect was William Sargeant, who worked with one of the builders of the Grove Park estate, Richard Arundell.
A third source of the architectural dreams was the surviving traditional houses of English villages and small towns, known as vernacular architecture (from the Latin ‘vernaculus’ – domestic, native or indigenous.) This used styles and decorations which came from timber- framed buildings made with lath and plaster walls, or hung with tiles, so we can see the introduction of jettying (the overhanging upper floor), oriel windows, decorative plasterwork, mock timber-framing, large gables end-on to the street (as often happened in mediaeval towns) or dormer windows in the roof. Many of these devices appear in Bedford Park or in the houses designed by Palgrave & Co in Spencer Road.
At the same time as the romantic rural mood was being rediscovered architects were becoming interested in the other great mercantile civilisation of the cities of the Low Countries, which were built in brick rather than the stone of Italy. So some of the Flemish idioms were incorporated into the new burghers’ houses and the catch-all name of ‘Queen Anne’ was given to the style.
At the top of the scale these houses not only had the external appearance we have described as Italianate, Gothic, Vernacular or Queen Anne, but their internal plans varied according to the style of the house and the wealth of their occupants. At the other end of the scale the standard house plan was the terraced or semi L-shape, with a front room (or parlour), a back room (sometimes the kitchen), a hall and staircase along the side and a projection of kitchen, scullery and WC into the garden, with 3 bedrooms above. This plan was built in the 1860s and ‘70s on the Glebe estate with a classical appearance, in the 1880s and ‘90s in St Mary’s Grove or Ashbourne Grove with a more grandiose, rather baroque appearance, in the early 1900s on the Riverview estate with an Arts and Crafts appearance and also on the Chiswick Park Estate (Staveley Road etc) between the wars with white pebble-dash and a garage at the side.
H J Whitman was particularly successful in his use of the vernacular elements in his house designs. Some of his houses were built in Barrowgate Road in the early 1900s, for example nos 102, 45 and 49 and 126. He used casement rather than sash windows, with leaded glass, tile-hanging and porches from traditional house styles. He was capable of highly contrasting designs, however; his office building (1937) on the corner of Turnham Green is all white cement, elongated metal window frames and modernistic lines.
Walter Hearn was another local architect working in the same tradition. He built ‘Belfairs’ (1898) in Grove Park Gardens, the biggest house in the road, in red brick and white rough-cast with a grand porch, fine stained glass, bulbous chimneys and its own separate coach house with rooms above. Burlington Court, Spencer Road, is his work, as is the simple bungalow at No 47 Barrowgate Road (1920) and the similar family house which he designed in collaboration with George Chuter at No 2 Park Road North (1927).
After the First World War it was the Chiswick Park estate that was the scene of the greatest activity. There is work in Park Road by Percy Tubbs (No 29), one of the main promoters of the development who also built No 8 Chatsworth Road. The builder George Jackson, who built (and lived in) Wilmington Avenue to the designs of Mackintosh and Newman, was himself responsible for two bungalows in Park Road at Nos 152 and 91. The firm of Schofield, Morris, Hull and Co. built many houses in this area – for example, No 72 Staveley Road and No 114 Sutton Court Road. The plans of their houses was very similar to the most ubiquitous of the inter-war designs, that by G A Patterson (for example, No 11 Park Road).
There are two architects whose work merits closer attention. Arthur C Green was responsible for the row of houses with long front gardens in Chesterfield Road, No 6 being an example, and for the pair of houses at Nos 70 & 72 Barrowgate Road. By manipulating the vernacular elements, particularly the dormers in the roof, and by bringing the garage into the body of the house rather than tacking it onto the side, he has kept a strong rural atmosphere while building large family houses.
But the most inspired of our local architects was Richard Churchward, who lived in Spencer Road.
He built the block of garages in a mews off Sutton Court Road and the adjoining terrace along towards the junction with Park Road which has pretty jettied timber-framed sections filled with brick nogging (1928). Round the corner in Park Road is a modest white detached house which he designed in 1929, with proportions which owe something to Charles Rennie Mackintosh. A row in Staveley Road (No 25 etc) is rather ordinary and perhaps not so successful, but after all these vernacular cottages Kelvin Court in Spencer Road is a bit of a surprise with its stark, modernistic lines. His piece de resistance, however, is Nos 11 & 13 Spencer Road with tall gables, like the sails of a yacht, round portholes and white walls, contrasting with the yellow stained glass.