Discovering Local History
Housing in Stoke-on-Trent
In the mid-nineteenth century housing in much of the Potteries was in a poor state. In 1848 the government inspectors reported on the poor state of some of the properties in the area.
Common lodging houses were a particular cause for concern:"The common lodging-houses in the parish are neither better nor worse than others throughout the length and breadth of the land:- they are all alike disgracefully bad; they are a libel on the charity and civilisation of the time. No people, at any period, in any country or place, ever did, or ever could, live in a more degraded and beastly state. Men, women, and children, the, young and the old, families, acquaintances, and strangers, lie down in common nakedness together. There is no form or show of propriety, decency, or morality; but, at times, a vitiating and disgusting bestiality unknown to savages. To regulate these places is one of the prime duties society owes to civilisation; and it ought to be done with means of amelioration and opportunities of change to a better system."
Stafford Street (Longton). - Lodging-houses kept by Mrs. Tomlinson.
"In one house there are two rooms, four beds in one, and two in the other; they charge 9d. per night for adults, and 1d. for children. There are three houses: and six bed-rooms, eleven beds in the three front room, and five in the back rooms, making in all: sixteen beds in six rooms. These rooms are about ten feet square, and one window in each room. The back yards are confined, and the privy and cesspool broken and filthy."
Things had not improved that much by the end of the century, when in the 1890s, Hanley Town Council, set up a committee to investigate the condition of housing in the town.
A number of reports were duly published on the subject in the early 1900s (Knowles et al. 1901; Harrison, 1902; Whittingham, 1903).
Knowles et al. (1901) painted a particularly bleak picture of the housing in Stoke-on-Trent in the late nineteenth century in which houses lacked basic facilities, many were in a dilapidated condition and overcrowding was widespread. They described, (p 4) for example, a square situated off Marsh Street:
"It consists of two rows of houses opening into a common yard. There are twelve houses in all, belonging with one exception to the same landlord. The rent of those belonging to the same landlord is in each case 3/6 (18p) per week.
The have each one fair sized room downstairs with a small back place, and two corresponding rooms upstairs. The ceilings are all low, and in one or two cases badly broken, so that there is danger of the bedstead foot coming through. There is one water tap for the use of all eleven houses and one dust bin. At the bottom of the yard are five WC's the use of which is shared by the houses in pairs.
They are in a very bad condition. In several cases the 'back place' is of no use owing to the want of a fire grate. None of them have any sink, or any convenience for washing.... Six of the houses have no back door, but those on the other side of the yard open into a sort of paved passage at the back, part of the width of which seems to be taken off the 'back place' of the houses, and at the end of it one looks over a manure heap, lying below in what is known as the Office yard (toilet block). In the summer time the smell from this bad indeed."
They also found pockets of poor housing adjoining some of the town's better housing, as in the following example (p.9):"In another part of the town, at the rear of one of the best residential quarter, I found a house with three rooms rented at 4/- a week. I went straight upstairs here, keeping as far as possible from the filthy walls. The room I entered was about eleven feet square. It contained two bedsteads standing close together. A little boy and a woman were the only persons at home. They told me that the father, mother, and seven brothers and sisters occupied the apartment at night. The elder brother was fifteen years of age, and the youngest child was three. There was no bed covering; the place was over-run with vermin; and there was no ventilation, for the windows would not open. Consequently the air in the place was heavy and sickening."
Knowles et al. (p 5) also reported many cases of overcrowding:"Here is one (example) of a house which has one kitchen and two bedrooms. It is occupied by three families, or fourteen persons in all - four men, four women, and six children from the age of fourteen to the baby. Another case is one in which there is a kitchen for living, two bedrooms upstairs, and one down. This, too, is occupied by fourteen persons, - mother aged 60, daughters aged 30 and 28, son aged 25, son-in-law aged 30, with nine children from 17 years to nine months."
Overcrowding in the Census
Unfortunately the first census to ask householders how many rooms were occupied by their family was that of 1891, but the question was only addressed to those households occupying fewer than five rooms. Moreover, the census schedule did not specifically define a room with the consequence that families may have differed in how they defined lobbies, sculleries and large cupboards and in consequence the answers given to this question need to be treated with some caution.
Nevertheless the replies are of interest and do allow us to make some comments on the degree of overcrowding in the town in 1891. In total there were some 10,456 tenements in the town at this date, of which ten consisted of one room, 356 (3.4%) of two rooms, 351 (3.4%) of three rooms and 3472 (26.3%) of four rooms. The remaining 6,984 (66.8%) presumably had five or more rooms.
Using these figures it is possible to estimate the level of over-crowding in Hanley at this time:
16,655 people out of population of 54,946 (30.3%) were living in 'small' tenements.
Overcrowding was worse amongst those living in the smallest tenements.
72.9% of people in small tenements were living at population density one person or more per room.
43.6% of people in small tenements were living at population density of 1.5 persons or more per room.
17.2% of people in small tenements were living at population density of 1.5 persons or more per room.
Expressing these figures as percentages of the total population of Hanley: 22.1%, 13.2% and 5.2% were living at population densities of one, 1.5 and two or more people per room respectively.
These figures are likely to understate the level of overcrowding in Hanley at this time since no data was reported in the printed census returns on the numbers of people living in larger houses.
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