Housing 03

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Housing 03

Post by Stanley »


Before we plunge into the question of the slums we should take note of a different solution to rational housing that sprang up from an unlikely source in the early 19th century.
In 1825 the government was getting very worried about the rising power of organised labour and passed the Combination Act which prohibited workers from 'combining' in trade unions. This prohibition wasn't lifted until about 1870 and the reaction of the men who had been affected by this was to find another way of 'combining' which was within the law. Taking their cue from organisations like the Masons they formed 'Friendly Societies', often using regalia and rituals, and used member's subscriptions to fund death, sickness and unemployment benefits. This is the origin of organisations like the Buffaloes, the Lions and the Free Foresters.
As time went on and some of them built up respectable funds of capital they branched out into building houses for rent. In Barlick the Barnoldswick Friendly Society built Club Row at Townhead in 1828 and the Foresters built Forester's Buildings on Skipton Road. At Club Row they included a shop at the end of the row and the cottages were a cut above a normal terraced house. In the 1960s they were scheduled for demolition but survived and are now very desirable properties. My mate Ernie Roberts bought one of them for £500 on rental purchase (another lost source of funding), the low price reflecting the gamble he was taking. The Friendly Societies which built for rent were the forerunners of the modern building societies.
This activity was in line with a growing altruistic movement which recognised the dire condition of much of the poorest housing stock. The earliest example of a practical effort to improve this situation was Robert Dale's New Lanark mill and housing complex in Scotland in 1786. Shortly afterwards the Gregs at Quarry Bank Mill, Styal in Cheshire followed suit. By 1850 Titus Salt was building Saltaire, the Cadbury family followed at Birmingham with Bournville in 1893 and Levers built Port Sunlight. All these developments were a product of a wider movement to 'improve' artisan's cottages. Architects produced designs for the first 'ideal homes'.
This was all well and good but did nothing to improve the vast majority of workers homes, jerry built by speculators for rental income, horribly overcrowded and insanitary. Ironically it was the latter that triggered improvement. In 1854 John Snow, a doctor in London, identified water polluted by human waste as the origin of an outbreak of the disease in the Soho slums and this triggered efforts to improve water and sanitation services. Ironically the main opponents were the better off living in the suburbs who saw expenditure on the living conditions of the poor as 'Municipal Socialism'. Fortunately the pioneering journal the Morning Chronicle whose correspondent Henry Mayhew had been focussing on the condition of the poor took up the good doctor's discovery and common sense prevailed. 'Slum housing' was targeted for improvement.


Club Row at Townhead built in 1828 by the Barnoldswick Friendly Society.
Stanley Challenger Graham
Stanley's View
scg1936 at talktalk.net

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