The quiet streets of picturesque Victorian houses in Battersea’s Shaftesbury Estate have an enduring appeal – but even its most fervent admirers have to concede that they’re not the biggest houses around. They were built by the Artisans, Labourers and General Dwellings Company, a housing co-operative founded in 1867, as ‘decent accommodation for the working classes’ – often with a somewhat compact three-bedroom layout. Many of the houses that are still in their original form come in at about 740 square feet, which is pretty much the average size for all UK properties (houses & flats commbined) of 730 square feet but way smaller than the ~100 square foot average size of a three bedroom house in the UK.
With houses selling at anything between £800k and £1.1 million, it’s maybe not surprising that owners are keen to make as much as possible of the space available. But the conservation rules in the estate, and the small back gardens, limit the scope to extend these houses. The map below shows which houses are listed, and which are protected as part of the conservation area – essentially, all of them (apart from small clusters where bombs landed without exploding, and a much larger cluster by Brassey Square where there was a major explosion).
Broadly speaking householders wanting more space have a reasonable amount of flexibility to do what they like at the back of the houses, provided they don’t overly overshadow neighbours – but the view of the houses from the street needs to be protected. There’s no explicit rule against basement developments, though we’re not aware of any being done – the fact that the land is pretty much at sea level and with a generally complicated drainage situation is likely to make excavation a costly process.
But there are ways and means here. The houses on the estate have two different roof types, visible in the photo above: about three quarters have a classic pitched roof, running parallel to the street. These have a largeish attic, and rear extensions have proliferated (a row of three of these extensions is visible at the top left).
The more complicated ones are the houses with a more unusual ‘London butterfly’ roof, with a parapet facing the street, and a roof that dips down in a V shape. These aren’t unique to London but they do seem to be a feature of the London townhouse, and no-one has built these for a good few decades now. The Shaftesbury Estate’s less famous sister estate in Queen’s Park doesn’t have any of this type of roof at all.
These butterfly roofs have two small attics, and are generally speaking not as high – which means they are rather harder to extend without creating a great big mansard roof at the front and significantly changing the appearance from the street. And this is where the new type of extension is coming in to play.
Tyneham Road is where they started. A typical example is shown above from the rear of the houses, and below in architectural cross section: essentially it’s a mansard roof that starts half way back, designed so it’s just low enough not to be visible from most parts of the road. It makes use of the chimney stacks, to hide some of its size from views along the street.
These are reasonably clever use of the space, and from the street itself they aren’t immediately visible: the planning diagram below shows the sight lines from the pavements opposite these extensions.
That said they are visible from other streets, and have attracted a certain controversy in the planning process. A handful of these have now been built, and attracted a fair few objections – on the grounds that they were incongruous additions that will mess up the uniformity of the terraces that has to date been carefully preserved, that the architecturally significant ‘London butterfly’ roof would be lost, and more generally that these modern extensions don’t respect the character of the Shaftesbury Park Conservation Area. As our photo below of one of these extensions shows, they are indeed visible from street level, but not hugely prominent.
They also generally face criticism on the grounds that they are an over development of the houses – adding a lot of weight and volume to the Victorian foundations, and potentially overshadowing neighbouring houses.
It’s clearly an issue that has caused some discussion among Wandsworth’s planning officials. The whole area is an unusually well-preserved bit of Victorian town planning, with most of the streets on the Shaftesbury Estate looking largely unaltered since the late 1800’s. In assessing recent applications for these extensions, planners noted they are concerned over the increasing number of development proposals and granted planning permissions throughout the Estate which, if uncoordinated, could damage the historic interest and character of the estate that makes it so attractive in the first place.
But the planners don’t have much room for manoeuvre. The first of these extensions was at 166 Tyneham Road (getting planning permission back in 2013), which was swiftly followed by similar ventures at No. 116, No. 114 and No. 44. Having given the nod to those, anyone else who proposes something similar is pretty much assured of planning success.
One of the earliest proposals at No. 114 went through what is described as “a rigorous design appraisal” with the Council’s Conservation and Urban Design team; including a fairly detailed site visit, which led to these new roofs being deemed to be acceptable and not visible
from the street. New proposals pretty much have to be the same as that proposal, to create a reasonably consistent approach along the houses that have been extended.
It’s not clear if the architects of that original proposal get any credit when all the future extensions have to take the same approach! But what has essentially happened here is that a new ‘default’ extension for houses of this type has been developed, which seems to be unique to Wandsworth, and whether you think they’re an ungainly overdevelopment of one of our last areas of well-preserved Victorian streets, or a sensible way of extending these small houses to suit modern expectations – it looks inevitable that many of the houses along the roads with these roofs will sooner or later see this type of extension.