January 1929

Beguiling slogans

Healthy movements generally have an unhealthy habit of starting slogans that may be apt enough but are liable to abuse.

The movement towards better hygiene has one that has much to its credit but the magic words “light and air” have been much abused and out of their unintelligent use have arisen many things that we would do better without. Chief among these are the foolish “semi-detached” and “detached” obsessions that have done so much to destroy the dignity of our towns and Countryside.

I do not know who it was who first discovered the superior respectability of houses that do not rub shoulders with their neighbours but I imagine it was one of similar type to the inventor of “villa” applied to miserable little “snob hutches” as unlike the dignity of an Italian town house as it is possible to conceive. For it is really the snob who has attached himself to the hygienic crusade to shout the loudest for light and air where it is is not wanted and from motives little connected with hygiene.

There is no doubt that the average estate of small houses is entirely unsatisfying. Necessary economy and the land ramp have combined to impose a square plan upon each unit of the estate and the scale of man in two-storied habit has conspired to turn the square into a cube, which is the least pleasant architectural form. Multiply these cubes by the score, and either drill them like soldiers or scatter them out of a pepper pot and you have the effect of the average estate of small houses.

The terrace house has always provided the problem of how to give the individual access to the service quarters of each house without making a passage down the backs of the houses. In the old days this was met by the front area and basement kitchen, adequate for its time but not to be tolerated since we discovered that domestic servants are human beings.

I suggest there are two ways of getting over the difficulty. One is by forming “mews” at the back of house plots, where the ubiquitous garage might be built, and perhaps some workmen’s cottages from which the charladies of the estate might conveniently be found.

The other is by forming between each pair of houses either combined garages and covered ways to the back, or a partly covered space sufficient to shelter two cars and leave access to the backs of two houses.

The space over these covered portions would give valuable additional first-floor space and houses might become real “three or four” bedroom houses instead of estate agents’ “three or four”, which generally include two large cupboards blessed with a window.