Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Living in Whiteman's Yard

Whiteman's Yard, 1882
For 130 years my family lived in the space bounded by Traffic Street, Hope Street, and London Road, hard by Wellington Street in Derby.

They worked the mills, maintained the railways and fought for Queen, King and Country. If they did ever leave, it is to here that they returned.

For this was one of the working parts of Derby. Within easy reach were timber yards, silk factories, a print works, some saw mills, an iron foundry, and the canal and railway.

John and Maria Boot were part of my family and they were also two of the people who kept Derby prosperous. He worked as a railway labourer and she in a silk factory. Not that the town rewarded them over much for their efforts. They lived in Whiteman’s Yard, a small court of twelve houses off Chapel Place, lost behind London Road.

Rochdale Street and Swan Street, 1890
You could find courts like these in every major town and city. They were dark grim places where speculative builders had thrown up a few poorly built houses on tiny plots of land. Often hidden behind other houses they were only accessed by narrow passages.

Whiteman’s Yard dated from the 1830s and had been built by Joseph Whiteman who was a baker and flour dealer of Bag Lane which later became Eagle Street. By the time that John and Maria moved there in the early 1870s the houses and court were less than desirable.

They lived at number 5 which just missed looking out on the privies. The house consisted of two rooms, one up and one down and backed directly onto the houses on Carrington Place. The front door opened from the yard into the downstairs room and apart from the range which was used for cooking and heating the only furniture consisted of a table and some chairs.

The outer walls were only one brick thick and those dividing properties were just half a brick. A fact that meant that there was very little privacy as almost any noise could be heard through the wall. The bricks were often of the poorest quality and tended to soak up rain water which made the houses damp as well as cold.

The downstairs floor consisted of stone slabs resting on bare earth which added to the dampness of the houses. And then there would have been the smells. Some of these no doubt came from the privies in the yard but others came from the drains, which were fed into the house from the waste water pipe.

New Gates, 1908
Dominating the yard were the three privies and the pump which would have been shared by all the twelve families. These consisted of a wooden seat with a wooden bucket and the contents were collected during the day.

This I suppose might have provided passing interest to the young children who played in the yard of which there were many. Over 40% of those who squeezed into the twelve houses were children and of these, half were under the age of 6.

The yard despite its privies offered both a safe place to play and emptied the house during the day. Likewise on warm summer evenings it provided the adults with a similar opportunity. There were sixty-six people living in the twelve houses, and half our families consisted of more than five people. John and Maria brought up seven children in their one up one down as did their neighbours at number 3. Other families could count between two and eight children.

Keeping these houses clean was a daunting struggle. It was waged against dirt, infestations and just the slow decay of poorly built houses. Without hot running water Maria had to fetch the water from the yard and heat it up. And then there was the cost of washing. A piece of soap might cost two pennies, and it would have to wash the clothes, scrub the floors and wash the family for a week. She did have help from her daughters but this was a hard life.

Maria died in 1885 at home. She was just 43, had brought up seven children and died illiterate. Her youngest was just five years old.

Location; Derby & Manchester

Picture, Whiteman's Yard, detail of the OS Map of Derby 1882-83, supplied by Derby Local Studies Library Rochdale Road and Swan Street, Samuel L Coulthurst, 1900, m41073 and Samuel L Coulthurst, 1890,  m72750, and New Gates, 1908, m8316,  courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

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