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Housing: Victorian Housing Estates


Victorian housing estates: rents and incomes, early 20th century

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The Victorian and Edwardian houses on the housing estate where I grew up in the early 1900s were rented, almost certainly like all the other Victorian-style housing estates that were springing up all over England at that time. Although Queen Victoria had recently died, so that strictly speaking I grew up in Edwardian times, the building style was still Victorian.

Rents for houses that were modern in the early 20th century

Rents were about 12 and 13 shillings a week. There were 20 shillings to the pound, so this rent is equivalent to about 70p in today's money. Laughable, yes, but inflation has been enormous and incomes were accordingly low too.

The estimate comes from the book Round about a pound a week which gives a great deal of detail on how London's very poor lived in effective slums at that time. An aside compares their rents with those of the newer properties - i.e. the modern, still Victorian-style, housing estates - on the outskirts of London. These rents were quoted as 13 shillings a week.

Incomes and purchasing power in the early 20th century

The families living on these then-modern housing estates were not well off, but they would certainly not have been classed as the very poor of the book Round about a pound a week. They were, after all, living in new, state-of-the art housing. They had front and back gardens and lavatories that flushed - quite something for the period!

The menfolk were in jobs of types that have largely disappeared today with the development of technolog. The 1911 census for the Huxley estate in Edmonton shows neither unskilled straight labourers nor white collar workers. Rather, it shows men in between the two: blue collar workers working in trades which required levels of experience and responsibility. My mother's father was, at various stages of his life, an ambulance driver and a labour master at the Edmonton workhouse; and the man next door spent his working life painting the thin lines which were, for some reason, regarded as a requirement along the centre-backs of the mudguards of bicycles.

These men must have been bringing in more than the 'pound a week' reference point for the very poor in the above mentioned book. It was probably between 25 and 30 shillings a week.

In clear contrast to the poor described in the book, there was money for children to go to 'Saturday morning pictures' (the children's cinema) although not for school holidays away. Also unlike the poor described in the book, families did not go hungry. Food was wholesome and freshly prepared from basic ingredients although the variety was limited. Shops were nearby, as was the local and relatively new Silver Street School. Children were adequately clothed, although as often as not with mended hand-me-downs or home-made clothes which were so much the norm as to be of no significance. Everyone was 'shod', ie no-one went barefoot.

The womenfolk took a pride in how they kept their houses and - indeed - also the length of pavement outside their houses. They worked hard with no paid help.

So much is generally true of the residents on the estate, but if you are interested in my mother's family particularly, as it is her written recollections that form the basis of this site, there is a dedicated page on them.

From renting to private ownership

The houses on these housing estates started being sold off much later in the late 1960s.

Guest contribution

The Huxley Estate was owned by a Trust which was wound up in the early 1970s and we were all offered to purchase our homes as sitting tenants. It depended on whether you had a bathroom or not as to the price but the stipulation was that if you didn't have one you needed to install one in one of the bedrooms or have an extension built to accommodate the bathroom on the back. My parents were elderly so my brother and I bought the house together (with an additional loan for the extension). Our mortgage was just £1,250 with repayments of just £30 per month! A number of the houses were sold for under £1,000. Whilst the extension was being built we modernised the kitchen too. The house was sold in 1980 when I persuaded my Mother to move out. It raised around £20,000 then. So buying when we did proved quite an investment!

Vera Harding, born Vera Eaton

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