Tag Archives: London homes

House names

In Victorian days addresses often comprised of just the individual’s name, the terrace where they resided or house name and the town. The New View of London reported in 1708 that ‘at Prescott Street, Goodman’s Fields, instead of signs, the houses are distinguished by numbers’. As London’s population grew the necessity of having house numbers became apparent. No more could one’s income or status in society be denoted by whether you resided in a terrace, villa, cottage or lodge.

[L]ook up when travelling down a Victorian street in London and you could come across these gems of names: Foo Choo Villas, Cambridge Road, Turnham Green; Nutty Hag, Clapham Road, Wandsworth; or Wee Nest, Ensley Road, Ealing.

Dr. Laura Wright of Cambridge University, herself hailing from Barnet has written a research paper about these wonderfully evocative house names and has classified them according to their derivation.

Victorian house builders would give their developments appealing names adding villa cottage or lodge according to the size and quality of the development.

Transferred place names, these might be places that people would aspire to visit:
Merock, a Norwegen beauty spot
Aberdeen Villas

Nostalgic rural with the burgeoning industrialisation of Britain some would look back fondly to the rural past, forgetting the grind that arable work entailed:

Commemorative usually named after a recent victory and certainly not one of Britain’s defeats:

Literary figures many from Sir Walter Scott notels:

Upwardly mobile:

Latest fads often again from popular novels:

Pick and mix names jumbled up, a bit like the later Dunromin:

Britain’s towns and cities still contain hundreds of thousands of Victorian houses, ranging from grand town houses to terraces of workers’ cottages, from Italianate villas to Gothic Revival extravaganzas.

Dockmaster’s House

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building which you might have passed without noticing. It seems hardly credible now that this late Georgian gem was, in the 1960s, saved from redevelopment.

The nearby St. Catherine’s Dock was the first of London’s docks to be gentrified, Dockmaster’s House was used by Taylor Woodrow as their site office for that project.

[L]ord Snowdon, who was living across the River in Rotherhithe campaigned vigorously for its preservation, helped by the support of Raine Legge of the GLC. Peter Drew the project manager for Taylor Woodrow, realising the quality of his ’office’ building would later use Dockmaster’s House as his home.

Dockmaster’s House and Customs Offices were designed by D. A. Alexander in 1811-1813 were intended for senior dock officials of The London Docks which had opened in 1805.

Originally overlooking the main maritime entrance between the River Thames and Wapping Basin. Wapping Pier Head as it was known was closed and with its closure the waterway was filled in and is now a garden.

The Dockmaster was responsible for running the dock on a day to day basis and so living next to the dock was essential. The position involved: directing the movement of cargo and vessels; keeping accounts of quantities and types of goods; recruitment and paying staff; inspecting the dock; and ensuring the safety of workers. The building was designed with its occupant’s responsibilities in mind. It has a room which was used as an office facing the entrance to the dock from where the Dockmaster would oversee and supervise activities. The house also has a bow front facing the river which allowed the Dockmaster sight of passing river traffic.

Pier Head is approached from Wapping High Street, built in 1570 it once had 36 pubs catering for sailors, dockers and assorted trades linked to the thriving shipping industry. The Dockmaster’s House, like the dock is an important reminder of the international prominence of London’s docks and the Thames as a busy commercial thoroughfare.

Close by to Dockmaster’s House is the Town of Ramsgate public house which was formerly called the Red Cow. Renamed after the Kentish fishermen who landed their catches at Wapping Old Stairs behind the pub.

Here convicted pirates bodies were taken after execution and tied to the stake at the bottom of the stairs, and left for three tides to wash over them. Captain Kidd, the naval officer turned pirate, suffered exactly that fate here in 1701. In 1688 ’Hanging’ Judge Jeffries, he of the Bloody Assizes was captured in the pub’s cellar trying to escape after the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Catford’s Camelot



The Excalibur Estate is threatened with demolition, but unlike an Arthurian legend there are no Knights of the Round Table galloping to this fair maiden’s rescue.

[I]n a part of Catford that few cabbies would know, or travel to, against the odds, there is the last surviving estate in London of post-war prefabricated houses (‘prefabs’), some 187 two-bed roomed homes with St. Mark’s a prefabricated church, which were built for bombed out Londoners and given road names such as Pelinore or Mordred by someone in the planning department all those years ago with a liking for Arthurian tales.

After the Second World War 150,000 prefabs were built across Britain. Created to accommodate homeless families with young children, these ‘palaces for the people’ as they were called at the time were synonymous not only of comfort and luxury but also a feeling – not lost on the demobbed armed forces – of freedom. The Excalibur Estate in Catford South East London is still one of Britain’s largest estates of prefabs. Erected in 1946-47 by German and Italian prisoners of war, who were in no hurry to return home to war ravished Europe, these detached houses with their own gardens, bathroom and the luxury of a separate indoor toilet were the solution to the chronic housing stock shortage that existed after the end of the Second World War.

Plonked on top of pre-plumbed concrete slabs, these homes could be built in a day, and were only expected to last between 10 and 15 years, by which time the Brutalist tower block of the 60s were expected to accommodate these once homeless families.

By the Seventies the Brave New World of modernist architecture was starting to crumble, along with some of the buildings. Many people found that they hated living in high-rise blocks, no matter how much the council and social planners told them how lucky they were.

Tower blocks and even whole estates were demolished while the remaining prefabs, and the residents, with their little gardens stayed put. They remained as an uncomfortable reminder to planners that modernisers don’t always have all the answers and homes need to be more than boxes stacked one upon another, when the only way to see the sky is to walk to the local municipal park.

With 12 acres of valuable land the property developers are now showing an unhealthy interest in the Excalibur Estate and are proposing to squeeze 400 new homes onto the plot.

After years of neglect by Lewisham Borough Council, who own all but 29 of them, these houses are deemed unfit for human habitation and in the lingo that only local authorities can dream up “these houses are subject to a Sustainable Community Strategy”, demolition to you and me.

Only six have been granted protection from destruction, but these survivors should prove to be a nice little earner for their owners, filmmakers love them, Only Fools and Horses and BBC’s How We Built Britain have featured them.

The Twentieth Century Society (where were they when Centre Point’s fountains were removed?) wants to preserve as much as possible for students to study the design and the estate’s demography, while the pressure group The Worried Tenant’s Group, just want to live there in peace.

The Excalibur Estate’s prefabs might not be the prettiest of dwellings, nor situated among leafy north London’s liberal elite in Barnsbury, but they are a remaining example of how we built homes ‘Fit for Heroes’.