Written by Catherine Sotheran as part of Hungate Histories Research Team
I’ve been looking through some documents about a Closing Order (an order forbidding the occupation of a house until certain specified improvements are made, usually repairing the structure, internal fittings, drainage, ventilation and lighting), served on these properties and have discovered quite a saga, going on for 2 years.
It starts in January 1911. Firstly there seems to be a question of ownership, the bulk of the correspondence is with Mr George Garbutt of 20 Shambles, and Langbaraugh, Fulford, but there are also a couple of letters to George Wray, 51 Palmer Lane and his son. So the first question arises, who is Mr Wray?
Part of the work required to make the houses habitable is to insert windows into the back walls of the properties, however Mr Garbutt states he cannot do this as the yard behind the houses belongs to Mr. Turner. He is informed that the yard is for sale, but then is informed by Mr Turner’s son that he is dying, but afterwards they could come to terms. In the meantime Mr Garbutt would consult with his solicitor regarding the position of the wall and passage and see how he stood legally as regards to the back windows. In Dec 1911 Mr Garbutt was informed that the Health Committee did not propose to buy the yard leaving him free to negotiate for putting back windows into the houses into Mr Turner’s yard behind. The insertion of the windows was absolutely necessary to their continuance as dwelling houses.
The houses were inspected again in August 1912 when further work was required but there was no mention of the back windows so presumably they had been put in by then.
We then move to the beginning of 1913 when Mr Garbutt is sent a bill for £5. 00. 0 ½ for the demolition of the top storey of 13a Hungate, the house across the passage behind nos. 2 + 4, which belonged to Mr Turner, in order to bring sufficient light into his houses, (the halfpenny being part of the wage bill for the demolition ! ). Mr Garbutt says he knows nothing about it, doesn’t own 13a Hungate and seems to be refusing to pay the bill. It seems is if the Health Committee had taken it upon themselves to arrange the demolition ( with Mr Turner’s permission ) of the top storey in order to provide sufficient lighting and ventilation to the houses, and then ask him to pay the bill, after which they would send the order withdrawing the Closing order, though the houses should not have been inhabited until the withdrawing order had been sent. In June Mr Garbutt offers to pay £2 towards the expenditure but the committee were trying to get £2.10 from him.
The order withdrawing the Closing Order was issued in Feb 1914, so stating that the houses were ft for human habitation again.
So, did Mr Garbutt buy the yard, did they inform Mr Garbutt beforehand about the demolition,did he pay the bill in the end, and who was Mr Wray ? Also raises the issue of “right to light” and why Mr Garbutt had to buy the yard in order to put in the windows, unless I’m just misinterpreting the situation.As an addendum, the rents were increased after the renovations from 2/6 per week to 3/6 + 4/6.
It’s been interesting looking through the correspondence, some in Mr Garbutt’s own handwriting and piecing together the sequence of events, also seeing how much detail the inspections and subsequent repairs cover, even down to catches on cupboards, as well as the more extensive structural repairs needed. It’s only a small story about a landlord and an official body, but is part of the greater history of trying to improve people’s living conditions.
Post-script: As a follow up to my question about whether Mr, Garbutt bought the yard, I’ve since found a letter from 1935 stating that, Arthur Turner, the youngest and only surviving son of the late Wm. Joseph Turner lay claim to the land, so it seems Mr Garbutt did not buy it after all.