13 DECEMBER 1851, Page 14


THE fall of the houses at Kensington has come as if for a fatal proof that our allusion to the fallacious style of building in Lon- don was not unwarranted. The verdict of the Inquest has cast censure on the speculator for supplying bad materials, and on the architect for permitting the structure to proceed ; but it would be a mistake to visit indignation and perhaps pecuniary loss on those gentlemen, and not to bear in mind that the accident properly be- longs to a system, in which many others are equally culpable. We know that the construction of houses, particularly in the sub- urbs, is often the grossest of delusions. Houses of a kind suited to persons of moderate means are run up for sale at prices temptingly ow ; the profit of the speculator being derived, not from a true economy in the construction of his merchandise, but from an actual withholding of the thing which he professes to sell. You shall find "cottages " near town, charmingly neat and " tasty," " replete with every convenience," a rose-bush or two sprouting in the new neatly-raked little front-garden, stained glass in the first stair- landing, visible from the front-door ; and all to be had for " only " some very "low figure." A thrifty clerk or an intelligent work- man buys a cottage—to have a roof of his own over his head and save house-rent; but a short residence soon discloses the state of his purchase. The fires dry the building, summer aids the work, and, drying, the walls begin to shrink and part from each other. ! The first rain has already divided the paper in dreary festoons from the plaster. The rotting wood of the kitchen-floor discloses the fact that there is no foundation beneath, but only the aborigi- nal mud. We have heard of cases in which the appearance of a drain was no more than a pretence on the surface, no drain being really beneath. This kind of bargain is palmed off upon the un- ; wary by favour of the modern rage for " cheapness' which de-1 moralizes both vendor and purchaser, renders each callous to the 1 claims of the other, and strikes each with a stupid blindness to his own interests in the long run. It is aided by that joint effect of stolid utilitarian morals and driving trade which has almost uni- 1 versally deprived workmen and dealers of pride in the sterling

quality and workmanlike thoroughness of their wares. • 1 The peculiarity of the Kensington disclosure is, that it relates to

a style of building which we had supposed to be above suspicions of this sort. We knew that parapets to look "tasty" and "classical," to make a but look "mansionlike," were "run up with compo" : and many a fortress on this sea-girt isle can hardly withstand the rode artillery of the breeze : but we did not know that the same kind of trimmings were to be paralleled in the handsome ultra- West-end squares beyond Tyburnia and Belgravia. We knew that tenants sometimes wink at counterfeits,—that in a celebrated place not a hundred miles beyond Kensington, for instance, there are mansions with coachhouse and stable, and room above for the coachman, simulated in a mere front wall, the doors leading into space behind ! but we did not know that the very house itself was to be a simulacrum. We knew that road-stuff was put into " ce- ment," but we did not know that persons of substance were to be enticed by that contrivance into mansions of no substance. We knew that architects would run up " cottages" of an aristocratic pattern for clerks and skilled workmen ; we knew that plans and de- signs for a gin-palace of truly classic grandeur might be obtained for 401. from an artist who ingeniously rang the changes on one set of calculations and one idea; but we did not know that your ultra-1 Belgmvian mansions for super-genteel tradespeople, your " al- most country houses, were to be designed, estimated, and super- intended in the making, at the " low figure" of 151. a piece. The architect pleaded that he had not sufficient control over the works :

the speculator seems to have set him at nought—or perhaps we

should say, seems to have set him at 151. The architect remon- strated against the materials, but the road-stuff was sent in spite of his teeth. The District Surveyor, who declares that he has no power to check such practices, " noticed that the speculator had not competent men to superintend the works "—cheap men, per- haps. Cheap designs, cheap materials, cheap workmen—and a cheap accident : it killed one man, and something-short-of-killed six; but they were only workmen, not tenants.