Tag Archives: 1930s

LIPCAP 2014 1930s House Open Day

LIPCAP Xmas Open Day 2014
Last year, one member of the Living in the Past Community Archaeology Project (LIPCAP) team held a Christmas open day by inviting members of the public to view her home: a house built in the late 1920s – early 1930s, which is dressed for Christmas with vintage decorations. Photos from the 2013 1930s House Xmas Open Day are displayed here.
Over the last four years, the layers of wallpaper, paint, and floor coverings of more recent decades have been removed to reveal original décor and fittings, which the project director is archaeologically investigating and recording (some information on the findings is available on another blog – under ‘Lymehurst’). These early features are being restored, and period fittings and furnishing reinstated,  in order to gain an impression of the domestic environment in the inter-war years. The restoration (which is still a work in progress) provides a backdrop to display early – mid 20th century artefacts, as well as Christmas decorations of this date.
Though most visitors today might find the décor far from ‘tasteful’, it is proving a useful exercise to experience such an environment. (The interior of this ‘cottage-type’ house differs in many ways to the ‘moderne’ interior of the time. Whereas many find what is now commonly described as ‘Art Deco’ styles attractive – of which we’re familiar through period dramas such as ITV’s Poirot – the materials, dark colours, and ‘traditional’ styles that filled many homes at the time are generally seen today as undesirable, making the more ‘homely’ furniture, furnishings and other household objects – which now fill Lymehurst – is now commonly categorised as worthless junk.).
We are holding another Xmas Open Day this year, on Sunday 21st December, 2-4pm, giving visitors to the house the opportunity to step back in time to Christmases of yesteryear. Changes since last year include reinstatement of paintwork in the hall and old kitchen.
We would especially welcome elderly visitors that were children in the 1920s and 30s, to hear their memories of housing and Christmastime before WWII.

Disabled Access

Although as a private house there are no facilities fitted for disabled visitors, we will endeavour to provide access where possible. There is a single step into the building; the open day is limited to ground floor rooms (where restoration is most complete), which with the exception of a door-mat well, is level (with removable door treads).
It may be possible for elderly or other visitors with disabilities to visit the house at times other than those advertised for public access: please contact the project for further information. See below for parking information


 map red dot
Location: red dot (Google Maps)

Signs & satnavs

If using a Satnav, be aware that they tend to get confused by the different sections of Newton’s Walk, and often try to send cars along the foot-path at the back of Markeaton School!
The old signs to Broadway church lead to West Park Road, although there is no longer access to the church.

From Kedleston Road:

Turn into the Broadway (junction near to the Jonty Farmer pub), taking the immediate right into old Kedleston Road, then 2nd left into Cedar St. Continue straight on over the crossroads, into Woodland Road. The first left turn is West Park Road; no. 1 is on the left hand corner with Woodland Road.

From Duffield Road:

Turn into Broadway at the Broadway pub roundabout on Duffield Road, and continue down the road until the bottom of the hill; take the second left into Sherwin St. (just before the junction with Kedleston Road), continuing to the top of the road, following the road around right at the WI into Newton’s Walk, then first right into Woodland Road. The first left turn is West Park Road; no. 1 is on the left hand corner with Woodland Road.


There is only very limited parking near to the house, restricted to residents with permits. The house may be reached by a short walk along the footpath (Newton’s Walk, next to the pedestrian crossing on Broadway, near to the Baptist Church, marked in grey on the map above). Should a visitor with disabilities need to park near to the house, please contact the project, and we will try to organise access to an off-road parking-space next to the house.
Please do not park in the church car park without prior permission: it is not a public car park.


Event posters (jpg at top of page and pdf below) can be downloaded by right-clicking on the image & selecting ‘Save As’

LIPCAP Xmas Open Day 2014

LIPCAP 1930s House Christmas Open Day 2013 Info.

LIPCAP_1930s_Xmas_2013_Online_PosterThis weekend (Sunday 22nd December, 2013, 2-4 pm) LIPCAP is hosting a free event: 1930s House Christmas Open Day.

This is a private domestic residency, open temporarily so that members of the public interested in the early 20th century household, domestic material culture, and late historic archaeology – and of course Christmas nostalgia! – can see part of the house restorations, look at the old decorations, and learn about Living in the Past Community Archaeology Project.

More info. on the house & it’s renovation can be found here.

We would ask visitors to park nearby in Broadway, as parking is limited for local residents. If visitors have disabilities that limit mobility, it may be possible to park nearer to the house for a short time, although unfortunately this cannot be guaranteed.  If disabled parking is essential, please telephone ahead, and we will see what we can to to accommodate needs.

Please also be aware that there are steps into and within the property, and as the property has not been adapted for mobility access (i.e. the doors are standard width) we are uncertain whether wheelchairs will fit through internal doors; also much heavy furniture or immovable limits access. If this is likely to cause problems for visitors, please contact us to discuss how we might enable access, and we’ll do the best we are able, with the resources at our command.



Public participation: LIPCAP Study Areas

The LIPCAP study areas are illustrated below (for larger versions of the maps, click on the images). Residents of old houses (dating to or before the late Victorian period and early 20th century) within these areas – in the listed streets (thanks very much to Dave and Louise for this) – can take take part in the project.

Maps that indicate the location of houses dating to this time, and details of the different ways to participate, will soon be posted.

If interested in taking part, but not living in an old house, there will be other ways to do so – details to follow soon.

Eligible streets (within the study area Boundaries depicted below)

Allestree Village Little Chester West End Friar Gate – Ashbourne Rd Area
Ashberry Court Alfreton Road Brick Street Arnold Street
Charterstone Lane Camp Street Bridge Street Ashbourne Road
Corn Hill Chester Green Road Brook Street Bass Street
Derwent Avenue City Road Cowley Street Bright Street
Duffield Road Derventio Close Eaton Court Brough Street
Gisborne Crescent Etruria Gardens Elms Street Campion Street
Kings Croft John Lombe Drive Kedleston Street Cecil Street
Lime Croft Kirk Street Kings Meade Close Cobden Street
Main Avenue Mansfield Road Leaper Street Colville Street
Mulberrys Court Mansfield Street Leyland Court Cooper Street
Park Lane Mapleback Court Leyland Gardens Cross Street
Park View Close Old Chester Road Leyland Street Etwall Street
Poplar Nook Seale Street Little Bridge Street Findern Street
Riddings Lodge Lane Frederick Street
Robin Croft Road Mackworth Road Friar Gate Court
Rydal Close Mill Street Granville Street
Siddals Lane Mundy Close Handford Street
St Edmunds Close Mundy Street Hawke Street
The Poplars Nuns Street Hayworth Street
West Bank Road Parker Close Howe Street
Parker Street James Close
Quarn Street Langley Street
Quarn Way Larges Street
Redshaw Street Leake Street
Searl Street Lloyd Street
St Helens Street MacKenzie Street
St Johns Terrace Manchester Street
Walter Street Markeaton Street
Watson Street Morley Street
Watson Street Napier Street
West Avenue Noel Street
White Cross Gardens Payne Street
White Cross Street Peach Street
William Street Peel Street
Willow Row Plimsole Street
Ponsonby Terrace
Pybus Street
Radbourne Street
Selwyn Street
Shaw Street
Sims Street
Slack Lane
Slater Avenue
South Street
Stable Street
Stanley Street
Stepping Close
Stepping Lane
Surrey Street
Uttoxeter Old Road
Vernon Street
Wild Street
Windmill Hill Lane
York Street

 Maps of project study areas:

Allestree Study Area

Study Area 1: Allestree Villge

Little Chester Study Area

Study Area 2: Little Chester (dot = case study ‘No. 8’)

West End Study Area

Study Area 3: West End

Friar Gate - Ashbourne Road Study Area

Study Area 4: Friar Gate – Ashbourne Road Area





















Secret History of Midland Streets

Live in an old house or street in the Midlands / South Yorkshire and enjoy BBC’s ‘Secret History of Our Street‘? Why not find out more about your house and street with the LIP Project?! 

No. 8: behind the façade

Front room: panorama from front door


What follows over the next three posts are the (often mundane but frequently telling) traces of human action that may be used, in conjunction with other forms of evidence, and alongside comparisons of similar contexts, to consider the changing use and significance of the front room of No. 8. Amongst the minutiae are more general discussions on living conditions in this house at different times – since its construction during the late Victorian period, and in comparison with those of today – exploring the impact of technological transformations upon daily life.

Many of the descriptions of household features and practices below may seem unnecessary to older readers, who might in varying degrees be familiar with the early 20th home. But it is just these ‘small things forgotten’ that get lost in history – seen as everyday and unimportant, they are rarely recorded and pass from memory; these details often hold the key to unlocking the human stories of the past.[i]

If readers have personal or family memories that might expand upon this information, and would like to share their thoughts, please comment at the bottom of the post, or contact the Project Director. Many details have surely been missed, and some may have been misunderstood. Many of the features described below potentially survive in other local terraced houses: if readers living in comparable homes may be able to add to these discoveries, so please send in information if encountering similar evidence of earlier activity. If readers based outside Derby would like to contribute information, a geographically wider project (with similar aims to Dec20) can be found here.

This first post on the front room will begin by describing the room, looking at architectural and decorative features. The second will consider ‘home comforts’: warmth and lighting; and the third will consider decoration; the fourth will explore the social and cultural significance of the front room.


On entering through the front door, the visitor steps straight into the front room, which is a comfortable size for a small terraced house (though slightly smaller than some of the other houses in the terrace), measuring approx. 10 1/2’ x 11 1/3’ (c. 3.21 m x 3.46 m).


From the front of the house, it was evident from the chimneys that a solid fuel open grate originally heated the house. This is evident on entering the room, in the projecting chimney-breast, which measures 31.5 cm deep by 1.37m wide. (The next post will consider heating, and the ways in which occupants used the alcoves over time, by considering the introduction of electricity). In common with many terraced properties, the original grate of No. 8 was removed some time ago (certainly before 1999 – probably several years previously. The exact form of the original grate is uncertain, although considering the construction date, it is likely to have been a slow combustion register grate, (in contrast to the earlier arch plate) consisting of an iron rectangular plate, canopy, and frame (which commonly contained a surround of glazed ceramic tiles), lined with ceramic fire-bricks.[ii] Without removing the flooring (which wasn’t possible during the survey) the size and form of the hearthstone is unknown; but stone hearths were increasingly tiled during and after the late 19th century.

Chimney-breast: enhanced image, to show position of earlier fireplace

The position of early fireplaces within terraced (and other) houses can often be seen in rough outline, in cases where the fill (often plaster-board, the join with the wall feathered with plaster) isn’t flush with the wall surface (see the subsequent post on the front bedroom – such an outline is clear). In this case, a professional – who was clearly a very good plastered – filled in the hole left by the previous fire, so it’s quite difficult to see the traces of earlier features (which are further covered by wallpaper). This is even harder to see in photos, so filters have been used to enhance the outline (see above). It is not possible to be certain whether previous residents acted in the same way as many other occupants of terraced houses in the 1930s – 50s: by removing the ‘old fashioned’ cast iron grate, and replacing this with a ‘modern’ fireplace.

Whether or not this was the case, previous owners later fitted a gas fire in the place of an ‘open fire’: this was of a style found in the 1980s (which may still be purchased today). At some point in the past 5 years, the gas fire was removed for safety reasons, and the fireplace finally sealed. These seemingly practical and individual changes relate to broader social and cultural transformations; as there’s quite a bit of information to fit into this post, some of the factors behind changes made to heating, cooking, and lighting facilities will be discussed in the next post on ‘home comforts’. following post will examine decoration.


An area of plaster has been removed from an interior wall (between the front room and the stairs) – hidden from sight within the cupboard of the right-hand alcove. As expected for work not destined for display, the finish is much rougher than that of the brickwork at the front of the house (see the previous post). This interior wall is again built using a Flemish Bond, and would have been covered with two or three coats of lime-based plaster.

Interior wall


The floor feels different beneath the visitor’s feet today, compared to how it would have done originally: modern cushioned laminate flooring overlays the original timber floorboards. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been possible to get to see beneath the modern surface to be certain of the finish of the boards throughout the room. However, the alcoves either side of the chimney-breast now contain shelves and modern (1990s or earlier) cupboards. The floorboards are visible within both cupboards, and as would be expected from comparisons with neighbouring and similar housing elsewhere, they are likely to be ‘deal’ (pine), or fir.

Floor boards, within left alcove cupboard (also showing early blue distemper)

These boards are not stained, which is unusual for a house of this age and type (as can be seen in a photo of floor boards in the back bedroom; this form of decoration will be considered in a subsequent post); they are also relatively ‘fresh’ (compare with those in the back bedroom, when this information is posted). This may indicate that boards have been replaced, perhaps due to rot, or to insect infestation, such as woodworm; alternatively, the floorboards may have been sanded – an act that became particularly popular in the 1980s-90s – which removes decades of patina that demonstrated past taste; though they are not varnished, which often followed sanding). The discovery of fragments of wallpaper, tightly sandwiched between the wall and the ends of the boards, perhaps supports the possibility that the boards have been replaced, although subsequent modifications may have pushed the paper into this position, or boards may have been lifted in fitting or modifying gas piping. The style of the wallpaper (which will be considered in the post on decoration), suggests that if replaced, this was undertaken some time ago (perhaps 1960s-70s). Another indication that, if replaced, this was not done recently, is the beading that seals the gap between wall and skirting board (a technique to reduce draughts); this seems to have previously run around the room, but since been removed (perhaps when the previous – since removed – floor covering was fitted, between the late 1980s and mid 1990s). This beading overlies the ‘fresh’ boards, and underlies paint that pre-dates the 1990s decorative scheme, which also overlies the adjacent skirting board.

Floorboards and beading in right alcove cupboard


Skirting board on back wall of front room

Around the base of the walls, what is likely to be the original skirting board can be seen. When painted, it is often difficult to determine the age of skirting board, as modern replacements commonly replicate early profiles, although early skirting boards often have less crisp lines than modern examples (original board are sometimes damaged, decay through rising damp, or may be removed during modern damp proofing). Within the left alcove cupboard, there are only partial remains of skirting board; the paint on the wall – perhaps like the later wallpaper (see the subsequent post on decoration) – continues down to the floor. This may indicate that the builders did not fit skirting board within this corner, suggesting the presence of a fixture (such as a fitted cupboard) within this corner during early occupation. A further clue supports this interpretation: paint remains suggest that the skirting board turned at right angles from this stub to meet the face of the chimney-breast. In addition, the vibrant blue wall colour appears only in this alcove: from the skirting board stub in this alcove, and in the right alcove, the wall finish is different.

Paint on skirting board stub suggesting a return across the left alcove to join the front of the chimney-breast

The pattern differs in the right alcove cupboard. Here a power socket was fitted or modified during the late 20th century on the wall of the chimney-breast. This has led to the removal of the short stretch of skirting board on this wall, revealing the original surface and subsequent early decorative traces at the point where it joined the skirting on the back wall of the alcove (a subsequent post will discuss decoration).

Skirting board in right alcove cupboard: removal of the chimney-breast piece of board has revealed the original wood finish of the board, and the wood stain and paint above

As many (especially builders and DIY enthusiasts) will know, though decorative, skirting board has a practical purpose: by leaving a gap between wall plaster and floor – the skirting covering this gap – rising damp could to some extent be limited. It is also a useful buffer to protect the wall from wet mops!

Plaster mouldings

The plaster moulding in the centre of the ceiling (the ‘ceiling rose’) suggests the location of one original light fitting (see the following post): again it had a practical purpose: the painted or varnished moulding made it easier to clean accumulated soot residue from suspended gas lamps.[iii]

Ceiling rose, No. 8

As well as the moulded plaster ceiling rose that is a common feature of terraced houses of this date, moulded plaster  cornice lies between the ceiling and walls. This feature went out of fashion during and after the 1920s, when increasing concerns over hygiene saw the cornice as a dust trap.[iv]

Cornice, front room of No. 8

Many houses of this date are fitted with usually wooden picture rails – these features continued to be fitted in houses during the interwar period (although the profiles were usually simplified during the 1930s), but were often removed during and after the 1950s, during modernisation. Removal of wallpaper from the chimney-breast during renovation revealed no indications that a picture rail had previously been fitted; it’s not been possible to remove wallpaper elsewhere in the room to see if this is representative. However, the walls in this room (and in other rooms) that are painted (and not papered) have no indications that a picture rail was previously fitted; there were also no signs of picture rails in a neighbouring property; further investigation of other neighbouring properties may answer this question.


Interior window frame

The front room of No. 8 is bright – not only due to the magnolia emulsion that is ubiquitous within modern houses, especially rental properties such as this. The window, which fills much of the wall behind the front door, lets in quite a lot of light; this may relate to legislative changes made not long before the house was built. The Public Health Act of 1875 provided guidelines for byelaws on room and window size for newly constructed houses; although the adoption of such guidelines by local authorities was a gradual process, c. 1600 councils had adopted the national models by 1882.[v] Concerns over the need for sufficient air and light to limit disease instigated the development of byelaws during and after the 1860s to regulate the construction of smaller houses; the height of the rooms (in comparison to earlier ‘cottages’) also aided airflow – a concern that was to continue into the 20th century.[vi] Maps suggest that when No. 8 was built, the aspect was as open as today (being situated across the road from a graveyard, beyond which were the railways lines of the goods yard), and that light filled the room as it does today.

The previous post discussed the original form of, and subsequent changes to, the window as seen from outside the front of the house. These changes are also visible from the inside: much of the original frame is intact, although the glazing bars have been removed, in order to insert two large panes (the significance of fitting ‘picture windows’ was also discussed in the previous post).


Door between the front room and lobby to the original kitchen

The door that faces the visitor as they enter from the street is probably one of the original fittings of the house. It is in a style typically found within terraced houses built during the late 19th – early 20th century: there are four panels, each of which are framed by thin architrave. However, this door may not have originally come from this door frame. As can be seen, previous residents have stripped the paint from this door; occupants often undertake this task themselves (using either a heat gun or chemical paint stripper), with the door in situ – there is some evidence of this (burn marks and ineffective paint stripping) on this and other doors in the house. But doors are otherwise often removed and taken to professional paint strippers (where the doors are dipped in vats of caustic chemicals); and when returned – as all the doors of the house are often removed, stripped, and refitted, at the same time – they are not always put back into their original frame. There are a few clues that may point towards a door being replaced within a different frame to that from whence it came: the original position of locks can often be seen, as can the latch housing in the frame – sometimes these features do not align. But if doors have been subjected to professional paint stripping, shrinkage (which can frequently be seen by cracks and gaps in the panels) must be taken into account. The removal of paint, to expose the ‘original’ timber fabric of door became popular in the 1980s (and continues today), in part relating to a taste for original features. However, this practice in no way reflects Victorian, Edwardian, and interwar tastes: doors were almost always painted (with the occasional exception of the oak and mahogany doors set within panelled rooms) – this will be considered in a following post on decoration.

Burns to the door, suggestive of DIY paint stripping, and remnants of early varnish or paint

Doors of this type were often boarded over during the 1950s-70s, in order to attain a flat surface, which was seen as modern (flat door surfaces began to appear within wealthier houses from the 1920s onwards). This can often be detected (as it can with this door) by the presence of small holes around the edge of the door, where panel pins held a sheet of hardboard in place; many of these coverings were removed during and after the 1980s, when tastes for ‘antique’ fittings became popular, although some still remain in place today. The presence of a large hole in the door, indicating removal of the original handle, and the fitting of a (probably more ‘modern’) higher in the door, may date to this phase of modernisation.

Location of early lock, and adjacent housing, and position of previous handle, and position of panel pins (circled in red) from previous door covering

Having described the main features of the room, the following posts will go on to consider utilities (such as gas and electricity), decoration, and social significance of the front room in No. 8, by making comparisons with similar houses, by exploring written, visual, and oral history, and exploring the changing use of the room.


[i] See Deetz 1999, for a wider discussion of the importance of examining the ‘common place’ traces of daily life in historical archaeology.
[ii] New designs in register grates (which incorporated iron doors that could be used control the flow of air into the chimney) were developed locally (by Derwent Foundry Company, Derby); the slow combustion grate, developed in 1870, more economical than previous grates, as the solid base reduced the air flow from beneath;  this type was replaced c. 1900 by re-introducing the bottom grate, but with an ash-pan reducing the updraught (Everleigh 1983: 9, 11-3)
[iii] See Yorke 2006: 85
[iv] See Bowden 2009: 367
[v] Upton 2010: 40-1.
[vi] See Upton 2010: 47; Meller 2009: 401

Works cited

Bowden, Sue 2009 ‘Consumption and consumer behaviour’, Chris Wrigley (ed.) Companion to Early Twentieth Century Britain, pp. 353-72

Deetz, James 1999 In Small Things Forgotten: The Archaeology of Early American Life

Everleigh, David J. 1983 Firegrates and Kitchen Ranges

Meller, Helen 2009 ‘Housing and Town Planning, 1900-1939’, Chris Wrigley (ed.) Companion to Early Twentieth Century Britain, pp. 388-404

Upton, Chris 2010 Living Back-to-Back Yorke, Trevor 2006 The 1930s House Explained

Poverty and poor conditions in 1930s Derby: experiences of ‘Working class wives’

The following post presents extracts taken from a book that was used as a local history source for Dec20, as it contains some useful comments on poverty and ‘slum’ housing in 1930s Derby. It contains references to household income and budgets, and diets, as well as housing conditions  employment and gender in the 1930s, in locations outside Derby, extracts from which it is hoped will be posted here in the future.


Margery Spring Rice, niece of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Millicent Garrett Fawcett, wrote Working-class wives. Their Health and Conditions in 1936 (published 1939). This records the findings of a ‘survey of the conditions of 1,250 married working women, based on information collected by the Women’s Health Enquiry Committee’.[i] This committee, founded in 1933, consisting of ‘representatives from certain women’s organisations and on an entirely non-political basis’, was formed ‘to investigate the general conditions of health among women, especially among married working-women, in view of indications that ill-health was both more widespread and more serious than was generally known.’ Investigation was ‘as far as practicable’ to determine:

1.      The incidence and nature of general ill-health among working-women.

2.      Its possible causes, such as lack of medical treatment, poverty, bad housing, over-work.

3.      How far women observe the ordinary rules of health and hygiene, and the extent to which a certain amount of ill-health is accepted as inevitable.

Thirty-nine Derby families submitted information and comments to the survey (in response to a pro forma questionnaire), a sample of which is contained withinWorking-class wives, providing insight into the effects and experiences of housing conditions within working-class homes during the mid 1930s; this is reproduced below (alongside the account of one woman from a nearby village or town). The text has been copied verbatim, retaining original spelling and grammatical errors.


‘An elderly woman in Derby suffers from bad neuralgia, for which the doctor advised the extraction of all her teeth ; the remedy she takes in strong tea ! She has bad rheumatism for which she merely rubs herself ; mental depression for which she says there is no remedy ; and headaches which she caused by bad eyesight for which she wears spectacles from Woolworth’s because the Doctor advised spectacles. She had had nine children of whom only one is living, and two miscarriages. She lives alone with her husband,- an unemployed labourer, complains that her house is extremely inconvenient, and that her work is too hard for her. But she has money enough for a fair diet, and frequent visits to the pictures and the public house.’

Not from Derby, but from somewhere relatively near-by: ‘Of an unhappy elderly woman outside Derby, the visitor writes “This woman is very miserable ; she has no leisure occupation and cannot read or write. She cannot go out much as her leg is too bad ; she only goes to the shops once a week when well enough”. She suffers from nerves, headaches (due to worry of husband’s unemployment,) – general debility and shortness of breath, and a very bad ulcerated leg. “Her leg has been bad for over twenty years ; for two years she went three times a week to the Infirmary for treatment (10 miles distant) but had to stop two years ago owing to husband’s unemployment ; she said the lotion obtained at the Infirmary did much to ease the intolerable pain, but she cannot now afford the fares (1/-) or the lotion. “The ulcers have now burst.” She has eight children ; only one, a son of 23 now lives at home. “He’s a brass-glazer and a big man, requiring adequate food. He gets it,- the old people do not.”’

‘Mrs T. Of Derby, whose housing conditions are described [in the following extracts]… “sits down for feeding the baby, but takes her own meals standing. She is in poor health, having had bad kidney trouble with the first and third babies … Her surroundings are squalid, and there is no water or sink in the house … She has never been to a talkie”. (Extract from visitor’s report.)’

‘As examples of bad sanitation we may quote a woman in Derby who lives in a house in a slum court entered through an archway in a slum street. The visitor says “She has no facilities for cleanliness at all. The surroundings are squalid, the houses jammed close together and the court very narrow, and festooned with unsavoury articles of clothing. At the end of the court is the row of tub lavatories shared with the other cottages. The Corporation clears the tubs twice a week. She gets water from a tap at the end of the yard.” …The woman is 24, she has three children under five…’

‘And now for the vermin. The wife of an unemployed labourer in Derby lives in a cottage where “The bugs which are present and breed in the rotting woodwork cause endless extra work in an endeavour to be clean. It has been necessary to sit up at night to keep the bugs off the small baby [original emphasis]. The Corporation is said to have refused to fumigate the place at present. The job has to wait until the end of the slum clearance scheme.” (Investigator’s Report.) The woman has poor health. She is “languid and weary …husband has had two months work in 3 years. Difficulties connected with lack of money and a house infested with bugs.” She has about two hours, leisure (three children). “Sit down no energy for walks no money for pictures.”’

‘Mrs. V. lives in a slum street of small houses in Derby. She is 40, and has three children, two girls and a boy; her husband is a Railway Porter. Her housekeeping is £1 19s. 0d., which she budgets for the week in the following way [all duplications are as in the original; the data has been tabulated for the purpose of this post]:

Item amount pounds shillings pence
Rent 11 0
Coal 2 bags 2 10
Death Insurance 9
Gas 1
Sugar 4 lb 9
Tea ½ lb 9
Matches 3 boxes 3
Milk Tin 7 1/2
Rice 1 lb 4
Lard 1 lb
Butter 1 lb 9
Flour 7
Bacon 9
Ambrosia 1 0
Potatoes 4 lb 4
Butter beans 2
Cake 6
Fish for cooking 6
Bread 2 0
Meat 1 6
Potatoes 8 lbs 6
Greens 3
Prunes 6
Custard powder 1 ½
Suet 2
Milk for week 1 6 ½
Papers 6
Soap 5
Wash power 3 ½
Blue 1
Starch 1
Golden syrup 9 ½
Cooking Apples 2
Suet 2
Bacon 9
Biscuits 6
Gas 3
Cheese 3
Cake 6
Cocoa 5 ½
Oxo 6
Stewing Meat 6
Peas 2
Box savings for stockings or Doctor 2 3 ½
Total £1 18           10

N.B. Potatoes are here given twice making 12 lbs. In all which is a reasonable amount.

Her own diet for a week is given as:-


Breakfast:      2 slices of toasts and dripping, 2 cups of tea

Dinner:          Half a small rice pudding and mug of lentil soup

Tea:                2 slices of bread and butter, 1 boiled egg, 2 cups of tea

Supper:          1 slice of bread and cheese, ½ pint pot of Ambrosia


Breakfast:      2 slices of bread and poached egg, 2 cups of tea

Dinner:          Roast beef, 2 spoonful of butter beans, 2 spoonful potatoes, boiled rubarb pudding, small helping

Tea:                2 cups of tea, 2 slices of brown and 1 white bread,

6 prunes with custard

Supper:          Bread and Butter (½ slice) ½ pint Ambrosia


Breakfast:      2 slices of Bread and dripping, 2 cups of tea

Dinner:          Small piece of beef, 2 tablespoons of potatoes, piece

of Yorkshire Pudding, 1 Baked Apple

Tea:               2 cups of tea, 2½ slices of bread and jam

Supper:          ½ pint of Ambrosia


Breakfast:      2 cups of tea, 2½ slices of bread and butter and golden


Dinner:          Stewing meat, 2 spoons of mashed potatoes, cabbage

1 spoonful boiled suet pudding

Tea:               2 cups of tea, 2 slices of bread and butter, boiled egg

Supper:          ½ slice of bread and cheese, ½ pint of Ambrosia


Breakfast:      2 cupfull of tea, 2 slices of bread and golden syrup,

1 banana

Dinner:          Boiled fish, 2 spoons of mashed potatoes, cheese pudding

Tea:              Bread and Butter, 2 slices, 2 pieces plain cake, 2 cups

of tea

Supper:          ½ pint Ambrosia, 3 biscuits


Breakfast:      Toast and dripping, 2 slices, 2 cups of tea

Dinner:          Mashed potatoes 2 spoonsful cabbage 1 spoon boiled

suet pudding with jam

Tea:                Bread and butter, 2 slices, 1 boiled egg

Supper:          ½ pint Ambrosia, 3 biscuits


Breakfast:      3 slices of bread and butter 2 cups of tea

Dinner:          Piece of fish baked, mashed potatoes 2 spoonsful,

4 tablespoons of rice pudding.

Tea:               Bread and Butter 3 slices 1 piece of cake 2 cups of tea

Supper:          ½ pint pot of Ambrosia

The house is very bad. It has not bath, the boiler is broken and the Landlord refuses to mend it: there were bad floods in 1932, and several feet of water in the house, since when it has always been damp ; the W.C. is 25 yards from the house ; there is a rag and bone shop in the yard next door, and this gives out unpleasant smells ; the house is hemmed in by factories. Mrs. V. says she was quite well till seven months ago, when her husband had a serious illness. She was then six months pregnant, but in order to eke out the income she went out to work a little, and had to nurse her husband in the house which made the work very hard. Since then she has been feeling very ill, and has great difficulty in nursing the baby who is now four months old. The Health Visitor says she’s a sensible woman, and the husband is very good to her, and being himself a trained ambulance man, he is very useful in illness.’

‘Mrs. D. of Derby is 35 years old and has five children (all boys) and lives in a small Corporation house. Her husband is an unemployed labourer and her housekeeping is £2 1s. 0d. of which she gives the following particulars of expenditure: – 

Item amount pounds shillings pence
Rent 12 6
Gas and Electric Light (6d. each) 1 0
Clothing Club 3 0
Boot Club 1 0
Coal 2 cwt. 3 0
Milk 2 9 ½
Bread 3 3 ½
Insurance 1 6
Margarine 2 lbs@ 4d. 0 8
Butter ½ lb @ 1/- 0 6
Sugar 6 lbs 1 3
Tea ½ lb 0 9
Cocoa ¼ lb 0 4
Lard ½ lb 0 3
Cheese ½ lb 0 3
Eggs 1 doz. 1 6
Bacon 1 lb 0 11
Self-raising flour 1 bag 0 5
Loose peas 1 lb 0 4
Matches 2 boxes 0 2
Soap 1 lb 0 5
Wash powder 1 packet 0 2
Starch 1 packet 0 1
Soda 1 lb 0 1
Salt 1 packet 0 1
Cooked ham ¼lb @ 1/10 0 5 ½
Old potatoes 0 6
New potatoes 1 lb 0 3
Onions 1 lb 0 2
Radishes, spring onions, lettuce 0 6
Cauliflower 0 2
Oranges 0 3
Meat (beef) Pieces @ 1/3 1 3
Mutton Breast @ 8d. 0 4
Corn beef ½ lb 0 3
Pieces of Codfish 0 5 ½
Sweets for kiddies 0 2
Total 2 1 0

Mrs. D. also gives her complete weekly diet:-


Breakfast:      2 slices of bread, two pieces of bacon, two cups of tea

Dinner:          ½ pint of water, 3 potatoes, two tablespoons of peas,

small bit of beef small portion of rice pudding

Tea:                2 slices of bread and butter, an egg, two cups of tea,

piece of cake

Supper:          1 Cup of cocoa


Breakfast:      2 cups of tea, slice of toast and butter

Dinner:          2 tablespoons of potatoes, stewed meat and gravy,

½ pint of water

Tea:                2 slices of bread and butter and jam, 2 cups of tea,

1 piece of cake

Supper:          1 cup of cocoa


Breakfast:      2 cups of tea, 2 slices of brown bread and butter

Dinner:          3 potatoes, 1 tablespoon of cauliflower and stewed mutton, stewed rhubarb and custard

Tea:                2 slices of bread and butter and radishes, 1 piece of cake and 2 cups of tea

Supper:          1 cup of cocoa and a slice of bread and dripping


Breakfast:      Two cups of tea, slice and a half of bread and dripping

Dinner:          3 new potatoes, 2 tablespoon of peas and sausage,

½ pint of water

Tea:                2 cups of tea, 2 slices of bread and butter, one tomato

and one piece of cake

Supper:          1 cup of cocoa and a slice of bread and dripping


Breakfast:      2 cups of tea, slice of bacon and slice of bread

Dinner:          1 new laid egg and chipped potatoes, 1 slice of bread,

½ pint of water, 1 cup of cocoa at 11 o’clock

Boiled fish, 2 spoons of mashed cheese pudding

Tea:                2 cups of tea, 2 slices of bread and butter and lettuce,

and 2 small cakes, 1 orange at 3 o’clock

Supper:          1 cup of cocoa


Breakfast:      2 cups of tea, 1½ slices bread and butter and jam

Dinner:          2 slices of bread, 1 slice of bacon, 2 tablespoonsful of tomatoes and ½ pint of water

Tea:                2 slices of bread and butter and 1 boiled egg, two

cups of tea

Supper:          1 cup of cocoa


Breakfast:      2 cups of tea, 1 slice of bread and jam

Dinner:          2 slices of bread and corn beef, ½ pint of water

Tea:                2 slices of bread and butter and radishes and onions,

2 cups of tea

Supper:          1 cup of cocoa

It should be particularly noticed here that there is only 2 llbs of margarine and ½ lb of butter a week for 2 adults and 4 children (aged from 9-4 ; – there is also a baby of 3 months whom Mrs. D. is nursing.) There are only 1 doz. eggs and yet she says she eats 3 a week herself ; and only 3d. worth of oranges,-the only fruit.’

‘Mrs. A. of Derby is 25 years old and has four children, a girl of 6 years, three boys of 4, 3, and 1, and is pregnant. She lives in a four-roomed cottage in a slum court which is due to be demolished in slum-clearance scheme. There is no gas or copper, only oil lamps for lights and the water has to be fetched from 40 yards away in the yard. There is no W.C. only a tub lavatory which the family have to share with others. Her husband is an unemployed labourer and the total income is 35/-.[ii] This is divided into the following regular payments:-     

Item amount pounds shillings pence
Rent     5 0
Clothing Club     2 0
Pot Club     1 0
Coal     2 8
Pram and Furniture     1 6
Insurance     1 0
Tobacco for husband     1 0
Total   2 1 0

Leaving £1/0/10 for food, cleaning materials, and extras.

Mrs. A’s. own meals are given as:-

Breakfast:     Cup of tea, porridge and milk, 1 slice of bread and butter

Dinner:          New potatoes and bacon, cup of tea

Tea:              Boiled egg, 2 slices of bread and butter, 2 cups of tea,


Supper:         Bread and cheese, 1 cup of cocoa, 2 spoonfuls of

condensed milk


As can be seen, the diet for each family is in many ways similar, although there are also evident differences between each household; similarities are also found when comparing the Derby households with those in other industrial towns. To put the costs into perspective, a contemporary investigation into conditions within London records some of the incomes from which ‘housekeeping’ money derived. An out of work (redundant) coal man received the following ‘dole’: ‘17s. for himself, 9s. for his wife, and 2s. for each child’ (in his case) ‘a grand total of 36s.’ – nearly the same as ‘Mrs. A.’ of Derby.[iii] The weekly wages of a (male) shop assistant was £2, and of a labourer ‘lucky enough to be permanently employed’ (economic decline had reduced many industries to half-time work – and pay) 35s.; a night-watchman received 30s. a week, his wife 15s. for a ‘daily job’ (probably domestic service, possibly ‘charring’; a female factory worker was paid 27s. each week, and ‘attendant at a local cinema’ (perhaps ‘usherette’) received 18s..[iv] These wages have been confirmed as typical within Derby at this time.[v] To put ‘Mrs. D’s’ household finances into context, 10 years earlier (in 1926), Birmingham tenants had to earn a minimum of £3 10s. each week in order to pay the typically high council house rents (£4 a week in order to rent a ‘parlour house’); the dole (the only income of the family at the time of the survey, and which would have been time-limited) obviously fell well below this level.[vi]

Due to the anonymity granted to the participants, it isn’t possible to be certain of the location of these household from this text. However, considering the reference to imminent slum clearance, it is possible that ‘Mrs. T.’ and ‘Mrs. A.’ both lived on the edge of Derby’s ‘West End’, as demolition of housing within this area – part of the scheme municipal ‘slum-clearance’ that had begun in the late 19th century – is recorded around this time.[vii]

‘Mrs. D.’ inhabited a ‘small Corporation house’; many of the suburban council housing estates in Derby were constructed during and after the 1950s, although the 1920s saw the development of housing in the Victory Road area, and the 30s further housing around the outer ring road. Considering mention of the floods, ‘Mrs. V.’ perhaps lived close to Markeaton Brook, and perhaps near to the Railway; Friargate area is therefore possible. Streets affected by the floods in this area are noted here (the blanked-out text is Ponsonby Terrace; this street should probably be discounted, as family history records that these houses were kept in relatively good condition).

As the content of data has made for an already long post, discussion on the significance of this and similar surveys, and the attitudes towards poverty that they embody, must be relegated to a future post.[viii] Suffice it to say at this point, Working-class wives confirms what social memories make clear: that many households in Derby experienced conditions as harsh as those witnessed in other towns. It is often stated that Derby was relatively prosperous during the Depression, due to the wide range of industries providing sufficient employment. This may indeed be so, but to some extent this undermines the experiences of those who did experience poverty; there was not only significant unemployment, but also the common experiences of underemployment and poor pay. It remains a useful source of information on how women of the day not only managed the household budget in very difficult circumstances, but also endured extreme hardship for the sake of their families.


[i] Background on Working-class wives. Their Health and Conditions can be found in Davey Smith et al. 2001: 215-24

[ii] Sanitary facilities will be discussed in a subsequent post; for further information, see Bell 1999.

[iii] Chesterton 1936: 33, 80

[iv] Ibid. 82-3, 103, 114, 212

[v] See Goodhead 1983: 15

[vi] In 1931, unemployment benefits were restricted to 26 weeks, and limited to only certain industries Laybourn 2009: 381-82; Upton 2010: 146

[vii] Images of West End buildings under demolition in 1937 can be seen here; see also Palmer 1997

[viii] This will probably be posted on the associated website, which considers broader issues of poverty, inequality, and class distinction; if so, a link will be posted


Bell, David 1999 Nottinghamshire Privies. A Nostaligic Trip Down the Garden Path

Chesterton, Mrs. Cecil 1936 I Lived in a Slum

Davey Smith, George, Shaw, Mary (eds.) 2001 Poverty, Inequality and Health in Britain, 1800-2000: A Reader

Goodhead, Elsie Elizabeth 1983 The West End Story. Derby During the Depression. A Social and Personal History

Laybourn, Keith 2009 ‘Social Welfare’, Chris Wrigley (ed.) Companion to Early Twentieth Century Britain, pp. 373-87

Palmer, Derek 1997 The Demolition of Derby

Upton, Chris 2010 Living Back-to-Back