Thursday, 9 August 2018

Hidden away, living in a court in 1908

We are in New gates which was a closed court off Corporation Street close to the junction with Withy Grove and the year is 1908.

There were still enough of these dismal and dark places around in the city and the height of these houses should not blind us to the fact that they contained just three rooms.  So what you see in the picture was what you got.

Well almost for in fact only three of the houses in the court had three rooms, most of the rest consisted of just two.  Into these thirteen properties lived fifty-six people.

The majority made a living at the bottom end of the job market and so here were labourers, cleaners, and charwomen along with a street hawker and umbrella makers.

Living conditions were pretty basic.  The water pump in the corner of the picture and the white painted building which was the shared lavatory served the whole court. Clothes were washed in the big wooden tubs close to the pump and hung out on lines across the yard. 

And this narrow yard was the communal area where along with the washing, the children played and people met and talked.

Here there was little in the way of privacy and judging by the repairs being done to cobbles and the  poor brick work there was much that made the place an uncomfortable one.  Add to this the lack of sunlight and ventilation and it is easy to see why such courts were places of necessity not choice.

Now I have written about other such courts in the city and it is easy to pass over the image and the conditions but I suspect many people looking at the photograph will have family who lived in such places.  

My own great grandmother did and some of these courts were still around as late as the mid 1960s.

Here in New gates in 1908  it may just be possible  to identify some some of the people in the picture.  This is not so fanciful.  True many inhabitants of such courts did not stay long, but others did. The parents of my great grandmother lived in Whiteman’s Yard for at least two decades.

Just seven years before this photograph was taken Sarah Cooper was living at number 4.  She was a widow who earned a living as a charwoman at that may just be her sitting on the doorstep.  But as I said we are bordering on the realms of speculation, better to wait till I have visited the rate books which will not only give the names of the tenants but also the rents they paid and the duration of their stay.

Picture; New gates, 1908, m8316, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

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