This week I was lucky enough to meet Roger Dear, who used to be one of the area managers for the Warner Estate and who worked for them in different roles for over 40 years until they sold the remaining properties to Circle 33 in 2001.
He told me about how the properties were maintained under the Warners and about how they were modernised at different stages. Interestingly for me, he told me about the changes that would have been made to my own flat. Although I knew that the kitchen and bathroom would have been in a different configuration originally, I was surprised to learn that what is now my kitchen (what Roger called a ‘kitchenette’) was actually initially a small bedroom. The bathroom would have been a scullery with a toilet in the corner. Some of the earlier Warners would have had outside toilets, but mine was built in 1906. He told me that the bath would have been added in over the stairs, in what was then the scullery, in 1939, but without any walls around it, just the banister going downstairs. The back bedroom would then have been a living room.
One of the fascinating things about this project has been realising how differently people thought about their living spaces when Warners were building the properties. We’ve seen the intensely patterned, heavy wallpapers that people used to have, in contrast to now when most people have simple white painted walls. Even words that were used then have almost completely fallen out of use: parlours, sculleries, kitchenettes.
The day after I met Roger I moved some furniture in one of the rooms in my flat. On a whim I decided to finally open up the hardboard covering on the chimney breast, which I hadn’t done before as I assumed that the fireplace had been taken out and I would only find a hole behind it. To my surprise I found that waiting behind the board was a rusty, battered, but beautiful, original cast iron fireplace which must have been covered up for decades but that would have been in the room for 108 years.