In 1901, many poorer working-class
families lived in overcrowded and insanitary enclosed 'courts'.
A typical example was Crown Court, Stepney, in east London,
condemned as unfit for human habitation in 1911. It was then
housing 16 families in five houses, sharing two toilets and
one water tap in the yard between them. From 1875, national
and local legislation had considerably improved the layout
and construction of new working-class houses, but there was
still a huge stock of older housing for those who could afford
The 1901 Census Report did not try to assess the quality
of the country's housing stock or its sanitary facilities,
but it did define a dwelling as overcrowded if it had more
than two persons per room (children under 10 were counted
as half a person). Overall, 8.2% of the population of England
and Wales lived in overcrowded conditions, an improvement
on the 11.2% recorded in 1891. There were wide regional variations
- in the north-east, over 36% of Jarrow's population lived
in overcrowded conditions but in Bedford, the figure was less
than 0.5%. The London average was 16%.
In 1901, most people rented their houses rather than owned
them, partly because of economic and geographical mobility,
partly because mortgages were not yet easily available. However,
those further down the social scale paid a higher proportion
of their incomes in rent. In Round About a Pound a Week,
Maud Pember Reeves calculated that whereas, in 1913, an upper
middle-class family with an income of £2,000 p.a. would
probably spend one-eighth of its income (£250) on rent,
rates and taxes and a middle-class family on £500 p.a.
would spend one-sixth (£85) on those items; a poor working-class
family on £62 8s p.a. might spend as much as a third
of its income (8s a week) on rent.
Little low-cost housing was provided by private charities
or local authorities. The two Housing of the Working Classes
Acts, in 1890 and 1900, allowed local authorities to buy land
and build their own council houses, but few did so on any
scale until after the First World War. Bodies such as the
Peabody Trust and the Four Per Cent Industrial Dwellings Company
(so called because it promised investors a 4% return on their
money) built flats to rent out cheaply. The latter's housing
stock included the Rothschild Dwellings in Flower and Dean
Street, Whitechapel (east London).
|Follow this link
to east London and
the Rothschild Dwellings.