No. 2 + 4 Garden Place: The saga of 2 owners, some back windows and an unpaid bill

Written by Catherine Sotheran as part of Hungate Histories Research Team

Catherine Sotheran unfolds the tale of what happened to 13A Hungate to improve the living conditions of 2 and 4 Garden Place.
Catherine Sotheran unfolds the tale of what happened to 13A Hungate to improve the living conditions of 2 and 4 Garden Place. As Catherine writes: ‘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’.

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.

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.

Hungate Histories: lots of paperwork…and people’s lives glimpsing through

The Hungate Histories team match up the archive records with a map of the area.
The Hungate Histories team match up the archive records with a map of the area.

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.

To make the project managable, the team has decided to focus on two streets, Hungate and Garden Place. Image credit: York Explore
To make the project managable, the team has decided to focus on two streets, Hungate and Garden Place. Image credit: York Explore

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.

An example of a housing inspection sheet. Image: York Explore
An example of a housing inspection sheet from 1936 used as part of the compulsory purchase of properties in the area. Image: York Explore

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.’

Lianne Brigham, who has been looking at a mixture of health reports, environmental health inspections and compulsory purchase orders: ‘What has surprised me with working with the archives is not only the abundance of paper work there is but the amount of houses there were in Hungate. Ok we have had to narrow our research down… but in no way does this mean that task is going to be any easier. Really enjoying it so far.’

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.

The Hungate Histories team will be running an event to share their work on 21st June, 3.30-5pm. You can book a free place via eventbright.