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*  

Housing for the Poor

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 nothing better.

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.

Slum housing - link to an enlarged version

Rothschild Dwellings, Whitechapel - link to an enlarged version

Social housing
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.