In the second of this series about the history of our
homes, we move on to a different part of the town. Let us get out our 1840s Monopoly Board and
roll the dice to see where our counter lands. We’ve rolled a 6, so starting from Gloucester Place, we pass the Assembly Rooms, brush pass the ‘old’ Guildhall, passing the Swansea Museum, go through
Wind Street, and land on High Street. We have also moved forward nine years to 1849. High Street has changed to its present format. Residents of High Street would have been of the middle class. Most
of the houses comprise of a
couple of rooms with the additional small attic room, located above the shop. The proprietor of the shop, lived above the premises with his family which could have included up to 4/5 children. High
Street though, was in the shadows of the ‘Slums of Swansea’ located nearby.
In the last edition of The Bay, I wrote about the introduction of the Electoral Registers in 1837, and only those who owned a property made the mark to have an entry. What about those other people,
who didn’t own a property? Where can we find them?
We have to rely on the Rate
Books. Rate Books have had
different uses over the years. They first made an appearance before the Acts for Relief of the
Poor, in 1598, when the church kept the books for holding an account of the yearly values of properties in the area. These lists can be found in the parish Vestry Accounts, the Overseer’s
Accounts, or the Churchwarden’s Accounts. This Act was replaced by
the 1601 Poor
Law Act, which formalised the rating system and specified the compulsory setting of a local rate. The Act made the Parish
responsible for the Poor Relief and the registrations of all properties. Rates were collected three times a year, June (Midsummer), October (Michaelmas) and January (Christmas).
During the 18th century, the Rate Books show the
ownership of the property, and the amounts collected. It is these books that we can use as a substitute to the census. The use of a building can be traced in this way; it is easy to follow the
occupation of an address over a period.
The sudden absence of a name could indicate death, change of ownership or movement from the area. Rate Books are
arranged street-by-street, which can be a hindrance when tracing a named individual. Rate Books also list those people who were too poor to pay.
After 1834, the books listed both owner and occupier of a property. In the example that’s accompanying this article (pic above) is the Rate Book dated
March 1849, for High Street.
Let’s look then
at No 1 – Occupier – Joseph
Richards, he seems to have owned a few properties
Property – House
Rental – £12 (£1,065 today)
– £10 (£888 today)
Rate in the
Pound – 10s
Total Amount to
be Collected – 10s and Amount Actually
Collected – 10s
West Glamorgan Archive Service, Civic Centre have a variety of Rate
Books including Rate Books for Swansea
Borough and parts of neighbouring authorities, 1845-1975.
Carrying on with our tour of the house we come
into the bathroom. During this period of the 1840s, we certainly had a huge divide be-tween the upper and lower working classes and the level of sanitation they would expect in their homes.
Bathing during this period was not a daily ritual. It wasn’t until the 1870s that a bathroom took its first form in the house. Wealthy
residents, like that of Stirling Benson,
could have paid to have a water tap fitted into their homes, allowing “bathing”, which was usually carried out using a basin and ewer, then progressing to a small portable bathtub, which was filled
and emptied by a servant, often taking an hour to complete. No rest for the wicked!
It would be around the 1900s that a working-class house was first
built with a bathroom. Families of the slum area of Swansea, during the 1840s, didn’t have the luxury of a water supply to their houses, but had to
rely on a communal pump in the street and the heavily polluted River Tawe. Sanitation was very basic or non-existent, with many of the houses having a
privy housed in a small
structure at the back of the house. Often a few
families would have shared this. The reservoir at Brynmill, which held 5,500,000 gallons, was fed from the Brynmill Steam and other sources (now Brynmill Park), was dug during the 1840s, and provided
insufficient water to supply the upper classes located in the lower parts of the town.
Lacking adequate water, in the slums, resulted in outbreaks of disease. Summer 1849 saw a major outbreak of cholera in Swansea, which resulted in 150 deaths. Missionary Griffith
John lost both his parents to the dreaded cholera. John is credited
with introducing Christianity into China.