Freshwater Place

Freshwater Place1

These houses were on the site of the present Octavia House, in Homer Street, were bought by Ruskin and managed by Octavia Hill. She described them when she took them over in this way:-

`The plaster was dropping from the walls. On one staircase was a pail to catch the rain that fell through the roof All the staircases were perfectly dark, the banisters were gone, having been used as firewood by the tenants. The wash-house, full of lumber belonging to the landlord, was locked up; thus the inhabitants had to wash their clothes, as well as cook and sleep in their small rooms. The state of the drainage was in keeping with everything else. One large but dirty water-butt received the water laid on for the houses. it leaked, and for such as did not fill their jugs when the water came on, or had no jugs, there was no water'

From a watercolour in
Westminster City Archive

The Story of the Rabuffi Family in Ranston Street

By good fortune we have the recollections of a young girl from a fly of exactly the sort of 'deserving poor' for whom Octavia Hill hoped to help by providing decent, affordable housing near to their work.

Margherita Green (nee Rabuffi) was born on 8 August 190'1, at 68 Mill Lane, Hampstead and lived in the Ranston Street area from 1901-1912. Her father, Umberto Rabuffi, was born in Milan, came to England in 1897 speaking very little English. He worked in Italian restaurants on the South Coast and in London. Living in Soho, he was caught one day in a heavy downpour and romantically offered his Effie Houle, a young court dressmaker.. Ethel (Effie) had been born in St John's wood in 1881 and brought up in Kilburn Park Road.

They married in March 1911, living first with her parents and had a daughter called Margherita Yolande Marea, who was to write many years later the memoir on which all this is based. In 1903 the family moved to Crawford Buildings, Homer Street.

These were industrial dwellings, five storeys high with I2 lavatories each side of the landing, a stone staircase in the centre and commercial laundry facilities for each landing of four flats. The hflt consisted of a central living room with a bedroom leading off on either side. There was a playground on the roof set around the chimney pots, with high  railings curved inwards to protect the children. Outside each flat was a trap flap in the floor which led to a  chute to send the rubbish to the basement. Lots of things were lost by children dropping things down the chute.

A second girl was born in 1903 and this time was given the severely English names of Vera Gladys Nora. In 1904, now with two baby girls, the family moved to Ranston Street.


  1. From a watercolour in Westminster City Archive.


Page 127
Page 129
Updated August 8, 2011