An early experiment in urban living
The industrial revolution produced appalling living conditions for the urban working classes. In response, philanthropic organisations like the Peabody trust and the improved Industrial Dwellings Company replaced old houses in city centres with forbidding tenements of so called “model” dwellings.
But there was another solution, one that took advantage of the expanding railway network and railway companies’ cheap workman’s fares. This was the cottage estate - a self-contained enclave of low-rent houses built on open land away from the city centre. In the mid-Victorian era, the main exponent of this experiment in suburban living for the sub-middle classes was the Artisan’s, Labourers’ and General Dwellings Company, founded in 1867 by illiterate ex-labourer turned philanthropist, William Austin.
The company focused initially on the provinces, but concentrated on London from 1870 onwards. In 1872, it started it’s first ‘park’ in the capital, the Shaftesbury Park Estate in Battersea. Two years later, it bought half a dozen fields on the north side of Harrow Road, just east of it’s junction with Ladbroke Grove and Kilburn Lane, from All Souls College, Oxford, and started its second, the Queens Park Estate, named in honour of Queen Victoria.
At that time, the only buildings in this area were the church, parsonage and school at the Harrow Road crossroads, a couple of farms in Kilburn Lane, and Kensal House, together with a tea garden and a few cottages, in the little triangle between the canal and Harrow Road.
Over the next dozen years, the company built over 2000 Gothic-style cottages in a regular grid of streets centred on two broad, tree-lined avenues, Ilbert Street and Fifth Avenue. The six north-south streets, opening onto Harrow Road, were called First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Avenues, and the east-west streets, mostly parallel to Harrow Road, were called A Street, B Street, C Street and so on through to P. The lettered streets were soon given proper names starting with the original initial letter and representing some person or place connected with the company. Droop, for example, was one of the directors, and Alperton was the location of the company’s brickworks.
“Founded on strict temperance principles (Austin had turned to philanthropy after giving up drink at the age of 47), the estate had no pub”
Founded on strict temperance principles (Austin had turned to philanthropy after giving up drink at the age of 47), the estate had no pub. But it did have other amenities including shops, churches, schools, a community hall and a library, and baths and washhouses in nearby Kensal Town. (Both the library and the baths were provided by the local authority). In 1882, ex-pupils of one of the schools- on the corner of Droop street and Third Avenue - started a football club which eventually gee into the modern day Queen’s Park Rangers.
One amenity not provided, although mentioned in the initial prospectus, was an open space for recreation. When Farrant Street was demolished in the 1970s, residents finally got their little oasis of greenery - a century after it was promised.
Initially there were four classes of houses on the estate, with weekly rents raging from 7/6d to 11 shillings - that’s 37.5p-55p in today’s money - with a turret or a bay window costing 6d a week extra. These were set at a level designed to attract the steadier workman in regular employment likely to conform to the estate’s relatively strict set of rules. As a result of this policy, the status of the estate was much higher than surrounding areas. Only on fifth of the Queen’s Park’s inhabitants lived in poverty, for example, compared to 55% across the water in Kensal Town. This state of affairs continued well into the inter-war period./p>
After the second world war, Paddington council began buying individual properties in Queen’s Park. In 1964, the Artisan’s Company sold the whole estate to the council for around £2.5 million. At that time, it had about 1800 weekly rented houses (originally, there had been around 2200). Today, mainly due to rebuilding along the Harrow Road frontage in the 1970s, only some 1300 houses remain. But Queen’s Park - one of four ex-Artisans’ Company estates in London - is still a remarkable complete example of the Victorian cottage estate, a precursor of the later Garden City concept.