In theory there is a lot of time to write when you’re on maternity leave but I’m an archival historian and… well… babies and archives just don’t mix. So it was a blessing when Thomas Walker at Historic Newspapers sent me a little gift box of original Victorian newspapers. I spent several very happy hours reading the classifieds as if I were seeking a Maid-of-all-Work with excellent references, a fabulous new investment opportunity, or a larger residence with more space for my growing family – perhaps this one:
The Times, Monday June 12, 1854:
CLAPHAM-COMMON, North Side. – A capital FAMILY MANSION, with Land, to be LET on LEASE, for 21 years: containing a large entrance hall, with handsome staircase, dining room 26 feet 6 by 20 feet 6, drawing room 26 feet by 18 feet 4, breakfast and school rooms, seven best bed rooms, three dressing rooms, four upper bedrooms, ample domestic offices, with housekeeper’s room, &c.; stabling for four horses, two coach-houses, with living rooms over, brew-house, &c.; pleasure garden, well stocked with flowering shrubs, two greenhouses and grapery, extensive lawn, with three fields and shrubbery round the whole, summer-house and cart stable; also a kitchen garden and field, farm-yard, with barns, piggeries, &c., comprising altogether 12 acres. The premises are well supplied with spring water, have dry soil, on rising ground, with extensive views of the metropolis and its suburbs, and are within 30 minutes’ drive of the Houses of Parliament. Rent £330 per annum, including use of fixtures. Early possession if required. Apply to Mr. W. J. Loat, Church-buildings, Clapham-common.
How marvellous, all this for £330 per annum! Of course this would be a lot more in today’s money. Using a simple purchasing power calculator [Measuring Worth.com], this family mansion would cost more like £24,200 per annum today – perhaps if I give up eating and heating then. Then again, it’s probably more accurate to use a labour or income value calculator. These estimate the relative wage or income needed to buy a particular commodity (in this case a year of renting this fabulous house). These calculators suggest the annual rent would be more like £210,000 to £298,000 today. It’s a tricky thing, relative value.
Of course this is a very large house with lots of land and fabulous aspects. It is also overlooking the 220 acre Common in Clapham, which in 1854 was very much the country retreat. This photograph from sixty years later shows ‘Church Buildings’ to be among a row of terraced Georgian houses, which with basements look 4 to 5 storeys high.
However, it’s not clear whether Mr Loat is the exisiting householder, freeholder, member of staff or a land agent. If he was the latter then ‘Church Buildings’ might not be the house in question. Other houses along the North Side were just as grand , if not grander. According to Ideal Homes, ‘Springwell’ and ‘Northside’, depicted below, were large houses, probably named after the original spring well off North Side which provided the parish water supply. Both houses were still standing at the time of this lettings notice in The Times in 1854 but were eventually sold for development in 1885.
Another picture which gives us an idea of the substantial nature of these residences is ‘View from Mr Akerman’s House’. An engraving from 1790, this depicts the ‘sister houses’ that stood on the north side of the Common opposite Battersea Rise. The house on the left, No.113 North Side, was between 1774 and 1784 actually John Walter’s house, founder of The Times newspaper.
The first stage coach service between Clapham and Gracechurch Street had been established in 1690, braving the highwaymen of the then wild marshland Common. Connected to town, notable people such as Samuel Pepys started to decamp from London to reside in the ‘noble’ residences springing up in what was already being described as a ‘sweate place’ by John Evelyn. It was some time between 1712 and 1720 that the first of the fine Georgian houses began to appear on the north side of the Common. (It is rumoured that Captain Cook lived at No.22 North Side.) The Common was drained not long after in 1760 and constantly improved across the next century – enabling Thackery to write that ‘of all the pretty suburbs that still adorn our metropolis there are few that exceed in charm Clapham Common.’ In the later eighteenth and early nineteenth century many grand mansions were built around the village, especially fronting the Common. Famous residents included William Wilberforce, Granville Sharp and Zachary Macauley of the Clapham Sect, also known as the Clapham Saints – Church of England social reformers well known for their role in the campaign to abolish the slave trade. Here they rubbed shoulders with their opponents as many of the substantial estates nearby and around the fringes of Surrey and Kent were financed on plantation wealth. Merchant-planter-ship owner and MP George Hibbert had a house in London and No.31 North Side (now replaced by the Trinity Hospice). Hibbert had become an MP to better voice his pro-slavery views and tried to postpone the Slave Trade Act in his maiden speech. He had five sons and nine daughters with his wife Elizabeth, so he wouldn’t have been rambling around his mansion by himself!
This is what happens when I read classified advertisments from years gone by. It’s like pulling on a thread. Old newspapers have a very particular smell. I’m sure lots of historians must be addicted to that smell…
P.S. Historic Newspapers’ archive includes many regional titles as well as the big names from here and the U.S.. Readers of The Victorian Vestibule are welcome to use the voucher code: 15TODAY
The Times, Monday June 12, 1854. (Original copy courtesy of http://www.historic-newspapers.co.uk/)