Burnley’s slum housing cleared in 1930s

PARK SQUARE: A photograph of 10 Park Square. (S)
PARK SQUARE: A photograph of 10 Park Square. (S)

Last week’s article, on the condition of housing for Burnley’s poor has raised comments from local people surprised by conditions I described.

Others wanted to know about areas of town, now gone, with which they were familiar. So I have deferred the article on Burnley’s Council housing to submit this piece, from a forthcoming book.

REAR: This photograph shows the closets and bins of Park Square. (S)

REAR: This photograph shows the closets and bins of Park Square. (S)

I cannot consider all areas of town which had property demolished under the 1930 Housing Act but have chosen part of the Park area, between Bridge Street and Bank Parade. The map of the area was made at the time and shows property cleared in Park Clearance Area Number 3.

Altogether, there were five clearance orders and one improvement order in the Park area. The latter can be seen on the map and the property refers to Bamford Street, top left, extending over Bridge Street to Park Street, right. It surprises me this property was marked for “improvement” as it contained four back-to-back properties and others with an almost inaccessible back street.

Properties for clearance are shaded red on the map and consisted of properties on, left to right, Crown Place, Bridge Street, Roper Street, Roper Court, Park Square and Park Street. Most of the houses in the block in Crown Place and Bridge Street are back-to-backs and the map shows what back-to-back houses were like.

In an earlier article, I mentioned a guide to some of Burnley’s worst housing was to look for street names which include Place, Court and Square. We have them all in this small area of town and another is introduced in Green Yard, off Roper Street, right.

BRIDGE STREET: These properties constitute 40-46 Bridge Street. The houses, right, are back-to-backs. (S)

BRIDGE STREET: These properties constitute 40-46 Bridge Street. The houses, right, are back-to-backs. (S)

I didn’t mention “Yards”, largely because Burnley had so few. In other towns, the word was commonly used but don’t get Burnley’s “Yards” confused with those of Kendal. Some of those still exist and are better than ones in Burnley.

I ask you to find Park Square, in the middle of the property between Bridge Street and Park Street. It is not immediately apparent, on the map, but, if we consult an OS map of 1912, it can be seen Park Square was a cul-de-sac accessed only by the narrowest of alleys between 59 and 61 Bridge Street and between two back-to-back properties, numbers 12 and 14a Park Street.

I think I am right in saying all the houses in the Square are back-to-back. Unfortunately, this can not be confirmed by photographic evidence but we are lucky Burnley Council took pictures of Park Square and the ones published are revealing.

The first shows 10 Park Square, which appears to be a single-storey structure. Members of the family can be seen, left of the building, which runs across the bottom of the Square closing off Roper Court, part of which can be seen in the background. It is my opinion number 10 was added later and, at one time, Park Square and Roper Court were connected.

LODGING: 9 Roper Street, described as a lodging house in 1930. Formerly it was the Brittania Beer House. (S)

LODGING: 9 Roper Street, described as a lodging house in 1930. Formerly it was the Brittania Beer House. (S)

If you look right of single-storey number 10 you see what appears to be a brick extension, with slate rendering, attached to the rear of 57 Bridge Street. This building is out of alignment with its neighbours. It is clear alterations, unregulated I think, have been carried out.

On the right of the photo is a single-storey timber building, shown on the map. It has a stone slate roof which appears to be the predominant roofing material. This structure is also on the second photo of Park Square, left, and behind it are communal water closets – six – and five bins.

Notice the water closets are built of brick, usually not used in buildings of this type at the time. This tells me that, when built, these houses did not have toilets, which leads to speculation they did not have a water supply. I might be pushing things a bit, but what do you think the “wheel”, extreme right, might have been used for? Could it have been part of an early water supply?

There is one important factor to reveal about Park Square. Again it is not apparent on the map, and on the OS map of 1912, but if you thought there were four or five houses in Park Square, you would be wrong. The clue is in the numbered “extensions” attached to the three back-to-backs on the right of the Square.

MAP: Park clearance area No 3. (1930 Housing Act). (S)

MAP: Park clearance area No 3. (1930 Housing Act). (S)

It only becomes clear what they are when we look at the “schedule” prepared by the council. For each of numbers 4, 6 and 8, Park Square there is a description such as: “house, steps and area – 4 Park Square, under 4a Park Square – house 4a Park Square, over 4 Park Square”. What we have is not only a case of back-to-back property but cellar dwellings as well.

This brings the number of properties in Park Square up by at least three. Unfortunately, we have no photo of the cellar dwellings but, if they were like others known in Burnley, they would have consisted of one single room in which a family would live, eat and sleep.

Another thing to add is the “owners or reputed owners” for all of the property in Park Square was the Worsthorne Estate Ltd. Similarly, the “lessee or reputed lessee” was one William Walter Smith. A man of this name, a photographer of 42 Yorkshire Street and residing at 24 Mizpah Street, appears in the 1927 Commercial Directory.

I hope I have explained how desperate was some of Burnley’s poorest housing and why it had to come down in the 1930s. This example can be repeated in many of the older parts of town.

Many will want to know when Park Square was built and why it was developed as it was. I cannot tell you exactly as records no longer survive but we know the area, of which the Square was part, was developed as a consequence of the passing of the 1819 Act which allowed the Curate and Patron of Burnley to grant leases of Glebe Lands belonging to the Curacy of Burnley. This area was part of the Bankhouse Estate which was in the hands of the Curate of St Peter’s, Edmund Stringfellow Radcliffe, a man able to develop the property because, as well as being a priest, he was agent to his relative, Lord Ribblesdale.

By the mid 1820s, property was being developed in the Park Square area. It was typical of the housing provided for workers in Burnley’s burgeoning cotton mills. Families were willing to live in these homes, even the cellars, as they needed to be near work and because, in all likelihood, they were better than the properties they vacated to come to Burnley.

It would be unwise not to include two more examples of properties in Park Clearance Area Number 3. A small part of Bridge Street still survives. The third photo refers to numbers 40 to 46 Bridge Street which, fortunately, have not. In 1914 number 40 was occupied by Mrs A. Crummett, a clothes dealer. A Mr J. Crummett still occupied the building in 1927. In the latter year, the shop with the double front was occupied by Mr Michael O’ Brien, a provision dealer. His surname reminds me this part of town was once known as the Irish Park.

The two houses to the right are much earlier and are back-to-backs of a type once common in Burnley. Each property had three rooms, one on each floor. These houses, and the rest in the row, were owned by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners

The fourth picture refers to number 9 Roper Street, marked on the map at the junction of that street with Bridge Street. The council’s schedule describes this building as: “Lodging house, yard, two closets and urinal”. Again the owners are the Worsthorne Estate Ltd and the lessee was Massey’s Burnley Brewery Ltd, clearly a former beer house, the Britannia.