Friday, 4 September 2015

Living in a two roomed cottage in a Manchester court in 1851

You won’t find Spam Court I know I tried.  But I do know where it was and where it had been when it was home to hundreds of families from about 1780 till sometime after 1965.

It was one of those bits of infill, the product of speculative builders trying to squeeze as many houses as possible onto a small piece of land.  In this case the plot was off Artillery Street which runs from Byrom Street to Longworth Street behind Deansgate.  Courts like these might hold half a dozen houses which faced each other across an open paved area and in some cases were locked away behind other properties, with access down narrow alleyways.

Many were back to back houses consisting of just two rooms, made from poor quality materials with party walls which were just half a brick thick and floors laid directly onto the bare earth.
My great grandmother grew up in just such a property in Whiteman’s Yard and those in Spam Court were little different.  True they had cellars which still in the middle of the 19th century might be occupied by families, but otherwise they resembled the one she was born in.

In 1844 Manchester stopped the building of new houses which did not have running water and a toilet in the house or the yard which meant that no back to back houses or courts were built, although in neighbouring Bradford and Openshaw such properties continued to be constructed.  By 1900 there were only 5,000 back to backs left in the city and these had all been removed or converted  to ‘through’ houses by 1939.*

Spam Court consisted of six such properties.  The eastern side of the court backed on to three identical houses fronting Swan Court while the western three were set up against industrial buildings which later became a hospital.

And in those six houses in 1851 lived a total of thirty-three people who made their living from the bottom end of economic pile.  And so while there were 6 power loom weavers and a cooper and dress maker there were also an errand boy, a hawker and one who described himself as a pauper.
Now over the next few weeks I will be delving deeper into Spam Court and trying to tell its story, looking at the people who lived there and the surrounding streets.

*Parkinson-Bailey, John P, Manchester University Press, 2000

Pictures; Spam Court in 1965 J. Ryder, m00211, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, Span Court from the 1842-44 OS map of Manchester & Salford, courtesy of Digital Archives, and Artillery Street looking up from Byrom Street with Spam Court off to the right,  from the collection of Andrew Simpson

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