‘Curiouser & Curiouser!’ Cried Alice

Michael Whitehall comments on the demise of 8 Lower Common South

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‘Curiouser and Curiouser!’ cried Alice. Well I’m Alice on this occasion.  We have here on the Putney Lower Common a remarkable example of Victorian Architecture. Eleven detached houses (or ‘mansions’ as they’re called in the red tops) and a further sixteen semi-detached, all built in or around 1885. They even had their own names – ours was called Ettrick. 

One resident of Lower Common South who bought his house in the early eighties told me that the only decision he had to make after he had exchanged contracts was whether he was going to invest a bit more money in the property and re-carpet it or buy the previous owners carpets. He had already pushed the boat out so he decided to make do with what was there, on the basis of ‘if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.’

Well 8 Lower Common South wasn't broken.  It probably wouldn’t have won any beauty contest but it was an imposing building, proudly displaying the year 1885 on it’s front elevation, rather like a good bottle of wine, showing off it’s vintage.  But now it is no more and Lower Common South will no longer be a row of Victorian Houses, as at least one of them will be a modern house of 2010/11 vintage.

From shabby Victorian to gaping gap

There is as you may have noticed, a trend here. Once upon a time when would-be owners discovered that these houses were smaller on the inside than they looked on the outside (partially due to the sweeping staircase running through the centre of the house) and although they had the potential for seven bedrooms, they only had two reception rooms.  Buyers would then head off to Castelnau or Lonsdale Road in Barnes, Wimbledon or Richmond. But nowadays, buyers who are attracted to the location of the houses seem to have no qualms about changing them to such an extent, that they cease to be Victorian and to all intents and purposes are rebuilds.

In a letter to me at the end of May regarding No 8, Edward Lister (Chairman Wandsworth Borough Council) said:
"Perhaps some would describe it as aggrandisement - taking a decent enough house which had been altered in the past and doing it up again, not going back to what it was originally, but changing again to something more imposing than the original. It has become relatively commonplace for people to want to carry out alterations to extensions and roof extensions; taking what might be viewed as ordinary and utilitarian and enlarge it. Arguably this might not be conservation, although it’s what many people aspire to do with their homes.  The Council tries to balance residents’ desires to adapt and modernise old properties with its duty to preserve or enhance the character and appearance of our conservation areas. Having said that, no. 8 has gone way beyond the scheme granted planning permission and, as you’ll be aware, the building has been demolished.”

Subsequently I received a response from our MP Justine Greening saying: “I completely understand your concerns about the demolition of existing houses in Lower Common South in favour of much more contemporary houses. It is clear that such development has a significant impact on what is a highly regarded Conservation Area and has the potential to set a precedent for further incongruous development.”

So we now have a situation where No 8 will be a modern house, No 12 although at least retaining it’s Victorian façade, is in every other way a modern house and various other houses with the modern additions of roof and basement extensions and one or two story rear extensions, becoming a cocktail of ancient and modern. Economically this seems to make sense from the buyer’s point of view – rumours that the new owner of the No 8 site (as opposed to No 8 itself) has factored in the cost of any fines/legal costs etc into his overall rebuilding costs seem perfectly feasible.

Basement works where No 8 stood...
  We now have the bizarre anomaly where the demolisher of a Victorian house in a Conservation Area, in blatant disregard of the planning permissions obtained, can continue to work on the basement extension to the house, for which he originally received planning permission, but on the basis that he had a house under which the basement could be developed. If this is so, it gives a very substantial nod from the Council in the direction of the demolisher that all will be well in the end.

As Alice said ‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ 


Michael Whitehall

Chairman. Putney Common Association

Jt. Chairman. West Putney Conservation Group

June 10, 2010