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Completely London

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/ by Oliver Bennett

London's architecture: Arts & Crafts

Tooting SW17 may possess down-home charm and good curry houses, but it’s not a district known for its architecture... is it? Well, the Totterdown Fields Estate begs to differ. This early 20th century grid of streets brings together two turn-of-the-century strands – Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City movement and picturesque Arts & Crafts architecture – and applies them to domestic London dwellings, illustrating how ‘social housing’ (as it is now known) can, with a bit of application and imagination, surpass itself.

The estate’s roots lie in a forward-thinking London County Council (LCC) initiative of 1892 called Housing of the Working Classes. Infused by the socialist and architectural philosophies of William Morris, Philip Webb and WR Lethaby, and with designs led by architect Owen Fleming – a man so purist he chose to live in an East End tenement – the ‘cottage estate’ was built in 1911.

Near Tooting Common and attached to central London by tram, Totterdown’s houses came in four different kinds and had the detailing beloved of Morris, Webb and Howard: steep gables, Tudor-style chimneys, bay windows and porches, and with front and back gardens, considered ‘small but civilising’.

Inside, the homes had living rooms, kitchens, sculleries; even gas ovens, baths and fitted dressers. These were worthy homes for the labouring classes, and a Conservation Area listing and ‘heritage boards’ now underline their historic status.

Elements of Arts & Crafts style: heavy gables; front and back gardens; tall Tudor-style chimneys; gridded, gently curved street layout with tree-lined roads. Cottages originally had a coal bunker in the scullery.

Illustration: Mister Mourao

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Oliver Bennett Freelance journalist

Journalist, Oliver Bennett lives in a late Victorian house in central London and specialises in property, architecture and the built environment. He has worked on several newspapers including the Independent, Telegraph and the Sunday Times, and has contributed to many more magazines from Grand Designs to Homes and Gardens. 

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