Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Amelia Harris 1851 Birmingham: How she may have lived

Amelia Harris was Elizabeth Maybury Riley's mother, born in 1835.  In the 1851 census, she was 15 years old and living with her parents.  She was listed on the census as a Brass Burnisher.  Their address was:
St Georges Street, Court 6, House 2.  I thought that was an odd address and found the following:

Written by Brian Robert Marshall, describing houses like the Harris' lived in:

Following the mass migration of the rural population into the urban conurbations in the years of the Industrial revolution, there was a need for what today would be called affordable housing. Back-to-back houses provided a significant proportion of that housing for workers and their families in the great industrial cities in the Midlands and north of England in the 19th and well into the 20th centuries. From the point of view of those who built and rented them out they were cheap to build and buy and they made the most of small plots of land. Things weren’t quite so rosy for those who had to live in them.

Back-to-backs are houses where the back of one house joined the back of another. Typically the houses were arranged so that that there was a cellar, a ground floor room and first and second floor rooms stacked vertically. When built there would have been no indoor sanitation or water supply. But the fundamental defect was there was no way of obtaining through ventilation of the dwellings.

Most of these houses were concentrated in inner-city areas such as LadywoodHandsworthAstonSmall Heath and Highgate.  One section of this type of housing was preserved in Birmingham, Inge Court 15.  It is likely that the Harris family lived in similar housing.  Tough conditions since three of the four walls were common so there was very little ventilation.

From Wikipedia:  Throughout the 19th century, the court was occupied by workers who worked in such industries as button making, glasswork, woodwork, leatherwork, tailoring and were also skilled craftsmen in the jewellery and small metal trades. Many of such workers worked from home. Over 500 families have lived in Court 15.
From the 1830s to the 1930s, the Mitchells, a family of locksmiths and bellhangers, lived in the court. At one time, they were occupying both No. 55 Hurst Street and No. 54 Inge Street/3 Court 15. The family also worked at the workshop in the court for over 70 years.
In 1851, Joseph Barnett, a travelling Jeweller, lived at number 35 Inge Street, with his wife Hanna, and four children, Samuel, Eli Louis, Rebecca and Henry.
Other people who lived there highlight the crowded conditions of the houses, which were usually occupied by single families. In 1851, for example Sophia Hudson, a widow who worked as a pearl button driller, probably from home, lived at No. 1 Court 15 with her five children and her mother who also a widow. In 1861, Herbert Oldfield, a glass eye maker, occupied the same address with his wife and their eight children. At the same time, the Mitchell family had an apprentice who lived with them. Despite the cramped conditions, some families, such as the one who occupied 61 Hurst Street in 1851, were able to afford a servant.
By 1900, the ground floors had been converted into shops. Services offered from the buildings were a cycle maker, a hairdresser, a ticket writer, a fruiterer and a furniture dealer. The upper floors of No. 55 and No. 59 Hurst Street, the cycle maker's and the ticket writer's properties respectively, were converted into workshops as opposed to residential.

The Harris family occupations fit within those listed above.  Her father was listed a Snuffer Maker and both Amelia and her mother were listed as Burnishers.
The restored buildings are set in different time periods.  Here are the pictures from the 1850 house:
Click here to get 360 degree view of the courtyard.  You will get a much better feeling for the layout of these courtyards.
1850s house: downstairs room. It's set for dinner, with the Hebrew prayer book ready to be read from before the meal

the pantry where fresh foods would be stored and prepared.

 main bedroom where mum and dad slept in the double bed and their daughter in the single bed.

 hands for clocks on the workshop table. The top floor of the house also functioned as a workshop.

there are steep stairs in all the houses

The toilet in the courtyard, share by all families. I don't know the vintage.

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