The Urban landscape : Industrial Urban Housing

The last ten years have seen a plethora of planning-led excavations and historic building recording of workers’ housing dating from the late 18th to the early 20th century. Much of this work though by no means all, has been concentrated within Greater Manchester where over 40 separate projects have been undertaken by a variety of archaeological contractors. One conclusion from this work is the design and construction of workers’ housing within the North West is extremely varied, though substantial synthesis remains to be done.

Individual studies of understanding  buildings remain a key way of understanding the great variety of structural forms within this monument type. At Barrow-in-Furness the Egerton Buildings, a rare pair of tenement blocks in the Barrow Island district of the town, have been studied (Withey 2008). Barrow was once, and to a lesser extent still is, dominated by heavy industry and had an ample stock of associated housing for workers. Egerton Buildings are situated to the south-west of Ramsden Dock Road between Michaelson Road to the north-west and Siemens Street to the south-east. They were designed in 1879 by architects Paley & Austin of Lancaster and Barrow-in-Furness and erected between 1880 and 1886 by the contractors Smith & Caird of Dundee, working on behalf of the Furness Railway Company. Built most probably to provide accommodation for the families of employees of the Furness Railway Company’s nearby shipbuilding works. They consist of two identical, four-storey blocks of nine tenements, making eighteen tenements in total. There are eight flats within each tenement, giving 72 flats per block and 144 flats in all. As originally planned, 128 of the flats had one bedroom and 16 had two. Each flat had an entrance hall, a kitchen/living room, a scullery and an open drying area, enclosed by railings, off which opened a water closet, a coal store and a dust or ash store. Designed in a simplified French Renaissance style, the tenement blocks are of red brick with concrete dressings. The roofs are covered with grey slates with red ceramic ridges. Only relatively minor alterations (such as renewed fenestration) have affected the exterior during the lifetime of the buildings, and the plan-form is substantially intact, but most internal details have been lost.

An overview study of the importance of urban workers’ housing in Lancashire has already been noted (Newman & Newman 2008). This work builds upon the long tradition of investigating surviving workers’ housing in the county, most recently seen in Timmins’ study of the quality of back-to-back housing in several textile colonies in Lancashire (Timmns 2013). In Cheshire samples of workers’ housing have been examined in Crewe (Henry/Forge Street) (ECH5976).

In Greater Manchester GMAAS has used planning requirements to facilitate mainly archaeological excavation of several industrial suburbs: Townside in Bury, Portwood in Stockport, and Ancoats in Manchester. In this way the remains of early- to mid-19th century textile mills, workers’ housing, a graveyard, and a mid-18th century school were excavated and recorded by OAN in 2006-7 ahead of The Rock retail development, Bury (Miller & Gregory 2010).

Important remains of a variety of early house types have been recorded at Loom Street in Ancoats, Manchester. The excavations are one of the largest archaeological investigation of late 18th and 19th century workers’ housing undertaken within the City of Manchester. This work exposed the remains of various types of housing, which would characterise the late 18th century and early-mid-19th century domestic environment within both Ancoats and the industrial townscapes of Industrial Britain, described by social commentators such as Frederick Engels in the mid-19th century. These houses types included: large double-depth properties of a comparatively high status, which may have originally housed artisans in the late-18th and early-19th centuries, and smaller back-to-back and blind-back workers’ housing. Many of these smaller house types were arranged around insalubrious courtyards and at times may have been associated with cellar dwellings. The archaeological evidence included evidence for the material culture found within these houses, as well as providing clear evidence for phases of social improvement, dating to the late-19th century. These remains, therefore, provide significant insights into the form, construction, and living conditions associated with workers’ housing within one of the world’s first industrial suburb. The large finds assemblage is unusual for this type of excavation site (UMAU 2007) and summarised in Nevell (2008; 2011; 2014; 2017) and Redhead (2011).

Loom Street, Ancoats, Greater Manchester (GMAAS)

In 2009 OAN undertook a targeted open area excavation of workers’ housing at Miller Street/Angel Street, Manchester, where the Cooperative built its new HQ. This area, part of Angels Meadows, was once notorious for the insanitary and crowded living conditions, immortalised by Engels writings. Excavation of the trial trenches demonstrated clearly that well-preserved structural remains of 18th– and 19th-century houses survived in-situ across parts of the site, which merited further archaeological investigation to mitigate their ultimate loss during development construction work. Approximately 75 structures were identified, almost exclusively relating to domestic dwellings, with the majority dating from the late-18th and early-19th centuries. Four broad phases of activity were recognised, with the earliest structure appearing to represent the cellar of a mid-18th century town house. Other houses mainly comprised two-up-and-two down-type artisans’ dwellings, with top floor loomshops, and two-roomed cellars with independent access, which had probably used as cellar dwellings. Evidence for the decline of the area was observed, with various buildings being partitioned to facilitate an expansion of the local population, and perhaps to maximise rent revenue. These larger dwellings were converted subsequently into notorious lodging houses, whilst the cellars continued to provide accommodation for the poorest families, which were frequently of Irish origin.

Co-op HQ site, Angel Meadows, Greater Manchester (courtesy of OAN)

Large-scale changes to drainage and sanitation were also identified on this site (Miller & Wild 2015), representing improvements that were probably implemented by the local authority in the early-20th century. This has allowed a new insight to the physical and engineering implications of such wholesale replacement of the sanitary system, undertaken in order to make the properties fit for habitation. Whilst not all the plan-types suggested by the 19th-century cartographic sources survived, the excavation has added great detail to these basic, and often conflicting, plans, increasing the current understanding of domestic life in industrial Manchester. Whilst the housing of the urban poor, a class generated by the Industrial Revolution, became a political issue of great importance from the 1830s, little physical evidence has been examined to compare with the huge weight of documentary accounts available. This project has not only added significantly to the dataset of such investigations, but has also potentially added significant detail for the interpretation of the political and social history which dominates studies of this period (Miller & Wild 2015). Other good example of back-to-back cellar dwellings were recorded on adjacent sites as part of the NOMA regeneration scheme (Miller & Wild 2015; Miller, Wild & Gregory 2010; Nevell 2008).

Excavation ahead of the new National Graphene Institute site, Booth Street East, University of Manchester. This identified well-preserved remains relating to a row of c. 1830 early workers’ housing with unusual plan form, a German club frequented by Engels in the 1840s, and one of Manchester’s first Turkish Baths (OAN 2013).

At Chapel Street in Salford (GM), the Centre for Applied Archaeology (CfAA) undertook a large-scale excavation of workers’ housing in an area described by Engels in the 1840s on a par with the worst slum areas of Manchester. Well-preserved remains of some back-to-back cellar dwellings were recorded; as well as a large area of larger houses fronting onto Chapel Street with various courtyards at the rear (CfAA 2013). At Bridgefield Street, Stockport, excavations by OAN in 2015 ahead of new cinema complex (Red Rock) revealed a series of back-to-back cellar dwellings. These had been built in c. 1810 and demolished during the 1960s. They were associated with large cobbled yards, one of which contained a well/pump and shared toiled block. The rapid urbanisation of villages during this period has been captured in a detailed study of Cheadle (GM) (Redhead & Miller 2014), and in Royton (GM). Here an archaeological excavation on land off Middleton Road recorded the well-preserved foundations of four back-to-backs dating to 1810-40. The basic amenities suggest the inhabitants were economically poor, though not in extreme poverty. This more rural example is a useful comparison with the excavations of workers’ housing in urban Manchester and Salford.

Bridgefield Street, Stockport, Greater Manchester (courtesy of GMAAS)

This work is adding to an important corpus of archaeological investigations on workers’ housing from the late-18th to mid-19th centuries – a critical time in Manchester’s development as one of the world’s leading manufacturing centres. This period saw a dramatic population increase, which led to some of the poor and overcrowded housing conditions famously described by Engels (Nevell 2017).