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Life at home
Most working class people in the second half of the nineteenth century would have lived in a rented terraced house. Probably the most common type were 'two up, two downs' - literally two rooms upstairs and two rooms downstairs. There was no bathroom. If you were fortunate, the toilet was outside in the back yard, if you were less fortunate you shared a toilet with other families. Although some collieries provided wash houses for their miners, everyone else took a bath in front of the fire.
Overcrowding was common. Families in the Victorian period were much larger than today(it has been estimated that couples marrying in the 1860s had an average of 6 children) and the situation was exacerbated by the fact that many families were forced to take in lodgers to help make ends meet. In small, cramped, badly ventilated houses this inevitably led to bad health and allowed the spread of disease.
Attempts to improve the housing situation were made periodically throughout the 19th century. Legislation such as the various Public Health Acts improved sanitation and greater use was made of building regulations to improve the standard of housing. The most infamous type of dwelling, the 'back to back' (houses built back to back meaning that they were only one room deep and had no rear windows or doors) were banned in many towns and cities and the use of cellars as accommodation was cracked down on. However, it was not until the 20th century, particularly in the period after the First World War, that a concerted attempt to get rid of slum housing was made.
Photograph showing St Margaret's School, Durham which was opened in 1861. (Image courtesy of Durham University Library, ref Pam L372.9 Dur) Click on image to enlarge.
Miners were comparatively well paid in the 19th century. In 1849 a hewer could expect to earn between 3s 9d and 4s 3d per 8 hour day; an onsetter 4s per 12 hour day and a trapper could earn 9d to 10d per 12 hour day. In comparison, the average earnings of agricultural labourers were about 10 shillings per week. However, this did not mean that life was easy. Families had to juggle resources to make sure that there was enough money to feed, clothe and house themselves.
This balancing act inevitably meant that the diet of most mining families (and the majority of the working classes) was quite restricted. Evidence given to the Royal Commission on the Employment of Children in Mines in 1842 shows this quite clearly. A miner in Bishop Auckland with a wife and two children spent over 70% of his earnings on food and yet the family could only afford to eat what we would consider a poor diet. There was a reliance on bread which was cheap and filled you up. This was supplemented by bacon and cheese. Fruit and vegetables would only have been eaten occasionally. It has been estimated that families needed an income of 30s per week to eat fairly well. These families could afford twice as much meat and milk as families earning less that 18s per week.
It was not until 1870 that education became compulsory for all children aged 5 to 13. Before this date, education provision could only be described as patchy. Many children received no schooling at all and huge numbers of people were unable to read or write. Some children attended Sunday School where they received basic instruction; others, whose parents could afford it, were sent to 'Dame Schools' which tended to be run by women in their own homes. There was no curriculum and no standards! Children from well-off families might have a governess and some boys were sent to boarding school to receive a more formal education. Girls, even in rich families, often found their education neglected, being forced to to concentrate on more feminine pursuits, such as needlework and music.
The Education Act of 1870 established local school boards to set up schools, levy fees and enforce the attendance of most children between the ages of 5 and 13. Although this did ensure that children were now taught the 3 R's (reading, writing and arithmetic), conditions were far from ideal. The children were taught in large groups and learnt many things 'by rote' or repetition. The school itself was often in poor condition and many school boards were reluctant to spend money on maintaining the fabric of the building. Discipline was also harsh with corporal punishment as the norm. Slight changes were made by the Education Act of 1880 which allowed children to work part-time once they were ten and had reached a certain standard of education.
A further Education Act was passed in 1902. This took control over schools away from the school boards and handed it to local government, which established Local Education Authorities. The LEAs were also empowered to provide secondary education.
Religion was an important part of 19th century life. Even if some people did not attend church every Sunday, Christianity, in its broadest sense, informed nearly all aspects of everyday life. As well as providing a moral and spiritual framework, the Church also had a practical impact. Before 1870 most working class children received their schooling via Sunday School and many churches provided assistance, activities and help for adults too.
However, although Britain was a profoundly Christian country there was not just one creed or denomination. In addition to the established religion, the Church of England, there were many non-conformist and other denominations. This was certainly the case in Crook. The trade directory of 1902 listed 10 churches, including: St Catherine's (CoE); Church Mission; Our Lady Immaculate and St Cuthbert (Catholic); Presbyterian Church of England; Baptist; Methodist New Connexion; Primitive Methodist; Welseyan Methodist; Gospel Room; and Salvation Army.
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