Northview showing bay windowsLiving in a flat, 1930s style

Northview has an unusual place in 1930 domestic history. Designed to provide comfortable modern homes for aspirant middle classes, it was built neither for ultra-fashionable minimalist lifestyles nor as social housing.

There was widespread prejudice against living in flats in the earlier part of last century, as they were associated with Victorian tenements and working-class housing. Popular publications lampooned the lifestyle of living in flats, both viciously and gently. In an example of the latter, Heath Robinson published a cartoon book called How to Live in a Flat shortly before Northview was built.

Private developers were eager to break down such prejudices. Original features designed to make living in flats attractive – and to make sure private flats would not be mistaken for social housing – still survive at Northview.

Bay windows – like those in back block – were important features to distinguish privately owned flats from council flats, which at the time did not have bay windows. As well as providing snob value, they made rooms appear larger, gave residents better views and admitted more light to rooms – always an important consideration in modern architecture. As The Complete House Book put it in 1937: “Insufficient lighting was is not only depressing and a strain on the eyes, but can also cause worse trouble; headaches, indigestion, general lassitude and irritation can often be traced to it.”

In the 1930s, public open spaces were deliberately incorporated into estates to emulate village greens. Northview was built around a green courtyard, and there are communal gardens behind the flats.

Tall windows to brighten common areas, architectural details such as ziggurat and papyrus designs, and large concrete cantilevered balconies added to the attractions.


Upmarket living without servants

Northview’s communal hot water system was also designed to show that living in a flat could represent a move upmarket.

As Leslie Hoskins, curator of the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, told The Daily Telegraph: “There was still a notion that the most desirable way to live was in a house with servants. It was to counteract this idea that brochures for 1930s flats all talked up the modern comforts and amenities on offer.

“Great emphasis was placed on the fact that blocks of flats provided round-the-clock hot water – which was something you'd only get in a house if you had a maid who kept the boiler constantly stoked.”

chrome towel railThe chrome towel rails – heated via the communal hot water system – are an upmarket feature. Such 1930s working towel rails are rare nowadays. Cast iron towel rails first appeared in the roaring 1920s, but all but disappeared during the depression. Again, it appears that the builders wanted to provide a touch of luxury. Heated towel rails did not reappear in homes in the UK until the 1990s.


Metro-land vs Islington

The 1920s and 1930s saw an exodus of Londoners to the suburbs, with their promises of space and better lifestyles.

There were local fears that Islington residents would move to the strongly promoted suburbs. So, as well as the upmarket features, Northview incorporates a hint of contemporary suburbia.

The two-storey suburban bay was probably the most standard feature of interwar speculative housing, with plain rendering on bays. Rendering between the windows in 1930s flats is usually straight. At Northview, it curves, echoing popular 1930s suburban design.

One letter-writer in the Islington Gazette in 1938 – the year Northview was built – feared an exodus because of slum clearance, saying: “It is hoped that our council will bear in mind to built better class flats for our higher paid people who cannot afford to rent a house. They are worth retaining in Islington, instead of driving them out to Greater London.”

Flats advertised in the Islington Gazette in the same year boasted “constant hot water and balcony”. Some proudly described “chromium fittings”. Such features would hopefully attract a better class of tenant and keep the middle classes in the borough.


Shops downstairs

The owners of Holloway’s retail emporium, Beale’s, were eager to make the most of local changes. Beale’s was one of the first commercial tenants at Northview. “Another new shop!” it announced in the Islington Gazette in 1938, when it moved to 2 Northview Parade (now part of a Chinese restaurant).

In Minding Our Own Business, the store’s history, John Beale, the grandson of the store’s founder, wrote:

“Holloway, as a district, was beginning to come alive again. We stepped in quickly to acquire a small lock-up shop in Tufnell Park Road, where further large-scale development was due to start. Close to the bakeries and at the absurdly low rent of £70 a year, it proved a profitable and trouble-free outlet for many years. The shop-front, installed by a local builder for the modest outlay of £160, was blown out later by a flying bomb which landed in the centre of the new supercinema, just across the road.”


Taking no chances

And, to keep bad luck out, there’s no Flat 13.

Northview front hall

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Home: Northview – a rare survivor of its time

Northview news

Fifth threat to deco heritage

Northview’s architecture – an enclave with deco features

Living in a flat, 1930s style

A 1930s corner of Holloway – group value

Living over the Hackney Brook

Buildings at risk – neglect at Northview

Archive: New threat to 1930s oasis

Archive: It started with a Nissen hut … stop architectural vandalism

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