Sunday, 21 January 2018

Crowded living quarters in working class northern England

Google Streetview is a beautiful thing.

I knew from statutory birth and death records and newspapers that my mother was born at and my great grandfather, Robert Alexander Young, died at 45A High Greens in Berwick upon Tweed in 1919 and 1915 respectively. I wondered if it was still there now.

The image on the right is on Google Streetview, time-stamped June 2016, and the Friends of Berwick and District Museum and Archives has confirmed to me that it still stands today. 

45A was the upper flat, accessed by the paned dark brown door on the right in the photo. I'm told that as of 2010, the flat consisted of two bedrooms, kitchen, bath and living room. It's not clear if this has been enlarged since 1919.

I wrote about my great grandfather Robert Alexander Young here in 2016. My great grandparents and family are last recorded in the 1911 census as living at 53 Low Greens. I imagine that the flat there was a similar size. Look at the number of people living there then -- all ten of them. Five children still at school, three young adults/teenagers, and my great grandparents.

1911 Census, 53 Low Greens, Berwick upon Tweed, Northumberland, England
The only one missing in the above census is my grandmother Dorothy, who had emigrated to Canada in 1908.

I'm not sure when the family moved from Low Greens to High Greens, but by the time of my great grandfather's death on 22 Feb 1915, except for my great aunt, Margaret Knox Young, who married in November 1914, they were at 45A. I'm sure the flat then would have been one large living/cooking/eating space, butI hope there were the two bedrooms. And don't forget that there would not have been indoor plumbing at that time.

My grandmother Dorothy returned to Berwick from Canada in August 1915 while my grandfather was in France with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, living with her parents at 45A. She stayed there until August 1919, when she sailed to Montreal with my mother, who was then just three months old. My great uncle Henry married in 1918, but do the math -- 45A was still a crowded household in 1919.

I cannot begin to fathom how crowded living conditions were in working class England at that time. My grandmother laboured and gave birth in a very full house, with I imagine very little privacy.

I'm beginning to think that my grandmother left for Canada alone at 19 simply to have more living space. I think that's what I would have done. No, really.

The never ending story continues....



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