Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Looking for the bigger picture behind 12 Hope Street

The Hall family circa 1914
Now I know that one person’s family history is another’s yawn

I have in the past been all too guilty of boring the pants off friends with the intimate details of my great grandfather and the house the family lived in by the gas works, close to the canal within hearing shot of the shunting yard.

That said it is what that family history leads to which can make all the difference.

In my case it was the decision that while I wanted to explore their lives it had to be in the context of the bigger picture which pitched their lives and experiences against where and when they grew up.

So approached like this the story of any family becomes much more than a personal journey and instead becomes a history lesson with the added dimension that it is your people who lived it.

My family were ordinary enough.  There were no politicians, famous generals or people of wealth and none have left their mark in the annals of the great and good.

In that respect they were like the majority of the men and women who lived little lives in great centuries.

Derby circa 1930
They left the land sometime in the early 19th century, found new occupations in the growing towns and cities of the north and midlands and some made it to the capital.

My father’s family left the Highlands and bit by bit progressed south till grandfather crossed into England and dad to London.

They did their bit for Queen, King and country and then settled back into making the wealth that others enjoyed.

Generations of them and me included lived in those classic two up two down terraced houses and it is these which will occupy my thoughts today.

Many still exist today often modernised, with central heating, double glazed with the addition of a bathroom and lavatory and in some cases have even had the downstairs knocked through.

My own memories of growing up in my grandparents two up two down are hazy and the one I bought in Ashton-Under-Lyne was done up before we moved in.

Plan of 5 Hope Street, 1947
But here is the plan of the house opposite my grandparents, in Hope Street in Derby.

There was no bathroom, the lavatory was out in the shared yard and heating came from open coal fires and the cooking was done on a range which later was replaced by a gas cooker.

There was electricity but power points were limited and if you wanted to run things like an electric iron you did so via a connection to the lamp socket in the ceiling.

Many of these basic homes were built in the late 19th century but some dated back into the century before and some were back to backs which had been modified.

Those in Hope Street dated to sometime around the 1770s and mine to about  1890 and all went through some modernisation in their lifetime which might consist of the provision of mains water and basic electricity and gas.

But these were the homes of the majority of our nation both in the sprawling cities and towns or the isolated villages and hamlets.

The yard of 12 Hope Street, 1950
They were rented not bought, some were better maintained than others and had been built by speculative builders some of whom left their names in the streets where their houses stood.

My great grandmother lived in Whiteman's Yard, named after Mr White, and in the heart of Little Ireland can still be seen Frank Street and James Leigh Street.

Such was the vanity of these small businessmen that long after their properties have vanished their names remain.

A few modernized their assets, other waited till the Corporation demanded changes and most seem to have had scant regard for much more than taking the rent.

Most of these houses became tired and unfit to be saved.  Plenty went during the last war, more vanished under slum clearance and civic redevelopment plans but many more still exist.

So next time I am invited to listen to a family story I shall want to know about the house, the job and whether they went to school.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

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