by John Moss
Housing & the People of Manchester
Despite the growing
wealth due to trade and commerce, prosperity lay in the hands of very
few of Manchester's residents. The working people, who actually produced
the wealth, lived, worked and died in conditions of the most desperate
poverty and degradation. Innumerable reports and surveys were carried
out during the 19th century, and they all told much the same story:
poor wages, impossibly long working hours, dangerous and unsanitary
working conditions, even more unsanitary dwellings, little or no health
provisions, high infant mortality and a short life expectancy.
A map of Manchester showing age of death figures in the mid-nineteenth
century revealed that life expectancy was directly related to wealth.
Put simply, the poor died younger and the rich lived longer. At that
time, Ancoats was the death black spot of Manchester.
Left to Right: The
River Irwell near the Cathedral in the early 19th Century; Castlefield
- urban Victorian industrial landscape;
Platt's Mill in Oldham around the end of the 19th Century; Salford
Cellar Dwelling from "The Builder" 1862.
Records show that
by 1830 there were over 560 cotton mills in Lancashire, employing more
than 110,000 workers, of which 35,000 were children - some as young
as six years of age. Wages for children were about 2s.3d. (two shillings
and three pence) per week (about 11½ new pence), but adults were
paid about 10 times more. Hence, it made economic sense to employ as
many children and as few adults as possible, and this is exactly what
happened. Youngest children were employed to crawl beneath machinery
(while still in operation) to gather up loose cotton - they were known
as "scavengers" and many died by getting caught up in machinery.
Those that survived to adulthood had permanent stoops or were crippled
from the prolonged crouching that the job entailed. The typical working
day was 14 hours long, but many were much longer, as, without regulation,
unscrupulous mill owners could demand any terms they liked.
Any attention that
the plight of working people drew from a wider middle class public was
generally disparaging and attitudes tended to be laisser faire.
The poor were
regarded as an underclass, whose degradation was largely their own fault;
frequently it was stated that God wished them to be poor; they were
a semi-class of probable criminal tendencies.
distinguished between the "deserving" and the "undeserving"
poor. Widows, orphans, old people and those whose sickness rendered
them incapable of work were regarded as deserving and could receive
help through the system of Poor Houses, degrading though these were.
poor or unemployed were regarded as undeserving and, without any social
support system in place, were left entirely to their own devices.
on the other hand, was commonly seen as a visible sign of virtue: the
poor were bad, the rich were good - it was a natural order. Another
popular concept was that if one worked hard, this would be rewarded
by an increase in wealth.
Manchester saw exponential
population growth during the early 19th century - while London's population
doubled, Manchester's quadrupled! Here are figures for population growth
in Manchester, based on local period censuses:
By and large the
workers lived near and around their workplace, and the wealthy lived
a few miles outside the city in their garden suburbs. Houses were "jerry"
built, without control or regulation of any kind. Builders, usually
the employer, would build so as to cram as many houses as possible into
the space available.
There was no water or services, and no attempt to provide privacy of
any kind. People worked in shifts and shared beds. Ten or twelve people
could share the one bedroom, and up to 100 houses shared the one "privvy"
- usually a deep hole dug in the corner of a yard, or a "midden" - a
heap against a wall.
damp - there were no damp-proof courses, and no double brick walls.
Rain leeched through walls, and even in dry summers, damp rose up the
walls. The only relief from damp was the building of cellars to contain
it. However, these cellars inevitably became dwellings for subtenants.
and Salford's cellar dwellings were the root of most health problems,
and became a national disgrace. "The Builder" magazine of
1864 illustrated the worst dwellings, and many celebrated figures emerged
to urge for improvement of the lot of working people.
John Kay published
"The Moral and Physical Conditions of the working Classes"
in 1832, Engels wrote his
well-known "The Condition of the Working Class in England"
in 1844 based on the plight of the Manchester underclass, and in 1842
Edwin Chadwick published his "Report on the Sanitary Conditions
of the Labouring Population". 'Official' paupership figures
for the "Township of Manchester" were the highest in Britain - higher
even than in London's east end.
Labour & Wages
Average wages in
19th century Manchester were well below subsistence level. A report
by Fred Scott for the Manchester Statistical Society in 1889 found that
over 40% of working men interviewed in Salford were "irregularly employed",
and that 61% could be defined as "very poor" with a weekly income of
less than 4 shillings (20p) per week. The
main problem was casual labour. Payments from the Manchester & Salford
District Provident Society's Poverty Fund in the winter of 1878-79 revealed
that the vast majority of qualifying applicants were casual and seasonal
workers - among them were warehousemen, builder's labourers, general
labourers, storemen and transport men - most of these were of Irish
descent. In the days before any welfare provision, there was no sick
pay - if you couldn't work, you weren't paid.
Many people worked up to 14 hours a day for 7 days a week; a few "benevolent"
employers allowed a 6 day week with compulsory church attendance on
formed a large proportion of the poor. By 1851, Irish immigrants comprised
around 15% of the city's poor. Half of the people registered in the
New Bridge Street Workhouse in the 180s and 1890s were Irish Catholics.
Most lived in Ancoats, (40% Irish according to the 1900 census), probably
the poorest and most deprived area of the city. A small area of Chorlton
on Medlock was also known as "Little Italy" on account of
the large numbers of immigrant Italians who lived there in a sort of
ghetto situation. They formed the largest section of the vast casual
labour force, which put to hard long hours when trade was good, were
first to be laid off in leaner times. They formed the largest part of
the Smithfield Market labour force, comprised the majority of the city's
street sellers and hawkers, dominated the building trade and figured
largely in domestic service (females in particular).
Health Issues in Victorian Manchester
Manchester had become
a very unhealthy place to live in. Coal burning domestic fires and innumerable
factory chimneys meant that the city was overhung with a permanent pall
of smoke, drenched with acid rain, and suffered plagues of respiratory
diseases (bronchitis, influenza, pneumonia, asthma, as well as other
industrial dust-related diseases).
of a working man in Salford in the 1870s could be as little as 17 years.
While the opening of some hospitals after 1850 and the application of
public health measures saw a fast decline in infectious diseases such
as small pox, scarlet fever and other communicable diseases, there were
still many endemic diseases which plagued working people.
disposal, the city had little or no policy until the late 19th century.
Ashpits and communal cesspits were common, and they overflowed in rainy
periods, and had to be emptied and carted away. This was, however, rarely
done. There were frequent official accounts of "midden" overflowing
into the cellars in which a large number of workers lived, with no attempt
made to relieve the problem.
Even by 1907
only about one-third of the city's privvies were water closets. Such
water closets as there were before the 1870s simply ran directly into
the Irwell, from which most people obtained their drinking water. Cholera
was a common summer visitor to the city. The Manchester and Salford
Sanitary Association was formed in 1852 to promote public health and
sanitary reform. They had a vigorous programme which included distributing
thousands of tracts (though few poor people could read), and delivering
hundreds of public lectures. They also created isolation hospitals for
the worst diseases. Despite all this the city's health failed to improve.
But it was
the airborne diseases which accounted for the greatest mortality figures.
Pulmonary Tuberculosis killed most people in Manchester.
The highest death risk areas of the city were all inner city zones,
occupied by the working poor : Ancoats, Chorlton-on-Medlock, Hulme and
Ardwick. It was not until the 1850s that relatively clean drinking water
came into the city from the completion of Longendale reservoir, (though
ordinary people had to queue at street standpipes to obtain it), and
that Thirlmere in the Lake District was added to the system in the 1890s.
These measures had a significant impact in improving the health of the
city's residents. Cholera and typhoid were virtually wiped out at a
no better in the working mills of Lancashire. "Mill Fever",
aching head, limbs and nausea was common. Workers usually developed
tuberculosis, bronchitis and asthma due to cotton lint and dust which
hung in the air - there were, of course, no health or safety precautions
or safeguards in place.
in Victorian Times
The main killer
of children was diarrhoea. Despite greatly improved water supplies,
the main threat still came from backyard middens, insect borne germs,
inadequate washing facilities, poor food hygiene, and from a very poor
diet. Manchester's slow rate of conversion to water closets and sewage
disposal were at the root of its extraordinarily high infant death figures.
Many middens and privvies were still in use well into the early 1900s.
Not until later
in the century did significant health reforms improve the lot and the
longevity of working people. New sewers and sewage treatment plants
and the appointment of Manchester's first Medical Officer of Health
in 1868, who closed down virtually all of the city's cellar dwellings,
made great improvements to the health and well-being of ordinary people.
The creation of public bath houses and fine "water palaces"
like Victoria Baths in
Hathersage Road saw Manchester thrust into the forefront of a burgeoning
public health drive. Regulations
governing the standards of new houses were introduced after 1875, which
controlled such things as the size and number of required windows and
permitted light levels, enforced the introduction of back yards (albeit
very small ones) and back alleyways. Waterways and public taps, as well
as public laundries and wash houses were also introduced.
of Manchester's Unhealthy Dwellings Committee meant that around 500
houses a year were refurbished up to the new standards between 1885
and 1905, and over 2000 houses a year after that. By the turn of the
century, much of the worst insanitation of Manchester had been removed,
and the city's health had improved so that it was no longer the black
spot of England.
Bibliography - Books about Manchester