‘Artisan’ houses by the creator of Oxford’s ‘Bridge of Sighs’

Tucked away behind the busy London Road in Sevenoaks is Lime Tree Walk, designed as ‘artisan-style’ housing by prominent Victorian architect, Sir Thomas Graham Jackson. Jackson is most often remembered for his work in Oxford, including Hertford College and the famous Bridge of Sighs over New College Lane.

‘Sevenoaks – A street of Workmens’ Cottages with a Coffee-house’


Hertford Bridge, Oxford – popularly known as the ‘Bridge of Sighs’

Twenty four houses were built along Lime Tree Walk in 1878-79 as ‘a housing experiment for working class people in a high class residential area’. The houses were designed and built by Sir Thomas Graham Jackson, along with his father, Hugh Jackson, to provide ‘model dwellings’ for Sevenoaks. When the houses were almost complete, in 1879, Jackson said he ‘had tried to make them beautiful within the proper limits of cottage building…with a kind simple grace which comes from plain sensible construction.

Architect - Thomas Graham Jackson
Architect – Thomas Graham Jackson

Thomas Graham Jackson is known for his works in Oxford, completing several designs across the city, including the Examination Schools along the High Street, along with Trinity College quadrangle, Brasenose College, Hertford College, including the Bridge of Sighs, and many others. He completed so many buildings in Oxford, it was said that ‘no other architect has altered the face of Oxford so greatly.’ He was first articled to Sir George Gilbert Scott and later went on to work with another famous name, Richard Norman Shaw. He also wrote several books and was responsible for several designs, as well as restorations and additions, across the country, including Eton, Inner Temple in London, others in Sevenoaks, and Winchester Cathedral.

Residents had moved into the new houses along Lime Tree Walk in Sevenoaks by the time the census was taken in the spring of 1881 and this reveals many of the first residents were craftsmen and women and working-class families. Amongst these early residents were carpenters, grocers, gardeners, labourers, bricklayers, dressmakers, shoemakers, as well as sewing machine operators, journeyman bakers, and telegraph messengers.

The residents along Lime Tree Walk continued from similar walks of life throughout the late 19th into the early 20th century, and meanwhile Sir Thomas Graham Jackson continued as the owner until his death in 1924.

Lime Tree Walk completed and shown on Ordnance Survey map, 1909
Lime Tree Walk completed and shown on Ordnance Survey map, 1909

Alongside the houses by Thomas Jackson, Lime Tree Walk also featured a Coffee House, built in 1882, which later became the ‘Lime Tree Temperance Hotel’. It was also used as the headquarters of the local cycling club during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when cycling had become the newest and latest craze. It even features a cycle themed weathervane!

Today, this row of ‘workmen’s dwellings’ are Grade II listed and have become a popular residential area in the centre of Sevenoaks.

Example of 'Artisan' houses in Lime Tree Walk, Sevenoaks
Example of ‘Artisan’ house in Lime Tree Walk, Sevenoaks (courtesy of Chestertons)

Dickens House for Christmas

With just a few days to go before Christmas, it seems appropriate that I post a blog with a Christmas connection. However, sadly, I don’t have a house history directly related to Christmas, so instead I’ve looked to a man who is often synonymous with Christmas, the author of A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens!

Bleak House - Broadstairs
Bleak House – Broadstairs

A few years ago, while working with Chestertons, I was asked to research the history of Bleak House in Broadstairs. It is well known as a house connected to the renowned Victorian author, for which, it is believed he said, it was ‘the residence he most desired.’

Today, Bleak House is noted for its crenelated appearance with a long row of windows looking out towards the sea, but when Charles Dickens stayed in the house it was known as Fort House and appeared much like a typical Georgian house. It was built around the turn of the 19th century and acquired the name ‘Fort House’ as it is believed it was the home of the Fort Captain. This was at a time when the Napoleonic wars were raging in Europe and like many coastal locations there was a genuine fear of invasion from across the seas. The house was built here for its ideal location as a look-out, but also the height meant it was also ideal for a telegraph station.

The original Fort House
The original Fort House

Dickens first came to the house in the early years of Victoria’s reign, around 1837, when Broadstairs had become a popular seaside resort and the house had become a lodging house. He visited regularly, and it was while staying at Fort House that he completed parts of some of his most well-known novels, including Nicholas Nickleby (1839), Dombey and Son (1848) and David Copperfield (1850). It was also while staying here that Dickens began working on the novel that would later give the house its name – Bleak House – published in 1853.

Bleak House
Bleak House – 1911

Dickens visited Fort House with his family many times, but he also hosted several other famous names of the 19th century, including former prime minister, William Gladstone, as well as another Victorian novelist, Wilkie Collins, and his biographer and friend, John Forster. It is also thought it may have been visited by the Danish fairy tale author, Hans Christian Anderson. Dickens is believed to have much favoured Fort House (although he stayed in other houses in Broadstairs) and is believed to have said it was the one ‘on which he had always set his affections’.

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens

It was in the early years of the 1900s that Fort House was extended and re-fronted to what we recognise today. It was also at this time that the house was given the name ‘Bleak House’ and was recorded as such in the 1901 census. There are some theories that the house was used as inspiration for the Bleak House in his novel, although others have disagreed and suggested it is more likely the former residence of the author that inspired the creation of the name many years later.

During the 20th century, the house has had a number of extensions and renovations, although it is believed it still retains the original mahogany staircase and fireplaces. For much of the 20th century it has had a variety of uses and was both a residential home and also the Thanet smuggling museum and Dickens memorial museum. Since 2012 it has been reopened as a guest house and wedding venue, and accepts short term visitors to Broadstairs, much as it did in the 19th century when Charles Dickens came to stay.