Housing for the poor in nineteenth-century Manchester was often cramped, badly ventilated and situated in the city centre near factories or polluted rivers.

This diagram to the left is from a Sanitary Association report and shows back-to-back terraced houses. Whole families could live even in one damp cellar.  A practice only stopped by a Local Act of 1853.  These quotes come from a Sanitary Association report on working class housing in the Deansgate area of Manchester:

"Cellar 3 is but one room about 12 feet by 14. There are two beds in the room. 7 people live & sleep in this one room.  We could learn nothing more [because] a little girl only being in charge.

Cellar 5 has 2 rooms 12 ft by 14 & 12 by 12 respectively. The rooms are dark and damp. The approach to the cellar from the street is not more than 2ft 6in wide and the top of the window is rather below the level of the street. The tenant has been in it only a short time but complains of damp, rats, mice, etc.

Cottage No 1 has 3 bedrooms, a living room and a front room used as a shop. The shop is about 12ft by 13, living room 12ft by 9. The bed rooms were described as being no larger. Eleven people live in this house; a man, his wife, 5 children and 4 lodgers."

Sketch of back to back houses, 12 Jan 1854
Back to back style dolls houses in the Archives+ exhibition.
Housing at Newgate, Corporation Street 1908

One cause of poor health was the standard of sanitisation.  Another section of the Sanitary Association report of 1854 tells us that for one street, containing six houses the total number of inhabitants is 100 and they have only privies "in so filthy a condition as to be useless, alike offensive to sight and smell".

In early nineteenth-century Manchester, working class houses in the city had very basic toilets, often shared between many families. Privy middens were open holes leading to cess pools, which could flood. The city authorities gradually replaced them with pail middens, an early form of dry toilet which relied on regular collection, and eventually water closets (WC.s).

Even in 1894, when the Davyhulme Sewage Works opened, the city still had almost 36,000 privy middens, 78,000 pail middens and only 24,000 water closets.

We have recreated miniature back to back houses in the Archives+ exhibition so you can get a feel for how cramped most people's living conditions were.  If you 'd like to see original archives about 19th Century living conditions, search the catalogue at gmlives.org.uk and then book an appointment in our archive search room.