Housing the workforce
As more and more factories opened in Leeds extra workers were needed, and they all had to find somewhere to live. At first workers' cottages were built in the yards and courts behind buildings on the main streets, then on the outskirts of the town.
Property developers bought large areas of land and put up cheap housing, which they rented out to the workers. Most of these houses were 'back-to-back' (two rows of terraced houses built next to each other, so that each house was had another on each side and behind it).
Most back-to-backs had just two rooms of around 14 feet (4 meters) square and a cellar. Sometimes whole families rented out just one room, with the very poorest living in the cellars, where they had no water supply. These houses had no plumbing and often dozens of people shared one outside toilet. This meant that diseases like cholera were easily spread. By the middle of the 19th Century, many working class areas had become filthy, insanitary slums.
Paying the rentWorkers had little money, if any, left over to spend on luxuries. If they were too ill to work, they would not be paid and might lose their jobs. Some paid a small monthly fee to join Friendly Societies, who would provide members with sick pay and free medical treatment if they became ill.
For most people, being unemployed was very difficult. Although there were charities offering some assistance, most had to turn to the local authorities, the parish, who would pay them a small amount of money called poor relief. After 1834 this changed. A law called the Poor Law Amendment Act stopped people who were out-of-work being given money. Instead, they had to leave their homes and go to live in the workhouse.
- Why do you think landlords might have built such low quality housing for workers?
- How do you think workers felt about living in areas called 'slums' by wealthier people?
- Why do you think the law was changed to force people to go into the workhouse, if they were unemployed?
- How would you feel about having to go into the workhouse?
Artisan - skilled worker or craftsperson
Insanitary - dirty or dangerous to health
Leisure - free time when someone does not have to work
Outskirts - areas on the edge of a town or city
Slum - overcrowded area with poor housing