by Richard Russell-Lawrence
It was the same width as a small ‘through’ house (about 13 feet). It might also be two or three storeys high but the major difference was that a back to back was only one room deep. The door opened into a kitchen living-room or ‘house-room’ on the ground floor. In the corner was a flight of steep stairs leading to the bedrooms above. A kitchen range was set into the chimney breast but the bedrooms above seldom had fireplaces. A thin wall divided it from another house which faced the other way.
The back to backs were built around a communal yard, known as the ‘court’. This contained the communal facilities, the wash or ‘brew’ houses and the outside toilets known as privies. A wall might be built on the boundary of the property. Houses facing the street were regarded as more desirable than those facing the court. The rent was higher accordingly: Two shillings and sixpence per week compared with One and ten for a ‘back’ house. During the late Georgian period one side was left open which allowed both access and the removal of rubbish, ash from coal fires and cess from the shared privies.
|burgages, narrow strips of land on which new urban houses were built
|plan of a court showing the side open to the street
|Above: detail from 1888 OS map of Birmingham
|Above: a cellar entrance in Manchester
|contemporary illustration of an insanitary, crowded court
Buy The Book of the Edwardian and Interwar House by Richard Russell-Lawrence