From my research into my ancestors, it as become apparent that a number of them who lived in Sheffield experienced the full brunt of the industrialisation and saw the rapid development that transformed Sheffield into a major industrial city that was known throughout the world. Several of my ancestors lived in the Walkley/Crookes area of Sheffield whilst others lived in the Heeley/Sharrow areas. My wife's ancestors who came to Sheffield from the West Midlands were centered on the Attercliffe/Brightside/Park areas of Sheffield. All of the relatives that have traced to date can either be categorised as either working or lower middle-class i.e. artisans and tradesmen. I have yet to find one ancestor in Sheffield who can be termed a member of the professional classes. With this in mind I came across an extract from "A History of Labour in Sheffield 1850-1939". by Professor S Pollard  which gives a clear and concise account of the type of housing my ancestors lived in (or endured) during the mid to late nineteenth century 


Extracted from "A History of Labour in Sheffield 1850-1939". by Professor S Pollard (formerly of  Sheffield University).

"The standards of working-class housing in the town, like the standards of sanitation, deteriorated in the 1840's and 1850's with the pressure of population, but they were still above those of other industrial towns. In Sheffield the local artisans traditionally lived in separate houses, and the numbers of persons per house were lower than those of other large towns. "Generally, in Sheffield, the average of the comfort of the lower classes is above that of most other places; we have not yet got into the abominable way of cellars or of many families living in the same house." Sheffield artisans, wrote Dr. J. C. Hall in 1857, have "generally" a house for themselves, and those in the suburbs frequently also a garden. In good times, it was "unusual" to find two families under the same roof. An examination of the detailed returns of the 1851 Census shows, however, that many working-class families were obliged to take in lodgers, and even without them the accommodation was intolerably cramped in the case of larger families. accommodation was intolerably cramped in the case of larger families.

The standard Sheffield workman's cottage was built of brick, made cheaply from local clay and was covered with local slate. It had a cellar, a living ("day") room on the ground floor, a "chamber" or first-floor bedroom and generally an "attic" or second bedroom on the second floor. The cellar was not normally inhabited. The daily activities of the family were concentrated in the living-room, which served as kitchen, scullery, dining-room, living-room, as wash-room and bathroom, and on wet days the clothes were hung up in it to dry. The room was usually paved with flags, its fireplace was fitted with an oven for baking, with a side boiler for hot water, and there was also a dished slopstone with a lead pipe into the sewer or the street channel. The cooking was done on "grindle-cokes" (worn-down grindstones) placed in front of the fire.

In the "chamber", a room with a boarded floor and fireplace, slept husband and wife and the younger children. The attic at the top was a low
room, no more than 7 feet high and often with sloping ceilings, and had only a low window. In some cases it also boasted a fireplace. It formed
the sleeping apartment of the older children and, if necessary, the lodger.'

The standard tenement was reproduced, with minor variations, in nearly all working-class quarters. It was only one room deep, and was built "back-to-back" with another, similar tenement, one facing into the street and another into the yard. Behind each set of rooms was the staircase, and behind it the partition wall to the other house.Back-to-back building saved space and building costs. In terraces of houses of this kind, three walls of each tenement were common with adjoining tenements, and only one wall, facing either into the street or into the yard, was free and was broken by windows and the door. The terraces were built round courts, to which entrance was commonly gained by a narrow passage built under the first-floor rooms to the depth of two tenements.......
The absence of through ventilation in back-to-back building was not considered a drawback by contemporaries: it would prevent draughts, which were dangerous "for the thinly clad and poorly fed mechanics stated William Flockton; "the only improvement I can suggest in the erection of such cottages would be to make the rooms a little larger and loftier."'Further, in this building arrangement about half the houses opened inwards into confined yards which were generally unpaved and contained the privies. These had to do duty for the whole complex of buildings, and each privy served between two and a dozen households. In the yard was also the standpipe or water pump, and the inhabitants living in houses facing outwards had thus to go out into the street and through a passage into the yard to fetch water or visit the privies. Lastly, workshops and factories,with all their noise, smoke, smell and dust were situated cheek by jowl with dwelling-houses, often sharing the same yards.

The average rent of a standard cottage was 2s. 6d., the landlord paying the poor rates and water rates, and the tenant the highway rates. The cost of a cottage, including the privies, ashpit, yard and street paving, was put at 60----75,and the net return, deducting all costs of servicing, maintenance and collection, was put at 6 per cent. or 7 per cent.

The builder of the cheap working-class house was typically a man of small resources. In, Sheffield the bricklayer, the joiner, the glazier and the painter, some of them unable even to write their names, combined to run up buildings on their few hundred pounds of capital as a speculation.' Among the owners of cottage property, there were many wealthy and respected public figures, but some of the worst owners were small tradesmen and publicans owning a few houses each, and others were speculative builders who "run up [houses] as slightly [built] and as rapidly as possible, in the hope of obtaining, for a time at least, an enormous percentage". Their returns, averaging 6-7 per cent over and above the rate of interest, must be considered handsome, especially since leases in Sheffield were drawn up for long periods, upto 499 or 999 years.

Building was an industry subject to wide fluctuations, indicating that for the period as a whole there was a large excess capacity kept idle only by the poverty of the tenants who could afford to rent only the cheapest dwellings. Thus, in 1834-41 the annual rate of building was 634 houses; in 1841-51 it was 148 houses, and in 1851-5, 1,845 houses. At the end of the first building boom in 1841, 3,223 houses stood empty; at the beginning of the next, in 1851, only 267, and at its conclusion, in 1855,over 1,500. These violent swings, besides leading to wholesale bankruptcies of building firms, tended to have a most deleterious effect on the quality of the houses erected. In building depressions costs had to be cut to the bone, especially where builders ran up houses on speculation; during building booms, it was the high prices of materials which enforced economies. The standards built to were the lowest which building by-laws would permit, and in the years to 1850 these provided little protection.

The houses described so far were those of skilled artisans; the casual labourers, mostly of Irish descent, employed on the fringes of Sheffield industries, lived in very much worse surroundings. "I am at present attending three," wrote Dr. Holland in 1839, "whose homes are scenes of wretchedness that could not be surpassed by anything in Ireland. It is often necessary to insist on their going to the workhouse, simply for protection from cold and hunger." They lived in the most unsanitary districts, sharing their slums with pigs and other domestic animals and with lodgers even more wretched than themselves, cheek by jowl with the riff-raff of the underworld, which every large city seemed to breed and the inhabitants of the common lodging-houses. In Sheffield, however, the small number of Irish-born citizens made their problems less acute than in other large towns in the North.

The artisan found it difficult to buy his own house. Even outworkers and "little master?' had few capital resources, and these were needed in their business. But the organisation of the Sheffield trades encouraged independence among the craftsmen, and several of them turned early to the co-operative building society.

This form of organisation first made its appearance in Sheffield about 1830. A society could lease a large plot cheaply, and members could spread the payments and interest for their houses over 10-14 years, until the last house was built. Each member was responsible for his own building, and many did the Job with their own hands, reaching standards superior to those of houses built on speculation. In an early society, described by John Ryalls many years later, the weekly contribution of members towards capital cost, interest and rent (before their own houses were ready for occupation) was 4s. to 5s., or double the typical rent. At the end of ten years, all the houses had been completed and all payments ceased.

Many of these early societies failed, and by 1849 only two estates seem to have been successfully completed: Hall Carr and Birkendale (Upperthorpe), both with only a few working-men among their members. In 1849 the temporary housing shortage, sanitary reform agitation and an economic upswing led to the formation of two large new societies which had stronger working-class support. 

The Reform Freehold Land Society was formed at a public meeting on 19th February, on initiative from Birmingham, with a view to the creation of votes as well as houses. By purchasing the land in addition to the houses, the members assumed a heavy burden, but they were able to buy their first estate Of 41 acres at Crookes at the -end of the year, land at the end Of 1851 the Heeley estate, divided into 171 lots, had been added and there were 258 members. The Walkley Land and Building Society, founded on 22nd January 1849, also decided to buy the land as well as the houses, but in addition it had strong views on the hygienic and aesthetic values of a garden suburb. The charges of the first society were high, amounting to 50 for 1 acre of land, paid off at the rate of Ss. a week for 14 years, and an entrance fee Of 72s. The scheme, run democratically by the members, proved highly successful and later societies offered smaller plots at lower rates. Altogether, twelve societies were formed at Walkley, and the completed estate had about 3,000 holders on 292 acres. The large majority of members belonged to the working class, and the district had been dubbed the "Working-man's West End". It was kept entirely residential.

The experiment of the workmen's garden suburb could, however, benefit only a small proportion, an elite of character if not of earnings. The accepted tradition, for workers in Sheffield and elsewhere, lay in paying a minimum weekly rent which would provide a profitable return for a landlord, and for themselves the tenancy of a shoddy house in the worst quarters of a dirty and insanitary town."

Note: Professor Sidney Pollard died at the age of 73 on 22nd November 1998. His papers are held by the Library at Sunderland University 

"overcrowded and unsanitary conditions were commonplace as the city grew at too rapid a pace to be able to accommodate the sudden influx of people. In 1839, Dr. Holland of Sheffield described "scenes of wretchedness" in the city that so appalled him that he often insisted on them "going to the workhouse, simply for protection from cold and hunger. A cholera epidemic of 1832, which was caused by raw sewage flowing down the streets and crowded conditions, infected 1,347 people and claimed 402 lives. A large graveyard, called the Cholera Garden, was created to cope with the number of corpses".

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