ROBERTS, Henry, The dwellings of the labouring classes, their arrangement and construction; illustrated by a reference to the model houses of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes, and other buildings recently erected: being an essay read January 21, 1850, at the Royal Institute of British Architects. With plans and elevations of dwellings adapted to towns, as well as to agricultural and manufacturing districts. Published … by the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring classes, [1850]

Henry Roberts was a founder member and the honorary architect of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes in 1844. The Society played an important role in changing opinion to housing for the poor, largely by erecting and publishing a variety of exemplary buildings, all to designs by the honorary architect. Roberts’s most successful model dwellings for the Society were the block of self-contained flats in Streatham Street, Bloomsbury (1849–50), and the celebrated exhibition building containing four flats financed by Prince Albert for the Great Exhibition of 1851 (later built in Kennington Park).

There is a wonderful watercolour perspective and a model of the Streatham Street flats on display in the exhibition ‘Homes of the Homeless: seeking shelter in Victorian London’ at the Geffrye Museum, see

The first edition of this book held in the AA Library was presented by George Godwin in 1879. Godwin (1813-1888) was editor of The Builder magazine from 1844-83. Whilst editor, he continued in architectural practice working on restoration of churches and designing houses in Kensington and Earl’s Court. The fact that he once owned this book must have been down to his role as a social reformer and campaigner for improving the conditions of the working classes. He wrote on slums and overcrowding; his first-hand reports were turned in to three books published between 1854-64. In addition he promoted the use of public baths, wash-houses, charitable housing trusts and pavilion-styled hospitals.

Godwin was also a key player in the founding of the AA. In 1846 he wrote a leader and published letters in The Builder from young architects Robert Kerr and Charles Gray, who complained about the lack of architectural training for an architect’s pupil.  Gray and Kerr suggested starting a school themselves. This was to become the beginnings of the AA which held its first meeting on 8 October 1847. John Summerson writes that by the 1850s, Godwin was ‘a firm friend and ally of the Association, came to its Conversaziones and reported its proceedings regularly…’ (Summerson, J. The Architectural Association 1847-1947, p.7)