Saturday, November 23, 2019

Prince Albert's Model Cottages

Prince Albert's Model Cottage Chloe Bowles [CC BY 2.0 (]

Prince Albert told his audience at a public meeting about the horrors of working-class conditions that 'wealth is an accident of society' and that those who are wealthy 'should intervene to ameliorate 'the evils produced by other accidents'. He had resolved to speak, in spite of being warned against it by Lord Russell, the PM, and the Queen actually helped him rehearse his address.

 In the mid-nineteenth century the working-classes certainly endured many evils, such as overcrowded conditions, long working hours, low wages and the dangers of nasty diseases, such as typhoid, cholera and rickets.  Moving to the cities for work meant that most lived in slums with several children sharing a room. Sometimes whole families lived in one room.  Poor relief was apparently not much help.After a tour of working -class conditions, Prince Albert was naturally horrified, and he resolved to do something about it. According to the historian Katy Layton-Jones, the Prince believed that if you could raise the quality of life for the working-classes, this would help to lessen social problems and social conflict. 1.

The Prince had been nominal president of the Society for Improving the Conditions of the Labouring Classes since 1844 but it was 1848, and he decided that it was time to act. He commissioned the construction of model working-class flats financed with his own money, and designed by the great architect Henry Roberts.  These buildings were extremely innovative, and became extremely influential, beginning the advance of improved public housing in Great Britain, America, and many other countries.

The neo-classical flats were built in a type of red brick, which had several advantages. It was fire-proof, damp-resistant, non-porous and cheap. Each flat had two levels, two living-areas, three bedrooms, a scullery, an airing cupboard and even an indoor toilet. The cottages also featured a central open staircase, and modern domestic appliances. The parent's bedroom was very large for the time. Comfort and privacy were emphasized.

These cottages were shown at Prince Albert's highest achievement, the Great Exhibition in 1851, where they could be seen free-of-charge.  The cottages were outside the Exhibition grounds but this didn't prevent 250,000 people visiting them! Visitors included the Queen and Charles Dickens. Soon after the model cottages were built, institutions such as the Peabody Trust, started construction of social housing based on this model. 

One model cottage may still be seen on Kennington Park Road, on the very spot where the Chartists gathered to fight for democratic reforms.

1. How Prince Albert Changed Britain for the Better

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