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Public Health: Bad Housing

From a contemporary source:

These towns have been built by small speculators with no interest for anything except immediate profit. A carpenter and a brick-layer club together to buy a patch of ground, and cover it with what they call houses. In one place we saw a whole street following the course of a ditch, in order to have deeper cellars without the cost of excavations.

The streets are unpaved, with a dunghill or a pond in the middle; the houses are built back to back without ventilation or drainage.

From Chadwick's Sanitary Report

The cottages in the neighbourhood were of the most wretched kind, mere hovels, built of rough stones and covered with ragged thatch. The wife's face was dirty, and her tangled hair hung over her eyes. Her cap was ill washed and slovenly put on. Her whole dress was very untidy, and looked dirty and slatternly; everything about her seemed wretched and neglected and she seemed very discontented. She immediately began to complain of her house. The wet came in at the door of the only room, and when it rained, through every part of the roof also: large drops fell on her as she lay in her bed: in short she had found it impossible to keep things in order, so she had gradually ceased to make any exertions. Her condition had been borne down by the conditions of the house.


Cellar in York Street (Manchester), a man, his wife, family altogether comprising seven persons: income £2/7/-, or 6/8½d per head. Rent 2/-. Here the family occupy two filthy unwholesome cellars. However defective the factories may be, they are all of them drier and more equably warm than the residences of the parent. It is an appalling fact that of all who are born of the labouring classes in Manchester, more than 57% die before they attain 5 years of age: that is, before they can be engaged in factory labour, or in any other labour whatsoever.

The cartoon "The March of Bricks and Mortar" was published in 1829

(click on it for a larger view)

However, there were accounts of better dwellings to be found:

Parliamentary Papers, 1842

Amidst all the squalor of bare and dilapidated abodes and general destitution, it very frequently happens that the inside of the poorest house is perfectly clean. I have entered the houses and hovels of journeymen locksmiths and key-makers, indiscriminately and unexpectedly, and seen the utmost destitution: no furniture in the room below, but a broken board for a table and a piece of plank laid across bricks for a seat: the wife hungry - almost crying with hunger and in rags: yet the floor was perfectly clean. I have gone upstairs and seen a bed where a husband, his wife and three children slept, and with no other article in the room of any kind, whatever, except the bed. Yet the clothes on the bed were perfectly clean; so was the floor: so were the stairs: they were not merely clean, they were really white, and more resembled the boards in the dairy of a large house than anything that could have been anticipated of the wretched hovel of a poor locksmith of Willenhall.

From Andrew Ure, The Philosophy of Manufactures, 1835.

The houses occupied by Mr. T. Ashton's work people [at Hyde, near Manchester] lie in streets, all built of stone, and are spacious; consisting each of at least four apartments in two storeys,, with a small back yard and a mews lane. I looked into several of the houses and found them more richly furnished than any common workpeople's dwellings which I had ever seen before.

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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