4th March 1884. Improving Housing for the Masses.
Most of what we see of towns and cities was built in the reign of Queen Victoria to cater for the influx of workers to man the factories of Britain. Not surprisingly the housing conditions for the masses were indescribably wretched.
The Tories were behind many moves to improve the lot of the working classes in 19thc Britain as seen Today in 1884, under the premiership of Lord Salisbury, when a Royal Commission on the ‘Housing of the Working Classes’, was set up under Charles Dilke, along with others including, Cardinal Manning, The Bishop of Bedford and Home Secretary, Richard Cross.
The Commission resulted in a rare speech to the Lords by Edward, Prince of Wales, and also an invitation to one of the working class MPs on the Committee, the ‘Lib-Lab’ Henry Broadhurst, to Sandringham in December.(1)
Broadhurst, soon to be Under Secretary of State at the Home Office, recorded that, ‘in order to meet the difficulties in the matter of dress, dinner was served to me in my own rooms’. Despite this he left feeling ‘that he had spent a weekend with an old chum of his own rank in society’.
A Bill was introduced into the Commons by Cross, and Salisbury in the Lords, on 24th July 1885, which result was the 1885 Housing of the Working Classes Act, at a time when living conditions for so many people in the big cities was indescribable squalor as any visit to Seven Dials, or Old Nichol in London, would have testified.
As Salisbury had said in the 1883 issue of the National Review: ‘The poor condition of working class housing is injurious to morality and health, and that laissez-faire was two-sided, referring to the London Embankment scheme which dispossessed thousands.
Opposition to the Bill, came from the laissez-faire liberals such as Lord Wemyss and his Liberty of Property Defence League.
One of the early pioneers of workers’ housing was another Conservative politician, Baron Rowton whose first dwellings were opened at Vauxhall, London in 1892, and is commemorated in the ‘Artisans’ Dwellings’ Rowton Street in the Author’s home of Burton-on-Trent, Staffs.
Much Local Authority improvement came grudgingly: Leeds found a legal loop-hole and continued with back-to-back houses until 1937, and in the 21stc still had thousands on their housing stock. Manchester had banned these in 1844, Liverpool in 1861 and Birmingham in 1876, whilst Bradford had none after 1870.
(1) Broadhurst was the first from the Working Class or Labour Movement to hold ministerial office.
Ref: Royal Commission on Housing 1884.
Ref: wikipedia.org/Back-to-Back Houses, and 1909 Housing Act.
Ref: historyLearningsite.co.uk. Important events in public and environmental history in GB 1900-1939.
Ref: UK Acts of Parliament, Year by Year.
Ref: Insanitary State of Windsor. H.C. Debate 23 Feb. 1891. vol 350. cc 1359-60.