The most distinctive form of working-class housing in 19th century London was the multi-storey apartment block, built originally by charitable societies, and from the 1890s by public authorities.
The prototype for such blocks was the Sailors’ Home in Well Street, Whitechapel (now demolished), opened in 1835 and designed by Henry Roberts (1803-76) the architect who set the pattern for philanthropic housing schemes in London, and influenced developments in Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Russia. In 1844 Roberts was a founder member of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes, for whom he built a set of Model Dwellings in Pentonville in 1844, and a model lodging house off Drury Lane in 1846. Both have been demolished, but his next project for the Society, a group of dwellings for 48 families in three blocks built around a courtyard in Streatham Street, near the British Museum, remains. Access to the apartments is by wrought-iron balconies, they are of fireproof construction, and each, at the time of construction, had its own water closet, a revolutionary feature for working class dwellings in England.
Roberts went on to design the Model Houses shown at the Great Exhibition, now re-erected in Kennington Park Road, and several other blocks of apartments, but his career was cut short by scandal, and after 1853 he spent most of his time in Italy.
The Streatham Street apartments were re-habilitated in 1956 by Sir Frederick Gibberd & Partners. They are now known as Parnell House and managed by the Peabody Trust. There is usually public access to some of the flats on Heritage Days each September.