ADDRESS Gibson Gardens,
OUTCOME Add to Local List
Gibson Gardens, at the corner of Northwold Road and Stoke Newington High Street, is a gated estate of Victorian mansion blocks which retains a historic integrity in both its design and planning. The blocks that make up Gibson Gardens (originally known as Gibson Buildings), were built by the
Metropolitan Association For Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes (MAIDIC), in 1880. The development originally comprised 3 brick blocks of four-storey flats and a row of ‘cottages’ which housed the elderly relations of those living in the blocks. Each building bears its original name – The Long Block, The Gatehouse Block, The Railway Block and The Cottages. The architects for Gibson Gardens were Henry D. Davis (1838-1915) and Barrow Emanuel (1841-1904), a partnership that produced a number of other model housing developments. A further building (known as the Paddle
Steamer Block), was built in 1909. It was so-named, as the long iron balconies were reminiscent of the decks of a paddle steamer.
Even today the blocks have a solid, strong appearance being built in practical materials, with much care and attention to detail. All are built of red and yellow brick with stone dressings. There are decorative entablatures, gauged arches, corbels, lintels and horizontal banding. Surviving period features include timber Victorian box sash windows with large panes of plate glass, chimneys, cast-iron gutters and drain pipes. There is a plaque on the ‘Long Block’ which states that Gibson Gardens was built in 1880. Internally, stone stairs with attractive wooden handrails survive. Gibson Gardens was amongst the first groups of flats of this type to have sinks and running water. Originally, there was an outside toilet on each landing to be shared by two flats.
The layout reflects the careful planning associated with much of the social housing erected by MAIDIC. The two main four-storey blocks, set out in an L-shape, originally housed most of the tenants. Access was by stairway to all four floors. Gibson Gardens was renovated in 1975, but many original features survive including the rare cobblestone courtyard surfaces installed by Hackney Vestry in 1897 and Victorian cast-iron street lamps, which were originally gas powered.
The L-shaped road was cobbled, as it still is today. Beside the cobbled road is a strong iron railing and a row of trees. Behind the railings, with their several gates, is a courtyard with seats and then a row of small cottages with quite long gardens at the back. This enclosure has the air of a row of almshouses, overlooked by the tall blocks.
The gates and the pillar, with its carefully shaped capping and ball finial, are typical of the period. These were not locked until late, if then, for some of the tenants might be on night shift, but they acted as a barrier making Gibson Gardens a distinct community.
The Metropolitan Association For Improving The Dwellings of the Industrious Classes (MAIDIC) was formed in the early 1840s and was incorporated by Royal Charter in October, 1845. It aimed to provide sanitary and affordable accommodation for those of limited means, although it proposed that this was most effectively done by operating on a commercial footing, with shareholders receiving a dividend of up to five per cent per annum. The first MAIDIC blocks were completed in 1848, in Old St Pancras Road, on an ‘associated’ model, with shared amenities such as lavatories and kitchen. This type of large, block residence with shared facilities became the norm for model dwellings companies. MAIDIC was one of the largest Model Dwelling Company’s and by 1900, housed over 6,000 people. It was a fore-runner of the modern housing association which sought to provide affordable housing for the working classes.
Gibson Gardens is an early example of purpose-built dwellings for The Metropolitan Association For Improving The Dwellings of the Industrious Classes built in 1880, which has survived remarkably unharmed.
It is one of the best examples in Hackney of a development by a Victorian philanthropic organisation promoting ‘healthy’ low cost housing for the poor and developing model buildings on a privately run basis with a return for investors. By 1900, MAIDIC was one of the largest model dwellings companies operating in London, housing over 6,000 individuals.
Several of the Metropolitan Association dwellings suffered bombing during the
Second World War. Gibson Gardens remains a remarkably intact example of Victorian social/philanthropic housing, combining integrity in the composition of its buildings, with the original social vision.
These buildings are of local interest and are a cherished landmark. The development has been thoughtfully conserved and due to its character and unique atmosphere has often been used as a film location. The community spirit that dated from its earliest days, with communal events and fairs, survived World War Two, and despite the sale of many of the flats there is an active Residents’ Association.
The blocks were designed by Messrs. Davis and Emanuel, of Finsbury Circus in 1880. Other examples of their work include Southsea Baths & Assembly Rooms, Hampshire (1871), Salisbury House, No.31 Finsbury Circus (1901 – Grade II). the Lolesworth Buildings (1885) and Stafford Buildings (1901) in
Spitalfields for the East End Dwellings Co Ltd and the West London Synagogue, Upper Berkeley Street, (1869-1909). They also designed the City of London School (1881-2).
Gibson Gardens is a group of mansion blocks of good design and planning which stand in a spacious layout. Even today, they retain a historic integrity in both design and planning.
An enclosed and self-contained enclave within a busy neighbourhood, Gibson Gardens borders the Stoke Newington Conservation Area and its entrance is directly opposite Abney Park Cemetery, a designated park on Historic England’s Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Interest.
Within Gibson Gardens are a variety of vegetation, small gardens, green areas and communal spaces which were typical of Victorian planning and are important for birds and insects, as well as the local inhabitants.
Aesthetic or Artistic Merit
Important early example of a housing development by the Metropolitan Association For Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes (MAIDIC), Several of the Metropolitan Association dwellings suffered bombing during the
Second World War. Gibson Gardens remains a remarkably intact example of Victorian social/philanthropic housing, combining integrity in the composition of the buildings with the original social vision. The design and skill used to build the blocks is as clear today, as when they were first erected nearly 140 years ago.
Public housing in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, especially in London, was admired worldwide on aesthetic grounds as well as for practical considerations of sanitation and cost.
VISITS: No, written assessment by Dr Ann Robey, architectural historian and heritage consultant, based on archival and secondary research, and information provided by Cheryl Knorr to London Borough of Hackney
Notes and research compiled by Cheryl Knorr
Hackney Archives, H/ES/2/283 (Hackney Vestry Paving Plan Gibson Buildings)
Jane Filtson, The Gibson Gardens History and Cookery Book, (1984) Isobel Watson, Hackney and Stoke Newington Past, (1998) The Builder 24 Jan. 1880
Web Reference – Organisation/Author: workhouses.org.uk, Title: Model
Dwellings and Model Lodging Houses, Date Accessed: 15/05/2015,
Web Reference – Organisation/Author: locallocalhistory, Title: Gibson
Gardens, Date Accessed: 15/05/2015,