By Gillian Clegg, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 12, 2003
That charming little enclave of Victorian cottages between Duke Road and Devonshire Road, Glebe Street and Fraser Street has become one of the most desirable, not to say expensive, places in which to live, which is somewhat ironic since the houses were built as homes for Chiswick’s less affluent. The area is known as the Glebe Estate since the field on which it was built was ‘glebe land’ – land which had been formally assigned to the local church as part of the incumbent’s benefice in 1840.
The Ordnance Survey map of 1865 shows it as just an open field, bounded on the west by Duke’s Avenue (the carriageway to Chiswick House built in the 1820s by the Duke of Devonshire), on the east by Chiswick Field Lane, which later became Devonshire Road; on the north by the grounds of Linden House (now Linden Gardens) and on the south by Chiswick New Town, a development of workers’ cottages built in the 1820s and replaced by council flats in the 1950s (see Journals 6 and 9).
In 1869 the glebe field was made available for building. An indenture drawn up on the first day of May 1869 shows that the Reverend Lawford William Torriano Dale, vicar of St Nicholas Church, Chiswick, acting as lessor, with consent from the field’s owners the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and St Paul’s Cathedral assigned the lease to Alexander Fraser of Campden Hill, Kensington who was a civil engineer, Joseph Quick of Clapham and his son, also Joseph Quick, of Sumner Street, Southwark (both also civil engineers) and George Reckitt of Sydenham Hill, Esq.
Fraser Street, Reckitt Road and Quick Road are named after these developers whereas Glebe Street reflects the fact that the land formerly belonged to the church, Dale Street is named after the vicar of the day, Duke Road and Devonshire Road after the Duke of Devonshire. The derivation of Binns Road is less certain. One source suggests it was named after the foreman who oversaw that part of the development, another that it is named for William Binns Smith, a solicitor with an interest in the Estate.
Building work had started by 1871, presumably initially in Glebe Street and Dale Street,since these are the only road to appear in the rate books for that year. Fraser Street, Binns Road and Duke Road first appear in the rate books in 1878 and Quick Road not until 1881. A total of 470 houses had been built by 1901. The developers appear to have disposed of the houses as soon as they were built, all of them – despite the date they were completed – on 99-year leases dating from 1869. A few were leased to the people who occupied them, but the majority were leased by landlords for renting out. Many landlords had multiple properties. In 1878, for instance, Mr Hayes was the proprietor of nos 1-20 Binns Road and five houses in Duke Road. Many of the houses were divided into two or even three tenements.
The Glebe Estate was quite self-contained. It had shops in most roads (usually in the corner properties), its own public house, The Bolton Hotel (now 81 Duke Road, a private house), a mews for stabling horses, and a school for boys, girls and infants. The school was opened in 1877 between Glebe Street and Binns Road (Binns Terrace and Glebe Terrace now occupy its site). The boys and girls transferred to the Hogarth Schools later in the century but the Glebe School for infants did not close until 1926. The Chiswick Mission in Fraser Street (now the Chiswick Christian Centre), which catered for the needs of Chiswick’s very poorest, was built in 1890 on land acquired from the Estate’s developers.
Who moved into these new houses? The Census of 1881, when around 388 of the houses were built, shows that the new occupants were mostly young families, the heads of the households being between 20 and 40 years old. Far fewer heads of household were between 40 and 60 and only four were over 70.
What did they do? They were mainly skilled or semi-skilled workers, by far and away the most common occupation listed in the Census returns is ‘carpenter/joiner’. Over 75 of these lived on the Glebe in 1881, many more than the next category ‘labourer’ (39). There were also bricklayers, gardeners, house decorators, plasterers, french polishers, several policemen and a muffin maker. Of the women who worked, just over 30 were laundresses and 16 were dressmakers.
Where had they come from? Only ten heads of household had been born in Chiswick but very many had been born elsewhere in London or Middlesex. Some came from further afield – the Home Counties, East Anglia, the north of England – and nine heads of household were born in Scotland. Although we know that many Irish people came over in the 1840s to work in Chiswick’s market gardens, they don’t appear to have lived on the Glebe Estate. In 1881 only two heads of household had been born in Ireland, one of these was Daniel O’Connor of 10 Sydney Cottages, Binns Road and he was an Inspector of the Metropolitan Police.
Very few houses were lived in by just a married couple. In 1881 the majority of the houses contained between five and seven people, usually one family, but often with one or two boarders as well.
Thomas Turner, whose occupation is listed as ‘letter carrier at Turnham Green’, for instance, lived in Glebe Street with his wife, three children and no less than six boarders. Over 40 houses contained more than nine people, the most crowded being a house in Dale Street, let as three tenements and home to 16 people. The houses were still home to many people in the 1920s, one resident born on the Glebe told us that she lived in a house with 17 others. Children apparently slept three to a bed and every room was used for sleeping.
What did the houses look like?
Although there is a seeming uniformity about the houses on the Glebe Estate, a closer examination shows there are very many different styles.They were all built of plain brick, which was never painted, and the roofs were slate. The sash windows were wooden with one bar and the window frames and doors were painted brown or darkish green. The front door had two frosted glass panels with a black knocker and letterbox (the front door of No 29 Dale Street is thought to be an original). The pathways leading up to the houses were tiled in tomato red and pale navy (as at 49, 51 and 53 Dale Street). Iron railings and hedges separated the house from the street and iron poles separated one house from another. The front gate was iron with a star design. The gates, railings and poles were taken away in World War II.
There were normally three bedrooms upstairs (although some houses had four), and downstairs was the parlour at the front of the house, with the kitchen/living room behind. This contained the range for cooking and heating and was thus where the family tended to congregate, leaving the parlour for high days and holidays. Off the kitchen/living room was the scullery, containing a Belfast sink and perhaps a copper for washing clothes. The loo was outside. Lighting was by gas mantles on the wall above the fireplace in every room except the hall. Open fires provided heat, with coal kept initially under the stairs, but later in sheds in the back garden.
Early 20th century
There are still people on the Glebe Estate who were born there and have lived there all their lives. They remember it as a peaceful place and very neighbourly. There were no cars to interfere with the games of hopscotch, football and spinning tops which the young played in the middle of the streets. The first cars appeared in the streets in the 1950s and were objects of great curiosity to the local children. The mews in Glebe Street were rented out as stables for local costermongers and others, but some people kept horses in the back garden. If there was no side or back entrance the horse would be taken right through the house. Fullers Brewery, Cherry Blossom and the Hogarth Laundry were the main employers of the Glebe residents.
Devonshire Road had a great many shops but there were also shops on the corners of other roads and by the Bolton Hotel – bakers, tobacconists, off-licences, a shoe shop, a haberdasher and a fish shop.There was a butcher called Canns near the Duke of York pub with its own slaughterhouse. The sweetshop on the corner of Quick Road and Dale Street later became a grocer when it was run by the grandparents of comedian Mel Smith. Some people transacted business from their front rooms – a family called Young sold greengroceries from their home next to the Duke of York; Browns on the corner of James Street (in Chiswick New Town) sold winkles and shrimps. The dairyman ladled milk from an urn into customers’ own jugs. Barrow boys also plied their trade: a man would come round with a large block of salt and chip off however much was required, a Mrs Huxley with a barrow full of dead rabbits which she would skin on the spot, and every Sunday the muffin man would come round carrying his wares on his head and ringing his bell.
A Saturday night treat in winter was to go and buy a penny (2.5p) worth of chips from a barrow outside the Duke of York. The chips were cooked on a fierce fire which was so nice and warm that the children hoped they wouldn’t be served too quickly. On some summer days people danced in the streets to the sound of a barrel organ. The public house that preceded the Manor Tavern had a large courtyard used as a boxing ring for the boys. Chiswick New Town was not so salubrious as the Glebe Estate and the Princess of Wales pub in Wood Street was nicknamed the War Office because its clientele were always fighting!
Then came World War II. The iron garden gates, railings and poles were removed, commandeered for making war weapons, chickens were kept and Anderson shelters were put up at the top of the gardens. One resident claims that she slept in her Anderson shelter every night for nine months. She remembers it as being very damp and not very comfortable since 11 people slept in a shelter designed for four. On 10 September 1940 a bomb fell on 44 Quick Road and a bomb in Duke Road on 8 October 1940 killed two people, injured eight and damaged property. A parachute mine in Ellesmere Road on 25 September 1940 caused immense damage in Chiswick from Barrowgate Road as far as Cranbrook Road and broke windows on the Glebe Estate. Many incen¬diary bombs fell in gardens and streets and onto some roofs and residents were expected to extinguish the fires using buckets of sand or stirrup pumps which, according to one resident, were ‘absolutely useless’.
In the 1950s the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the freeholder of the houses on the Glebe Estate, began selling off its freeholds all over London. Tenants on the Glebe were given the right to buy their houses, which some did – one family purchased their house in Quick Road for £400 in 1950 using the husband’s demob money of £50 to pay the deposit. Many tenants, though, were unable to raise a mortgage because of their age, and continued to rent.
In the early 1970s freehold houses on the Glebe were offered on the open market and the potential of these pretty, but often now dilapidated, cottages, attracted a new clientele, the young and upwardly mobile. Renovation work began in earnest. The small, dark and pokey downstairs rooms were lightened by knocking down the wall between the two main rooms to give a through room with windows at each end, the upper storeys being supported with a lightweight RSJ. The original houses of course had no bathrooms and the ways these have been added are many and various. Usually the smaller of the three bedrooms has been converted or the bathroom has been tacked on to what was once the scullery. Upward extensions above the lean-to have also been built and lofts converted. Some imaginative owners have rejigged the whole arrangement downstairs by transposing the kitchen to overlook the street and opening up the space behind to give a fair sized living room, overlooking the garden. Brickwork has been painted, new front doors, windows and front fences added. The slate roofs have been replaced with synthetic slate or tile.
Because the houses on the Glebe Estate are not ‘listed’ and the Estate itself is not a designated conservation area there are no restrictions on what can be done to the properties. There are some external improvements, though, that don’t improve: false bow windows, for example, bottle glass and over-large extensions. These detract from the character of the house and thus from the architectural integrity of the Estate generally. Perhaps it is now time to preserve the unique charm of these Victorian terrace cottages from the modernisers’ worst flights of fancy by campaigning to have the Glebe Estate made into a conservation area.
1881 Census, an indenture, Rate Books and The Making of a West London Suburb (Leicester University MA thesis) by James Wisdom, in Chiswick Local Studies, as well as conversations with residents on the Glebe Estate, particularly Mary O’Sullivan who was especially helpful.
Gillian Clegg lived on the Glebe Estate for 17 years. She bought her two-bedroomed cottage in Quick Road in 1982 for £54,000. She sold it in 1999 for £260,000 and its value is now estimated to be between £425,000 and £450,000.