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Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

As in most of the industrialised Town and Cities, throught out the 1800s, housing was in an appalling state. The sheer pressure to rent somewhere, no matter what condition, gave the Landlord virtual power of life or death. There were many reasons for this situation. The factories and workshops required labour, and many had been forced to leave the land and seek other employment. In 1791, bad weather decimated the harvest, and the staple diet of bread was in short supply, as were cattle,sheep and pigs. Work was drying up, and a great many unfortunate people died of starvation. There was though, work in the big Towns, and thats where they went. Again, in 1795, bad weather, this time worse than 4 years before, wrecked the harvest. There were bread riots, as stories began, about crafty millers keeping back Corn, in order to sell it later at a vast profit. Mills and Wharehouses around the region were burnt to the ground. This co-incided with the 1795 Act of enclosure, which had the effect of reducing the smaller farms to almost nothing, and allowed the big land owners to fence off large tracts of the countryside. Agricultural labourers had no choice but to seek work in the Towns. They all needed somewhere to live.


I have been asked a few times, what was meant by some entry's in the various census'es, listed, for instance, as house 5, court 3. Smith Street. Picture a covered passage way, that went between the houses, and ended  in a small courtyard. All around this small area, were other houses, mainly three stories high, with two rooms on each floor, connected by a staircase. In the courtyard would have been a well for water, and at the other end, the privies. The average, in the bigger towns, Wolverhampton, Bilston, or Dudley, would have 20 such houses, to each court, and built onto the rear of these courts, were other courts. Hence the term, " Back to Back Housing ".  The average family then was much larger than today, so if we assume 6, 2 adults and 4 children, then each house held a minimun of 18 people. ( I know of some cases where the figure is nearly 30 ) Each court would then have been the home to over 360 persons, and the conditions must have been almost indescribable. The yard would have been full of rotting rubbish, some, without privies, would have had open and overflowing sewage running through them. Nobody in their right minds drew water from the wells, for underneath the privies was a septic tank, rarely emptied or maintained, which overflowed into the ground, contaminating the ground water, which was the source for the well. Hence the many outbreaks of Cholera, that killed thousands. The rooms, such as they were, would be about 10ft X 15ft, no ceiling as we know it, just bare boards laid across the beams of the rooms above, and one fireplace. Usually, they were cold damp and dismal places, the rent for which, would be between 2 or 3 shillings a week. The term " Slum Landlords ", isn't a modern expression, it goes back over 300 years.


The allyways that exsisted were even worse, the same type of housing, but no drainage at all here. The stink of such places must have been truly horrendous, yet people who lived through these conditions, said you soon got used to it. The many who came into the towns from the countryside, would have thought they had landed up in hell itself. There are a few illustrations in the Gallery, and one very faded and slightly re-touched photo from the 1870s, which should give the reader some idea of the conditions prevailing. There are no examples left at all now, in the Black Country, but one small court can still be seen in Birmingham, preserved for future generations to look at and wonder. And no doubt think to themselves, just how lucky we modern folks all are.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

November 24, 2011 at 4:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Now here's a discription of a house, in a mining and iron making town in the Black Country, in the 1870s. The house was situated in a street which was about as level as the foothills of the Welsh Mountains. The houses were in the same condition, some of which could only be entered via a front window, as the door, at an angle, was jammed shut. All this was due of course, to the extensive mining for minerals and coal. The typical layout was a room downstairs, one up, and a small brewhouse for " ablutions". Size of the rooms varied, but the reporter never found one bigger than about 10 foot square. It was also rather rare, to find one without a pronounced slope to the floor. As many as 10 people people, all from the same family, could be encountered living in these " dwellings " as they were described. Most had been built about 1790, and it was a miracle that they were still standing. The average rent for this " palacial " property was 3 shillings a week, and most were owned by the local Mine or Iron Foundy masters. Apart from a few sticks of furniture, the occupiers possesed little in the way of belongings, but seemed to spend most of their money in the towns beer houses. ( Of which there were a great many ) Which tumble down squalid little town you may ask, was under the spotlight. Well it could have been anyplace really, but this time it was Oldbury.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

December 19, 2011 at 4:39 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Now if times were not hard enough, for the working folk of Wednesbury and Walsall, it was about to get even worse. The Wood Screw Forging Trade, had seen slumps before, but this time it was competition from firms making Cast Screws in their Foundries. It had always been a Wrought Iron Trade, employing forgers, and filers to cut the grooves. Casting was a lot faster, and to boot, it was cheaper. So bad was the situation, that a meeting was called at The Bulls Head, Wednesbury, ( the landlord, William Shenton, was involved in said trade ) to call on Parliament, by way of a petition, to take measures to protect their work and jobs. They claimed, that thousands would starve if measures were not taken to protect the Wrought Iron Industry. The meeting was mainly attended by Businessmen, whose motives one should suspect, were entirely selfish.


Things were no better in the Buckle Trade of Walsall,  and nearby Birmingham. Their beef, was that the trade was suffering badly, from the use of Silk Bows and Laces, which had recently become all the rage on new Shoes. They gave out the same dire warnings of unemployment and starvation, and also called for a petition to Parliament, to ban the use of said Bows and Laces. They must have had a spy at the Wood Screw and Forgers meeting. Mind you, this meeting was also only attended by the Buckle makers, who must really have been feeling the pinch. Did they succeed though, thats the question, and if you look down at your shoes, you will find the answer. Just as you would, if you try and sign on the Dole as a Screw Filer.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 13, 2012 at 4:12 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Even if you had a job, or worked in the Nail Trade in a rather dingy and dirty backyard dump, there was the problem of what to do with the Kids. No such thing as nurseries at the turn of the 19th Century, and if you didn't earn, you starved. There is universal condemnation today, if parents leave a child alone, what, I wonder, would they say, if some of following were to happen.

Such was the strain of finding money to put food on the table, and pay the rent, some just gave up. In 1801, Anne Soeden, recently widowed, deliberately threw herself into a deep well near Dudley. There was an inquest on the poor soul in July, at Rowley, at which the verdict of " Lunacy " was bought in. Desperation would have been a more likely cause. Some turned to that other cause of misery, Drink. In May, 1803, Mary Foxall, ( age not noted ) was sleeping by the fire when a spark set her clothes on fire. She did wake up, but was so raddled with drink, that she barely moved to save herself. She died the next day. Returning to that Lunacy verdict, in December, another Rowley Regis resident, Betty Auden, and again, newly widowed, drowned herself at the Old Hill entrance of the Gorsty Hill Canal Tunnel. Thus giving rise to another Lunacy verdict, and a ghost story as well. Not everyone gave honest work a try.  In 1804, some folks in Rowley Regis breathed a sigh of relief, when they buried one Mary Stokes, who had a reputation for passing dud coins. Most of which, it has to said, were made in the backyard nailshops. George Barrs, ( yes, our intriped Vicar ) warned his congregation that her soul would face an awful eternity. The next little bit, tells us how some of the area looked in 1805, for a Halesowen man, James Worton, was discovered dead in the Coombes Wood. This was in August, so it's not likely to be from exposure to the elements. I wonder what he was doing in the woods? In November, a son was born to Thomas and Mary Sidaway, and just like today, they gave him a topical name. Horatio Trafalgar James Siddaway. I can just see George Barrs, having a good old snigger at that one.


We now come to what I call the burning of the innocents.  In 1806,  Elizabeth Round, a three year old, whose mother, Hannah Round, " just stepped out into the yard, to seperate two cocks from fighting, and returned to find her daughter very badly burned ". It must have been one hell of a cock fight, as the house didn't burn down. On November 25th, 1809 the burial took place of Sarah Willetts, the eight year old daughter of William and Ann Willetts, who had been very badly burned some months before, and must have died in agony. Three young men who chose a different career, Mining, didn't last long either, James Darby was crushed to death under a fall of coal, William Thomas escaped being burnt in a " house " only to be burnt to death in a pit, and John Lenton was again crushed by falling coal.  In 1809, James Priest, aged nine, leaving his fathers nail shop, disappeared, only to surface again two days later, in the Netherton Canal. This event was followed, two months later, with the death of Ann Davies, the five year old daughter of Thomas and Ann Davies. She had been playing with other children and fell in the same section of the canal.

Joseph Cox, was just three years old, when his parents, Joshua and Rosannah, left him in the care of another child, then went off to a nailshop to earn a crust. Throughout the Blackcountry, this was a common thing to do, and nobody in Rowley Regis, ever raised any concerns. Within a few hours, young Joseph was dead, burnt to death, having got too near the fire in the house. Earlier on that same year, in February 1810, another three year old, Thirza Cooper, died in almost exactly the same circumstances. There was no inquest to ask the parents, Timothy and Mary Cooper, why their childs clothes had caught fire, nor indeed, did the parents of Joseph Cox have to answer any " awkward " questions. No one else seems to have been injured, and no house's caught fire either. One would suspect, that both incidents occured in the nailshop, rather than the house.


There were quite a few drownings in the area as the years went by. Mary Green, a young unmarried woman, rather carelessly I thought, lost her twenty one month old son John Green to this very cause. He had been playing with some other children in August 1810, so it was said, when he fell into a disused pit near to her house. He wasn't missed, so it seems, for several hours. I can hear the alarm bells going off, but no action was taken against her. By a coincidence, some months later in November, Thomas Williams, a thirty five year old nailer, fell into the same coal pit and also drowned. The disused Windmill end pit, had not been covered, nor had any warnings, or guard rails put around it. Like many other " Bottle Pits " in the district, it had simply been abandoned. The " burnings " started again in 1812, Samuel Harpwood, or Harwood, the six year old son of Thomas and Mary, had once again been left alone in the nail shop, got to near the hearth and was burned to death. It happened again in April, this time it was John Brooks, just four years old, the son of George and Sarah Brooks, and once again, left alone in the house. They learnt very little in Rowley Regis, for in July, Francis Hadley, the daughter of John and Lucy Hadley, suffered the same agonising form of death as the other two.


There is one death though, that stands out from the rest, It was also in 1812, and involved the daughter of John and Esther Grove. Her name was Ann, and she was just turned two years old. She was scalded to death, not by accidently have boiling water poured on to her, or being put into hot bathwater, but by drinking it. The parents alleged, that the youngster had drunk from the spout of a boiling tea kettle. How on earth, I have asked myself, could such a young child, take hold of a hot kettle, and while continuing to do so, tip it forward and drink enough to kill her. It truly beggers belief, that this story was accepted by the authorities, and that George Barrs failed to make a comment. Mind you. I havn't seen the private documents he left behind, so maybe he did. In any case, if it had happened today, the Groves would have had a lot of explaining to do.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

July 31, 2012 at 10:42 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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