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The Great Housing Philanthropists Part 3: Nathan Rothschild

Nathan Rothschild was a British banker and noted philanthropist, concerned with improving housing conditions for low-income people.

In 1885, Rothschild’s horror with the miserable living conditions within London prompted him to form The Four Per Cent industrial dwellings company. The company’s capital was set at £1.9 million in today’s money. Shares were issued at £1,200, and each were expected to yield a return of 4%. Rothschild was the major shareholder, investing £480,000.

Rothschild’s objective was to provide more commodious and healthy homes at a minimum rent charge. To do so he would buy freehold or leasehold land to construct new houses. The first piece of land acquired was spread across Dean and Flower street in London. Rothschild’s architect N. S. Joseph oversaw the intensive development of six large block buildings which become known as ‘Charlotte De Rothschild’ buildings, after his mother. The total construction cost including the price of the land was £1.9 million in today’s money.

By 1900, the Charlotte De Rothschild buildings could accommodate up to 228 families in 477 rooms. The average rent was charged at £12 per week. This would generate a 4 per cent return on shareholders’ investment. In 1887, the total income from rent was £162,200 per annum.

Rothschild would continue to acquire land and develop housing in other areas of London. These included in areas such as Stepney Green, Whitechapel and Hackney. The company still survives today, and has been renamed IDS. They manage 1,500 properties across London. Their housing stock includes flats, housing, sheltered housing and shared ownership properties.

Sources and further reading
Jerry White, Rothschild Buildings: Life in an East-End Tenement Block 1887 – 1920. 2002.
John Nelson Tarn, Five per cent philanthropy. 1973.
Susannah Morris, Market Solutions for Social Problems: Working-Class Housing in Nineteenth-Century London. 2001.
Lynsey Hanley Estates. An intimate history, 2007.