Friday, 18 May 2012

One hundred years of one house in Chorlton part 16 when the landlord came knocking

The continuing story of the house Joe and Mary Ann Scott lived in for over 50 years and the families that have lived here since.

I am on a mission. I want to find a rent book.  Now it is not any sort of rent book.  It has to be a rent book for one of those houses owned by Joe Scott who lived in our house.  He built and owned a lot of the smaller houses behind Beech Road, and only began selling them off after the last world war.

By all accounts he was a decent chap who built solid and reliable houses to a simple and well tried model.  You can see them on roads like Provis and Neal and even on Beech Road.  They were a step up from the old two up two down properties where you walked straight in from the street into the front room.

Instead there is a small entrance hall with two rooms off on the ground floor, and another three upstairs.  They have a small garden at the front and a slightly bigger one at the back.  These were the “six shilling a week” homes which were springing up across the township in the first decades of the 20th century.*

And our Joe was right there building and renting them out.  Now, I suspect there are very few which are still rented most have passed into private ownership.  But they have stood the test of time and can command very respectable sale prices.  One I notice is currently on the market for £319,000 which admittedly has a lot to do with it being sited on Beech Road “close” as the estate agent told me “to the village.”

We tend to forget that this was the time of the rented property and many of our larger houses were also built for rent.  Those large semis on Albermarle, Keppel and Selbourne were being offered for rents of between “£22 and £25 a year and had been built for the new “middling people” who worked in Manchester but wanted somewhere to live on the edge of the countryside.  And Chorlton offered just that.  Our railway station had been opened in 1880 and could whisk the commuter into the heart of the city in under ten minutes and in 1905 when these houses were on offer, there was still plenty of open farmland to the south of new Chorlton.  So we were the ideal suburban spot, with the city just down the line and fields, cows and country air but minutes away.

Not surprisingly these houses were marketed as “Good Family Houses; close to the station; beautified for new tenants: rents £25.”  While the slightly superior properties at 37 and 43 High Lane were being offered at “£42 and £36”, no doubt because they were “Excellent Family Houses [with] two entertaining rooms, six bed rooms, w.c, kitchen, pantry, cellars, nice gardens: cycle, green and summer houses” 
This was the period when most of our larger semis and more modest terraced houses were erected across new Chorlton.**

It is a subject I keep coming back to because the two decades either side of 1900 were the period when what we know as Chorlton today came into existence.

Now these properties were for those who could afford to negotiate an annual deal and did not have to worry about the landlord's agent calling each week.  Although it was possible as the ad's made clear that weekly or quarterly arrangements were available.  But like all such deals it seems to have meant paying more.  So number "32 Wilton Road. (opposite park: suit small family)" was going for £5.10s which was a lot more than the bigger houses in New Chorlton, closer to the station.  This of course might just have reflected the position of Wilton opposite the Rec and close to the old village and so nearer the green fields and meadow lands.

What is interesting is that in the March of 1905 the market seems sluggish and many of our properties were being offered at reduced rents, which might have just been an advertising ploy or just possibly hints that the building bubble was just about to burst.

Sixty or so years later, many of the more impressive homes underwent that most basic humiliation of being divided up into bed sits, peopled by a transit population, whose tenancy lasted little longer than the university term or a better job offer in another part of the city.  Now I speak from personal experience, being single and on a low income meant my early years in Manchester were spent in one room in converted Victorian houses which were sad neglected and shabby versions of their former selves.

If you were lucky the landlord would have redecorated the walls with wood chip and some neutral colour of emulsion, although in my case in one flat the original paper had just had an amateur coat of some watered down paint thrown over it.

And the delights of such living just went on. You shared the bathroom which was seldom cleaned, the whole house was always cold with a hint of damp and the hall always seemed full of junk mail and letters to residents who even the landlord had forgotten.

But the market has moved on and as Chorlton began to attract new people wanting to buy bigger more interesting properties but who couldn’t afford Withington or Didsbury Chorlton became an obvious choice.  And so what once had been a bed sit conversion returned to a large family home. There are of course still examples of bed sit land but even here there are changes.

Above; Holland Road as it was and now Zetland Road is one  that has gone full circle from family home to bedsits and back again to single family occupancy

Perhaps because of what Chorlton has become the conversion of old turn of the last century properties has taken on a new twist.  Bed sits are out and instead there are designer style accommodations aping those of the city centre warehouse developments.

And with house prices here in Chorlton climbing through the roof it will I suspect be the fate of many young people to opt for renting a place, if only because buying here in the township is beyond their means.  Not that it was ever easy.  My first house cost me £4,200 for a two up two down late 19th century terraced house in Ashton-Under-Lyne beyond the eastern boundaries of the city, when I was earning less than a £1,000 a year.  And when I bought Scott’s house it was a struggle, made worse by the rapid rise in interest rates during the 1980s.

So for some, just as it was when Joe Scott began building his houses in this part of Chorlton, renting is the only viable way of securing a home in the area which pretty much brings me back to where I started.  So if there is anyone who has an old Joe Scott rent book please let me know.

*Manchester Evening News 1901

Pictures; Neal Road with some of Joe Scott’s houses in the distance, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, 1958 R.E. Stanley, m18135, and adverts for rented properties from the Manchester Guardian March 1905, Holland Road circa 1920 from the Lloyd collection

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