A Place to Live Living gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census Living in 1901
At Home in 1901Housing for the PoorEscaping the Slums*  

Escaping the Slums

The suburbs
The 1901 census revealed a continuing fall in the populations of inner cities. This growth of the suburbs, and the attendant separation of home and workplace, has been called by the historian John Burnett, in his book A Social History of Housing, 'perhaps the greatest single change in the living habits of the English people since the Industrial Revolution'. Cheap transport made it possible - although commuting was not an option for the poorest - and the low cost of land allowed developers to experiment with a wider range of housing types than was possible on a cramped urban site.


Poster advertising Chingford Rise estate, Essex - link to an enlarged version


One political commentator, Charles Masterman, writing in The Condition of England in 1909, even described 'the Suburbans' as a social class who led

…a life of Security; a life of sedentary occupation; a life of Respectability…Its male population in all its working hours in small, crowded offices, under artificial light, doing immense sums, adding up other men's accounts, writing other men's letters. It is sucked into the City at daybreak and scattered again as darkness falls…The women, with their single domestic servant… find time hangs rather heavy on their hands.

Buying a house
By 1901 a growing minority of better-off workers wanted the security of home ownership and, to meet this need, building societies developed as working-class institutions.

The extent of home ownership varied widely between regions at the turn of the century. Almost a third of Oldham's housing stock was said to be either owned by, or being purchased by, artisans. In 1904, Barrow-in-Furness Trades Council claimed that, if a worker could raise a £10 deposit on a small terraced house, his mortgage payments would only be 3s a week, saving at least 2s on what he would otherwise have had to pay in rent. Nonetheless, as has been commented, 'only the élite of the working class could afford home ownership - and even then at the cost of self-sacrifice and thrift'. Even by the end of 1918, only about 10% of housing was owner-occupied.

Mutual help for housebuying - link to an enlarged version

Garden Cities of Tomorrow
Not everyone saw the development of the suburb as the answer to the country's housing problems; many were concerned about the growth of cities that it caused. In September 1901, the Garden City Association met in Birmingham to promote the building of completely new 'slumless, smokeless cities' in the countryside and to encourage manufacturers to move out of congested urban areas. Delegates included George Bernard Shaw, then a St. Pancras borough councillor who condemned his own authority for allowing illegal overcrowding, and the architects Parker and Unwin, who were commissioned to design the first garden city at Letchworth (about 35 miles north of London) in 1903.

Letchworth and its successor, Welwyn Garden City, were planned so that employment was provided but residential and industrial areas were kept separate. The building standards adopted for houses in Letchworth were subsequently adopted nationally. Not until after the Second World War did the state assume responsibility for developing new towns, however - beginning with Stevenage, a few miles south of Letchworth.