Category Archives: City & Country

Dubrovnik

There is in truth something fairly incredible about how this city managed to play such a role in the Mediterranean world. I have a couple of histories that try to tie this world together, to understand the past not in terms of single countries languages cultures, but how they all came together around this great body of water in flows and connections. I love how this undermines the careful separations of cultures and continents that many histories and nationalisms invest so much in.

Agents of Empire by Noel Malcolm did this most beautifully, though I have yet to read Braudel.

Dubrovnik: A History is a little too static for my taste, but it does give a taste of how pivotal a role this city played in the complex relationship between Hapsburg Europe and the Ottoman Empire. As Tanner writes

In contrast to ruined Biograd or ravaged Zadar, Dubrovnik enjoyed a steady growth in prosperity, thanks to the diplomatic dexterity of its merchant rulers as well as their trading skills. Since its foundation in the seventh century, the city had been attacked seriously only once, by the Normans in 1071. Occasionally it was besieged by Bosnian or Serbian warlords who descended from the hinterland, but for the most part Dubrovnik successfully played Bosnians, Croats, Venetians and – later – the Ottomans off each other, periodically ceding sovereignty to one or other of the powers that encircled it without ever surrendering self-government or the right to conduct its own foreign policy.(24

I tried to imagine the conversations that must have happened in these incredible streets, in this jewel of a city.

The many thousands of tourists lined up to walk around the walls, to go up the thronging the streets, made this fairly impossible. There were torrents of Game of Thrones fans. We spent most of the week here trying to go elsewhere. Disappointing.

Of course what Dubrovnik made so clear was the asphyxiating nature of this city for so long. Here the patriciate worked so hard to maintain their purity there was no upward movement at all. Marriage to a ‘commoner’ made of you a commoner as well, and only the patriciate had any say in the running of the city. Venice, for all its faults, at least pried this open to some degree in Split and other cities under its control.

In Split, in contrast with Dubrovnik, the ‘closing’ of the Great Council to commoners in 1334 initiated a series of bitter disputes in which, once the city came under Venetian rule in 1420, the Serenissima itself became involved. The Venetian counts were inclined to promote the interests of the wealthy commoner families (as in Dubrovnik, called ‘citizens’) against those of the nobility, partly because of a genuine sense of equity but also in order to divide and rule. (188)

Harries quotes at length a Venetian count, Marco Barbarigo writing in July, 1568:

Between the men of Split there exists that hatred which prevails in most of the Dalmatian towns. This hatred comes from the fact that the nobles have their own council in which they choose public representatives every three months. These nobles are poor, as far as their fortunes go; but puffed up with empty ambition the citizens, who because of their crafts and trade live much more comfortably… On the other side these [citizens] since they are not allowed to meet and choose some officials, cannot with a peaceful spirit tolerate the privileges which the nobles have on the basis of the old laws of this city.

Harries continues with how this did not happen in Dubrovnik:

The closure of the Ragusan nobility to all but a few foreign entrants for some two centuries–and the closure of its polity to non-aristocrats for almost five–did not have the effect of stirring up similar resentment among the non-noble  inhabitants. After a time, the very impossibility of a commoner joining the patriciate’s ranks probably made for a certain acquiescence and so stability. (189)

Ah, for the days when peace and quiet exploitation could be won through complete domination rather than an almost complete domination. It’s not entirely surprising that the commoners didn’t all hang together to support the patriciate after the great earthquake, nor that their servants seems to have  been positively rude in the face of the nobility’s suffering. As Tanner writes:

By the eighteenth century Dubrovnik was a political and economic fossil. It had been many centuries since the populace had played any part in its government by acclaiming laws outside the palace of the rector (knez), but by the eighteenth century even the vestiges of representative government had been discarded. … In practice all power was concentrated in the Grand Council, which elected the Senate out of its own members. And the Grand Council was entirely composed of nobles who never married out and hardly ever allowed any new blood in. Even within this tiny noble caste marriage was forbidden between the families of the most ancient nobles of all, the Salamanchesi, and the ‘new’ nobles, the Sorbonnesi, who had been created after an awful earthquake in 1667 forced the nobles to let in some new members, to make up for the ones who had been killed. … in the eighteenth century, they began to die out. From about 200 or 300 members in the sixteenth century, the Grand Council was down to between sixty and eighty by the eighteenth century. (Tanner, M. (2001). Croatia : A Nation Forged in War.)

Words fail me there, although the suicide of an entitled class throughits own snobbishness is actually quite poetic. But the earthquake…the earthquake was incredible. This is a description from someone who lived through it:

Suddenly there was a deep rumbling, and a violent blow rocked the city… A large part of the city collapsed. Rocks poured down from Mount Srđ. A thick cloud of dust rose, spreading a pall of darkness over the ruins. the ground shook and large crevasses opened up, swallowing completely some modest dwellings in the suburbs. The city walls swayed before falling back into position. The wells emptied of water, only to be refueled with thick yellow mud, which in turn drained away, leaving them quite dry. From our over the Adriatic there arose a roaring sound similar to continuous cannon fire. The sea withdrew from the harbour entirely and the ships moored there smashed their hulls on the now-exposed rock bed. Several times the tide returned and withdrew again. Flames… (320)

Imagine the tide receding completely.

Dubrovnik

This was from an account by a Dutchman, who was trapped in rubble and gave an improbable story of his servant despairing and only recovering hope when ordered by his master to try harder to escape and bring help.

The earthquake was a turning point indeed, but things had already been unraveling a bit before this. The world was changing, the centre of gravity shifting to the wealth of the New World and the ships of the Spanish, Dutch, English. With the decay of the Ottoman Empire as well, the key strategic bridging role held by Dubrovnik no longer existed. She writes things like

Unfortunately, like the villas to which they were attached, many an orsan has since fallen prey to insensitive road schemes, socialist housing and a mindset unsympathetic to the cultivated, patrician lifestyle of the Ragusan Republic.  (318)

Mindsets like mine. Still, Dubrovnik is very beautiful. Massive walls, narrow winding streets and stairs

Dubrovnik

A saint that always carries the city in his arms.

Dubrovnik

Cats everywhere. Tanks painted in gay colours and a museum of remembrance of the ‘War of Serbian Aggression’ (but never any mention of fascism or WWII). We saw a concert in the Rector’s Palace, it was beautiful indeed to be there in the late evening.

Dubrovnik

We climbed hills (so many hills), had fabulous food, wine of the best. Saw the small archaeology museum, ethnographic museum, the absolutely fabulous natural history museum with its incredible Freddy Mercury homage.

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Its collection of shells.

Dubrovnik

We rode a pirate ship to the islands, saw the great ruined hotels of Kupari, visited the salt flats at Ston. Saw some of the social housing and modernist architecture and liked that very much. Found a gecko our very first day.

Young and Willmott on Leaving the Slums for the Estate

I know they are listed as Young and Willmott but that simply is impossible to roll off the tongue, I shall try and probably once again fail to write it this way in part two on Family and Kinship in East London (1957). From the densely woven networks of family described in part 1, held together in crowded rooms and turnings by living with parents or next door to them, by every day visits, shared meals, shared chores, shared lives, to spacious new council homes built on 44 acres near Epping Forest. This is how everything changed, and as Young and Willmott write, what better way to understand the importance of residence?

From Bethnal Green to Greenleigh (Debden)

Less than twenty miles away from Bethnal Green, the automatic doors of the tube train open on to the new land of Greenleigh. On one side of the railway are cows at pasture. On the other, the new housing estate. Instead of the shops of Bethnal Green there is the shopping centre at the Parade; instead of the street barrows piled high with fruit, fish, and dresses, instead of the cries of the costermongers from Spitalfields to Old Ford, there are orderly self-service stores in the marble halls of the great combines. In place of the gaunt buildings rising above narrow streets of narrow houses, there are up-to-date semi-detached residences. Bethnal Green encases the history of three hundred years. Cottages built for the descendants of Huguenot refugees, with their wide weavers’ windows and peeling plaster, stand next to Victorian red-brick on one side and massive blocks of Edwardian charity on the other. Greenleigh belongs firmly to the aesthetics of this mid-century. Built since the war to a single plan, it is all of one piece. Though the Council has mixed different types of houses, row upon row look practically identical, each beside a concrete road, each enclosed by a fence, each with its little patch of flower garden at front and larger patch of vegetable garden at back, each with expansive front windows covered over with net curtains; all built, owned, and guarded by a single responsible landlord.

Instead of the hundred fussy, fading little pubs of the borough, there are just the neon lights and armchairs of the Merchant Venturer and the Yeoman Arms. Instead of the barrel organ in Bethnal Green Road there is an electrically amplified musical box in a mechanical ice-cream van. In place of tiny workshops squeezed into a thousand back-yards rise the first few glass and concrete factories which will soon give work to Greenleigh’s children. Instead of the sociable squash of people and houses, workshops and lorries, there are the drawn-out roads and spacious open ground of the usual low-density estate. Instead of the flat land of East London, the gentle hills of Essex.

‘When I first came,’ said Mrs Sandeman, ‘I cried for weeks, it was so lonely. It was a shock to see such a deep hill going up to the shops.’ (121-122)

That gives such a beautiful sense of the differences, albeit a very particular view of them. But the scale is quite incredible.

Between 1931 and 1955 nearly 11,000 families containing over 40,000 people were rehoused from Bethnal Green on L.C.C. estates, many of them outside the county.’ (124)

People did, many of them, choose to come of course. Part of the study was to understand just why. The reasons were many, but not, for the most part, weaker attachments to their family.

lf the migrants did not have weaker kinship attachments than other people, why did they come? The main reason is {quite simple. The attraction is the house. Our couples left two or three damp rooms built in the last century for the ‘industrious classes ‘, and were suddenly transported to a spacious modern home. Instead of the tap in the backyard, there was a bathroom with hot and cold water. Instead of the gas stove on the landing, a real kitchen with a sink and a larder. Instead of the narrow living room with stained wallpaper and shaky floorboards, a newly painted lounge heated by a modern solid-fuel grate. And instead of the street for their children to play in, fields and trees and open country. The contrast is all the sharper because the new residents had, in the main, come from Bethnal Green’s worst houses. (126)

But the council in general had much more to do with it:

But, in general, the L.C.C.’s view of who needed it most decided who went. Our informants were mostly at the top of the L.C.C.’s housing list – they were living in the most overcrowded or the most unhealthy houses in the borough – and that is why they were selected. (127)

One of the tenants told them — ‘If we could take the house with us, we’d go back like a shot.’ (127)

For many, as with so many families, it was about the generations to come, not the generations they had left behind.

‘Everything seems quieter here, more calmer,’ said Mrs Vince. ‘The fresh air hits you when you come out of the station.’ Many people value the air and fields even more for their children than for themselves. Greenleigh is generally thought ‘better for the kiddies’.

So even where they left their kin with regret, the people were not deserting family so much as acting for it, on behalf of the younger rather than the older generation. (128)

But many did not stay.

Many migrants in fact decided that they had made the wrong decision, and left the estate, most of them to return to the East End. Altogether, from the opening of the Greenleigh estate until March, 1956, 26 percent of the tenants who had come there moved away again. (129)

The Family at Greenleigh

So what changed? Any friendly community feeling did not survive the scale of changing community. Everyone found the neighbors snobbish, stand-offish. Talked about the terrible loneliness. Some got part-time jobs just to survive it — one of those said ‘If I didn’t go to work I’d get melancholic.’ Her verdict on Greenleigh — ‘It’s like being in a box to die out here.’ (133)

The study found a great sense of loss, particularly women missing mothers. Most of the men continued to work in Bethnal Green as there were no jobs out near the estate, so suddenly they become the ones maintaining family ties. What made me most sad — it wasn’t distance or time that kept women from their wider families, but the cost of transport. In times of trouble they had no support, there was no one to lend money to tide people over, help when sick or pregnant, help with kids. Visiting was not a thing that was done.

Their study of Bethnal Green showed just how much happened in public spaces, not private ones, and these were precisely the spaces missing in the new estates.

One reason people have so little to do with neighbors is the absence of places to meet them. In Bethnal Green there is one pub for every 400 people, and one shop for every 44 (or one for every 14 households). At Greenleigh there is one pub for 5,000 people, and one shop for 300.

They had no cinemas, so could not congregate there either. This combination of distance and television changed things. Young & Willmott write:

The growth of television compensates for the absence of amenities outside the home, and serves to support the family in its isolation. (143)

Rents were also higher there on the council estate, often by 3 times. That in addition to fares meant people were trapped there.

Keeping Themselves to Themselves

Willmott and Young found people in Greenleigh eager to talk about their neighbours, how unfriendly they found them, and they always compared back to their community in Bethnal Green.

At Greenleigh they neither share long residence with their fellow tenants nor as a rule have kin to serve as bridges between the family and the wider community. These two vital interlocked conditions of friendship are missing, and their absence goes far to explain the attitude we have illustrated. (150)

They believed this to be partly due to the fact that everyone moving in at the same time, and there was no existing community for them to integrate into. While Willmott and Young describe their expectations that things would have improved over the few years between interviews, nothing really had changed. They blame a lack of density — a bit of catch phrase these days.

One reason it is taking so long is that the estate is so strung out — the number of people per acre at Greenleigh being only one-fifth what it is in Bethnal Green — and low density does not encourage sociability. (153)

The new big homes reinforced a feeling of what people lack, rather than all that they had. They were spending more on filling homes with objects, rather than entertainment and going out as they had before.

There is also a facsinating aside on time and space — in Bethnal Green people tended to be very informal, did ‘not need a highly-developed time sense…because it does not matter greatly whether her goes round to Mum’s at 10 o’clock or at 11. If Mum is not there someone will explain where she has gone‘ (157). This was not at all true of Greenleigh. Much of the difference lay in how close things were in Bethnal Green, with everything walking distance. In Greenleigh, life required a car and a telephone to ‘overcome geography and organize a more scattered life into a manageable whole (158)’.

The impact of this was quite profound, particularly on mental health, and particularly for women. This should not have been stuck in a footnote really:

Footnote 1, p 158: The chief psychiatrist at a local hospital told us that the loneliness of the women on this and other housing estates was the immediate, precipitating cause of so many of them coming to his department for treatment.

This lack of relationships, of knowing people, meant both a growing formality, as well as increased reliance on visual clues for judging strangers.

In a community of long-standing, status, in so far as it is determined by job and income and education, is more or less irrelevant to a person’s worth. He is judged instead, if he is judged at all, more in the round, as a person … How different is Greenleigh…Where nearly everyone is a stranger, there is no means of uncovering personality. (161-162)

They continue

Their relationships are window-to-window, not face-to-face. Their need for respect is just as strong as it ever was, but instead of  being able to find satisfaction in actual, living relationships, through the personal respect that accompanies almost any steady himan interaction, they have to turn to the other kind of respect which is awarded, by some strange sort of common understanding, for the quantity and quality of possessions which which the person surrounds himself (163-164)

They also note the lack of forward planning in the planning process for the estate itself…it has been developed as a community where people cannot age. When people’s children are grown where will they live? Nowhere for them to move close by, almost certain that enough existing units will not become vacant over the normal course of things, and it was council policy to prioritise outside people from the list rather than children. Willmott and Young note the protest that this raised among residents, a local association writing of the LCC in 1955 ‘We are in opposition to the view that people are simply units to be moved around the face of the earth in line with the impersonal schemes of some “Big Brother”...’

W&Y continue

The method by which the council has eased the housing shortage in the middle of the century is bound to create a further shortage in its last quarter. (168)

They weren’t wrong.

Movement between classes

They wanted to check and make sure that this growing sense of the importance of geography was not in fact more a function of social mobility, which leads to a rather interesting way to better understand class. Again, Willmott and Young trace sense of loss and disintegration of a sense of community it primarily back to the geography of the built environment — as people tend to seek out larger houses, they must look elsewhere. The authors write:

The East does not provide ‘middle-class’ people with ‘middle-class’ places to live, and such migration may therefore be more common than it would be in districts with more of a mixture of classes. (172)

In conclusion, though, of all of it.

…very few people wish to leave the East End. (186)

While the houses were better, Willmott and Young look at the networks of support, and find they are absent on the new estates. They have the best description of  the daughters’ new plight,  engaged in the ‘arduous…puzzling…monotonous‘ work of child rearing, while older people were cut off from remaining useful and part of the family. Willmott and Young are highly critical.

It seems that when the balance of a three-generation family is disturbed, the task of caring for dependents at both ends of life, always one of the great and indispensable functions of any society, becomes less manageable. (196)

So one key recommendation is to support these connections rather than tear them apart. Central to that there follows the need to maintain communities intact, and save as many of the existing houses as possible, updating the fabric, giving people new bathrooms, lavatories and kitchens.

I cannot help but agree with them, and wish this had been policy for the past few decades so as to build on the strengths of working class communities, rather than the opposite.

Young, Michael and Willmott, Peter ([1957] 1979) Family and Kinship in East London. Manchester: Penguin Books.

York

I loved York, it’s my brother T’s favourite UK city and I could see why…the old medieval streets, the timber framed buildings all slopes and angles, the cathedral and the old churches, Guy Fawkes’ house, Jacobs’ Well, the Merchant Adventurers’ Guild Hall (maybe I’ll get a chance to write about them…but, who are we kidding? I probably won’t), at least three haunted pubs, a number of brilliant bookshops (my case was unbearably heavy heading home and we didn’t even see them all), city walls you can walk on, ruins from the Romans on down, something like 23 cat sculptures hidden on buildings to be found, the most delicious lemon cake I’ve had in some time and ham sandwich triangles from Betty’s Tea Shop, and one of the most beautiful Art Deco cinemas I have ever seen.

It couldn’t help but make me think back to Sitte, Cullen, Alexander about how cities can create drama as you move through them. York curves and opens up unexpectedly, it still has its old narrow passages to what I think must have been once-crowded closes now gone from most cities.  It gives such delight, and I know it is mainly because this wasn’t bombed (or then regenerated) flat but still…such delight.

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Municipalities start getting real: The Social History of Housing from the mid 1800s

Part 2 on John Burnett’s A Social History of Housing 1815-1985 (Part 1 is here), about that period in the middle to late 1800s when municipalities started getting  real. But not too real, you understand, these are poor people we’re talking about. It did take a while to consider that their lives might carry more weight than the property rights of a wealthier person. It’s still a battle today after all.

So we are still (almost always) in the realm of speculative building, in a world on the cusp of some planning and regulation. It came slowly and piecemeal.

Quality of Speculative Building

Burnett quotes Henry-Russell Hitchcock here:

Workers’ housing in cities flowed out of the builders’ offices–if the more modest builders ever had proper offices–without benefit of any sort of serious designing. It was therefore something of a vernacular product, like the country cottages of the Middle Ages, although the analogy is one that must not be pushed very far. (87)

Ad hoc, local materials, built as they could very much depending on the builder and with little to no thought to infrastructure. Burnett gives Wolverhampton as an example — housing was tightly packed, water was from the most part still drawn from wells, being   piped in to only 1 in 9 houses by 1850. The sewage system was only laid down between 1869-1872. Burnett writes:

Like many other industrial towns at this period, Wolverhampton suffered from a lack of civic pride, a deep-rooted objection to interference with private property rights and an unwillingness of ratepayers to invest in the social overheads required by civilized life. (92)

I wonder about this idea of civic pride here, doubt whether such a thing has ever been widespread when it came with a price tag for unseen infrastructure with no naming rights in comparison to a library or fancy hall, but perhaps. There were certainly those who worked tirelessly to change these conditions. In this (as in some other less savoury things) Liverpool was a leader.

The Liverpool Act passed in 1846 set down regulations for houses, courts, cellars, effective sewering and draining. More importantly, perhaps, it appointed the 1st medical officer of health in the country — Dr W.H. Duncan. ‘These were the real and effective beginnings of housing reform in England‘ writes Burnett, and quotes an article in the Times:

A town of manufacturers and speculators is apt to leave the poor to shift for themselves, to stew in cellars and garrets, nor are landlords and farmers apt to care much for cottages…Something of a central authority is necessary to wrestle with the selfishness of wealth.

Yet by 1850 there still existed no such central authority. Local authorities increasingly took on the role themselves, though none as yet with a thought of themselves building housing. This period also saw the beginnings of building societies, the pooling together of savings to create the capital needed to build or buy homes (94).

Meanwhile conditions in the countryside were worsening for workers, another factor in the steadily increasing population pouring into the cities and already overcrowded slums. Burnett writes:

To read through the pages of the Official Reports of the 1860s is to journey through almost unbroken misery and wretchedness, relieved only rarely by brights spots where philanthropic landowners had erected a few neat, model cottages. In general, the accounts are of crazy, dilapidated hovels, many containing only one bedroom into which large families, grandparents and even lodgers were crowded indiscriminately, of whole families ill of fever and lying in the same room with a corpse, of holes in roofs and ceilings, damp walls, saturated floors and rooms filled, not by furniture but only by smoke. (127)

From the 1870s-WWI, the loss of the laborer from the countryside became a huge topic of discussion and cause for concern. It was felt country people were fitter than the townsman, and that keeping people in the country was needed for the maintenance of the national physique (!). I hate all of this language of the time, but it was quite a shock for wealthy people I suppose, when 40% of volunteers for the Boer war were rejected on medical grounds. It was felt that country air could have prevented that, but there was little decent housing and less opportunity. I am quite fascinated by how the rural question, tied in as it was to the idea of national fitness and Empire, became part of the push to build social housing:

Already, before that war had made ‘homes fit for heroes’ a political issue, it was clear to most informed observers that the rural housing issue could not be solved without the direct involvement of the state and a major commitment to public expenditure. Almost unconsciously the problem of the rural labourer had prepared the way for a state housing policy of infinitely greater scope and implication. (139)

But building rural housing could not solve it all either.

In the England of 1850 the industrial town was still new, untypical, its future problematic: by 1914 there could be no doubt that, for better or worse, England was an urban society–indeed, ‘the’ urban society of the western world–and that solutions had to be found to the manifold problems arising from a process which was no permanent and irreversible. (140)

The growing issues in the cities were also crying out for attention.

The removal, by whatever means, of overcrowding and slum living was already being seen as the necessary cure for disease, crime, prostitution and immorality, but the medical officers of health…knew only too well that demolition without re-housing only removed the problems elsewhere…. As early as 1874 the Royal College of Physicians, in which the medical officers were active, presented a remarkable petition to the prime Minister which condemned philanthropy, laissez-faire and ‘enabling powers’ as useless. Within a few more years, they were beginning to view overcrowding and the housing problem generally in a wider context — as part of the greater problem of poverty. (146)

Cities were also home primarily to renters — it makes you realise just how much has changed, and how much discourse and policy have naturalised home ownership. In fact home-ownership was not particularly attractive in Victorian England, even to well paid workers or the middle classes. At the end of the century, there were only 14000 owner-occupiers  ‘in the whole of the metropolis‘ which I assume means London. (147)

For the vast majority of people before 1914 the payment of weekly house-rent was normal, inevitable, and the largest single fixed charge in their budget. (147)

That said, he notes that middle classes were only paying 8-10 % of their budgets on housing, despite needing a great many rooms for large families and servants. The working classes paid more, US Commissioner of Labour estimated 11.8 % (found UK to be higher than France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland but lower than the US), Joseph Rowntree 14.9%. But still, just imagine that.

Rent took second place to food, which most estimated ‘absorbed between half and two-thirds of all earnings’ (148). Leone Levi estimated it at 71% for workers, as compared to 44% among middle classes. Many housing reformers blamed people for not devoting more of their incomes to housing, and that would allow market forces to solve the problem of scarcity. Such bastards, but it also shows the power of this idea of the market.

Burnett provides the kind of curious detail on accommodation in London that I love — half the dock laborers occupied only one room with their families, 99 % of policemen had at least two. In St George’s-in-the-East half of all families in one room, in Battersea two-thirds of all families rented 3 or more, and earned more than 25s a week (150). Many of the poor remained in the centre despite high rents to be within walking distance of work, and the corners where casual workers used to pick up work.

There also a look at how the different tenure systems prevalent in cities affected who the landlords were — coming from America where the distinction between freehold and leasehold don’t exist, I find this quite fascinating. In towns where the leasehold system prevailed, landowners tended to be small businessmen, shopkeepers, pub owners. Of course, the owners of the land itself were of a different ilk all together. Where the freehold system prevailed, landlords seem to have been a (slight) step down, and there was not the sort of last minute trading that tended to happen in the last years before the lease on a property expired. So landlords were not greatly removed from the social backgrounds of their tenants. In Liverpool, landlords of working class housing owned between 6 and 8 houses each, a pattern widely repeated.

And slowly, slowly, things began to change. Following Liverpool’s 1846 legislation, Manchester prohibited cellar dwellings by local Act in 1853, and then in 1867 regulated room sizes, window areas and every new house with small private yard. Across the country, a growing number of such regulations focused on wider streets and yards, ventilation, better lighting.

The Sanitary Law Amendment Act of 1874 allowed Local Authorities to regulate paving and drainage, and the ventilation of rooms. The Public Health Act of 1875 allowed LAs to make by-laws regulating the layout, width, and construction of new streets and buildings and sanitary provisions. Two years later model by-laws were provided, and in 1858 considerably extended. While this allowed LAs to do more if they chose to, uptake very variable, and LAs could decline invoking them altogether. Still, they were implemented enough that much of the housing built between from 1880 to 1914 became known as ‘by-law housing’, criticised for its monotony and the way in which builders were building to the lowest standard.

Burnett gives one example of a proper two up two down, from Willis Street (no longer extant) in Salford. I love these charts of old plans.

Willis Street SalfordThere are more from Little Albert Street (also no longer extant) in Easton, Bristol. There is also an early photograph…

Albert Square Albert Square

 

At the same time, transportation was changing. Industrial villages became possible at further distances from manufacturing and outside of the central cities. Burnett looks at development of provincial cities — Nottingham, York (Looking forward to digging into Rowntree’s research on York), but slums continued. There is an amazing quote from Robert Blatchford on Manchester:

Where are the slums of Manchester? They are everywhere. Manchester is a city of slums. (175)

What ‘affordable’ housing there was, was being built by charitable societies, arguably only affordable to the very top tier of the working classes, and critiqued in design:

Considerable evidence was presented to the Royal Commission on the unpopularity of block tenements, due partly to the regulations and absence of sheds and workshops, but mainly, reported Lord Compton, because they were regarded as ‘a sort of prison: they look upon themselves as being watched.’ (178)

This is also the period of new models of employer housing: W.H. Lever’s Port Sunlight (Liverpool), George Cadbury’s Bournville (just south of Birmingham), Rowntree’s New Earswick (North Yorkshire). I’m hoping to get to each of these at some point.

And again it is Liverpool who is the first provincial city to embark on council housing, building St Martin’s Cottages built in 1869.

Slowly other cities began following their example. In London, the LCC actually created its own Architects’ Department: W.E. Riley director, Philip Webb, W.R. Lethaby. They represent perhaps the height of this phase of council building before WWI

not only beginning to evolve another physical ‘solution’ to the problem of urban housing, but one which had a concern for non-physical factors such as the visual effect of the development and the quality of life of the inhabitants. (186)

Still, it was never enough.

[Burnett, John (1986) A Social History of Housing: 1815-1985, 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge.]

Burnett’s A Social History of Housing: the early 1800s

I quite loved A Social History of Housing by John Burnett. I’m still trying to get my head around quite what a difference the industrial revolution made to how cities and towns worked and looked like and were lived in, which requires a slightly dfferent periodization I think, but here we start in 1815.

A time of flux, the 1800s. Professionals (see, I’m not entirely sure who they are in 1815) are moving out of the centres. The houses they leave behind are being subdivided and becoming overcrowded, the poorest quarters. Outside city centres, housing was being built up in terraces, back-to-backs and courts in very unplanned way, ‘by considerations of immediate profit‘ (11).

There were, of course, a few exceptions where one landowner regulated what happened to development — many examples are up here in the North, I have been to them (and didn’t notice I confess!). There is Ashton-under-Lyne, where the Earl of Stamford included conditions about ‘good, firm and substantial build’ in the leases. Huddersfield, where Sir John Ramsden ‘enforced wide streets and “good, straight houses”‘ and Glossop, laid out by Duke of Norfolk in regular form and regulated ‘streets, avenues, passages, drains, sewers and other conveniences‘. (11) Most other such exceptions are to be found in London.

Architects were not involved in the activities of speculative builders or any kind of planning. Possibly the first example of when this changed was the work of Norman Shaw, who in 1876 designed the middle-class suburb of Bedford Park. I found a lovely lithograph of it:

Trautschold, Adolf Manfred (1882) The Tower House, Bedford Park, London

It’s in the V&A collection, and their description is quite nice too, tying it back to William Morris:

In 1874 William Morris imagined an ideal town where ‘people lived in little communities among gardens and fields, so that they could be in the country in five minutes.’ The realisation of this idea was Bedford Park, a suburban development funded by a socially minded entrepreneur and designed by several prominent architects. This print shows the Tower House and its surrounding garden. Bedford Park had an important influence on the Garden City Movement of the following decades. [2005]

Architects mostly simply added embellishments onto houses, and put all of their energies into designing larger more public buildings or country mansions. Thus is was speculative builders who have had the most influence really, using the cheapest materials to hand and designing with one finger in the wind of popular opinion on a desirable house, but with the main eye to profit.

Part of what I love about the book is how it looks at design and materials as much as anything else. Burnett notes that while brick came to dominate the trade there were also many restrictions.

[S]uitable brick-earth deposits were not widely diffused, fuel for firing bricks was scarce in many areas, and transport of the finished product over any great distance was difficult and costly. The result was that no one building material dominated…English house before the 19th century had been built of a wide variety of locally available materials. These included stone (either ‘dressed’ or ‘rough’ and supplemented with turves, furze or any mixture of available materials), timber (for building a frame, filled in with clay, wattle and daub, lath and plaster, or weather-boarding), and in areas where neither of these was easily available, like East Anglia, clunch and flint. (27)

He’s not much of a fan of these other forms, picturesque as he admits them he describes the living conditions as generally quite terrible.It’s interesting to compare his descriptions to those of Clough-Ellis of cob and chalk — admittedly fancier houses, but proof they could be kept clean and comfortable and warm, though it seems too often they were not.

This is also a book of both city and country — I love that too. The next chapter is on the country cottage. It has to start, however, with the enclosures, with people forced out of their cottages through all sorts of means — creating intense overcrowding in those that were left. Interesting how this was driven by desire for the land (greed you know), but also later by changes in poor rates after 1795  requiring parishes to support the ‘indigent’. This gave extra inducement to tear cottages down so families could not settle (greed you know). There grew a distinction between closed parishes, controlled by one (or two) landowners, who had torn all worker accommodation down, and open parishes inhabited by multiple small proprietors where all those evicted settled as an occasional labour force for the parishes where they could not live. This was noted as a problem in the amendment act of 1834 and became one of the political questions of the 1830s and 1840s.

Burnett catalogues the ‘general hierarchy of accomodation that was available to the working classes‘ (58). They are pretty grim.

Cellar-dwellings

Almost always, cellar-dwellings are described as dark, damp and airless, the abodes of the most feckless, improvident and intemperate sections of the population, and the sources of much of the dirt and disease which sullied the industrial towns. Very often they are equated with the period of Irish immigration from the 1820s to the 1840s, with the implication that cellars have not been used for habitation by the english worker until his standard of living was forced down by alien influence. (58)

Good examples are in Engels descriptions of Manchester and Flora Tristan’s of Oxford Street.

Lodging-Houses

Intended primarily as very temporary shelter of a minimal kind, all too often they became permanent homes for the near-destitute and near-criminal classes and almist indistinguishable from a normal tenemented house except by their gross overcrowding and promiscuity. (62)

It’s a bit later, but Mary Higgs’ firsthand experience of these was fascinating.

Tenement House

Burnett writes that the line between tenement and boarding house thin and shaky, describes the rise of the rookeries, and he gives a list:

St Giles, Saffron Hill, Ratcliffe Highway, Jacob’s Island, Berwick Street (St James’s), Pye Street, Westminster in London. Oxford Rd, Little Ireland, Parliament St, ‘Gibraltar’ in Manchetser, Boot-and-Shoe Yard in Leeds, the ‘shambles’ behind Long Row in Nottingham, and areas in Durham, Newcastle, Gateshead and Barnard Castle. (64-65)

Some were old house, some new built, but

…in general, tenements were to be found in existing, and often old, houses which had once accomodated families of substance, if not affluence, but which had now sunk to rooming-houses of an infinite variety of respectability and disreputableness. They were part of the process of town decay. (65)

Back-to-Backs

Burnett writes that all of the other forms of housing were ‘not specifically designed as such: they were strictly residual, left over and adapted from their original us as family dwelling for better-off classes, and because never intended for multi-occupation, necessarily lacking in the requisite amenities’ (70). But not back to backs, those were a new thing. He quotes Chadwick (who is actually quoting a Mr Mott) on just what these were:

An immense number of the small houses occupied by the poorer classes in the suburbs of Manchester are of the most superficial character; they are built by the members of building clubs, and other individuals, and new cottages are erected with a rapidity that astonishes persons who are unacquainted with their flimsy structure. They have certainly avoided the objectionable mode of forming under-ground dwellings, but have run into the opposite extreme, having neither cellar nor foundation. The walls are only half brick thick, or what the bricklayers call “brick noggin,” and the whole of the materials are slight and unfit for the purpose. I have been told of a man who had built a row of these houses; and on visiting them one morning after a storm, found the whole of them levelled with the ground; and in another part of Manchester, a place with houses even of a better order has obtained the appellation of “Pick-pocket-row,” from the known insecure and unsubstantial nature of the buildings. I recollect a bricklayer near London complaining loudly of having to risk his credit by building a house with nine-inch walls, and declared it would be like “Jack Straw’s House,” neither “wind nor water tight:” his astonishment would have been great had he been told that thousands of houses occupied by the labouring classes are erected with walls of 4t inch thickness. The chief rents differ materially according to the situation, but are in all cases high; and thus arises the inducement to pack the houses so close. They are built back to back, without ventilation or drainage; and, like a honeycomb, every particle of space is occupied. Double rows of these houses form courts, with, perhaps, a pump at one end and a privy at the other, common to the occupants of about twenty houses.

The later work of councils would be to tear all of them down.

‘Through’ Terraced Houses

For many town workers in the first half of the century the quality hierarchy ended here. For a minority…of skilled artisans, it extended to a higher level… the ‘through’ terraced house, with two ground-floor rooms and with light and and access at both front and back: it followed that there would also be some small area of private space–garden or yard–at teh rear of teh house with entrance from a continuous alley running behind the terrace. (77)

These were the direct descendant of the Georgian town terrace, and earlier groups of rural cottages

…the residents of divided houses and interior courts set back and screened form the main roads inhabited little, private worlds in which they shared space and amenities like water and privies in a communal way: their lives were more interdependent and more public, though separated from the mainstream of ‘progress’ by warrens of narrow passages, alleys and stairways. Such places were anathema to Victorian reformers who assumed, not always correctly, that they ineviatbly bred vice and criminality as well as dirst and disease. In the terraced house, on the other hand, the front faced the public street and was exposed to teh general gaze and attention: family life was turned inwards, towards the back room and the back yard or garden, usually separated from its neighbours by high brick walls. Private territory replaced public space, and as the terraced house spread in many towns in the sceond half of the century into the typical working-class dwelling, a new type of privatized family life developed, which was to be an important part of the social transformation of the Victorian age. (79)

Workshop Houses

These were just what they sound like. So on to who was building what and how, because the design of houses themselves only gives a taste of what it was like to live in them. As important is how they sat within the city.

Cities were in fact changing quickly, and government was being forced to respond. More on this exciting phase in part 2.

[Burnett, John (1986) A Social History of Housing: 1815-1985, 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge.]

Hilary Mantel on the Pseudonymonous Hadfield, with a reservoir walk

I read, and loved, Hillary Mantel’s Fludd over the Christmas holidays, after finding it on a shelf in the Inverness cottage where we were staying. I copied an extensive, brilliant description of a Peak district village, finding it amazing that they should turn from the moors towards the city while I am always looking from Manchester to the moors. But there is so much more about the moods and manners of a village here. I loved everything about it.

Completely by accident, we happened to visit this same village on Good Friday. The irony is that I had forgotten all about this while searching for a good walk, and in reading about the walk itself, had found only that Hadfield was one of the locations where League of Gentlemen was filmed. If you know it, you might recognise this view of Royston Vasey:

Hadfield Reservoir Walk

But what follows is a VERY long and wonderful description of Hadfield as was, under another pseudonym of Fetherhoughton.

At this early point, the topography of the village of Fetherhoughton may repay consideration. So may the manners, customs, and dress of its inhabitants. The village lay in moorland, which ringed it on three sides. The surrounding hills, from the village streets, looked like the hunched and bristling back of a sleeping dog. Let sleeping dogs lie, was the attitude of the people; for they hated nature. They turned their faces in the fourth direction, to the road and the railway that led them to the black heart of the industrial north: to Manchester, to Wigan, to Liverpool. They were not townspeople; they had none of their curiosity. They were not country people; they could tell a cow from a sheep, but it was not their business. Cotton was their business, and had been for nearly a century. There were three mills, but there were no clogs and shawls; there was nothing picturesque.

In summer the moorland looked black. Tiny distant figures swarmed over the hummocks and hills; they were Water Board men, Forestry Commission. In the folds of the hills there were pewtercoloured reservoirs, hidden from sight. The first event of autumn was the snowfall that blocked the pass that led through the moors to Yorkshire; this was generally accounted a good thing. All winter the snow lay on the hills. By April it had flaked off into scaly patches. Only in the warmest May would it seem to vanish entirely.

The people of Fetherhoughton kept their eyes averted from the moors with a singular effort of will. They did not talk about them. Someone –it was the mark of the outsider–might find a wild dignity and grandeur in the landscape. The Fetherhoughtonians did not look at the landscape at all. They were not Emily Bronte, nor were they paid to be, and the very suggestion that the Bronte-like matter was to hand was enough to make them close their minds and occupy their eyes with their shoelaces. The moors were the vast cemetery of their imaginations. Later, there were notorious murders in the vicinity, and real bodies were buried there.

The main street of Fetherhoughton was known to the inhabitants as Upstreet: “I am going Upstreet,” they would say, “to the Co-op drapers.” It was not unprosperous. Behind window displays of tinned salmon, grocers stood ready at their bacon slicers. Besides the Co-op draper, the Co-op general store, the Co-op butcher, the Co-op shoe shop, and the Co-op baker, there was Madame Hilda, Modes; and there was a hairdresser, who took the young women into private cubicles, segregated them with plastic curtains, and gave them Permanent Waves. There was no bookshop, nor anything of that sort. But there was a public library, and a war memorial.

Off Upstreet ran other winding streets with gradients of one in four, lined by terraced houses built in the local stone; they had been put up by the mill-owners towards the end of the last century, and rented out to the hands. Their front doors opened straight onto the pavement. There were two rooms downstairs, of which the sitting room was referred to as the House; so that in the unlikely event of anyone from Fetherhoughton explaining their conduct in any way, they might say, “I cleaned miyoopstairs this morning, this afternoon I am bound fert clean the House.”

The speech of the Fetherhoughtonians is not easy to reproduce. The endeavour is false and futile. One misses the solemnity, the archaic formality of the Fetherhoughtonian dialect. It was a mode of speech, Father Angwin believed, that had come adrift from the language around it. Some current had caught them unawares, and washed the Fetherhoughtonians far from the navigable reaches of plain English; and there they drifted and bobbed on waters of their own, up the creek without a paddle.

But this is a digression, and in those houses there was no scope to digress. In the House there would be a coal fire, no heating in any other room, though there might be a single-bar electric fire kept, to be used in some ill-defined emergency. In the kitchen, a deep sink and a cold-water tap, and a very steep staircase, rising to the first floor. Two bedrooms, a garret: outside, a cobbled yard shared between some ten houses. A row of coalsheds, and a row of lavatories: to each house its own coalshed, but lavatories one between two. These were the usual domestic arrangements in Fetherhoughton and the surrounding districts.

Consider the women of Fetherhoughton, as a stranger might see them; a stranger might have the opportunity, because while the men were shut away in the mills the women liked to stand on their doorsteps. This standing was what they did. Recreational pursuits were for men: football, billiards, keeping hens. Treats were doled out to men, as a reward for good behaviour: cigarettes, beer at the Arundel Arms. Religion, and the public library, were for children. Women only talked. They analysed motive, discussed the serious business, carried life forward. Between the schoolroom and their present state came the weaving sheds; deafened by the noise of the machines, they spoke too loudly now, their voices scattering through the gritty streets like the cries of displaced gulls. Treeless streets, where the wind blows.

Consider their outdoor (not doorstep) dress. They wore plastic raincoats of a thick, viscous green, impermeable, like alien skins. Should it chance not to rain, the women rolled these raincoats up and left them about the house, where they appeared like reptiles from the Amazon, momentarily coiled in slumber.

For shoes, the women wore bedroom slippers in the form of bootees, with a big zip up the middle. When they went outdoors they put on a stouter version of the same shoe in a tough dark brown suede. Their legs rose like tubes, only an inch or so exposed beneath the hems of their big winter coats.

The younger women had different bedroom slippers, which relatives gave each other every Christmas. They were dish-shaped, each with a thick ruff of pink or blue nylon fur. At first the soles of these slippers were as hard and shiny as glass; it took a week of wear before they bent and gave under the foot, and during that week their wearer would often look down on them with pride, with a guilty sense of luxury, as the nylon fur tickled her ankles. But gradually the fur lost its bounce and spring, and crumbs fell into it; by February its fibres were matted together with chip fat.

From the doorsteps the women stared at passers-by, and laughed. They knew a joke, when it was pointed out to them, but for the most part their entertainment lay in the discernment of physical peculiarities in those around them. They lived in hope of seeing a passer-by with a hunchback, knock knees, or a hare lip. They did not think that it was cruel to mock the afflicted, they thought it was perfectly natural; they were sentimental but pitiless, very scathing, and unforgiving about any aberration, deviation, eccentricity, or piece of originality. There was a spirit abroad in the village that discriminated so thoroughly against pretension that it also discriminated against ambition, even against literacy.
Off Upstreet was Church Street, another steep hill; it was unpopulated, lined with ancient hedgerows, smoke and dust forming a perpetual ash-like deposit on the leaves. Church Street petered out at its summit into a wide track, muddy and stony, which in Fetherhoughton was known as the carriage-drive. Perhaps sometime in the last century a carriage had driven up it, conveying some pious person; the drive went nowhere except to the village school, to the convent, and to the Church of St. Thomas Aquinas. From the carriage-drive, footpaths led to the hamlet of Netherhoughton, and the moors.

Atop one of the smaller village streets sat a Methodist chapel, square and red, and about it was its cemetery, where chapel-going people came to early graves. There were a few Protestants sprinkled through the terraced rows; each yard might have some. The Protestants’ houses did not have, pinned to the door of the cupboard in the sitting room, a coloured picture of the Pontiff with a calendar beneath; but otherwise, their houses were not readily distinguishable.

And yet the Protestants were quite different, in the eyes of their neighbours. They were guilty of culpable ignorance. They refused to take on board the precepts of the True Faith. They knew that St. Thomas Aquinas was there, but they refused to go in it. They refused to turn over their children to Mother Perpetua for a good Catholic education, and preferred to send them on a bus to a school in another village.

Mother Perpetua would tell the children, with her famous, dangerously sweet smile: “We have no objection to Protestants worshipping God in their own way. But we Catholics prefer to worship Him in his.”

The Protestants were damned, of course, by reason of this culpable ignorance. They would roast in Hell. A span of seventy years, to ride bicycles in the steep streets, to get married, to eat bread and dripping; then bronchitis, pneumonia, a broken hip; then the minister calls, and the florist does a wreath; then devils will tear their flesh with pincers.

It is a most neighbourly thought. (11-13)

I found this quote too from Hilary Mantel in an interview with Jessica Jernigan.

HM: As I say in my author’s note, Fetherhoughton is not to be found on a map, but there is a close geographical match in a village called Hadfield, in the Peak District of Derbyshire, where I was born in 1952. Hadfield has a twin village called Padfield, smaller still and nearer the moors. When I was 4 years old, the bishop of the diocese ordered the statues removed from the church, thus becoming a local hate figure. Earlier than this (my mother tells me) there had been a very popular young priest who disappeared overnight. So you might say I’ve amalgamated two parish legends. I remember that my mother was planning to offer a home to St. Gerard Majella, who stood six foot and was black all over, and is credited with offering special aid to women in childbirth. I heard adults talking, in the air above my head. One said “What are they going to do with the statues?” The other said “Bury them.” A horrible shudder went through my infant frame. I know what I heard, but don’t think they did bury them, and St. Gerard never did come to live with us. It’s a mystery really.

We had gone to Hadfield for a walk, we were thinking about a longer walk up across the moors to Glossop but left late then still missed the train so ended up walking around the reservoirs, with a touch of the moors at least.

The reservoirs weren’t quite beautiful for the most part, but rather full of fascination.

Hadfield Reservoir Walk

Hadfield Reservoir Walk

Hadfield Reservoir walk

Hadfield Reservoir walk

Hadfield Reservoir walk

Hadfield Reservoir Walk

Hadfield Reservoir Walk

Hadfield Reservoir Walk

But we also escaped up, into the semi, sort-of wilds:

Hadfield Reservoir walk

found a field of the tamest sheep I have ever encountered, all with their mouths open and tongues hanging out which is a funny look for sheep. Also, some damn cute lambs…

Hadfield Reservoir walk

Hadfield Reservoir walk

Hadfield Reservoir walk

We passed a bronze age earthwork, bisected by a stone wall.

Hadfield Reservoir walk\

Hadfield Reservoir walk

Found ruins and my favourite view of an aspirational sheep.

Hadfield Reservoir walk

Hadfield Reservoir Walk

Hadfield Reservoir Walk

Hadfield Reservoir Walk

Another sheep with its flock of chickens, and an old trough

Hadfield Reservoir Walk

We skated in front of the rains

Hadfield Reservoir Walk

Not until we were almost back to the village did it suddenly occur to me where I knew the name Hadfield from, and that it was in fact the village of Fludd fame and where Hilary Mantel grew up. A matter of minutes later we found this sign about Brosscroft Road:

Hadfield Reservoirs Walk

Strangely no mention of Fludd, but it did mean we could stop a moment in front of her old house and number 20:

Hadfield Reservoirs Walk

walk down the street and have a pint in the New Lamp, stare briefly at the street where her aunt and uncle lived but the rain discouraged any exploration.

Still. A wonderful day. To end, my favourite quote of all from the book:

At midnight Fludd went out alone. It was cold, clear, still; a dried-up half-moon was skewered against the sky. The upper air was full of snow, the year’s first. He could hear his own footsteps. He let his torch-beam loose among the trees, then brought it back to his side, as if it were a serpent he were training (129).

Cotton Mills: New Mills to Chinley

Weekend walk — in the sun but god, have these past few days been cold. We started in New Mills. Cotton town, built to take advantage of the confluence of the two rivers here, the Goyt and the Sett, to run water wheels though they were later powered by steam engines. I’ve been reading so much about housing, about the rise of these early factories that had to be built where there was (water) power even though there were often no people, so the people had to be brought here, housed. They wanted families, because children are dead useful in mills.

And then the mills shut down. Now they are just picturesque additions to the quiet countryside. No noise, waste, streams of workers.

New Mills to Chinley

This is Torr Vale Mill, built around 1788 by Daniel Stafford, originally water powered and it continued working until 2000 — in use for over 200 years it was the longed continuously working manufacturing site in England.

New Mills to Chinley

New Mills to Chinley

This is taken standing in the ruins of Rock Mill, built around 1790 by John Crowther as a water powered cotton spinning mill. It changed hands and production many times, before becoming a print works in 1829. In 1872 it switched to paper, and was abandoned around 1884. I failed to photograph its remains.

New Mills to Chinley

New Mills to Chinley

New Mills to Chinley

New Mills to Chinley

New Mills to Chinley

This bridge above — amazing. This is taken from Torr Mill, built 1790 by the Schofield family, and remained in their ownership though with different tenants. Cotton production ceased in 1890, but was still in use by a cloth-cutting firm when on 2nd December, 1912 it caught on fire and the 5-story mill was destroyed. You can see the remains of it below through the arch — the chimney was its own. There is now a very fine hydraulic engine there, the UK’s first community owned and funded hydro electric scheme. Which is very cool indeed.

New Mills to Chinley

This place is awash with viaducts. They are all stunning.

New Mills to Chinley

Llama llama!

New Mills to Chinley

Smug sheep

New Mills to Chinley

New Mills to Chinley

New Mills to Chinley

New Mills to Chinley

Glacial winds, glacial! We did not climb the hills. Instead we opted for the shorter walk, following Overhill Road. So really, we did still climb some hills. Through the ice.

New Mills to Chinley

New Mills to Chinley

New Mills to Chinley

A mirrored pool of water, a heron. So beautiful.

New Mills to Chinley

Still over the hill. So beautiful. So cold. So so cold.

New Mills to Chinley

The Urban and non-Urban Delights of Aberystwyth

Aberystwyth is quite wonderful in terms of the interesting, the beautiful, the strange. Its cult 60s upper floor brutalist diner.

Aberystwyth

Its interior decoration.

Aberystwyth

Its basement of books.

Aberystwyth

Its splendour of shop windows.

Aberystwyth

Its rumble of bikers on sunny days.

Aberystwyth

Its gangsters or the sweeney or the owners of the funicular railway?

Aberystwyth

The view over Aberystwyth in the UKs largest camera obscura

Aberystwyth

The view heading back down on the funicular railway:

Aberystwyth

A genuine welsh choir

Aberystwyth

A site of the first protest for the survival and revival  of the Welsh language.

Aberystwyth

The city itself charms, it is amazing the difference paint makes to pebbledash, which I can never find other than utterly grim when left unpainted. I care not how it weathers rain. The streets wind, open up on new vistas. There are a scattering of large stone buildings, some old beamed things. This old pub still has this small area in front of it expanding the public space of the street — once common here, or so the plaque says. Such a brilliant space.

Aberystwyth

And again I am reminded the importance of paint, but also the bow windows and the variegated surface, the light and shadow and interest this creates.

Aberystwyth

Aberystwyth

Beyond the castle rises Pen Dinas Hill Fort, built around 400 BC. Every town should have one of these. As we climbed, we were also able to look down on preparations for a day of horse racing. And we met the loveliest dog.

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Devil’s Bridge and the Rheidol Valley Steam Train

Trains. I really love steam trains, and the Rheidol Valley Steam Train is a corker. It is second only to the train from Chama to Antonito in my experience, though granted my experience is still very small taking a global view. This narrow-gauge train, opened in 1902,  leaves from Aberystwyth and climbs and climbs through the valley to Devil’s Bridge.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Devil's Bridge Walk

Crawls up the valley. Stops to refill, and allowed us to marvel at the wonderful raised beds full of wondrous flower plantings — it is amazing how this whole project is loved. The volunteers were young, with leather caps and overalls. Life was fine on this Saturday.

Finally we arrived at Devil’s Bridge. Everyone headed there directly so we headed in the opposite direction, following the walk which can be found detailed here.

It’s longer than 6 miles.

We walked to the ruins of Bodcoll’s Woolen Mill, mysterious, overgrown. The river Mynach is beautiful here, impossible to photograph the smooth bowls its waterfalls have carved from the rock.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Devil's Bridge Walk

Climbed up and looked out across the hills. Walked and walked, saw some local hill sheep.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Got a bit lost. Got back on track.

Saw this little church, built in a much older sacred site and incorporating standing stones into the walls. I was tempted to swing by, but there were cows between us and the church.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Also, I had dragged Mark out on this walk in deck shoes. Neither of our shoe decisions was fortuitous.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Still, sheep scattered before us with fear, picturesque against the heather-covered hills.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Feeling powerful we strode up and up, young and strong, not a single ache or pain, not a breath out of place, the wind teasing our hair, the horseflies shying away from our very splendour. We found ruins, marveled at thick walls of stone.

Devil's Bridge Walk

We continued on and on. Crossed more water running sluggishly in the heat filtering down through sun dappled trees.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Then up again.

And then down and down and down a steep, rock stubbled roadway,  sharp points penetrating the thin soles of Mark’s shoes though he made not a single complaint. We came to a stand of Scots pines, which the guide tells us have long been associated with rights of way, planted to mark overnight stops for men and cattle as they moved across the land, and at difficult sections of the route.

Devil's Bridge Walk

We descended further, came to the mine tailings of the Cwm Rheidol.

Devil's Bridge Walk

They continue to pollute the river and surrounding area, the informational sign noted the presence of marcasite, a mineral which in the presence of air and moisture (and this is Wales you know, there’s a lot of moisture) begins to develop a powdery white bloom and a whiff of sulpher as it crumbles away (if it’s in a museum exhibit) or dissolves into a sulpheric acid that can also melt lead and zinc into a rather toxic mess.

Still. I spent many holiday excursions of my youth around mine tailings, this made me happy. I know it shouldn’t.

Down into the valley, it was beautiful.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Yet we knew we would have to climb back up.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Devil's Bridge Walk

Back up to the railway line.

Devil's Bridge Walk

And then those bastards made us walk parallel this fairly level if steady climb in a strenuous up and down pattern that echoed the larger walk in microcosm. Until finally, with only once getting lost at the very brink of town, we arrived back.

Past the station and on to Three Bridges itself. Looking down.

Devil's Bridge Walk

A pound in the slot gets you through the old fashioned and terribly narrow iron-barred entrance. Look at this place, three generations of bridge built one upon the other.

Devil's Bridge Walk

The oldest built between 1075–1200, the second in 1753, and the third in 1901. The three of the span this incredible chasm.

Devil's Bridge Walk

Why devil’s bridge? The legend of the old woman who outwitted the devil himself — tragically at the expense of her loyal dog — can be found here. George Borrow wrote of it, Wordsworth too. I haven’t let Wordsworth ruin it though.

I had remembered this bridge from watching Y Gwyll, which I quite loved and have an immense desire to watch again now that I know these landscapes so much better.

We had no time for a pint. We boarded the train. And then failed to find a table at any of Aberystwyth’s fine dining establishments. We bought some wine at the Spar and had a glorious fish and chips sitting on a bench by the harbour.

Most wonderful.

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