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Tuesday, 7 March, 2000, 16:01 GMT
All together now - the return of terraced housing

Swansea: The view of the terraces
What does the phrase "terraced housing" mean to you?

Cramped, Victorian back-to-backs? Paper-thin boxes on cheap housing estates? Or the sweeping crescents of Georgian Bath?

In recent years, developers have abandoned terraced streets in favour of estates of semi-detached and detached homes - more Brookside than Coronation Street.

The popular contemporary choice
But now joined-up housing has swept back to popularity - if not yet with developers and homeowners, then at least with the government.

John Prescott, deputy PM and Minister for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, wants the bulk of the 200,000 or so new homes planned for the south-east to be terraced.

He believes it is an ideal way to provide decent accommodation in an area where space is in short supply, and prices at a premium.

But the style has not always been looked upon so fondly.

Terraced housing really began in Britain in about the 1760s, according to Richard Rodger, professor of urban history at Leicester University.

No1 Royal Crescent: Not your average two-up, two-down
Then, elegant Georgian townhouses were built for merchants and the aristocracy in places such as Edinburgh, Bath, Harrogate and Regent's Park in London.

In Scotland, that is about as far as terraced housing got, as the land ownership system led to the development of tenements for most people, with large dwellings for the wealthy.

But elsewhere the style reached its apogee in about 1820, when speculative builders began putting up row upon row of simple houses for workers flocking to the cities for jobs in the new industries.

Bouts of regulation from the 1840s to the 1870s, during the Victorian era, meant not only that the style flourished, but that houses were built to an increasingly high standard, says Mr Rodger.

Most terraced houses are Victorian
Thus the majority of terraced streets remaining today hail from the late 19th Century.

However, the popularity of terraces slumped dramatically in 1919 - the year that saw the birth of the council estate.

"Before then there had been no subsidised council housing," he says. "[Terraced] housing really began to lose its currency then."

And by the 1930s, the style had totally fallen out of favour with an increasingly affluent society.

Council houses turned off the snobs
"By then, a big enough middle-class had developed to begin a movement to the suburbs, to escape the death, disease and depravity of the inner cities," he says.

The lack of fashionability snowballed in subsequent decades.

A combination of council high-rises and privately owned suburban semis dominated the landscape of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, while terraced houses were left to rot in increasingly empty inner cities.

Mr Rodger says they then became associated with social deprivation and lack of facilities.

Those with any choice were more likely to buy a small starter home on a new estate, than a substantial terrace in an area they considered undesirable.

The famous Mandelson terrace
Despite that, says Mr Rodger, the Brookside type estates on offer over the last 20 years have been generated less by customer demand, than by a centralised construction industry.

"It's more to do with a homogenised building industry with a handful of major constructors and cloned developments," he says.

"These firms have national offices and centralised design departments, which make the same houses for areas all over the country. It's much more to do with what they want."

Mr Rodger says there is "nothing congenital" about the British character which means that we don't want to live next to each other.

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As long as the new houses are coupled with "good schools, and a neighbourhood environment which offers a better quality of life than the inner cities," we will live in them, he says.

Rocketing London prices, continuing migration to the South-East and the rise in solo living, mean terraces could be the right solution to our need for numerous affordable, but not necessarily spacious, homes.

Of course, all this praise for the terrace may surprise those stuck in blighted streets in areas such as Salford and Leigh in Manchester, the West End of Newcastle or Blaenau in Gwent.

Properties in terraced streets in these areas have been going for as little as 50p, as they are abandoned by people fleeing crime and deprivation.

And public regeneration projects continue to knock them down and turn them into - semi-detached houses with gardens.

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