Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Building Blocks of Albert Hall Mansions

Albert Hall Mansions Today 

The imposing confidence of the red-brick, dutch-gabled, mansion blocks that surround the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington belie the truth, that their construction was accompanied by suspicion and there was doubt that they would be a social or commercial success. The Albert Hall Mansions were the first of their kind in Great Britain located overlooking Kensington Gardens, designed by the renowned architect R Norman Shaw for the developer Thomas Hussey.

Albert Hall Mansions in 1881 in The Building News

The new design concept came about because good quality accommodation in London was scarce for the middle-classes who could not afford a large town house and were seeking more of a pied-a-terre for when they were in the capital. The beauty of Norman Shaw’s design was it provided an impressive façade to complement the magnificent Royal Albert Hall next door while also providing maximum accommodation. Albert Hall Mansions was a real social and architectural departure for the British as apartment living or multi-occupancy in one building had been associated with the lower classes, charitable housing and most significantly, favoured by foreigners, particularly the French! Such was the suspicion of adopting “french ways” in those days. However it would seem that beauty and utility were achieved and the publication The Building News wrote in 1881"This building, which has lately been erected in Kensington is situated close to the Royal Albert Hall ... it will be observed that the front or north side is divided into seven stories, whilst the back portion has nine floors in the about the same height. The object of this is to place the whole of the principle or reception rooms so as to overlook Hyde Park, and by the lesser number of stories to obtain greater height, whilst the back of the building being occupied by bed and dressing rooms, kitchens, &c., a less height, such as 10ft. 6in. or 11ft., is for all practical purposes as good; and by this arrangement a considerable amount of accommodation is gained... The portion already built, and shows in our perspective view, consists of three entirely separate blocks. In each block are eight large separate suites, and in the upper part eight smaller suites, which may easily be altered into four larger suites, if desired. Each of the larger suites is complete in itself, with the front door opening from the principal stair, and the back door from the service stair. Two lifts are provided: one for passengers and one for coals, provisions &c., situated close to the tradesmen's entrance."

Plans and Sections from The Survey of London

Because of this uncertainty Albert Hall Mansions was built in 3 sections, the last two only constructed once the first block was fully occupied. Mr Hussey should not have worried though. Apartments were quickly snapped up! It was a great success and soon there were mansion blocks in Mayfair, Regent's Park, Marylebone, Maida Vale, St John's Wood, Belsize Park, Battersea, Fulham and Chiswick. The collective concern that living in a mansion block was a French idea seemed to have been forgotten.

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