ALLEN, AND NORRIS: the building firm that made Henry Norris rich

Last updated: Rewrite December 2008


A Word on Planning and Drainage Applications


During the time that Allen and Norris were building houses in Fulham and Wandsworth, if you were a builder wanting to build houses you had to make two separate applications for permission.  All planning applications within its boundaries went to the London County Council but they were just concerned with planning issues.  A separate application (called a drainage application) to lay pipes for water supply and sewage systems had to be sent to the borough in which your house was going to be built.  You could not build your house until both applications had been approved by the authority concerned.  Almost all of the documentation that went with planning applications to the LCC has been destroyed.  So my evidence for Allen and Norris’s building comes from their drainage applications, to Fulham Vestry which became the London Borough of Fulham, and the London Borough of Wandsworth.  Most of the documentation for those applications has been destroyed as well; but you can follow their progress by looking in the Minutes of Proceedings of the borough in question. 


Once the planning and drainage applications had both been given the OK, you were required to begin work on your house within six months; or apply for an extension.





William Gilbert Allen was born in 1869, the second of four sons in a typically large mid-Victorian family.  His father, George, had moved to London from Bedfordshire to play his part in the huge expansion of housing around the edges of the city that offered so many work opportunities.  He was a skilled bricklayer, who had completed an apprenticeship, and in due course all his four sons did their bricklaying apprenticeship with him.  George Allen moved around to where the market for his skills was keenest.  When William Gilbert was born the family was living in Kilburn; in 1881 it was in Walthamstow; but on the day of the 1891 census his father (now a widower) and younger siblings were living at 3 The Parade, Lillie Road, Fulham.  By this time, William Gilbert and his elder brother Morris had both left home.  They were both working as builders, in Fulham, but separately; as far as I can discover they never built so much as a wall together!  


William Gilbert Allen’s obituary in the Fulham Chronicle said that he set up in business in 1889.  That year, Fulham Vestry was in the process of firing the starting gun for a housing boom in its district: it was undertaking a programme of building sewers along all its main roads, and along roads that were being planned for but which had not had housing built on them as yet.  Fulham’s housing boom began in 1890.  Both Morris and William Gilbert Allen were involved from the start but on a relatively modest scale, at least at first, building two houses here, three houses there, mostly in the area around Kinnoul Road and Humbolt Road round the back of Lillie Road; perhaps their father was helping lay the bricks for them.


At the end of 1890, William Gilbert Allen married Ellen Julian.  Her father Richard was another skilled workman who had come to London to partake of the wages and fairly regular work offered by the housing boom; born in Cornwall, he was a carpenter.  On the day of the 1891 census William Gilbert and Ellen Allen were living in lodgings in Brondesbury but soon afterwards they moved to 35a Claybrooke Road, Fulham, next to Fulham Workhouse (now Charing Cross Hospital).  In late 1893, Ellen’s younger sister Emma duly married Francis (known as Frank) Plummer, also a carpenter.  Since I began to put my Life of Henry Norris on our website, Francis Plummer’s grand-daughter has contacted me and revolutionised my view of Allen and Norris by describing her father’s role in the firm.  However, she doesn’t  know exactly how Emma Julian and Francis Plummer met: did they meet because he was working for William Gilbert Allen?  Or did he start working for William Gilbert Allen because he had married William Gilbert’s wife’s sister?  Whichever way round it happened, Francis Plummer worked for William Gilbert Allen/Allen and Norris, almost certainly from before Allen and Norris was founded, to after both Allen and Norris had died, when he became one of the limited company’s directors.  He was also William Gilbert Allen’s usual opponent at billiards; an enthusiastic member of Fulham Amateur Boxing Club; and a shareholder, though never a director, of Fulham Football and Athletic Company which owned Fulham FC.


In 1895 Fulham’s property boom was in full swing, with large areas that had been farms and market gardens having housing built on them.  Morrison’s Farm, an area smaller than its name makes it sound, was one of these, situated on the west side of Wandsworth Bridge Road.  By late 1894 it was no longer a working farm.  The owner of the farm’s freehold was the Premier Land Company Limited and they had hired H A Rawlins, a surveyor based in the City of London, to draw up for them a plan of streets for housing on the whole farm.  In July 1895 Fulham Vestry approved plans submitted by Rawlins for a grid of streets: Clancarty Road, Beltran Road, Ashcombe Street, Narborough Street, Friston Road, Woolneigh Street, Settrington Road, and the west side of Wandsworth Bridge Road between Clancarty Road and Woolneigh Street.  What should have followed the approval of this was a series of drainage plans from Rawlins for houses to be built on the streets.  But the records show Rawlins only submitted one such plan, in October 1895, for nine houses on Wandsworth Bridge Road.  I don’t know exactly what happened next but Rawlins dropped out of the Morrison’s Farm picture altogether; and William Gilbert Allen dropped into it.


During the early part of 1895 William Gilbert Allen had been building rather as he had been in 1890: one house in Wingrave road, one house in Petley Road, three houses in Garvan Road.  But on 11 March 1896 one of the drainage application discussed by Fulham Vestry that evening showed him to be the sole building subcontractor on the Premier Land Company’s Morrison’s Farm Estate, which eventually ran to the construction of nearly 500 new properties - shops, flats, houses, offices and one workshop.


Taking on the building of a whole housing estate was a BIG step up for William Gilbert Allen: wasn’t he brave to take it? - the gamble but the opportunity of a lifetime.  I’m sure that William Gilbert Allen knew his own skills: bricklaying, an ‘on the job’ understanding of quantity surveying, skills in negotiation and in man management, some ability with the paperwork and a grasp of the legal requirements involved, a wife who understood the business’ demands, a willingness to work hard and long.  However, these would only get him so far and with a contract that size, it was time to get others involved.


One person William Gilbert Allen did not ask to get involved - either that or he asked and was turned down - was his elder brother Morris, who in 1895 was still building houses in Fulham and Hammersmith.  Perhaps they just couldn’t get on!

I’ve suggested that Francis Plummer was involved already.  Surely William Gilbert Allen wouldn’t have dreamed of bidding for the Morrison’s Farm contract without being able to rely on Plummer’s skills and experience as a carpenter and supervisor of other carpenters.  He was more than an employee, too - he was family, that was very important.  Employees might come and go but an in-law might be expected to stay.  Plummer’s grand-daughter has described how as the firm grew, Plummer moved from doing carpentry into a role that was more and more managerial, organising the work schedule and the whole supply-side.  He ended his career with Allen and Norris as manager-in-charge of all the firm’s outdoor staff.


I believe, though I cannot prove, that even before 1896 William Gilbert Allen may already have been employing William Clinch Poole as a sub-contracting surveyor and architect, designing the houses that Allen was building.  Certainly, the houses on the drainage application of 11 March 1895 were designed by Poole; and Poole continued to work for Allen and Norris in Fulham and Wandsworth until his death in 1911.  I’ll be writing more about Poole in my files on the houses and grandstands in Norris’ life.


So that was two people aboard who could contribute expertise and save William Gilbert Allen some of the hard work.  It’s clear, though, that Allen thought a third person was needed to make the maximum out of the opportunity afforded by Morrison’s Farm.  Allen’s skills were practical, out-door, hands-on.  Even before Morrison’s Farm the bureaucracy and administration of building will have been taking up time he could ill spare and taxing his understanding of the law and regulations.  I don’t know how much education he had, but he may have lacked confidence in his office and bureaucratic skills; and from what I have heard of him, he was not the kind of person to want to sit behind a desk all day, preparing documents.  He must have realised that now he was committed to Morrison’s Farm, tasks he’d just about been able to keep on top of before - visiting the sites, paying the labourers, keeping up with the new regulations, dealing with the bank, the lawyers, the architects, pursuing deliveries that hadn’t arrived when scheduled - were going to get too big for one person to handle any longer.  He was going to be employing men on a scale he’d never attempted before; and the daily crises of building two or three houses were going to be as nothing to the daily crises of building two or three hundred. 


In 1895 Allen seems to have still been running his business from his flat in Claybrooke Road.  He needed an office and men to put in it, but most especially he needed someone to manage that office and oversee the paperwork side of the business: someone to see that forms were filled in correctly and on time and to follow them through the decision-making process; to supervise those who paid the wages and the bills; to keep records and accounts; and to get to grips with changes in the law.  Not a lawyer, precisely, but someone who had an understanding of how the law worked, particularly the law on building, property ownership and landlord and tenant; who was not fazed by the continual flood of new legislation covering how and where houses could be built and who had time to study it; who was used to working in an office and had some managerial experience.  And someone, too, who was used to dealing with potential clients, who would be impressive and at ease with bank managers and representatives of the freeholders, local authorities and the Inland Revenue - all those members of the middle-classes that a builder has to have dealings with but may feel at a disadvantage with.  Enter Henry Norris - though as I’ve said in my Life of Henry Norris, exactly how he did enter is something no one now seems to know.  I have a theory.  It’s based on circumstantial evidence and centred on Lavender Hill south London.


How Allen met Norris - possibly


Lavender Hill, SW11 runs from Clapham Junction railway station eastwards towards Clapham Common and at the time of the Allen and Norris partnership it was in the London Borough of Battersea.  With William Gilbert Allen being born in north London and operating in Fulham; and Henry Norris born in Southwark, it doesn’t appear to be a likely base for either of them.  But for whatever reason (I still don’t know why), when William Gilbert Allen went into business as a builder he chose to work with a surveyor-architect and a firm of solicitors that were based there.  In contemporary local directories William Clinch Poole gave two addresses: 62 Belleville Road, which was probably his home; and Prested Road Clapham Junction, later known as Brighton Railway Approach.  Allen chose as his business solicitor Walter Morgan Willcocks, who was a partner in a firm which in 1896 had two branches, one in The Strand, and one at 31 Lavender Gardens, Lavender Hill but which by 1904 had moved to 240 Lavender Hill, above the Midland Bank.  Even Allen’s business’s bank was in Battersea: the London and County Banking Company’s branch at 217 Lavender Hill. 


So that’s Allen using professionals based in Battersea, in 1896.  At least he didn’t have to walk far to get from one to another.  Now my argument gets very speculative!  Henry Norris’ grew up next to Blackfriars Bridge, just across the river from the City of London with its insatiable demand for clerks; and until I started wondering how he met Allen, I supposed that the solicitors’ firm he worked for was in the City.  But now I feel he might have worked for Taylor Willcocks, firstly perhaps in their Strand office but maybe later in the Lavender Hill branch.  It’s quite easy to get to Lavender Hill from Blackfriars Road: it’s two stops on the railway from Waterloo to Clapham Junction, and then a short walk.  By the 1890s Henry Norris had moved west anyway - this is part of my argument.  In June 1892 he married a woman whose family lived in Battersea.   They set up home at 29 Rutland Street, south Lambeth, which was only one railway stop from Clapham Junction.  And by May 1896 when he was elected a councillor on the Vestry of St Mary Battersea, he and his wife Mary Jane were living at 2 Longbeach Road, a side-road off Lavender Hill. 


My argument, then, is that Henry Norris worked at Taylor Willcocks’ solicitors. I have to say that I have no direct evidence for this; not even his grandchildren know where he was employed before 1896.  But I think my theory looks good.  He will have joined the firm in a very junior position, probably when he left school in 1868 or 1869.  By the time William Gilbert Allen became a client, around 1890, he had been promoted; his job description on the 1891 census is hard to read but I think it’s saying he was a ‘managing clerk’.  In 1896, then, he had some experience of supervising other workers, possibly even of paying them; he knew about the law and how it worked; and he will have been used to dealing with his employer’s clients.  He was not a qualified solicitor but maybe he had experience of the kind of law William Gilbert Allen needed for his business - employment law, property law, conveyancing and building regulations; even if he didn’t have that experience, his 18 years working with the  law would have made it easy for him to acquire it.  


There is one other way in which William Allen and Henry Norris could have been brought together or even met each other: they both liked a good game of football.   They had both played (as amateurs) and they both watched.  The two of them could have met, or furthered their friendship, watching the team nearest to both Fulham and Lavender Hill - Fulham FC.


The Allen and Norris Partnership

Why a partnership?  Good question.  William Gilbert Allen’s own brother-in-law was not a partner in the firm, though he may have been offered that role but turned it down.  A partnership is a particular form of legal ownership, the opposite of a limited company in that it is owned by the partners, there are no shares, and if the partnership goes bankrupt, its creditors can take the partners’ personal property in lieu of money owed.  Solicitors firms are often partnerships, and who ever heard of one of those going bankrupt?!  But building firms are often partnerships too and they are also often on very rocky ground financially; as Allen and Norris were in the first few years.  If Francis Plummer was offered a partnership and turned it down, you can understand why.  But I think he was not; and Plummer’s grand-daughter is sure he wasn’t.  William Poole, too was never a partner and I’m sure never wanted to be; he had his own successful business and with Allen and Norris was always a sub-contractor.  So why a partnership between the builder Allen and the solicitor’s clerk Norris? - not the world’s most obvious business couple.  I don’t really know.  I can only suggest that Allen thought that he would have to offer something more than a mere job, to take Norris away from work which was secure if any job was, which he’d done well in and been promoted in.  No way could the building industry offer Norris that kind of security.  Allen could, though, offer equality - something that Norris would never get in a solicitor’s office while he remained an experienced but unqualified clerk: equality of risk, certainly but - if they got it right - equality of access to the huge prizes of London’s suburban property boom. 


Allen offered Norris a partnership in his building firm.  Norris accepted it, and never regretted it; his leap from comfort into the unknown not only made both men a fortune, it broadened Norris’ skills and provided a far better base for the political career he’d hoped for as a child.  Norris’ own view of it (looking back as mayor of Fulham) was that Allen’s offer and his own decision to take it, defined his life.  He hardly ever referred to his life before Allen and Norris, but on one occasion he described what he’d done before Allen and Norris as “drifting”; it’s almost as if he felt his life only really started the day he became a partner in Allen and Norris.


The partnership was set up in 1896, probably in the summer.  His grandchildren told me that Henry Norris’ solicitor employer did make a last-gasp attempt to get him to stay, offering (at last) to help him undertake the long process of qualifying as a solicitor, but Norris turned it down.  If the employer was Walter Morgan Willcocks, it seems he didn’t blame Henry Norris for leaving: the Allen and Norris partnership remained a client of his firm - probably an important one; and Willcocks himself remained a friend of both Allen and Norris. 


The name of the partnership makes it clear that, despite being the younger man, William Allen was the senior partner, and that does seem to be the way Henry Norris saw it, even when he was by far the more publically prominent of the two of them.  Because no documents concerned with the partnership survive, it’s impossible to tell whether Henry Norris was actually able to put capital into it; but I would suppose not - there was no money in his family, and he had a wife and maybe his mother too to support.  His skills and experience were what Allen was after.  The partnership and friendship lasted until Allen’s death (in 1931) and beyond and was based, I think, on the understanding that though they might be very different personalities, they were both equally necessary to the success of their business.   When mentioning his partner in speeches Henry Norris always spoke of William Allen with admiration and respect.  But William Allen was a doer, not a talker; he seems to have had no ambitions to become a public figure; so that (as with so many other enterprises he got involved in) it was Henry Norris who was the partnership’s public face. 


What did Allen and Norris build?


Not such a daft question, because if you called yourself a builder in the late nineteenth century there was quite a range of things you could build: office blocks, churches, warehouses, roads, railways and tubes, port facilities, town houses, blocks of flats, stately homes (not so many of those), department stores, workhouses, hospitals, pubs.  Allen and Norris focussed on the domestic-scale, rather than the large-scale.  Even there, though, you could specialise in refurbishment or building new; in shops rather than houses, blocks of flats rather than two-up-two-down; and in town-houses for the very rich, or town-houses for the moderately well-off; there was even (at least around London) beginning to be a market for suburban houses for the pretty well-off.  Allen and Norris concentrated on new-build only.  As far as I can discover they never did any renovation work; they did make alterations to some properties but only when they were half-way through building them.  They never built extensions to houses that were finished already, and they never built extensions to houses built by other firms.  They did build some shops - the local kind, built in terraces along a main road, with the shop at street level and living quarters above.  They never built shops for the sake of building shops; their shops were part of and right next to a group of houses that Allen and Norris were also building, an integral part of the whole estate.


Allen and Norris concentrated on two types of building for which there was a crying need in London: small houses in terraced rows, occasionally with a semi-detached house or a double-fronted one on the end of a row; and something which at first glance looked like a terraced house but was actually two flats, which Allen and Norris always called maisonettes.  In later years they built one housing estate that was rather more suburban in its feel, with more semi-detached houses, at Southfields in Wandsworth; but the firm’s last great venture, at Crabtree Lane in Fulham, continued the terraced house and maisonettes idea.


The idea of advertising the houses you were building in the local press in order to sell them was a new one in the 1890s, because the local press itself was still in its infancy.  In 1900 Allen and Norris began advertising their properties in Fulham Chronicle (though not in the West London Observer).  Their first ever advert (7 September 1900) detailed what prospective buyers or renters could expect from their maisonettes on Atalanta Street.  They all had a scullery, bathroom and separate WC; the top-floor flats had a total of five rooms, the ground-floor flats four.  Top-floor flats could be rented for 15shillings per week, ground-floor ones for 14shillings per week.  When you look at the maisonettes you see that they share a front path, but there are two narrow front doors instead of one wider one.  They also each have a share of the back garden.  One of Henry Norris’ grand-children explained to me the importance of the garden to her grand-father’s generation: a place to put the baby out in its pram in good weather was seen as good for its health.  And though people sent more to the local laundry than we would find possible or necessary now, they also washed clothes at home, so that the garden was a welcome additional space in which to dry the weekly wash.  Access to a garden from even the first floor maisonette would have been a selling feature when Allen and Norris were building.


In fact, Allen and Norris didn’t build all that many maisonettes.  Linda Osband in her book Victorian House Style quotes figures from 1911, I presume from that year’s census, that only 3% of English people lived in a flat; though whether that’s cause or effect I don’t know.

Like most ‘domestic’ builders, and most builders in Fulham, Allen and Norris stuck to houses.  Taking Niton Street (1899-1900) as an example, there was a mixture of houses and maisonettes in the street and you can think of the houses as two maisonettes put together: the scullery, the bathroom, the separate WC on the ground floor with a small hallway and two living rooms, and three bedrooms above.  This was still the pattern for Allen and Norris’ houses when they built the Crabtree Lane Estate (1911-16).  However, the Crabtree Lane group of houses had more tiling (see below) and various other features that Allen and Norris emphasised in an early example of the ‘advertising feature’ which was published in Fulham Chronicle just as the first properties on the estate were being finished, in September 1911.  In order to keep costs down (the advertising feature said) all the houses would be kitted out in identical fashion, with fittings bought in bulk.  They would have a stove, blinds on the front windows, tiling in several areas, mantelpieces in the main rooms, and a porcelain (not iron) bath (hot and cold running water could be assumed by prospective buyers by this time - there was no need to make a feature of it any more).


Allen and Norris built their properties with a very specific market in mind: “Clerks and Artizans” an advert by Allen and Norris in 1911 described them as - men with a family to house and support and, most importantly, a regular wage. Men who might have a little spare money to go to watch the local football team after work on a Saturday.  Men like William Gilbert Allen (the artisan) and Henry Norris (the clerk) had been. 


By way of checking out whether Allen and Norris’ properties were bought or rented by the buyers/renters they had in mind, I took a stroll down Settrington Road in 1901 via the 1901 Census details.  All heads of households had to tell the census taker what their main source of income was; they replied thus (though I have to say some of my allocations of jobs are fairly arbitrary).  Out of 100 households in the street:

clerks, including people who worked in shops, and for the Post Office          17

artisans - that is people who did skilled manual work for which they

would have had to serve an apprenticeship                                         35

of this group 10 worked with wood - carpenters, joiners, machinists; and I bet most of them worked for Allen and Norris.

managerial/supervisory - those who had started off as artisans but been

promoted                                                                                             8

unskilled workers - including some non-clerical civil servants, and

waiters and butlers                                                                              19

not working at all but living on investment income or a pension                     4 (3 widows)

Difficult to categorise - 5.  3 commercial travellers, 1 musician, 1 estate agent.


Only 3 of the 100 said they were self-employed.


As far as clerks and artisans, then, Allen and Norris got it pretty-much right: 52 out of the 100; plus the 8 who’d started off in those categories but had reached a higher level. 


It was interesting to see where they had all been born:

40 had been born in the area ruled over by the LCC

58 had been born elsewhere in the British Isles including places liked West Ham and Stratford that were London but not LCC; mostly in England

4 had been born outside the British Isles; one of these had been born in Ireland.

Actually that’s 102 people isn’t it?  I’ve counted two wives.

Only 1 person was living alone; every other head of household had at least one other person living with them and most had families. 


The most surprising feature of Settrington Road on 1 April 1901 was how many households there were in it.  All the properties in the road were houses: Allen and Norris did not build any of their maisonettes there.  Only 2 of the 54 houses, however, had one household living in them: all the others had two households.  Which meant that the person who had bought or rented the house from Allen and Norris had immediately sub-let - say, their top floor - to someone else, who presumably paid them rent.  Perhaps this was caution by the new owner or renter; but perhaps they needed the rent from the sub-let to pay their own mortgage or the rent owed to Allen and Norris. 


However, not everyone who bought or rented a house from Allen and Norris was that stressed for money.  As early as 1911 some at least of their houses were occupied by people whose style of living suggested they were a bit more than clerks and artisans.  I happened to find an advert from 1911 in the Times from the resident of 47 Crabtree Lane, in which she mentioned employing a cook.  It cost quite a lot to employ a cook, and they were hardly ever the sole servant in the house; before you took on a cook you would already be employing a general servant to do the heavy cleaning, and perhaps a housemaid to help with the lighter aspects of cleaning and answer the door, or a nursemaid to help if there were young children in the household.  So the woman at 47 Crabtree Lane was pretty well-off.


In 1901 the new residents of Settrington Road were taking steps to lighten the burden of their rent or mortgage.  As ex artisans and clerks themselves, Allen and Norris knew very well that finance was going to be the crucial factor when people were trying to decide whether they could afford one of the partnership’s properties.  Allen and Norris’ advertising gave a great deal of financial information, so that buyers or renters would have a good idea of what costs they would face, before they looked at a property or visited Allen and Norris’ offices for details.  I’ve already mentioned the cost of renting a maisonette in Atalanta Street in 1900.  A house in Niton Street in 1900 would cost £400 to buy outright, but you could also pay in instalments.  Even the houses-as-two-maisonettes were for sale, presumably to ‘buy-to-let’ clients, at £500 although the advert didn’t suggest you could buy those properties in instalments.  The advert doesn’t give any details of how much it would cost to rent one of the houses in Niton Street; perhaps they were not for rent at all, only for sale. 


The ‘advertising feature’ of 1911 for the Crabtree Lane Estate announced that every house on the estate would cost the same - £285 or £35 down plus payments of £3 per month for 16 years.  They would all be sold leasehold on leases of 99 years (a typical length of lease for the period); the leaseholder-owners would have to pay a ground rent of £24 per year to Allen and Norris as the owners of the freehold.  The advert didn’t suggest that any property on the estate could be rented and over the next two years, Allen and Norris’ adverts for the Crabtree Lane Estate continued to push the idea of owning your house rather than renting it, often having a by-line along the lines of ‘the prudent man doesn’t pay rent’ or, more simply, ‘why pay rent?’.

Renting out some at least of the properties they built suited Allen and Norris in the early years of the partnership, when they needed regular income.  However, rents had to be collected.  Very few of Allen and Norris’ tenants will have had a bank account so the rents were collected by people employed by the partnership to visit the tenants in their homes.  By the time they were embarking on the building of the Crabtree Lane Estate, Allen and Norris had decided to cut the partnership’s rent-collecting overheads by concentrating on selling properties instead.  However, Henry Norris’ grand-daughter has told me that at that Allen and Norris encountered a great deal of resistence to owning rather than renting, most people - even those who could afford to buy - preferring to rent.  The information gathered in Fulham by the 1915 ‘war census’ showed how often people moved house at that time: even four months after the original data had been collected, a large percentage of the young men identified by it had moved away from the address they had lived in during the summer.  It seems that renting your house or flat was seen then as the more flexible option; owning your own house was viewed as a restriction on your ability to move around in pursuit of work.



The London Building Act of 1894 set standards for all building work within the boundaries of the LCC.  It was enforced by the local authorities and the LCC itself.  Other legislation was also important, particularly the Public Health Act 1875.  The other big influence on building methods and standards at that time was technological advance.


Alan Johnson in his How to Restore and Improve Your Victorian House estimates that the cost of building one two-storeyed terraced house in London in 1900 was £150.  Allen and Norris, naturally, tried to keep costs down and profits up.  They had to do this without alienating potential clients by offering them something lacking the latest mod-cons; on the other hand, too many new and exciting mod-cons would push the house sale or rental price up and put off potential customers in an area of London where there was plenty of new property for house or flat-hunters to choose from.


Things you could expect from an Allen and Norris house or maisonette:


1) red brick.  William Gilbert Allen - an expert in brick - did use the London Clay brick that had been standard for Victorian housing in the capital, but only on the sides and backs of the houses.  The fronts of all properties built by Allen and Norris were built with fronts made of red brick.   Technological developments during the 19th century resulted in coal-fired brick kilns that could achieve temperatures sufficiently high to produce red brick that was much stronger and less flakey than had been possible before.  Its use became wide-spread, encouraged also by the fact that it was the brick of choice at Bedford Park, Turnham Green, whose houses inspired so much late 19th-century design.  Some parts of the red brick fronts of houses were covered with white stucco, to make a design feature of them; but it was red brick underneath.


2) a separate sewage link to the mains, per property.  See below for the attempt by William Gilbert Allen to hold the clock back about sewage pipes.


3) windows - of course!  But Allen and Norris used two different types.  Sash windows had been the standard option in window design and manufacture during the 19th century.  There was no technical reason why sash windows were so popular; sash windows were quite complicated to make and thus more expensive than casements.  Their use for most of the Victorian era was a fashion thing.  Allen and Norris followed the fashion for sashes in their houses on Morrison’s Farm, and also in the houses and flats they built on the side streets off Fulham Palace Road.  However, the houses in Bedford Park had brought casement windows back into fashion.  Henry Norris’ own house in Thurleigh Road Clapham was built with casement windows in 1897, and so were the partnership’s offices at 296-298 Wandsworth Bridge Road, between 1896 and 1898.   For the houses at Southfields and on the Crabtree Lane estate, Allen and Norris commissioned a new design in which all the windows were casements, not sashes. 


4) a solid-fuel kitchen range. 


5) bathrooms.  At least from the time of Allen and Norris’ first adverts in the local press (1900 for Lysia Street and Niton Street off Fulham Palace Road) their properties came with bathrooms as standard; and they all had both hot and cold running water.


6) W.C.s, and not ‘out the back’ either.


7) glazed tiling.  This was a design feature in the houses on Morrison’s Farm (1896-98) - tiled panels in the front porch.  However, adverts by Allen and Norris for their houses and maisonettes made a feature of the tiling they had installed inside.  In the houses on Niton Street (1900) the hallway was tiled.  By the time of the Crabtree Lane Estate (1911-16) the amount of tiling had increased, perhaps in response to customer demand: the floors on the ground floor, the scullery walls and the surrounds of all the fireplaces were tiled, for easier cleaning.


8) some electricity.  In their advert for their maisonettes in Niton Street (1900) Allen and Norris made a point of the fact that they would all have an electric front door-bell.  By 1911, the houses on the Crabtree Lane Estate were being built with electric lighting circuits as well.


9) no cellars.  According to Linda Osband, one effect of the 1875 Public Health Act was that builders became very reluctant to build cellars.  Allen and Norris were no exception.  The nearest they got to them were the semi-basements in some of their properties on Wandsworth Bridge Road. 


10) no attics.  Although Bedford Park had set a trend of steeply-sloping roofs with attic rooms inside them, with one exception no properties built by Allen and Norris had an attic.


11) tiles on the roof, rather than slates - at least on the Southfields and Crabtree Lane estates where the design of the roof featured patterned tiling on the roof and also along the top of the bay windows across to the top of the porch.  Adverts for properties at Crabtree Lane emphasised the heating-retaining qualities of tiles as opposed to slates.  This was not a feature chosen for cheapness. The adverts said that tiles were actually more expensive for Allen and Norris to buy.  An expert roofer has also told me that they are much more expensive to instal as well (if you do the job properly, that is), because they are heavier than slates, so that if they are not to cause the roof to buckle, their timber supports have to be much stronger. Allen and Norris seem to have done the job properly, so the cost of the roofs would have been more than if they had used slate.


I discuss the design of the properties built by Allen and Norris in my files on their architects.  You may already have gathered, though, that it’s almost impossible to speak about the designs they used without continually referring to the Bedford Park estate.





Copyright Sally Davis December 2008