The plague in 1665 and the Great Fire of London the following year did a great deal to make country life more appealing to affluent urbanites and this trend continued in the Georgian period. A famous writer, Daniel Defoe, who lived in Stoke Newington, described Hackney in the 1720s as comprising of "twelve hamlets" and "having so many rich citizens that it contained nearly a hundred coaches". Important residents included the Governor of the Bank of England, who lived in Hackney House, Clapton in 1745 and the chief founder of the East India Company.
But alongside these well heeled and influential denizens, who were attracted to the clean air and green pasture so close to the city, there were many poor labourers residing close to them who worked on the land. Between the twelve hamlets and the estates of the big houses were agricultural fields, market gardens and meadows. That is aside from the area between Kingsland Road and London Fields, which was a vast brickfield; evidence of the burgeoning housing market.
These people would have lived in existing timber-framed cottages, through houses or back to backs. A through house had no corridor; entrance from the street led directly into the living area with the kitchen behind. Stairs in one corner led to the bedrooms upstairs. Families often shared a through house. A back to back actually had no rear. It was really a through house divided into two, so it was only one room deep and joined to the house behind. It was also attached to houses on either side as it was terraced. The back to back was cheaper to build as it had three common or 'party' walls. Sometimes back to backs had a basement or an attic to enable more families to be housed on the same amount of land.
The insides of such homes would have been sparsely furnished and undecorated. People had very few possessions or furniture. Aside from some bedding, perhaps a chair or a stool and a small table, they may have had a trunk or chest which would have been used for safekeeping and transporting as well as being a seat.
These homes also had no running water or proper drainage and to make matters worse for the poor, builders often used shoddy materials and cut corners. There was particularly poor quality housing around the canal basin and at Hackney Wick.
Many artisan workers, in the textile industry particularly, worked upstairs in their home in workrooms or loom shops. These sometimes had larger windows for better light and generally the standard of artisan housing was higher. Windows were sashes, often wedged open with wood, and were recessed into the walls to comply with fire regulations.
During the Georgian period there was a tax on windows, which is where the phrase 'daylight robbery' originates. Windows were bricked up to avoid the tax, even in affluent homes, although in such cases these were usually servantís rooms. Houses from this period with bricked up windows can still be seen today.
The end of the century saw the beginning of Hackney's fall from favour as the first of the super rich began to move to the new fashionable suburbs that are now the West End, and their grand houses were converted to schools, asylums and hospitals. Hackney House for example became a non-conformist school in 1786.
Smaller developments for the moderately wealthy, such as brokers from the city, sprang up, for example Clapton Square and Clapton Terrace. These people could afford to travel to their work in the city. These developments were based on the squares and terraces of the West End. Georgian streets have a uniformity, due to the regulations of the London Building Act of 1774. Known as the Black Act because of its impositions, it was passed in response to the Great Fire and stipulated amongst other things that houses should be brick, windows recessed and that roofs should be slate and should not overhang. Ironically it is these rigid building regulations so resented at the time that have contributed to the Georgian house being so sought after today.
Buy related books
Georgian House Style: An Architectural and Interior Design Source Book, Ingrid Cranfield
Period Details Sourcebook, Judith Miller
The Georgian House, HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Steven Parissien, Peter Porter, HRH the Duke of Gloucester