The ‘visual beauty’ of bricked-up windowson June 15, 2021 at 12:04 am

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Andy Billman’s architectural photo series examines how light and air affect wellbeing.

Andy Billman has photographed dozens of bricked-up windows across London for a series that examines how light and air in architecture affects wellbeing.

Bricked-up windows on Hazlitt Road, London

image copyrightAndy Billman

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Having initially taken an interest in their aesthetics, Billman was fascinated to discover many of the windows would have been blocked up centuries ago, to avoid tax.

“Documenting my surroundings to resurface the story of the window tax feels very timely, as the last year has proven natural light and fresh air have been more important than ever,” he says.

Detached building with several blocked windows on Albert Street, London, mid-19th Century

image copyrightAndy Billman

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Window tax was introduced in England and Wales, in 1696, and Scotland, in 1748.

The more windows a building had, the more its owner had to pay.

Initially applied to buildings with more than 10 windows, the tax was later extended to include those with seven or more.

Building with a mixture of blocked and unblocked windows on Chiswell Street, London, c.1701

image copyrightAndy Billman

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The tax was intended to be progressive, as the least wealthy would, in theory, live in smaller houses with fewer windows.

However, in urban areas, poorer people commonly lived in large tenement buildings, which, regardless of how they were subdivided, were considered to be a single dwelling and subject to heavy tax.

Consequently, many landlords blocked up their tenants’ windows or passed on the extra cost in rent.

Brick wall with a single blocked window, on Abingdon Villas, London

image copyrightAndy Billman

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The lack of light and ventilation is thought to have greatly affected people’s health and wellbeing and allowed epidemics to quickly spread.

Single blocked window, with a plant and safety barrier beside it, at Gerald Road, London

image copyrightAndy Billman

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Shadows cast across a single blocked window in Bedford Place, London

image copyrightAndy Billman

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Writer Charles Dickens frequently spoke out against the tax and, in 1850, said: “Neither air nor light have been free since the imposition of the window tax.

“We are obliged to pay for what nature lavishly supplies to all, at so much per window per year, and the poor who cannot afford the expense are stinted in two of the most urgent necessities of life.”

Two cars parked outside of a building with several bricked-up windows, on Pitt Street, London

image copyrightAndy Billman

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Window tax was finally repealed in 1851, following pressure from doctors and campaigners.

Tree casting a shadow on the side of a building with a single blocked window, on Sudeley Street, London

image copyrightAndy Billman

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Three blocked windows and one unblocked window on a white building in South Eaton Place, London

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Billman has photographed more than 80 buildings in London and hopes to expand the series to include the rest of the UK.

“The juxtaposition between appreciating the visual beauty of these overlooked bricked-up windows, yet at the same time how they tell the adverse story of people being robbed of natural light, fascinates me,” he says.

“Creating photography that makes you take a moment to look beyond the surface to explore these two opposing themes is what I hope viewers take away.”

Four blocked windows on a building painted black and red, on Davies Street, London

image copyrightAndy Billman

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Four-bricked up windows on a building with a tree next to it, on Scarsdale Villas, London

image copyrightAndy Billman

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Daylight Robbery will be on exhibition at the Bermondsey Project Space, as part of London Festival of Architecture 2021, 22-26 June.

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