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Victorian Homes

All over Britain, towns began to develop around their Medieval centres. People left the countryside in search of better job opportunities in the factories and mills. By 1851, half of the population was living in towns. Manchester saw its population grow from 89,000 in 1801 to more than half a million by 1891.

Upper class families lived in large and comfortable houses in the quiet suburbs on the edges of towns. It was very fashionable to have: bay windows (that stick out), iron railings, stained glass in doorways and decorative wooden panels on these houses.

Inside, they were richly decorated with patterned wallpaper and carpets. The walls would be covered with pictures and there were usually ornaments everywhere. The rooms would be lit by oil or gas lamps and heated by coal fires. Food would be heated on a big cooker called a range.

Families living in these houses were usually: well fed, clean and well clothed.

They often had servants to do the daily work:
  • a nanny would help to look after and teach the children in the nursery, where they would spend most of their time;
  • a cook would be in charge of shopping for food and preparing the meals in the kitchen;
  • a butler would receive visitors at the front door and wait on the family;
  • a chimney sweep would climb the chimney to clean the soot out of it;
  • housemaids would clean the rooms.

The master of the house would commute each day to work. Regular horse-drawn bus services had begun in the 1830s. In 1863 the first London Underground railway opened. Electric trams started running in big cities such as Leeds and Birmingham in the 1890s.

Tram in Heaton Park, Manchester - - 579792

The workers' houses were usually near the factories so that people could walk to work. They were built as quickly and cheaply as possible, using mass-produced materials like brick. Most houses in northern England were back-to-backs, joined by a shared back wall with no back garden.

Many of these houses were very crowded. There was only one bedroom upstairs in which five or more people were often forced to sleep. The downstairs room was used for everything else: cooking, eating and washing.

The houses were crammed close together in groups called slums, with narrow streets in between. Chimneys, bridges and factory smoke blocked out much of the light and filled the air with dust.

The poorest families often ate a very bad diet, usually of: bread and dripping, cheese, bacon and tea. They were poorly dressed and the children often went barefoot.

Everyone used a toilet in the street which they shared with their neighbours and they collected water from an outside tap.

In some places, the conditions were so unhygienic that diseases like cholera easily spread. In London, this led to improvements in the sewage systems and the provision of other services such as cleaner water and gas for heat and light.

Slowly these changes resulted in cleaner and less crowded houses. The new streets were wider and parks or other open areas were provided.

Some companies realised that their workers were fitter and healthier if they lived in better houses. In Saltaire and in Bournville, for example, new 'model' towns were built in which each house had its own: lighting, running water and outside toilet. The residents were provided with a: hospital, park and gymnasium too.

Salts Mill 2