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Terraced Housing In Liverpool

Court Dwellings
For those people who had lived in Court Housing, houses built back to back and facing each other across a narrow passage. The idea of moving into a property of their own where they did not have to share a house and use a communal toilet with numerous others was beyond their wildest dreams. Yet following recommendations by Dr Duncan who had seen at first hand the squalor such people were living in, the council were forced to look again at housing in the city. William Henry Duncan (1805-1863) was born in Liverpool, qualified in Edinburgh, and then moved back to Liverpool to work in general practice. He became physician to the Liverpool Infirmary and began to campaign for improvements to the appalling living conditions of his patients. He was appointed Liverpool's Medical Officer of Health on 1 January 1847. Doctor Duncan was behind a programme of street-cleaning, improved water supplies and dwellings and the installation of sewers. This enabled the city to combat the return of cholera in 1854.

Parkhill Road Liverpool 8
To improve housing conditions the council built two-up and two-down, terraced houses , and from 1894 onwards a massive number were constructed. They were a big improvement on the squalid courts that people had lived in, but despite the improvements, they could never be described as more than basic even at the time. Terraced houses, although basic,followed the precepts laid down by Dr Duncan and others in the best way that they could within the financial and other constraints that existed at the time.  Each house consisted of a front-room, a kitchen and a yard on the ground floor and two bedrooms on the first floor. There were no bathrooms, but, all the houses faced onto the street and were always light and airy back and front, which was in direct contrast to the dark and dismal court housing. Most of the occupants took great pride in their new homes and some of them were often described as 'little palaces’.

Donkey Stone
The ritual of keeping the front step in pristine condition gradually spread until every woman in every street assiduously cleaned the step at least once a week or risked the disdain of her neighbours.  Over a period of time, the method of cleaning evolved into a vigorous rubbing of the step with a stone supplied by a firm in Wigan.  The stones were stamped with a donkey and so the term "donkey-stoning the step" came into being.  Many people however were still living in Courts as they waited their turn to enter the new terraced houses, and many of them waited a very long time and courts were still in existence right up to the war.

 keeping the front step in pristine condition

In terraced houses the toilets were all at the bottom of each yard in a brick out-house.  They all had a wooden toilet seat, a rusted cast-iron cistern and most had newspapers cut-up for toilet-paper. Most of them froze solid in the winter no matter how much hessian you put round the pipes.  Putting hot ashes or cinders from the fire into a cocoa tin and hanging it in the lav’ was one way of seeing off ‘jack frost’. Although the most basic of sanitation at least each house had a toilet, unlike the shared toilets that many had to use in the Courts, Dr. Duncan would have approved greatly. Also to be found at the bottom of the yard, neatly fitted into a square hole in the brick wall leading onto the entry was the ash can.  A sturdy and heavy metal object, that was designed to withstand hot ashes it was also be filled with the week's rubbish.  The bin was made of steel and the men who shifted them were cast in the same mould.  Some of the bins were still smouldering with ashes from the fire when the binman hauled them out of the gap in the wall, straight onto his back, and walked the full length of an entry before tipping them onto a lorry. 

The corporation had though acknowledged Dr. Duncan’s desire to provide sanitation, a water supply and a rubbish removal regime.  Next the City Council in their zeal attempted to address the problem of overcrowding.  Large families were not uncommon in those days so two-up and two-down properties were not the best places to house them.  The council employed agents called Talleymen whose job was to ensure that overcrowded houses were identified and steps taken to alleviate the problem.  Families lived in terror of the Talleymans knock, if they found the house to be overcrowded they could instruct people to move out, and children could be placed in care. Between the wars, children who were orphaned and taken into care would often be sent to Australia or Canada where they would be used as labourers on the farms. There was little to be said in favour of the Talleyman system but at the very least the Council were aware of the problems that overcrowding led to and in their own tin-pot manner had attempted to find a solution.

Everton area Terraced Housing

The winters then were far more severe than those of today, consider the fact that windows were ill fitting and often with rotten frames as the purchase of paint was far from a priority for most. The only form of heating was from a coal fire and it was considered normal to wake up to a thick frost covering the bedroom windows.  Although the street lamps were lit by gas and the houses were also lit by gas mantles, nobody ever thought to using gas-fired heating.  There were advantages though as anyone who has ever tasted toast made on a toasting fork, made from bent wire and held over the fire will testify. We had rag and bone men, an ice cream man who had a wooden box fixed to a 3 wheeled type of bicycle, we had coalmen who carried hundredweight sacks of coal from wagons to almost every house in the street, sometimes having to walk around the houses and up the back entry to the coal shed.

But there was a water supply to each home which made a huge difference from a communal water tap of the type found in Courts, there was a single tap to the back-kitchen sink and the water was cold.  The same sink was used for the dishes, the washing, shaving, daily ablutions and anything else that came to mind, the early sinks were made of stone. Bathing was a once a week effort using a  tin-bath that usually hung on a nail in the yard and was taken down and filled for the family bath night.  The same water was used for all the family because boiling kettles to fill the tin bath was a nightmare task that took an age so, if you came from a large family you got the last dip in the water.  The kettle was heated on the fire or range, the oven was usually built into the same range and all the family cooking would be done using the fireplace. Therefore, coal and the ability to buy it was essential. Like the front step, women took great pride in the range making sure that it was black-leaded regularly to keep it looking its best.

Now here we are today with our fitted kitchens, double glazing, wall to wall carpets and central heating, not to mention duvets on the bed and radiators in every room. What would our ancestors have given for such luxury’s I wonder?

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By Robert F Edwards

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