Sunday, 5 February 2017

A family of seven in a two roomed cottage on the Row, ........ one up one downs part 1

It is hard today to imagine bringing up a family in just two rooms and yet many people here in the township during the 19th century and before did just that.

These were houses with just two rooms often with only a ladder to give access to the upstairs room, and they were common enough across the country both in our towns and cities but also in the countryside.

Only three still exist in Manchester and these are on Bradley Street backing on to far grander buildings on Lever Street.

We had our fair share but they have all been demolished and the evidence is scanty.

One survived on the edge of Chorlton on Maitland Road into the 1930s  but those which would have been here in the centre of the township along the Row and around the green vanished a long time ago.

 Most would have been wattle and daub cottages and while we still had something like fifty in the 1840s all went during the next half century with the last on the corner of Beech Road and Wilton being pulled down in 1892.

Now it is possible using old photographs, OS maps and census returns to locate them on what are now Beech Road and the green.

There were a group of them on the northern side of Beech Road almost opposite Reynard Road, a solitary example opposite the parish church close to what is now the car park for the meadows and more on Sandy Lane and there will be more in Martledge and Hardy.

These were all brick built and most survived into the 20th century and back in the 1830s and 40s were owned by local landowners, businessmen, traders and farmers.

At present we know most about those on Beech Road. They were owned by James Holt who had made his money in Manchester and retired to Chorlton to live in Beech House sometime around the mid 1830s. In the May of 1845 he was renting them out to John Hooley, John Whitehead and James Whitby and the rents ran from just under 4/- down to 3/4d. John Hooley was a joiner and Whitehead an agricultural labourer.

Trying to make sense of what proportion of their wages was paid in rent is difficult. But an agricultural labourer in Lancashire might earn between 11s and 18s. But these varied, and so in the most intense period in the summer months this could rise to 13s and fall later in the year to 12s or less.

Likewise women and children were better paid during the warm busy months. It is also worth noting that women’s wages in parts of Lancashire were the highest in the country. Added to this there was the money that could be earned at harvest time, and from task work and activities like drainage work.

Now overcrowding was a common feature of rural life and the Whitehead’s had five children ranging in age from 12 down to six months with the added complication that of the five one was a boy aged 12 and the rest were girls.

Families fell back on different strategies to cope, with some farming out some of the children to a grandparent or making arrangements with neighbours where by the girls of the two families slept under one roof, and the boys under another. In other cases they just relied on the blanket across the room. All of which allowed moralists and social observers a field day and was reported in great detail by Poor Law Commissioners on the Employment of Women & Children in Agriculture in 1843.

The cottages on Beech Road were demolished sometime around 1911, but those on Sandy Lane and the one opposite the parish church lasted much longer, but more about those later.

Picture; from the Lloyd collection, circa 1895

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