sydney waterlow

The Great Housing Philanthropists Part 4: Sir Sydney Waterlow

Sir Sydney Waterlow was a British politician, businessman and philanthropist. Waterlow was committed to solving the housing crisis in Victorian England.

Disturbed by the dire living conditions of low income working people, Waterlow formed the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company in 1863. The company started with an initial capital of £2.2 million in today’s money. Waterlow managed to attract significant investment across a variety of sectors. Shareholders included MPs, lawyers, builders and merchants.

The Improved Industrial Dwellings Company had a preference to build self-contained flats in blocks of 57 storeys. The first project completed was Cromwell Buildings in New Southwark Street, London, which homed 22 families. Rent was charged at £9 per week in today’s money, for a flat with two rooms. Each additional room was £5 per week.

Central to the company’s objective was a healthy return on investment. The company had an average yield return of 5% between 1870-1915. The IIDC expanded its operations after its initial success. Palmerstone Buildings, in Kings Cross London, were completed in 1866 and homed 30 families. This was quickly followed by Hamilton Row and New Tower Buildings in Wapping. At the height of its success, the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company housed around 30,000 individuals.

Sir Sydney Waterlow believed that despite the market imperfections that existed, there was still room for the market to play a central role in solving the Victorian housing crisis. He made an extensive effort to reconcile operation of the market with the social objectives of society.

The Improved Industrial Dwellings Company ceased in 1984, but many of their properties continue to provide social housing and are now managed by various Housing Associations.

Sources and suggested further reading:
John Nelson Tarn, Five per cent philanthropy. 1973.
Susannah Moris, Market Solutions for Social Problems: Working-Class Housing in Nineteenth-Century London. 2001. Lynsey Hanley, Estates. An intimate history, 2007.
The National Archives, Improved Industrial Dwellings Company Limited.
Chris Waterlow, The House of Waterlow, 2013.