NEW HOUSES, WHITEHAVEN
An letter dictated by Mrs Meehan in 1992 about living in the New Houses at Whitehaven which were demolished in the 1940’s
I was born in a house in the Middle Row of these houses 79 years ago, so I hope you will excuse me if the punctuation and spelling are a bit awry at times.
The houses were built on a very steep hill side. They were 2 storeyed, i.e. ground floor and upstairs bedroom. Front and Middle Rows were rather different from Back Row. The Back Row had a yard at the rear, where as Front and Middle had no outlet at the back, only one door at the front. The rear of these two rows was the kitchen, but it had no ceiling. The roof of the houses was the ceiling, and of course the roof had a skylight. The reason for this was that the road up the hill was so steep that walking from the front of the houses, on Front and Middle Rows, to the back, one had walked the height of the house. On Front Row rear, the road surface of Middle Row was only 18 inches below the roofs of Front Row, and of course, the same applied to Middle Row. It was just a step from road to roof.
Back Row was a different row altogether. The back yards were 6 or 7 feet in width between houses and hill side. To get from the yard there were staples let in to the wall (the wall was as high as the house). These staples were about 12 inches long, and made of steel, and stood out from the wall about 5-6 inches and those who lived there could climb to the Brow. This was handy for people living there, for there were lots of people who kept hens, and hound dogs, and all sorts of animals up on the Brows.
The streets were all cobbled, and a cart road ran from the Ginns opposite the Auction Mart which split the houses into two sections (not equal by any means) for I was born in no. 79 Middle Row, which was to the right up the cart road, and when I got married, my husband and I had a house on the Front Row No.44, which was on the left side of the cart road and the numbers on both streets ran from right to left.
The houses with one exception were whitewashed. The odd one out was the first house on
Front Row to the left of the cart road and it was washed with gold distemper, and Mr Humphries, the man who collected the rents, lived there. I forgot to write that some people with big families who lived on Front and Middle Rows could have two houses made into one, and thus have more than one bedroom. I should mention here that there was more to the New Houses than just houses, there were toilets in pairs across the road from the houses, two families to each toilet, four to a pan, and back from the toilets was a piece of open ground about 15 yds x 50 yds and then a wash house and baths and a swimming bath. The wash house had boilers for heating the water. There was also a set pot in the kitchen as well as in the wash house, but it was only 3 pence to have the water ready heated and one could have a gossip as weel. Most women took advantage of the wash house.
Water taps were outside the houses up against the house wall. One tap to every six houses or so, and for heating water there was only coal fires. For light in the houses we used paraffin lamps.
Life was a bit harsh in those days, and people worked hard and the main recreation at the weekend was the pub, and the noisy scenes afterwards towards the top end of Front Row, and on the opposite side of the street was a short street called Bells Lane, and you could bet there would be an awful rumpus every Saturday night. My sisters and I used to look forward to Saturday night, for whenever we could we would go down to listen to the rows. The men would come home from the pub singing and dancing, and next minute would be quarrelling. It was quite common for men to be deadly enemies at the end of Saturday night and good close friends again by Sunday lunch. Would that there was the kindleyness about today that we had in those days.
Best wishes to you with the hope that this may be of some use to you.
Dear Mrs Cook
My wife’s eyesight is not too good at the moment, so I have written this at her dictation. I hope you don’t mind.