(Partly quoted from the Victoria County History Vol. 8)
Albert Town, at least at first, was different from most other housing developments. This is the story of a political idea which eventually backfired against the people who started it.
Albert Town was built between in the 1850s on ‘Hornsey Removed’ (shown on the 1814 Prebendal map below) and partly on Stoke Newington land. The two fields marked on the map as ‘Parish of Hornsey’ were not then part of Stoke Newington but were administered by a separate authority as part of the Borough of Hornsey. It had its own rather palatial town hall in Milton Grove, on the site of the present Leet House and ‘Zoom Around’ and ran its own affairs.
The 1814 map covers Stoke Newington, with Manor House and the North, on the right and Newington Green on the left. The north is to the right and Newington Green to the left. The map includes part of ‘Hornsey Removed’. This was on the two fields which have ‘Parish of Hornsey’ written across them and the two narrow strips with the words ‘Parish of Hornsey’ at the top. The fields are coloured slightly lighter than the nearby Stoke Newington ones. The rest of Hornsey Removed, on the other side of Green Lanes, is not on this map.Hornsey Removed also included the Manor of Brownswood, which reached to Blackstock Road, and half of Clissold Park. The boundary between The Manor of St Mary and the Manor of Brownswood wove its way through the area. Clissold House, for example, was in Stoke Newington, but most of Clissold Park was in Hornsey Removed. Incidentally, this accounts for the shape of the proposed ‘Albert Park’, which was planned in about 1851 to stretch from Highbury Corner to Finsbury Park. It was designed to rival Victoria Park in size, but only the Finsbury Park section was ever created, so the rest is now a ghost park covered with houses, but nice to imagine as one walks through the modern streets. (See Albert Park).
‘Hornsey Removed’ did not become part of Stoke Newington until 1900, when there was a general tidying up of these old administrative districts in London, fifty years after Albert Town was first planned.
To return to the 1814 Map
This Prebendal Map was made for the 1814 Act of Parliament. The story of the map has been told in detail in The Darlington Sale. Link to Darlington Sale.
All we need to say here is that the 1814 Act allowed Stoke Newington landowners to grant 99 year building leases, instead of much shorter ones which were all that was permitted earlier. As a result, Cubitt and others bought leases which allowed them to sell houses with 99 year leases but not freehold properties. The church still held the freeholds. At this time the owner of a freehold house had the right to vote and this right was always jealously protected, as we shall see.
Freehold Houses and the Right to Vote
The site of the new Albert Town which was mainly on the ‘Parish
of’ field of Hornsey Removed.
So far as voting was concerned, in the 1840s England was still in feudal times. In order to vote you had to own land. If you owned a stretch of barren heath land, or a deserted village with nobody still living on it, you had the right to vote. If you owned a huge mansion on a lease, but did not own the land it stood on, you had no vote. The minimum qualification for the right to vote was to own a piece of land worth £1 a year in Ground Rent. This made you a Freeholder and gave you the right to vote.Historically the contrast between English peasants and French ones has been extreme. French peasants own their land and hold on to it tenaciously, dividing it and dividing it between members of the family as people die and the property descends to the next generation. This still accounts for the French attitude to the Common Agricultural Policy today
At every election un the early 19th Century there were allegations of corruption, of buying the votes of freeholders with money or drink, and about the limitation of the right to vote. The majority of people in the country had no vote, or any say at all in who was elected.
In 1800 a famous novel was published .which satirised this
By Maria Edgeworth (first published 1800).
In it, Sir Condy Rackrent, a roistering Irish gentleman, is standing for Parliamen, and the story is told by an Old Thaddy, a very loyal family servant, and a wordy old boy who gabbles on without a full stop to his name.
This is a novel which is still as readable today as it was when it was written two hundred years ago. This quotation happens to show that owning freehold land was a condition for having a vote in Ireland as well as in England, but there is no suggestion that this method of making sure voters were able to swear that they had stood on their freeholds was practised in Stoke Newington of course. It was the whole voting system that was at fault.
The period from 1830-1850 , in England was a time of great change. The 1832 Reform Act changed voting rights drastically. Rotten boroughs (where the parliamentary constituencies had declined in size but still retained the right to elect members of the House of Commons) were swept away. Old Sarum, for example, had become infamous for consisting of an old wall but had still sent its member to Parliament. The seats from the Rotten Borough were given to the new manufacturing towns like Birmingham and Manchester.
The 1832 Act did not repeal the Corn Laws. For years these laws had forbidden the import of cheap corn from abroad. Plenty of cheap corn was available from overseas but nobody was allowed to import it until the price of English corn had risen above a certain (very high) level. This caused great hardship to the poor – rather as modern food shortages have made prices shoot up. Finally, in 1849, after great agitation, the Corn Laws were abolished and the power of landlords to hold people to ransom was reduced again. The Freehold Land Society was set up in the same year and in the same period of enthusiasm.
The 1832 Reform Bill had begun to loosen the power of the landowners. The Corn Laws loosened it further. What was wanted next was to give more people the vote and so, over time, to change the composition of Parliament. The Conservatives (Tories) were the party of the landowners and controlled Parliament because they controlled the vote. The Liberals were the party of the new manufacturers and business people and they wanted to increase their vote. To do this they had to create a body of people who owned a small piece of land and, with it, the right to vote.
Albert Town and the Freehold Land Society
A plan to increase the Liberal (Anti-landowner) vote.
The Society offered a new idea. Instead if selling land on building leases, they would sell it in small freehold lots, so that houses built on them would also be freehold. The Society would buy up fields, divide them into pieces large enough to take one or two houses and the owners of the houses built on them would become freeholders with the right to vote. Albert Town (as yet unnamed) would become an island of voters, in a sea of leaseholders who had no vote.
The Society planned to buy up land near towns and divide it up into ‘Twenty Bob Lots’.
As explained before, to have the right to vote, a person had to own land worth One Pound a year in rateable value. A pound was a much more formidable sum than it is today. For many people it was a complete week’s wage and agricultural workers got even less. In old currency there were 20 shillings in a pound and a shilling was called a ‘bob’, so calling the plots ‘20 bob lots’ must have made the cost sound smaller.
The Freehold Land Society held a packed meeting at the London Tavern addressed by Richard Cobden and others to advocate their ideas. This was reported in The Times next day over three columns. He called on the meeting to invest in freehold land and so increase the number of householders who had the vote. Blocks of freehold land would be bought and sold at cost price to anyone who wanted to uses it as an allotment or for building. He said that the Houses of Parliament needed to be controlled in the interest of ordinary people and not for the sole benefit of the landed gentry. The meeting was enthusiastic and freehold estates were around London began to be bought and then sold on in small pieces, together with their potential voting rights.
The idea of freehold properties with the right to vote appealed to small craftsmen, people of independent minds, and liberal reformers of al kinds. Agricultural fields were bought up and divided. Albert Town, between Albion Road and Wordsworth Road (which we know as the Poets Roads) was one example. There were other ones nearby but unfortunately the records were destroyed during World War 2 so it is not easy to trace them.
The law controlling Building Societies did not allow them to own land. This meant that in 1856, only a few years after it was set up, t he Freehold Land Society had to be split into two parts. One part would own the land, while the other would arrange mortgages.
The land ownership and developing side became British Land, which is now an enormous international development company. The mortgage side became the Abbey Building Society. The Abbey is now one half of the Abbey National Building Society.
In 2006 British Land was 150 years old and celebrated it with a book called No Stone Unturned, buy John Weston Smith ISBN13978.0.9554406.0.1 These quotations are relevant
For other examples of the difficulties before the Limited Liability Act was passed see Southwood Smith and his trial brocks of healthy flats in King’s Cross and Gibson Gardens in Stoke Newington
Let British Land sum up the position when Albert Town was built.
The Scheme Backfires
At first the creation of freeholders may have increased the Liberal vote, especially in areas near the centre of London. Later however the various Land Companies began to buy land in the countryside around London and there they created many more freeholds. This is what we now call the stockbroker belt, so that in the end the freehold land holdings created more Tory votes than Liberal ones. Later again the voting qualifications changed and freehold property ceased to be a requirement for voting. Albert Town is an interesting, if short lived, piece of political history.
This has been a brief overview of the politics behind the creation of Albert Town. Let us now look at actual building of the houses.
Building Albert Town
14.5.08 Albert Town final.doc
Revised: October 25, 2011 8:49 AM