This is the story of the peculiarly British architectural compromise: the semi-detached house. More than one third of us live in one - many built in the 20 years between the First and Second World Wars. Designed to appeal to a growing middle class, the history of the semi-detached is the history of suburbia. It has taken a Dane, Finn Jensen, once again to research and tell the story of what makes British towns distinctive. And like his fellow Dane Rasmussen, in 'London the Unique City', or Stefan Muthesiusus in his account of the terraced house, he does it with great sympathy for the values and lifestyles the buildings supported and symbolised. Finn Jensen shows how the roots of the semi go back to aristocratic inventions in the 17th century, and started to take off in the 19th, with a rich profusion of styles. By 1850 the middle class had grown to a third of the population, and used the new trams and suburban railways to escape the smoke. As the English largely declined to invest in tenements, preferring the simpler terrace, our cities sprawled as far as the public transport routes could extend.
The Garden City provided a better model, and one of Britain's greatest inventions that was exported round the world. Finn points out that Ebenezer Howard was 70 when work started on Welwyn, and the masterplan was produced in two months, because of his burning desire to show what could be done. In all, there were 20 garden cities before the First World War, which led on to the great drive to build Homes for Heroes. The new arterial roads radiating from the cities provided serviced sitesoften close to modem new factories. Between the two great wars some 76,000 builders produced three million semis in a variety of styles, the greatest housebuilding boom England ever experienced. Pattern books were the equivalent of today's codes, and worked because they were very much simpler. Modernism did not suit Britain's climate or preference for 'make-belief. The privet hedge and street trees gave the illusion of living in the country, as well as endless work cutting the hedge and mowing the lawn. The fully annotated and indexed text is accompanied by hundreds of photographs, drawings and copies of original source material.
Dr Finn Jensen was born in Denmark, but brought up (in a semi-detached house) in England. He is an enthusiastic observer of British society and as well as continuing work on the history of the semi-detached house he is also researching the development and history of Britain's canals