The geographer in me enjoys the fact that there’s a lot of regional variation in working class housing from the industrial era, and it’s a question I hope to tackle at some point in my PhD. Why do some types of house proliferate in some places and not in others? I’ve come across back to backs as the most dominant form in Leeds and Birmingham, later upgraded ever so slightly to tunnel-backs; through terraces in the Lancashire mill towns; rookeries formed of closed-end courts in Wolverhampton, Coventry and London; cellar dwellings in Liverpool…
It’s still evident in some parts of the country. We drove down the Rossendale valley between Burnley and Bury on our way back from the Lakes last month, and the regional housing type is very much in evidence there. The classic long rows of small through-terraces stretch for miles up and down the hillsides. My own forebears, cotton weavers from Burnley, lived in such terraces as the charming number 111 Abel Street, Burnley (black door). This one sold for £48k in 2010, but in 1996 was worth just £5,000. The street falls in the Daneshouse and Stoneyholme Ward, in the 5% of most deprived wards in the country.
It didn’t exist at the time of the first OS map of the area in the 1850s; neither did Pheasantford Street where the family lived in 1851 and 1861, which makes me wonder if they were just somewhere in Heasandford, from where the street got its name. There are just unnamed, undeveloped tracks where these streets now lie. There were scattered groups of houses on Craven Street and Hebrew Row – back-to-backs which amazingly still stand, and still showing signs of the poverty of the area. From 1875 the development of the area that became known as Daneshouse began.
This area is a classic of its type. It is chockfull of small terraced houses on a strict grid pattern, each with a tiny yard containing outbuildings. There is a back alley between each street (see this excellent photo for an example), so there was at least ventilation through the house for the most part, the back-to-backs mentioned earlier an obvious exception which make even this tremendously run-down neighbourhood look comparatively well off. I’ve no access to plans for my ancestors’ house, but there’s no space for it to be anything other than 2-up, 2-down, borne out by plans shown here for nearby streets. The area is bounded by the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to the West, which is flanked by cotton mills (see the North Bridge Mill, for instance). It’s pretty likely that several generations of my ancestors used to walk those streets when the mill whistle went each morning.
The family later moved to Hulme and then Salford; as in Birmingham, these streets have been swept away, and its difficult to know exactly what sort of housing we’re looking at. In both Manchester and Birmingham, their replacements were vast housing estates – I’m currently re-reading Lindsey Hanley’s account of growing up in Chelmsley Wood; for Manchester, Wythenshawe held much the same sort of caché. My own grandfather ended up in Fallowfield, and that was perhaps the last generation that stayed put as much as that.