The last two Friday mornings have seen a group of us, all members of York Past and Present facebook group – Lianne Brigham, Richard Brigham, Helen Graham (also University of Leeds), Sue Hogarth, Victoria Hoyle (also City Archivist and University of York), Catherine Sotheran, Dave Ruddock with support from Justine Winstanley-Brown, Archivist (Civic and Public Records) – meeting up at the city archives to explore the histories of Hungate.
As with the My Future York project more generally our aims are to see how collaboratively producing histories of urgent issues facing York can enrich public debate so that more of us can be actively involved in shaping the future of the city.
The idea for focusing on Hungate came from the pilot project we did in November 2015, York and Housing: Histories Behind the Headlines. In November we took our first look at the archives to see what was there – what type of records, what types of ways of knowing – and then ran two public events to explore what we found with a wider group.
Having realized how big the task could be, we decided at the end of our first session to focus on two streets in Hungate – Hungate itself and Garden Place – and have started to use a wide variety of records to gather everything that we can find out about these streets, the forces that shaped them and which ultimately led to them being demolished.
The type of records available are: Maps, which show in detail specific properties and businesses; Health Department, we’ve so far found Health Inspections from the 1910s and Compulsory Purchases Orders from the 1930s. One of the team was working with a box of the personal correspondence with people who were being affected by the compulsory purchase orders – and there’s so much more to come out of look through these more personal stories. We’ve also started cross-referencing with electoral registers and register of business and pubs. There is also very clear legislative contexts to the different phases of work (as you can see on the House Inspection Record below)– and we’ll get started on the council minutes in the coming weeks. So on one hand we’re doing really focused history work, but with a much wider-angle lens on policy and decisions making.
Sue Glenton has been researching the compulsory purchase orders: In the last two sessions I have discovered an enormous amount, about the way archiving can be used as a tool for research and lots of local info from the other members of the group. It is really absorbing and is very easy to get distracted as one bit links up with somebody else’s discovery. After looking at the 1936 reports on the square footage of dwellings in Hungate prior to the Compulsory Purchase Orders being issued, I have a mental picture of an official from the Health Committee almost stepping over the wasted bodies of TB sufferers to accurately measure the rooms. Then returning to the office to record this info in copperplate writing while people lived in squalor. It was a different world and comes home to me vividly after looking at these records. Fascinating!
Richard Brigham has been looking specifically at the maps: I think what has surprised me so far is the dis-organisation of things that should have been known, housing was not only in poor condition but also lived in by a wide variety of numbered people, (as little as 2 in one house and as much as 5-7 in others). The variety of places co-existing in one place was profound, Gas works, mills, brick works and homes all in one section of the City and ALL working within feet of each other, It’s clear to say that Health and Health and Safety clearly did not have any place in this time frame of life living in Hungate! Yet as bad as things were there was clearly a camaraderie within the community.’
Helen Graham has been taking responsibility for scanning, so has seen lots of different things that the group have dug up: ‘I think what stunned me from reading the variety of materials in the archive is both how weak and how powerful government was – and how it was changing in the early 20th Century. It is clear, in the days before the land registry, the Health Department simply didn’t know who owned properties and were seeking this knowledge so they could start to regulate quality of house and ultimately, three decades later, buy the housing stock up to demolish it. It raises questions about what government does and can do – clearly massive leaps were being made in public health and working ‘on behalf of’ and ‘for the good of’ a wider population but the archives also indicate how hard bureaucracies find to deal with specific people and their specific needs’.
If you got any memories of Hungate or Garden Place – or what to hear more about the project – contact the group.