9 June 2018

Housing

There is another England. Not the England of pomp and ceremony, of Downton Abbey and swans  gliding under overhanging willows, not the England of hedgerows and haystacks or even the England of pop stars and Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. This is the secret England. The oft-forgotten England of hardship and debt, takeaway meals and poor housing, soap operas on the television and banging on the walls to  tell your neighbours to quieten down.

On Beeston Hill in Leeds, overlooking the Elland Road football stadium that I visited on Thursday evening, there are several rows of Victorian back-to-back housing. Streets such as Noster Place and Marley View. You could visit them on Google Streetview if you were so inclined.
Let me explain back-to-back housing. The houses stand in terraces with neighbours' homes connected  to the left and right. However, behind each terrace there is another row of houses and these are also connected so that means that as well as having neighbours to the left and right you are connected to the neighbours behind you as well.

What the back-to-back phenomenon also means is that you have no rear windows and no yard or small garden at the back. Nowadays these houses have internal bathrooms with flushing toilets but when they were first built residents had communal privies that served the entire street.
As there are no back yards, drying washing has always been a challenge. Inventively, many housewives learnt to string washing lines across their streets and even now, in 2018 some people still follow this practice. As I walked around Beeston before the England match, I also saw residents sitting outside their front doors enjoying the evening sunshine because of course they couldn't sit outside their non-existent back doors.

Sheffield's back-to-back streets were razed many years ago but Leeds still has plenty of them. They were initially seen as a cheap and profitable way of housing the poor with rents going to either the local council or to private landlords. Even today there are few owner occupiers.

Perhaps next time you think of England with our lambs grazing on hillsides, our biscuit tin lid cottages and our ancient castles, you might also spare a thought for the residents of Leeds's back-to-back streets - both past and present - for this is also England.

36 comments:

  1. I know this area so well, as my daughter studied in Leeds for 6 years and lived in housing just like that. The houses are let out to students or immigrants and the rents are ridiculously high, so landlords and their agents make huge profits. The housing is often in bad repair with mice or rat or snail (yes snail) infestations or water leaking through ceilings or in the cellars. There are lovely parts of Leeds too, but these areas seem so neglected.

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    1. I should also add, I have spent many a weekend living in those houses too.

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    2. You mean living in houses your daughter rented? I am surprised that she did not choose to study conchology.

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  2. Sad, so very sad, dreary and forlorn...but even sadder, I think, would be being homeless, living on the streets...with no four walls and ceilings...with no security whatsoever.

    I wish life and living was easy, pleasant, safe and secure for everyone...everywhere. Sadly, it isn't so...and, even worse and more disturbingly frustrating...it never will be.

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    1. I guess that for the really poor people in the world these back-to-back houses would seem like mansions.

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    2. You are right, Neil...there are plenty of humans on this earth that would consider those homes utter luxuries. Which is a damn shame in the year 2018. We humans should be better at caring for each other by now.

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  3. Yes. I lived in those houses whenever I visited my daughter in Leeds for the weekend. As for conchology, I am surprised she didn't have snails as pets. The snails were feeding on any food left in the kitchen.

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    1. The stuff of nightmares... "House of Snails" directed by Steven Spielberg starring Agatha Addy as Florence.

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  4. Reminds me of the apartments in the old brownstones of Brooklyn where I spent part of my youth with my grandmother. There was a small pathway between the backs of two buildings and each apartment had a fire escape where there was a pulley system between the two neighboring fire escapes and a strong cord so that washing could be hung out. So, the neighbors had to agree on which days which household would do the laundry. There was a beautiful tree in front of my grandmother's brownstone so I thought we were almost rich because there were not many trees up and down Moffet Street.

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    1. Back then I guess you wouldn't have known any different so because of that beautiful tree you really were rich in a manner of speaking.

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    2. This comment from Peace Thyme made me think of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, one of my all time favorite books. :)

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    3. Mine too, Jennifer. Grandma lived next door to the Jewish deli where they had crackers in a barrel and an old wood stove. My mom's favorite treat on her way home from school when she was young was to save up her money and buy a piece of pickled eel. Can you imagine? Four cents, it was.....a fortune for the 20s and 30s.

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    4. I love "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn", too...I have the book, which I've had for years and years...and years....here on my desk.

      I loved the movie, too...starring Peggy Ann Garner as Francie and Barbara Bel Geddes as her mother.

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  5. In spite of your comments about debts and hardship etc...there seem to be a fair number of well maintained newish motor cars parked on the streets. The windows too seem to have been replaced, so some money had been spent on improvements. Not something the original inhabitants would ever have believed possible !

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    1. Well-observed CG. I am sure you are right that things are not as tough as they used to be.

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  6. I think it must be very hard to live where you cannot step out the back door and have some greenery and space, not even a few square feet.

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    1. I agree Jenny. In Sheffield's terraced streets the house all have little back yards.

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    2. I hope I never have to live in a house or apartment with very little (or no) yard of my own.

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    3. American homeowners and renters are generally very lucky to have so much space. In England and indeed most of Europe it's only the rich who can afford that space.

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  7. We used to have streets of these houses in Brighton but thankfully most have now been demolished. However, I'm sure that the homeless in Brighton and elsewhere would love one.
    That doesn't mean that they are a good thing but it breaks my heart to see how many people we have here living on the streets.
    Briony
    x

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    1. It is an indictment upon our society and upon our politicians when we refuse to give every citizen a roof to sleep under and a safe place to store belongings and a bathroom for washing and lavatory visits.

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  8. There is a sad and difficult side of life for sure and we unfortunately see that in most, if not all countries. I grew up poor but was rich in that I always had a house to live and more than enough of the necessities of life so I guess not so poor after all by comparison to some. There are far too many homeless folks these days and that is heartbreaking to see. And in many areas here the inner cities are not only quite poor but also very dangerous. It is sad if it takes money to be safe and healthy but that is often the case.

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  9. Yes, it's housing we only see and do not experience it.

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    1. I felt a little nervous taking those pictures, aware that I was in a slightly alien world.

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  10. Funnily enough, it's only fairly recently that I have thought of England as the place of Downton Abbey etc etc.
    As a young girl I watched All Things Great and Small which of course showed some lovely countryside but I also remember mud and hardship. My next big pop culture exposure to the UK was The Bill, with lots of council housing.
    (I have gathered that The Bill is not considered very cool, despite is 20+ year run?)
    Having said all of that, I have never heard of back to back houses. That's very grim.

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    1. I think Australia and England have a closeness - related to the quite recent processes of emigration/immigration that means most Australians of British origin have a more accurate picture of this country than most citizens of other countries. Though we are far apart we are close.

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  11. Technically, I own one third of the land the house where I live at is built on, which means I could claim part of what goes for a garden at the back of the house. But I live on the middle one of the three floors, and the ground floor flat is the only one with a back door leading to a terrace in the garden just big enough for a table and two chairs. Naturally, I don't spend time there; when I want to be outdoors, I walk 10 minutes to the nearest fields or 15 to the palace grounds. Such is life in a small city (90,000) in heavily industrialised southern Germany.
    There are areas downtown and in some suburbs where I feel it is a parallel city to the one I call my home town; large families live in small, somewhat dirty quarters with cheap shops selling tacky clothes and convenience food. It is noisier and messier there than where I live, and I am glad my financial situation does not force me to live there.

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    1. We should all count our blessings. Nearly all the literate bloggers I encounter here in Blogland are fortunate people like myself. Very few of us have lived close to the breadline.

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  12. I think of the massive 'slum clearances' of the sixties replacing them with high rise properties which, at that time, were generally hardly any better.

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    1. At least these streets had real community - real togetherness - something that seemed to be sadly lacking in high rise developments.

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  13. Interesting. I would have assumed that any terraced house had a back garden.

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    1. In Sheffield many terraced houses just have a shared back yard - no garden as such. You can still see old but now unused lavatories in these yards.

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  14. I don't know of any back to back housing in Belfast (where I happen to live). But there are plenty of mean little terraces of poky, cramped houses that are probably almost as bad. They do at least have back yards and back windows.

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    1. I have never seen any back-to-back houses in either Sheffield or Hull either. Thanks for calling by Nick.

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  15. A lot of my great aunts and uncles grew up in back to backs in the marvelous county of Lancashire.
    I'd prefer back to backs than high rise flats and I believe some towns are thinking along those lines too.

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