I’m very pleased to feature the first of two posts from Peter Claxton on housing in the village of Cottingham just north of Hull. Peter rekindled his love of history at university following his retirement having spent 40 years working in IT. He now focuses most of his research time on Kingston upon Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire during the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. He is currently researching the contentious relationship between private interests and public improvements with regards to health and housing in Kingston upon Hull between 1854 and 1914.
Much has been written about the provision of local authority housing in our towns and cities but we should not overlook the fact that of the 1806 local authorities questioned by the Local Government Board in 1918 regarding their housing requirements, many were small urban or lightly populated rural district councils. (1)
With a population of 5133 in 1921, Cottingham in the East Riding of Yorkshire, was one such urban district council (UDC). Today, in part, it butts up to the city of Kingston upon Hull, but at the start of the nineteenth century with just 1927 residents it was one of a number of satellite villages that semi-circled the then port town.
Situated just five miles to the northwest of Hull, by the end of the eighteenth century it had acquired a reputation as an ideal place for the ‘well-heeled’ to relocate to and in so doing build their grand houses and lay-out ornamental gardens.
The arrival of the railway in 1846 accelerated this process, with a number of villas and terraces built to house the emerging middle class. Yet there was a problem for all those that relocated. Keen as they were to escape the pervasive smells of Hull’s multifarious processing industries, distance offered them no such guarantee.
With market gardening Cottingham’s primary economic activity – there were 71 nurserymen in and around the village just before WW1 supplying the markets of both Hull and Leeds – the daily transhipment of night soil from Hull to the fields around the village ensured that no matter how wealthy or upwardly mobile the incomers were, they could never completely leave their pasts behind them!
Low agricultural wages stifled the ambitions of many village residents, yet the desire for improved housing, just like the inhabitants of its much larger neighbour clearly existed. The reduced number made it of no less importance, it was simply a matter of scale. The village was unaccustomed to change, and in general, the UDC – set up under the 1894 Local Government Act consisted of just 12 members – busied itself approving the erection of private dwellings, undertaking nuisance control measures, tarring the roads and maintaining the street lighting.
As elsewhere, following cessation of hostilities in 1918, there was evidence of change. The laying out of new streets extended the built-up area far beyond the village’s traditional nucleus. (2) And as with the vacating of large properties in Hull during the nineteenth century in favour of Cottingham, the same fate now befell a number of those former imposing residences in the village. The vacant properties complete with their large gardens together with numerous unworked smallholdings in and around the village became ideal plots for local builders. Between 1918 and 1939, 1237 houses were built in Cottingham by 95 builders.
In 1918 when it came to the crunch, Cottingham UDC like so many other local authorities, had no experience of building or renting out houses. Enthusiasm could only achieve so much, which in the case of Cottingham, amounted to the purchase of 9.5 acres in April 1919 of the Westfield Estate at the fashionable west end of the village from Archdeacon J Malet Lambert. Viewed by many as a local philanthropist, he also had something of chequered past.
He was however a former and influential member of the Hull & District Sanitary Association, that had continually questioned the efficacy of Hull’s Local Board of Health, pressing for improvements to housing and sanitation within the Borough. So effective were its methods that a Local Government Board enquiry took place in 1888, subsequently making a number of recommendations for the sanitary improvement of the town.(3) Yet Malet Lambert’s philanthropy had limitations, originally offered £125 per acre, he refused to settle for anything less than £200. (4)
Purchasing a piece of land is one thing, populating it with houses is a different matter entirely. The appointment of Hull architect Harry Andrews on a project-only basis was a sound first move by the council. The first phase was for the provision of a modest 50 houses, yet this relatively small number, would in no way be the guarantee to a trouble-free build. Tenders approaching £10,000 for street works and sewerage had an immediate impact on the project. To reduce the civil costs the architect modified the lay-out of the houses positioning them all adjacent to the main road. Costs were trimmed but so was the number of houses, now down to 36. Built by Hull firm Holliday & Barker, they took the form of a single meandering row of 18 pairs of semi-detached houses.
Yet according to a local newspaper, the 12 parlour and 24 non-parlour three bedroomed houses were reported to be: (5)
One of the finest sites in the district, it has been developed to allow the erection of 98 houses, only 16 of which will have a northerly aspect … while somewhat severe in appearance in conformity with the Ministry of Health’s instructions, are exceedingly simple and harmonious as a whole …
Simple and severe certainly, but in no way were they harmonious, not according to many of the locals whose abhorrence towards the stark appearance of the dwellings, had two weeks earlier, prompted an irksome response from a council member who retorted: (6)
There was a most extraordinary and widespread misconception in Cottingham … The people seem to think the council were entirely responsible for the architecture of the houses which had been put up, and for the quality of materials used. This was not so. They had been entirely over-ruled by the authorities at Leeds.
This was a direct reference to the Leeds-based Regional Housing Commissioner of the Ministry of Health and Housing who held sway over all matters relating to the provision of local authority housing in Yorkshire under the terms of the Housing & Town Planning Act, 1919.
First impressions clearly mattered, and for some of the class-conscious residents at the west end of the village, their dissatisfaction was all too apparent. The first ‘council houses’ were not detached from the village as in many large conurbations where those re-housed would be beyond the tram terminus or omnibus service, and therefore out of sight and out of mind. This was simply an extension to the western end of the village and therefore contiguous to existing properties. Snobocracy appeared to be alive and well in Cottingham and the neighbours were clearly not happy!
No one in the village could question the need for additional housing, it was simply a matter of predetermined expectations. Inside each house the council had dutifully considered the needs of the soon-to-be tenants. All featured hot and cold water, cupboards, a space for a cycle or perambulator and the fitting of a tiled fireplace, and not just a cast iron mantlepiece. The metal window frames – cheaper and more readily available than wooden ones at the time – included a pivot mechanism on the upstairs frames that facilitated easy cleaning of the glazing. In addition the parlour houses had a window to the side to throw light over the shoulder of anyone sitting reading by the fire.
Yet these features did little to assuage the feelings of the neighbours, whose distain was based solely on the external appearance of the dwellings. Through the use of poor-quality commons and their box-like appearance, the houses were deemed to be an incongruous addition to the village. In an attempt to mollify dissenting voices, the council adopted a course of action which at the time was an earnest attempt to remedy the situation. The solution to the dilemma was to hide the brickwork. Each house was to be covered with a roughcast and colour-washed white with Tungaline paint.
And to further improve matters, the exteriors were to be enhanced by the tasteful application of a contrasting dark brown gloss paint to the woodwork!
For a time, all was well until the gradual and increasing appearance of brown blemishes to the white-washed walls. To the council’s horror, it was discovered that ironstone chippings constituted part of the roughcast mix and rust had started to leech through to the surface resulting in the mottled finish.
Yet again with good intentions and financial ramifications, the council attempted to remedy the situation by the removal and re-application of the roughcast. Unfortunately the remedial work was not carried out to an exacting standard and the problem is visible to this day. Recently applied external insulation masks the rusting on those properties still part of the East Riding of Yorkshire County Council housing portfolio.
The generous proportions of the ‘Addison Houses’ and high build costs were reflected in the weekly rents. Many early tenants were employed in local agriculture, and at the time of construction, the first cut of what by 1923 amounted to an overall 35 percent reduction in agricultural wages had taken place. (7) With wages reduced to 24 shillings per week by 1923 there was little wonder that many tenants fell into rent arrears within the first 12 months of occupancy. An appeal to the Ministry of Health secured a reduction of 1/6d per week for each type of house. But with weekly rents of 11/6d or 9/6d excluding rates, it was still necessary for distraint warrants to be issued against persistent defaulters.(8)
High maintenance costs and difficulties with the collection of rents impaired the council’s judgement regarding further housing provision. Finding the whole experience exceedingly troublesome, it had within a matter of 18 months placed on record that an offer for the remaining land it held lay on the table. At 2/6d per square yard (£605 per acre) some three times the price paid in 1919, it proved too tempting an offer. Parcels of land were duly sold to private developers including the North Eastern Railway Cottage Homes. For the remainder of the decade, the council restricted activity to the authorisation of subsidies to private builders under the terms of the 1923 Housing Act. By the end of the decade, 30 ‘subsidy houses’ had been built in the village.
Reticence towards further provision was of course futile. At the start of the 1930s, a modest 12 houses were built on one of the remaining parcels of land. Gone were the generous terms offered in 1919, replaced by the more circumspect grants of the 1924 Housing Act. With a long memory and a Yorkshireman’s vice-like grip of the purse strings, the council did not repeat the mistakes of old. Tucked away behind the rusting white-washed ribbon development, variations in design improved the prospect of the new houses. Yet again commons were the order of the day but thankfully, the temptation to apply a roughcast finish had been resisted.
For the council – with still a little land in reserve – it was now a time for reflection. Builders were ‘ramping-up’ private provision locally and those who had ‘Dunroamin’ settled down at ‘Mon Repos’ and ‘Chez Nous’. (9) But, as a follow-up blog will suggest, even in a relatively quiet village things never stay the same for very long.
(1) Stephen Merrett, State Housing in Britain (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979). Cottingham UDC was one of the 400 authorities that had replied to the LGB by December 1918
(2) KJ Allison, ‘The boom in house-building between the wars: the example of Cottingham’, East Yorkshire Local History Society, Bulletin, No. 55, Winter 1996/7
(3) During this period the town was often referred to (in print) as ‘Squalid Hull’.
(4) From the minutes of Cottingham UDC, 2 April 1919, East Riding Archives
(5) ‘Cottingham Housing Scheme’, Hull Daily Mail, 27 October 1921
(6) ‘Cottingham’s New Houses’, Hull Daily Mail, 13 October 1921
(7) Martin Pugh, We Danced all Night: A Social History of Britain between the Wars (Bodley Head, 2008)
(8) ‘Cottingham Council Houses, Distraint Warrants Issued for Unpaid Rents’, Hull Daily Mail, 9 August 1923
(9) Allison, ‘The boom in house-building between the wars …’