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’.
Dr Andy Brown, Planning Director at Historic England, takes us through the mysterious origins of the bungalow in Britain.
The first modern British bungalows were designed by little-known English architect, John Taylor, (1818-1884), and built at Westgate-on-Sea, Kent 1869-70.
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.
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”.
Of these early examples, only Fair Outlook survives, a corridor bungalow (Grade II listed), making this now the oldest genuine bungalow in the world.
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’.
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 No1.
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.
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.
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.
Do you know of an amazing home or garden? You can nominate it now for Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places, sponsored by specialist insurer, Ecclesiastical.
England’s history is a hotbed of invention and creativity. Many places have shaped both our country and the world beyond. We need you to name the most important places that tell our national story and bring our extraordinary history to life.
Nominate now at HistoricEngland.org.uk/100places
Join in the conversation on twitter using #100Places
- Bungalows by Kathryn Ferry (2014, Shire).
- A Brief Introduction to… Vernacular Houses