Friday, 17 March 2017

12 Hope Street Derby a home for 30 years and now a car park

I always thought the name Hope Street was a cruel joke for how could there ever be any hope in a row of mean looking houses consisting of just four rooms an outside lavatory and shared yard?

On  still and quiet nights it was not only possible to hear the clunk of shunting engines from the nearby railway line but know when the people next door were rowing or the even more intimate moments of the couple at number 10.

It might of course be possible to conjure up some rosy picture of children playing in the streets safe from traffic under the watchful eye of a resident but this had more to do with an absence of gardens and parks and there was always the fear that the canal just a few streets away could prove fatal.

So the only hope came from the name.  Every town and city in the north had these shabby often poorly built properties.  They were put up by speculative builders often using the cheapest materials and were not meant to last.  The fact that many survived from the earliest years of the nineteenth century is less a tribute to the quality of the buildings as to a lack of sufficient money or the political will to clear them and build better.

But that is a little unfair and now looking back with the gift of a degree of maturity and some experience I have to admit that I was rather hard on Hope Street.
Some of the worst of these early 19th century slums had gone before the war and what was left may not always have been bad.  I started my married life in a two up two down, which with the addition of a bathroom and inside lavatory was cheap, and manageable with the extra bonus of being close to the town centre.

Now number 12 Hope Street would have built around 1830.  The street itself did not derive from some cynical landlord who took perverse pleasure in naming the place hope in contrast to the dismal surroundings but from the Hope family one of whom was Lord Mayor no less than five times.

Of course I cannot testify to the state of the brickwork or the quality of the other material used in its construction but I remember a comfortable home.

Like most of the houses of this design you entered directly into the front room and by the 1950s this was no longer the “best room”, used only for special occasions but a family room kept warm and cosy in the winter months where I could sit and play with my lead figures of animals, cowboys and soldiers bought from the local market.

Every morning grandmother would make the fire a method which both fascinated and terrified me, for once the kindling and coal were in the grate and the fire lit she put a sheet of newspaper over the front.  This allowed the flames to catch and drew the fire up the chimney.  It is a trick I have never dared copy with our own open fires, preferring to put the fire guard in place first and rest a sheet of newspaper on that.

My fear which if memory serves happened on one occasion was that the newspaper itself would ignite and with a sudden whoosh disappear up the chimney.  “That” my mother would soundly proclaim “could start a chimney fire which is the worst thing that can happen.”   To this day despite regularly sweeping our chimneys the fear of such a happening haunts me, but for an eight year old was a prospect of unimaginable terror.

The reverse was the need on those same cold winter days to visit the outside lavatory at the back of the shared yard.  This was an ordeal spared all of us at night as under the bed well into the late 50s were chamber pots which we used.  I defy anyone to want to slip out of a warm bed in the middle of a December night to cross an unlit yard.   My grandparents never lost the habit and in the 1970s under their bed in their last home in Chellaston were two chamber pots.

Hope Street was demolished in the 1980s.   With a little careful renovation perhaps the houses could have been saved.  Some at least of the people who were there in the 1950s remembered them with affection and told me of the community spirit.   They were mainly skilled and semi skilled working families who shared their densely packed neighbourhood with factories, print works and timber yards.

I may have been too dismissive of Hope Street but I still rather think that those who lived there may well have preferred the option of a greener spaces, easier to clean houses and an inside lavatory.

What they got was a car park. The home of my grandparents for 30 years is marked today by the corner of a wooden fence, which I have to reflect ain't no blue plaque.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson and Cynthia Wigley

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