You are here: Home > Photo Essay Selection > Introduction
< Select Another Essay Introduction Next Screen >

Workers' housing

Crown copyright.NMRThe homes of ordinary people were usually made of cheaper and less robust materials than 'higher status' buildings such as country houses, so that few workers' houses survive which date back much before 1800. Consequently, the buildings that remain are largely from a time when England was emerging as an industrial nation.

Growing industrial populations were packed into existing towns. Other industries were established on greenfield sites and in remote locations. Mines were often in upland areas, while the need for water power meant that many early mills were in previously remote valleys. Employees were often expected to find their own accommodation, though employers sometimes recognised that they had to provide accommodation if they were to attract a workforce. This often resulted in poorly designed and cheaply built housing.

Confronted by the urban squalor that accompanied much early industrialisation, some 19th century industrialists chose to develop model villages and communities for their worforce, creating towns like Saltaire and Port Sunlight. These philanthropists tended also to be paternalistic, casting their influence over almost every aspect of their workers' lives; for example, no public houses were permitted in Saltaire.

The owners of rural estates also felt the need to provide accommodation for staff. Agricultural cottages were frequently of a poor standard, while estate cottages were often designed to be picturesque when viewed from a distance but with less concern taken over domestic practicality.

Housing was often tied to the job, and unemployment, long-term sickness or bereavement could lead to eviction. Many attempts were made to address this problem, culminating in the Housing Act of 1919 which required local authorities to provide social housing. Recently this role has increasingly been taken over by housing associations.

Story author: English Heritage

Next Screen
< Select Another Essay   Next Screen >