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Housing: Victorian Housing Estates


Rents and incomes, early 20th century

rents and incomes early 1900s

A major proportion of a family’s income generally goes on keeping a roof over their heads. This page considers how far this was true for the residents of the state-of-the-art mass housing estates in the early 1900s.

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 on the new housing estates in the early 20th century

A figure for the rents on the mass-housing estates around London comes from the book Round about a pound a week which records the findings of a group of women who interviewed families of manual workers in the slums of London in 1909-1913 under the auspices of the Fabian Society. Although its thrust is how London's very poor lived, an aside compares their rents with those of the newer properties - i.e. the the state-of-the art Victorian-style, mass housing estates on the outskirts of London. It quotes their rents as 13 shillings a week.

So rents were about 13 shillings a week on the mass-housing estates around London - almost certainly less in more rural parts of the country. There were 20 shillings to the pound which translates to about 70p in today's money. Laughable, yes, but incomes were accordingly very low too, and inflation has been enormous. The question is what proportion 13 shillings was of the income of the residents.

Incomes on the new housing estates in the early 20th century

The families living on the new housing estates in the early 20th century were not well off, but they would certainly not have been classed as the very poor of the slums. 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 technology. 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. Photos show the variety of shopkeepers.

Local school photos from the time show that 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.

There was money for children to go to 'Saturday morning pictures' (the children's cinema) although not for school holidays away. Also families did not go hungry. Food was wholesome and freshly prepared from basic ingredients although the variety was limited.

In contrast, though, to the houses and lifestyles shown in numerous Victorian and Edwardian films, the womenfolk of these housing estates had no paid help. They did hard, physical work, cooking, cleaning and looking after their families. They took a pride in how they kept their houses and - indeed - even the pavement outside their houses.

Children's pocket money was a halfpenny 1/2d a week which translates to about 1/25 of today's penny. Children generally left school at 14.

Clearly the men must have been bringing in more than the 'pound a week' reference point for the poor in the above mentioned book. I have no documentary evidence of how much, but it judging from the above, a good estimate is between 25 and 30 shillings a week. If you have, please get in touch.

Proportion of income spent on rent

So, on the basis of the above, in the early 1900s residents of the housing estates were probably spending around half of their incomes on rent. Rent of course included all external maintenance.

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