The metamorphosis of Battersea, 1800-1914: a building history

Bailey, Keith Alan (1995). The metamorphosis of Battersea, 1800-1914: a building history. PhD thesis The Open University.



The Metamorphosis of Battersea is a study of the process of building development in a London parish during the nineteenth century. Part I reviews existing literature on the subject and looks at the physical and pre-urban background. It also provides a brief overview of the creation of the essential infrastructure of the suburb, from sewers to railways and from churches to music halls, and looks at the social and occupational background of the population as it grew with breathtaking rapidity from less than 3,000 in 1801 to 170,000 a century later.

Part II discusses the evidence for building cycles in Battersea. The myriad men responsible for building the houses are then examined. This was an industry which essentially remained a collection of hand crafts throughout the period, albeit with some increase in the scale of operations after c.1870. Almost all of the thousands of builders and others came from within a five-mile radius of Battersea, and few lasted more than five years, most considerably less. The speculative nature of housebuilding was always at present and left a trail of bankruptcies and lesser failures in its wake.

A classification of building estates according to the occupation of the initiator is proposed. Most were small operators who often failed to make the sure profits they expected when they set out. Case studies in Part Ill demonstrate that despite the degree of fragmentation in both estates and building, the operation of the various processes tended to produce homogeneous results in terms of the type and quality of housing, and of the tenants who occupied it, at leas: when new. This convergence often occurred despite the aspirations of landowners and developers, so that the supply and demand equation was usually in balance over a mid- to longer-term period, although there were severe cyclical fluctuations causing casualties among the many groups associated with the transformation of Battersea from an agricultural settlement with a substantial industrial base to a fully-fledged London suburb, larger than most provinicial towns

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