Borough curios, remember them? They’re back. The fourth in our series focusing on Wavertree brings us to the story of what was once the ‘Smallest House In England’. It’s not now, but never let the facts get in the way of a good story. By Joseph Viney.
You’d be forgiven for missing 95 High Street on your travels. You’d probably be forgiven for missing it after living in Wavertree for a little while, too. After all, unless you’re purposefully seeking the (former) ‘Smallest House In England’ then, by virtue of its existence, you’ll walk on by every time.
That’s a shame, because the smallest house provides a perfectly posed picture postcard snapshot of the inherent oddness of the history of Wavertree. Six foot wide and fourteen foot long – about £850 per month in London prices – it’s a relative newcomer when compared to surrounding landmarks. Built slap bang in the middle of the nineteenth century, in around 1852, the house’s comparative youth has not diminished its legend. Local stories maintain that at one juncture, a husband and wife set about raising no less than eight children in the comically cramped confines of the diminutive abode, while another local tale notes that one former occupant had such a ‘robust’ frame that he had to climb the stairs to bed sideways!
As well as being a latecomer, this landmark had a limited shelf life when it came to actually housing people. The building has been unoccupied since 1925 after the last resident shuffled out – presumably sideways – and remained untouched for decades. Years of campaigning finally paid off in the late nineties when the frontage of the house was restored, replete with a fake window and door fitted.
Today, the house is literally sandwiched between a bookies and The Cock & Bottle pub – the house absorbed into the latter’s premises since 1952 and acting largely as storage. Incidentally, it’s the building the bookies is tacked onto that is the older brother of the smallest house and provides more than a swift glance at the history of Wavertree – builders working on the property in 1989 discovered a sandstone lintel bearing the legend ‘JJL 1776’. It is the accepted wisdom that the carved initials denote John Leech, a licensee of The Lamb – the pub that gravity forgot – at the time before he became a trustee of Holy Trinity Church toward the end of the century.
Reparations and renovations have continued and further work in 2011 brought the house down to simply function as a way to access flats above the bookies and the pub… perhaps an ignominious, if perfectly logical, end to the history of this wonder of Wavertree. You’ll have noted how I remarked that ‘The Smallest House In England’ has since become the former owner of that title, losing out to another home in Conwy that boasts a mere ten foot of length.
No chuckling at the back, please.
Pic by Richard Eastham, 1902