Social Housing and The Great War

1915 application form

1915 application form

 

We stumbled across an old tenancy file recently for a house in Mostyn Street, Hereford, first opened during the early years of the First World War. Mr and Mrs James moved in to their new house on 6th March 1915 – four days before the start of the battle at Neuve-Chappelle in which 22,000 men lost their lives over two days. The tenancy agreement reflects the concerns of the time. If anyone has an infectious disease the tenant “must agree to allow the person affected to be removed to Hospital…” And “Tenants are not allowed to paper, paint, or drive nails into the walls or woodwork without the consent of the Collector.” The Collector was a powerful man.

The house is still occupied, still owned by Herefordshire Housing, and the tenancy file gives fragments on changing attitudes and generations growing.

Mr James was a Drayman on a salary of 1 pound 2 shillings a week. The original housing application shows a couple and their four children needing housing; later records show only the mother, a widow, together with one daughter.

In November 1941, as German troops advance in their failed attempt to invade Moscow, the housing department visit. Presumably Mr James is away at war and they record that the house is clean and tidy, despite “one bed not made”. Underneath hand written with a sharp pencil in clear script and dated nearly 5 years later, 17th January 1946, it is noted that Mrs James has a widow’s pension. We can only guess why the men of the house are no longer present. Did they die in the war, or simply leave? The file gives no clue of their departure.

Condition of property
Condition of property

 

The daughter grows and when she is 36, marries and her new husband moves in. Mr Jones has five years war service, one and half of those overseas. Soon after the war, he is a Shop Assistant, then a Storeman; she works as a Clerk and by then they have a combined income of £25 per week. The file records only matters deemed relevant to the property and the tenancy. Only a few signal events are left. Originally with an outside toilet, in 1954 Mrs James writes to the Corporation asking if a bathroom can be installed. In 1969, permission is given for a television aerial, but it “MUST not be attached to the chimney”.

In 2001, after receiving evidence that she has savings of only £2,791.31, the council decorates rooms for the now deaf and nearly blind Mrs Jones. The following year aged 92, she dies. There are new tenants, grateful for a roof over their head, security and a decent home at a low rent.

Nearly 100 years and a file only 25mm thick. A family coming together, having children, fighting wars, their children still in the house then becoming old and frail. For 100 years, the local social landlord repairs, improves, decorates – and keeps the rent low.

All in all, there has been life in this house. Generations of working people on low wages; a Drayman, Shop Assistant, Storeman, Clerk. Generations with security of a home.

Of the 112 houses built in the street, only 13 remain as social housing. Only 13 have not yet been sold under the Right to Buy. Sustaining communities, families and individuals over generations. The history of one house tells us the impact social housing can have; the houses we build now will see safety and security for future generations long after current politicians and professionals are gone.

This is the true value of social housing.

 

A version of this article first appeared in Inside Housing on 19th December 2014. Names have been changed and addresses omitted. It is reproduced here with the consent of the author, Peter F Brown.


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