My house - MY HOUSE!

When I first heard about MyHouseMyStreet I became curious about the history of my own house in Hanover. I brought together the papers I received with the house, and various street directories, electoral rolls and censuses. What emerged was the social history of Brighton in a microcosm: from influential landowners to carpenters and hotel porters; dissenting chapels to the Oxford movement; the enclosure of common lands to the growth of the railway.

I saw the philanthropic (if also commercial) provision of housing for the poor to the growth of property ownership, the building of churches and chapels - and their conversion into pubs. We see some of the effects of the First World War. We can trace the extension of the franchise to women and lodgers and the amazing number of people who lived these basic two-up, two-down houses (or three-up I suppose before the installation of bathrooms!).

In 1822 Brighton landowners divided up what was originally part of the “sheep down”, and what is now Hanover passed to John Whichelo, a trustee of the Union Street Chapel (now the Font and Firkin pub). On his death in 1841 it passed to his brother Matthew Ayers Whichelo, who then left it to his daughter Juliana Sarah. It was during her ownership, in 1970, that the London, Brighton and South-Coast Railway Company biuilt a tunnel under the land connecting Brighton Station with Kemp Town. The tunnel entrance can still be seen at the back of the Freshfield Industrial Estate.

In 1876, Juliana sold the land to Rev. Arthur Wagner, a leading adherent of the Oxford movement. As well as building five churches in the poorer areas of Brighton, mostly at his own expense, he was involved in the development of housing for the poor.

But what about the people who lived in these houses? By looking in street directories at the Brighton History Centre, and electoral rolls and census records I have been able to 'flesh out' the inhabitants. It's amazing how many people lived in these tiny houses. The 1901 census shows a couple with nine children aged between 16 years and 4 months; and in 1911 another family had ten children, 3 of whom are in their twenties. Next door, a family of two adults and five children live in three of the rooms, and in the same house a couple live in one room and a widow with her three children live in another. (That’s right – 13 people with no bathroom and one outside toilet!)

What did they do? Occupations include a bricklayer, a hotel porter and a laundress; a charwoman, a handyman-labourer and a nanny; a building labourer and a domestic servant; a slaughterman and a grocer.

The First World War called up most of the young and not-so young men. Four of the five sons in my house served in the forces. They all survived but the householder next door was killed in 1916.

When looking through the electoral rolls it comes as quite a shock to start to see whole families with adult children and lodgers suddenly appear, rather than just the male householder. We all know about the extension of the vote to women but perhaps forget that it also applied to all males. This brings it very much to life.

While waiting for further censuses to be released the electoral rolls give an indication of whether the houses continued to be as crowded. Through the early 1920s they show just the adults of one family. A daughter and son-in-law move in with the parents, later joined by a daughter-in-law. These extended families frequently have 5 or 6 adults of voting age in a house, and may of course have children who are not shown. We can look at births to these families in FreeBMD. In 1933 for example there would have been three “households” living in this one small house: 4 adults and 6 children.

For all of these years the residents would have been tenants, who may have taken in “boarders”. Possibly in the 1970s and certainly by the mid eighties the houses were being sold to individuals as the increase in house prices brought young professionals into the area. It will be interesting to see in the future whether the growth in the “buy to let” market will reverse this process.