Jarratts Buildings - The Community

The Location of Jarratts

The back-to-back houses in Worsbrough Dale that became known as Jarratts Buildings were constructed in the 1850s. Fifty four houses occupied an undeveloped, sloping site of approximately 1.5 acres close to the entrance of Darley Main Colliery. The Jarratt family leased this mine and the provision of homes meant that men could live very close to their workplace.

As yet I have not located any plans of the buildings but analysis of old maps of the area indicates that the buildings occupied a site that is now bordered by High Street, Green Street and Ebeneezer Square. This was before these streets developed.

jarratts plan
Plan of Jarratts Buildings

The fifty four dwellings were built in three parallel blocks of different sizes and one that was almost perpendicular to these to get best use out of the tapering plot. The development was neither paved nor laid out in streets. Initially they were known as the 54. The name Jarratts Buildings developed during the 1870s, but the houses were alternatively known as the 54, 49 or 43 throughout much of their long existence.

The censuses for 1861 and 1871 record fifty four dwellings. From 1881 only forty three of them were enumerated as Jarratts. Comparing censuses for 1871 and 1881 reveals that Nos 50-54, whose door opened onto High Street were enumerated as High Street from 1881. Similarly, at the opposite end of the site, six houses which fronted onto a newly established road, were listed in Green Street for census purposes. It is likely that these were Nos 44-49 Jarratts and that they became Nos 3-8 Green Street.These six houses were smaller than the others on the site as they did not have a room in the roof space.

Some former residents have revealed that by the 1930s parts of the site had unofficial names. At the far end of the site was Top Fold, which comprised the six houses that backed onto those in Green Street and the seven houses from the second block which faced them.The seven houses in this block, which faced towards the middle of the site were known as Step Row.The name arose from the fact that on a sloping site, a flight of ten steps to the top two blocks terminated at one end of this row.

A large retaining wall divided the yard between Step Row and the next block. The seven houses which faced the wall were known as Prison Row. The grim name presumably arose from the height of this wall, which would have towered above the houses below it and probably made the rooms which faced it very dismal.

The row of houses which backed against those on High Street and the seven houses that backed onto Prison Row were collectively known as Bottom Fold. Adjacent to the block that was closest to High Street, and apparently built at the same time, though not regarded as part of Jarratts, were a few houses that were built to a better standard. They were for pit deputies rather than ordinary miners.

Dwelling No 6 only appears on census returns until 1871. A close study of the map and the 1881 census suggests that No 6 also became part of High Street. It appears to have become a shop, rather than a residence for colliers. The entrance to the Jarratts site was via a ginnel at the side of this property.

It seems possible that the numbering flowed consecutively around the four blocks, beginning in Bottom Fold. Nos 6 and 7 were probably in the small block which abutts the row. In the next block, Nos 8-15 faced inwards into Bottom Fold and it seems likely on the map that a dividing line is missing as one pair of houses is double the size of all the rest. Information from a former resident who can remember some of the families living in these houses, confirms that the numbering was consecutive in Bottom Fold. Prison Row comprised Nos 16-23 and Step Row Nos 24-30. A different resident has confirmed that No 30 was at the end of Step Row, next to a field known as the Orchard and that it backed onto No 31.The name of the Orchard is obscure as it did not contain a single tree.

Nos 31-37 faced into Top Fold as did Nos 38-43 on the opposite side of the courtyard. Behind these were Nos 44-49 which eventually became part of Green Street. Former residents from the 1930s have confirmed that the highest numbers were in Top Fold.

Although the original numbering of the bottom block is unusual as Nos 1-5 would have backed onto Nos 50-54, it is possible the decision was taken to distinguish the five houses nearest the pit entrance from the rest of the site. There is evidence from the 1860s that these houses were occupied by pit foremen and former residents have indicated that the houses offered better accommodation. In 1914 they had a slightly higher rateable value. Some of them eventually became shops with living accommodation rather than private dwellings.

Information compiled by Denise Bates from old maps and census returns, supplemented by details found via the British Newspaper Archive and parish records and conversations with former residents. If anyone can confirm or disprove my suggested numbering of the site please contact me.

These Desirable Residences

When the back-to-back houses that were Jarratts Buildings were razed to the ground at the end of the 1950s, few, if any, regretted their passing. After the Great War, Jarratts developed an unenviable reputation for deprivation and bad living conditions.

Although Jarratts was in poor physical condition when it was demolished, it seems likely that that it was desirable accommodation for workers when it was built a century earlier. By the 1850s, the link between sanitation and health was officially acknowledged. Building standards that addressed issues such as drainage, street layout and the construction of domestic dwellings were being developed, though there was little obligation on developers to adopt them at that time. As Jarratts was built by a local colliery owner, to house some of the workers at his pits, rather than by a property speculator, it would have made sense to provide accommodation that was conducive to good health, so long as the costs involved were not excessive.

duckett toilet
Duckett toilet

No plans of the building have been located but evidence from January 1870 shows that residents drew their water from on-site wells and it is reasonable to assume that these were available from the outset. Toilet facilities are unclear. Old maps, and the memories of former residents indicate that toilet blocks ran along one edge of the site, containing midden type privies that were shared between houses. Night-soil men regularly went around to empty them. When the buildings were demolished, evidence of ducketts, an early form of toilet that was flushed with water, was discovered though it is unclear when or where they were installed. Some aspects of the site did not take account of 1850s thought in healthy layout as paths were not paved and remained as compacted earth.

At the outset, this accommodation was probably superior to the existing cottages in Worsborough Dale. The 1861 census for Jarratts shows that members of established local collier families such as the Booths and the Winders had moved from their previous abode, as had workers who had arrived in the village in more recent decades, such as the McQuillans and the Manns. Given that the walk to the colliery from the older cottages would not have been considered long by a man who was able to carry out hours of strenuous underground labour, it seems unlikely that so many would have moved to Jarratts if the conditions were not appreciably better.

The houses at Jarratts were built of stone. They stood three storeys high and also had a cellar. They shared their back wall with another house, which meant that ventilation and light could only enter each home from one side. The houses were probably reasonably warm, especially if the tenants of both had made a fire. Heat from the fire would be drawn upwards to provide some warmth to the upstairs rooms but, given that the roof was unlikely to be insulated in any way, the top floor would have been cold in winter.

By the end of the nineteenth century, back-to-back houses were much criticised by doctors and housing officers because they proved to have a markedly higher death rate than dwellings with through ventilation. In 1891, it was revealed that the death rate in such premises in Liverpool was 45 in 1000 people whereas the rate for the entire city was only 22 per 1000 people.

The censuses for 1861 and 1871 reveal that several of the residences at Jarratts housed large families. Sleeping arrangements must have been difficult in some cases. Three generations of the same family could be crammed together and some families contained step-siblings of both sexes. Initially, a few houses seem to have been split between two unrelated families who had their own defined living space and presumably shared the cooking facilities. These arrangements between strangers seem to have petered out, but some homes were occupied in this manner for many years by members of the same extended family such as parents, a couple of adult children and their spouses, younger children and perhaps a few grandchildren. In others, three or four lodgers appear to have slept in the same room.

There is no evidence that once built, any money was spent on maintaining Jarratts in a good condition. Council planning registers from the 1870s onwards show that no plans for improvements were ever submitted. Meanwhile, in the 1880s, more houses for miners were built at nearby Worsborough Bridge, and others were constructed at Edmunds Road. By this time, local councils had the power to make builders comply with whatever regulations were in force and these newer developments would have been built to higher standards. From around 1890 there is evidence of some Jarratts families moving out to Worsborough Bridge and Edmunds Road. Even if parents remained, when sons grew to adulthood and married several moved to the better homes.

Despite the landlord's inertia, some tenants at Jarratts may have tried to improve their living conditions on an individual basis. A number of families remained there for more than twenty years, and a son or son-in-law taking over the tenancy when a parent died was commonplace. This may have provided an incentive to make their home as comfortable as they could as former residents recall some differences in the houses which may have been due to the initiative of a previous tenant. Some homes had a flagged area outside their own door which was probably laid by an occupant. A smart, house-proud old lady named Frances Fallis kept a shoebox on her outside windowsill to clean her shoes, and the memory of former residents is of women with high standards of housekeeping doing their best to keep their homes as clean and decent as possible.

By the time the Great War broke out Jarratts had already entered into decline. Several of the long-standing occupants died or moved in with relatives, freeing up homes for others. Working at the landlord's colliery no longer seems to have been a precondition for a tenancy and rates records for 1914 show that the rental paid per property at Jarratts was £6 a year. This appears to be the lowest in the neighbourhood, showing why, when houses at Jarratts became available, they were sometimes rented by people in straitened financial circumstances, such as widows, unemployed men or those who for some reason just could not get a start in life. Other families, especially after the 1930s, may have taken accommodation at Jarratts because of a general shortage of housing for workers rather than because of their personal circumstances.

From the 1920s, the condition of property was variable. Lack of maintenance by the landlord was one factor. How well or badly a previous tenant had treated the property would have been another. Families moved around the site when a better house became vacant, leaving one in bad condition for a newcomer. For at least one family, child mortality was more akin to the high levels of the nineteenth century than to the level normally seen during the inter-war period. Planning registers for the period 1920-48 reveal that nothing was done to any of the properties that would have required formal permission and the owners appear to have been unwilling to spend any money at all, even on essential repairs. On occasions the Council had to issue statutory notices for the landlord to remedy the situation within 21 days. By 1950, at least two properties, 34 and 39, were in a state as to be prejudicial to health and a nuisance according to the local Sanitary Inspector.

picture of jarratts buildings
Jarratts Buildings during demolition in 1958

By 1951, Jarratts had reached the end of its life. Although slum clearance programmes were sometimes controversial if viable or repairable properties were marked for demolition, Jarratts did not fall into this category. The standards to which it was built had long-since been superseded. As back-to-back housing it would have been condemned even if it had been maintained in an excellent state of repair.

In 1951, Worsborough's Housing Committee began the process of demolition by asking the owners (16 beneficiaries of a will) not to re-let any house that was vacated by its existing tenant. The Council could then declare the vacant dwelling unfit for human habitation. The owners offered to expedite the clearance of the site by selling Jarratts to the Council for £2,400 but the Council did not take up the offer. A sale at this price may have been more advantageous to the owner than the compensation that would be received for the condemned properties. In November 1951, Council Minutes recorded that the first tenant had moved out and the house made uninhabitable. Over the next five years the site gradually emptied, apparently by a combination of natural throughput and occupants accepting council houses, until by February 1956 just three homes were tenanted. Widowed Priscilla Fallis who had lived at No 11 for almost half a century remained, as did the Rigby family at No 12. In Top Fold, the Robinson family occupied No 43.

pantry well
Houses built on Jarratts site in 1960s

As families moved away from Jarratts the site was cleared piecemeal which brought its own logistical problems. Some toilet blocks in Jarratts were demolished in 1955, leaving a still occupied home in Green Street without access to a lavatory and the Council had to install one in the cellar kitchen at a cost of £20.The demolition process was marred by tragedy when a boy climbed onto the roof of an empty house in Step Row. The roof and floorboards were rotten and he fell through them and tumbled several storeys into the cellar. He survived, but the injuries sustained were life-changing.

The only known photographs of Jarratts show it in a stage of partial demolition towards the end of the 1950s. The site was redeveloped, as shown in this photograph, which was probably taken in the early 1960s, with homes suitable for the twentieth century.

This article has been compiled by Denise Bates from birth and death records, census returns, newspapers and council records held at Barnsley Archives and information from former residents.

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