A pair of semi-detached houses in Sycamore Place, York, now known as nos. 2 and 4, but then, together, as "The Sycamores." The architect Edward Taylor (1831-1908) built these houses on the corner of a field on the outskirts of York, probably in the 1870s, for himself and his family, with his parents living in the adjacent semi- after his father Francis's retirement from the bank. In the 1881 census, Taylor himself, his wife Emma and four sons and a daughter, along with a general maidservant, lived on one side, and Francis and his wife on the other. According to the Knowles papers, this is where Edward Taylor died in 1908. The buildings are not listed. The whole street is now built up with a mixture of nineteenth and twentieth century housing.

Left: Close-up of terracotta decoration over the front doorways. Right: Unequal proportions seen from the rear.

Semi-detached homes had become popular by now, thanks partly to J. C. Loudon's The Suburban Gardener and Villa Companion (1838). By the late forties, they had become "a common feature of suburban speculative developments" (Dixon and Muthesius 60), even "an essential component of suburbia" ("Domestic 3"). They were popular with comfortably-off professionals as well as the less prosperous middle classes: see the building history of a house in Norham Gardens, North Oxford, from around the same period as these.

However, this was not a speculative development, but built to the architect's own designs for his family home, and the pair of houses hides a secret: although the frontages are symmetrical and look equal, the plan and accommodation is larger on the eastern side. The arrangement could thus have been an early version of the "granny flat" idea. The difference is greater now, too, because the larger house has since been extended on this side. Unfortunately, the doors are not the original ones.

Interestingly, the 1901 census shows Taylor and his wife in the smaller "retirement" side, and a new family in the larger house; it seems likely that Taylor had sold it and moved next door when his parents died and most of his children were finally fledged. Only two sons, who both gave their occupations as "architect's assistant," remained with him.

Photographs and text by Rita Wood, with a little extra material added by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL, or cite it in a print one. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]


Dixon, Roger, and Stefan Muthesius. Victorian Architecture. 2nd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 1985.

"Domestic 3: Suburban and Country Houses. Listing Selection Guide." Historic England [Can be downloaded from here]. Web. 27 July 2020.

Knowles, J. W. Stonegate. KNO-6-14. Archives of York Explore Library. Probably written c.1925.

Last modified 27 July 2020