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HOUSING FOR THE WORKING MAN IN VICTORIAN TIMES

 

One of the roads on the Larkbeare Estate in 2003

Within the City of Exeter, the  housing stock largely includes dozens of houses of this type. Many were lost in the blitz but although, today they command prices in excess of £150,000 , they are still in high demand, in particular as starter homes and homes for renters. 

The rooms  have different names today and in most  the scullery has been replaced by an indoor bathrooms on the ground floor or there is  an extension on the first floor over the scullery which houses a bathroom  but they still seem to have much to recommend them although their design is well over a century old.

 

Daniel Radford was a Devonshire gentleman of substance who lived in Tavistock in some style. The 1891 census shows that his household included some 10 indoor servants! His ideas were very much on the lines of the great social improvers of his day and  in July 1890, he read a paper at a meeting  in Barnstaple which created much interest because he presented his audience not only  with a well - planned housing improvement scheme but, using his own record as an example, a means of making a profit. He was not a great originator but he did have a profound effect on the development of housing, not only in Exeter, but in many other places in Devon who were promoting industrial rather than agricultural growth at this period.

 

His address begins with a reference to Octavia Hill, co-founder of the National Trust, who fought hard to gain recognition for the need to provide working people with decent, affordable housing. She had an uphill struggle - the Victorians considered that old large houses  or purpose-built blocks could be divided up into what were called tenements and let out, at considerable profit, to the working classes, who, in their turn, could divide their tenements room by room and let these out to people less fortunate than themselves. Rents were set with this in mind, leaving the poor with little choice other than to live in run-down property under overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

Such tenements were in some instances condemned and pulled down and there were thousands of others which deserved to be. But it was unreasonable, Radford argued, to destroy unsuitable dwellings without provided others to take their place, There was no more complete instance of social cruelty than to drive out the poor and helpless creatures who occupy the worst kind of dwellings without providing them with something better. Their only possible course was to go to some place similar to that from which they had been driven and by overcrowding, to make matters worse than before. The only possible solution was to provide enough suitable dwellings and then to condemn and sweep away all that were unfit for human occupation.

 

The last of Follet's buildings in Exeter

This is one of the so-called Follet's Buildings put up in the late 1870s, as part of an  improvement scheme instigated by The City of Exeter Improved Industrlal Dwellings Company which started its project with £13000 capital raised in 12 days after its  initial meeting in 1873. With Exeter's recent cholera outbreaks in mind, Charles Follett, mayor of Exeter, oversaw, as a commercial proposition, the building of tenements of between 2 and 4 rooms, with each tenement having a larder, a water supply and a WC. Other blocks did not survive the blitz but this one was home to many  until the 1970s!

 

 
 
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