This house was built in the 1890s, one of several hundred homes of this design in our area. This picture is very unusual because it shows the house, and two boys who lived in it, on what looks like an ordinary day. Most surviving photographs from this time show people in their best clothes, posing in photographers’ studios.
The census return for 1901 tells us that Alexander Downe, a carpenter and joiner, his wife Ruth and their daughter Muriel and two sons Stephen and Alex lived here. The family moved here from Mile End, and the two boys were born in Walthamstow.
This one black and white photograph tells us a great deal both about the boys and their home.
Stephen and Alex look as if they are about nine and seven years old, so the photograph was probably taken in around 1908. They are dressed alike in woollen suits, shirts with wide collars, narrow ties, and heavy boots. These were the kind of clothes (link to clothes and fashion page) worn by most boys of their age. The only unusual thing about them is that they are not wearing hats – most people did not go far out of doors without a head covering of some kind, so they are probably not going far. Perhaps they have come outside just to be photographed.
The house looks tidy and well kept, with iron railings and a carefully trimmed privet hedge in the front garden. It has the box sash windows that were usual at the time, with wooden venetian blinds half lowered and, behind them, heavy lace curtains. The front doorway is in shadow, so it’s not possible to see whether the house door is open or shut – or any details of what is inside the house (link to houses page). We do know, though, that the house had a front room, which was probably known as the parlour and kept for best. In many families the parlour was kept locked and was out of bounds to children. Behind this was the kitchen, behind that the scullery, which had a door to the back garden and outside lavatory. Upstairs there were three bedrooms. Most local houses were still built without a bathroom.
In the foreground of the photograph there is a gas street light. These had to be light every night by a lamplighter who came round with a ladder.