From the end of the 1700s several of our ancestral families gravitated to the developing industrial Birmingham, the sudden increase in population lead to a new type of housing. The small houses were built in courts around a communal square. The square had a tap, a line of toilets, a “midden” where the waste bins were kept, and the clothes lines. Some courts also had a communal “brew house” where the laundry was done but this wasn’t the case in the court where John George and Ria raised their family. Some of the houses had a small garden plot surrounded by low paling fences. At least one side of the square consisted of back to back houses. That is, the houses were built so that half fronted on to the main street while the adjoining back was a separate dwelling fronted into the court. The houses in the court were accessed through an entry through the front houses. George and Ria lived in a house of this type 4 Back 41 Guildford Street. You can see part of the garden fence in the photograph of Ria with five of her fifteen children. Yes fifteen children in a house with a scullery, kitchen and parlour in a line downstairs and a main bed room above the parlour and an attic above that the upper floors reached by a narrow stair way.
This type of house is well described by Kathleen DAYUS in her autobiography “The Girl from Hockley”
“They were all built the same; one large living room, one bedroom,and an attic. There were also cellars that ran under each house.” The Dayus family had 6 children and the parents in their tiny house the Pratts had 13 children and the parents at one time in theirs. Kathleen’s two older brothers had a bed in their parents room. The oldest sister had a bed in the attic while the three youngest children shared another bed in the attic. In the Pratts house the two youngest had a cot at the foot of their parents bed the two girls had a bed in the same room separated from the parents bed with a curtain and the boys slept in two beds the attic four to a bed. They eventually moved to a house with the luxury of a back kitchen jutting out and a small garden, but like the Dayus household they still had to share a toilet and tap in the yard with the other houses in the court.
Bath night was a similar example of getting maximum use of the heated water. Again the copper was filled by the boys with their buckets and the fire lit. First everyone was locked out “to play” while mother scooped hot water into the zinc bath in front of the copper fire surrounded be a large clothes horse which held her clean clothes and towels once she had finished the boys were bathed staring with the youngest and working up the girls helped with the babies dressing them and putting them to bed while the older boys bathed. The babies slept in a cot at the bottom of their parents bed in the same room as the two girls, whose bed was curtained off form the main area. The remaining boys slept in the attic. Gradually everyone was bathed and put to bed until father enjoyed the remaining tub By the time he had finished the fire had gone out and the last water in the copper was cool enough for the two girls to jump in for their dip. Again once they had finished the remaining water was used to scrub the floors.
The copper was occasionally used to cook steam puddings especially the special Christmas puddings. Ria always made huge quantities for their own family and as gifts for relations and poor acquaintances.
Having so many houses opening on to the square meant the children were able to play there safely there was always someone in earshot or keeping an eye on them.