What Did My London Front Garden Originally Look Like?
As the experts in London Front Gardens, we are often asked what our customer's gardens would have originally looked like?
With many owners across multiple genrations and with garden trends coming and going. Many front gardens have had makeovers at the whim and style of the current owners at that time.
Here we try and describe in as much detail as we can what your London front garden originally looked like, if you have a period property.
Spotting the signs in your London Front Garden
Over the years, particularly if your house is Victorian or Edwardian many changes for better or often worse would have occurred including the addition of concrete, removing of original steps and mosaic paths - plus the fad of 'concreting everything' being one of the worst offenders.
However, even if your front garden is a mess of crazy paving and the steps chipped concrete, the clues to how it originally looked are often right in front of you. Returning your London front garden to its former glory is also easier than you think.
Towards the end of the London Victorian building boom, many front gardens were built to show off. Mosaic paths became de rigour. Heavy sand stone bullnosed steps leading to the door added weight and gravitas and along the front wall; heavy wrought iron railings with ornate matching gates, stone copings and gate posts installed.
Sadly, over the next 100 years, railings were removed, original walls were pulled down or built upon and concrete became the most popular surface for the garden. Yet, the signs of original features are often still there if you take the time to spend some time investigating.
Start with looking for a pavement stone at the front of your garden path, at the point where it meets the pavement. This is normally a large York or Portland sandstone. If you or your neighbours have one, chances are you would have had a mosaic path. If you look closely at the pavement stone, you can often see where the iron gate posts were cut off, including the ornate backstays to hold the weight of the gate. You may see the pavement stone underneath newer tiling, walls or concrete.
Even with concrete on top of the path, you can probably spot the original outline of the path - either by looking at the width of the pavement stone or dips in concrete at the sides or where lazy DIYers just tiled over the original path, keeping the original layout. These measurements should be your guide if you decide to reintroduce a mosaic path or decide to pave with stone.
What original garden design did I have?
At the London Front Garden Company, we see original path designs every day and they are different throughout London. Some streets have black and white mosaics, the next street along with a mass of browns, greens and red tiles. In short, when designing a London front garden path design, the original builders put in what they or the original purchaser liked - like a modern-day box ticking activity.
Unless you are constrained by conservation issues where one design is encouraged, you should choose what you like. A great website to give you some ideas of original designs is www.londonmoasaic.co.uk. Start by searching for your area name, as many designs are called after London suburbs where they were most popular.
What front garden wall did I have?
When it comes to London front garden walls, the most common was a low brick wall normally 6/7 bricks high. Sometimes these may have been rendered white at the time of building or over the next few years. If you are lucky, you may see the original stone coping on top of the wall ('coping' are the larger, often flat stones that sit on top of brick walls) - you may also see some stumps - this is where the original railings would have been connected to the wall.
Have a look at your property and walk up and down the street, there will always be one property that has the original wall - normally in a state of disrepair! In certain areas particularly in North London, you may be lucky enough to have unusual block and cinder walls - which were supposedly built by the apprentices to teach, hence the simple hit or miss design. We can rebuild them, but until it settles down the colours can be quite jarring.
Brick Piers which are a higher section of bricks - 8-12 bricks higher than the wall, sometimes with stone on top (Pier Caps) normally appeared to the left and right of the property, marking the furthest boundary from the path and balancing two houses where the paths run next to each other.
If you have brick Piers on either side of your path, this will normally be a latter addition, a clue to this is often they are built over the original pavement stone - hence the tendency to be damaged when hit by bins as they have no foundations!
When choosing the colour of bricks, have a look at the front of your property as these would most likely have been used often red and cream or mixed stock. At the London front Garden Company, we regularly source original bricks for our clients, however it is worth noting that if you intend to clean the bricks on the front of your house the new colour will be a lot brighter and cleaner therefore choosing reclaimed might affect the match.
What front garden railings did I have?
Very rarely will you see the original front railings, as most were removed during WW2. Properties with steps leading down from the garden and residents with disabilities were allowed to keep their railings. With a bit of research by walking around your local area particularly on busier roads, you may get a glimpse of some of these last remaining railings and their design.
London front garden railings tended to be split between longer vertical railings and lower heavier ornate railings. At the London Front Garden Company, we regularly install new versions of these heavier iron railings from original moulds. However, a more popular solution is often powder coated vertical railings with a vast range of railheads and ornate finials for posts, such as pineapples and acorns.
One design point to think about when reinstalling railings is whether you are going to have higher sections of brick Piers on your wall. Most original designs of Edwardian properties would often have iron posts instead of brick on the front wall and on the sides supporting the gate.
Structurally, having iron posts or brick Piers makes little difference, it just depends on what you think may work best on your property and in particularly relation to your neighbour's wall design. Similarly, the top of your wall can be finished with brick on edge, brick on edge with creasing tile (you will see a small section of tile under the top layer of bricks) and finally stone Coping and Pier caps.
Finding what railings went along the sides of your path or along the furthest boundary is much easier. Most London front gardens would originally have had horizontal railings often with a support half way down the length to support weight.
You might find the old railings still sitting in hedging, however almost always you will see where they were drilled into the wall if you had them look out for small circular filled holes in your bricks. Again, we regularly reinstall new horizontal railings and also a popular choice can be full height railings with a small retaining wall or plinth and edging stone or wooden fencing.
Look out also for gully's, drains and down pipes, as these can often limit what you can build along the side walls. Also, the bane of London front gardens the wheelie bin often means that side wall is obscured, so think carefully about design and budget when choosing a material.
What did my front garden steps look like?
What did my front garden steps look like?
If you are lucky enough to have original steps, you have done well. Over time, many London front garden steps were concreted over, original grills removed and mosaic patterns under the door mat either removed, concreted or tiled over. With larger steps often bitumen was used to seal and over time these have melted and caused water leaks.
If you don't have original steps in situ in your London front garden, again have a look at your neighbours or at our website to find original examples. If you have a cellar look underneath the front of the house if you have access and you may see the original stone steps under concrete above your head.
Most steps tended to be bull nosed (rounded at the front) and slightly wider that the porch. Often, they would have had some form of ventilation on the vertical section of the step. These cast iron ventilations are called "Daisy Grills" and over time have often been replaced with air bricks or sometimes mistakenly sealed off. If you have a cellar, you definitely would have had a "Daisy Grill" and if you are thinking about replacing your steps, unless you have a basement conversion, we always suggest to reinstall ventilation.
Regularly, we get asked what colour my steps would have been. With 20th century pollution and foot traffic - normally a dark grey or brown. Often you can get quite involved in the choosing of the colour of stone steps, though in our experience the first time someone puts a muddy footprint on the step, you may wonder why you spend so much time getting the exact colour match!
York stone is a lovely product and it tends to be the stone of choice in refits. It also comes in 5cm and 7cm thickness creating a heavier, more traditional and beautiful step. When reinstalling steps you may also think about boot scrapers which can provide a practical and aesthetic addition.
Structurally, steps whilst looking quite difficult to install, in the hands of a good stone mason, are relatively easy to replace - at the London Front Garden Company we undertake three to four step replacement projects a week. The reason so many steps have been concreted over, is that it is an easy quick solution for the untrained. However, it can often hide issues such as damp or cracks that can be resolved easily by replacing the steps. A good artisan will make sure that there is adequate support underneath and often when the steps are over a coal hole or cellar will install new lintels to support the weight of the new steps.
Where a property has more than 3 or four steps, you will probably have flank walls either side of the steps. If this is the case, there are a number of options to bring them back to their original look. In simple cases, this can involve removing the newer surface (often tiling, concrete or bitumen), water proofing and cladding with new stone.
Where the flank walls have failed, we can internally support the new steps or in the case where they have completely failed rebuild completely the flank wall and new bull nosed steps. If you are thinking of replacing steps, get in touch with us and we'll happily discuss at length the different options.
Looking to restore your original London Front Garden?
The London Front Garden Company are the experts in replacing, restoring and replicating period front gardens. We can check for the signs of your front garden's past and piece together how we think it might have looked.
Want to add your own style? Of course. We can build hybrid designs which give a nod to the past while adding contemporary and functional features from the modern age.
If you would like to speak to one of our garden design team. Just contact us here and we'll book in a call to discuss.