The First British Bungalow

Dr Andy Brown, our Analytics Director, takes us through the mysterious origins of the bungalow in Britain.

Single storey dwellings under the name ‘bungalow’ have been around since the mid-19th century.

The bungalow became both a symbol of bohemianism and the building type of choice for the aspiring upper-middle class seeking an affordable second home in which to enjoy the new concept of ‘the weekend’.

The first modern bungalow

The first modern British bungalows were designed by little-known English architect,  John Taylor, (1818-1884), and built at Westgate-on-Sea, Kent between 1869 and 1870.

The term ‘bungalow’ originated in the Bengali region of India, meaning ‘house in the Bengal style’. But is this really where John Taylor’s design came from? Perhaps Taylor was merely designing cheap but weatherproof houses for working people, the culmination of a long-harboured aspiration of a socially-responsible architect.

One of John Taylor’s bungalows, ‘Fair Outlook’, formerly ‘The Hut’, completed by August 1874.
One of John Taylor’s bungalows, ‘Fair Outlook’, formerly ‘The Hut’, completed by August 1874.

A passing journalist in 1870 likened Taylor’s buildings to bungalows, and the name stuck. Taylor himself adopted the term once it had become a bankable brand, championed by one of the most eminent physicians of the day, Professor Erasmus Wilson.

After purchasing the first four of Taylor’s bungalows himself, Wilson wrote to him:

The idea of Bungalows seems to take people’s minds immensely. They are novel, quaint, pretty and perfect as to sanitary qualities. The best sanitary home for a family is a Bungalow.

Professor Erasmus Wilson

Of these early examples, only the Grade II listed Fair Outlook survives. A corridor bungalow, this is now the oldest genuine bungalow in the world.

The Rossetti Bungalow

The Rossetti Bungalow. Courtesy of the Birchington Heritage Trust.

The bungalow may not have caught on but for the prestige created by Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  At the time of his death in 1882, Rossetti was a resident in one of Taylor’s later pre-fab bungalows in Birchington, then called ‘The Chalet’.

Birchington became a place of pilgrimage for art lovers, and visitors were able to visit the bungalow which was quickly retitled ‘Rossetti Bungalow’.

John Taylor

Taylor’s Herne Hill station, London, photographed in 2012. Photo by Andy Brown.
Taylor’s Herne Hill station, London, photographed in 2012. Photo by Andy Brown.

Before his Westgate bungalows, Taylor designed many of the stations on the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. The design of Herne Hill station can be seen to inspire an early drawing entitled Bungalow No 1.

Elevation of Taylor’s original bungalow at Westgate-on-Sea. Source: Building News July 7 1905.
Elevation of Taylor’s original bungalow at Westgate-on-Sea. Source: Building News July 7 1905.

Taylor’s first commission was another railway project, which he undertook jointly with his father, John Henry Taylor (1791/92-1867). This was to design stations for the Lincoln Loop line.

John Taylor Senior designed Lincoln station in his trademark Tudor Revival style, while John Junior designed the others on the line in his preferred Italianate style. Tattershall station is a key example.

Similarly to Herne Hill, it is comprised of a central ridged structure – in this case the booking hall – sandwiched between tower and smaller element.

Tattershall station
Tattershall station.

There is a clue to the source of the Tattershall design in the round-headed openings, which reference a popular German architectural style – Rundbogenstil.

It is believed that during his studies, Taylor was inspired by German architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841). Schinkel’s design for the Roman Baths in the gardens of Charlottenhof at Sanssouci, Potsdam, was published in a booklet of his work in 1835. The similarities between this building and Taylor’s Tattershall station are striking.

Hofgartnerei (Head Gardener’s House) at Sanssouci, Potsdam.

It seems that Taylor’s first bungalows are not just Graeco-Italianate in spirit but are part of an enduring homage to Schinkel and his masterpiece Roman Baths.

We can look again at the early bungalows designed by Taylor and notice similarities in more than just the overall form – exposed rafters, shallow-pitched roof, Tuscan-style tiling, for example.

This alternative origin offers an explanation for why the bungalow in Britain has so little in common with its namesake in India.

Further Reading

13 responses to The First British Bungalow

  1. Stacy Cosham says:

    Fascinating read. I love reading the origins of building styles and how they caught on. I wonder whether the modern perception and cost of bungalows still meet John Taylor’s vision for a “weekend getaway”?

  2. Great article, but would very much appreciate information about the picture used at the top of the page. Where are these buildings? Thank you!

  3. The British Bungalow is rather different and more elaborate than what Americans termed bungalow in the late Victorian and early 20th century – usually small to medium single family homes lining the streets in quiet neighborhoods, often with sloping roofs that provided a second story of bedrooms with dormer windows and a deep covered porch across the front. The first home I owned was one such built around 1920. It was a quality structure with a slate roof.

  4. Stafford Linsley says:

    Hope you will include Aged Miners’ Homes – usually called Bungalows in North East England

  5. Roger Bowdler says:

    I suspect this is just the tip of an iceberg of much investigation: thank you for sharing it. Very interesting echoes of Schinkel: another parallel is with Henry Goodridge and his Italianate houses in Bath. Rossetti was a broken man by the time he was taken to Westgate, and died there soon after: the single-floor aspect of the bungalow remains one of their great advantages.

  6. FZN says:

    What a fascinating read on the history of the word “bungalow” as well – such different meanings with reference to all sorts of contexts! I had no idea a simple structure with a slate roof could also be termed a bungalow, nowadays slate roofing is almost always associated with heritage buildings instead of normal, family homes. Great article!

  7. Hey! I liked German style, as well as Taylor was inspired by German architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841).

  8. hettypress says:

    I would love to know the location of the building shown in your banner photograph…is that a bungalow by Taylor as well?

  9. C Colley says:

    My father (1950’s bungalow self builder) always said they were called ‘bungalows’ because you could ‘bung a low’ roof on them!

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