From country to suburb: The why and the how of suburban development. A universal phenomenon with examples from south-east London.

Finance - 19th Century

Housing development operated within a very volatile financial environment, effected by both macro and micro levels. To be successful the developer and the new resident needed financial security, or at least access to cheap money. In the 19th century the principal sources for these were Building Societies and Freehold Land Societies. The formerís role was to provide finance for house building to its members, and the latter was effectively to provide the finance to acquire freehold building plots. (Freehold Societies had their principal role in financing freehold plots in order to boost the number of voters at a time when the franchise was limited by holding freehold land of a particular value.) There were numerous Building Societies operating in south London including the Lambeth from 1852, the Temperance Land, fromr1854, the Peckham Permanent from 1855, the Greenwich from, the Woolwich from and Birkbeck and Frances Ravenscroft in Beckenham. Solicitors also financed builders.

This gave builders an easy source of money. They were further encouraged by easy credit from suppliers, few building standards, and numerous pattern books, which provided a short cut from novice to master. Most building firms were small, and were engaged in an enterprise of great risk.

In the 19th century virtually all occupiers of newly-built homes were tenants and their ability to finance their new home depended on the level and stability of their weekly income. As the economy as a whole fluctuated so did the occupation rates of newly-built homes, so booms in housing output such as 1878-80 could be followed by a slump in the economy leaving builders with completed, but unlet houses, or even half finished buildings.