To the editor of The Times

There’s an old football chant that goes: “And if, you know, your history, it’s enough to make your heart go woooooaahh…..”

For people who work in housing I think it’s always rewarding to look back at the historical record and to remind ourselves of the awful living conditions that people endured in the not so distant past. At a time when the social housing sector is under attack it is also helpful to reflect upon the immense improvements that social housing providers have made to the lives of millions of people.

I wrote about Charles Dickens last week, and came across this extraordinary letter sent to the editor of The Times newspaper. It was signed by 54 people living in a slum in St Giles, London, on the site where Centre Point now stands.

Amazingly, The Times published the letter on July 5th 1849 under the headline “A Sanitary Remonstrance”. The spelling is as in the original.


Sur, — May we beg and beseech your proteckshion and power. We are Sur, as it may be, livin in a Wilderniss, so far as the rest of London knows anything of us, or as the rich and great people care about. We live in muck and filth. We aint got no priviz, no dust bins, no drains, no water-splies, and no drain or suer in the hole place. The Suer Company, in Greek St., Soho Square, all great, rich and powerfool men, take no notice watsomdever of our complaints. The Stenche of a Gully-hole is disgustin. We all of us suffer, and numbers are ill, and if the Colera comes Lord help us.

Some gentlemans comed yesterday, and we thought they was comishioners from the Suer Company, but they was complaining of the noosance and stenche our lanes and corts was to them in New Oxforde Strect. They was much surprized to see the seller in No. 12, Carrier St., in our lane, where a child was dyin from fever, and would not believe that Sixty persons sleep in it every night. This here seller you couldent swing a cat in, and the rent is five shillings a week; but theare are greate many sich deare sellars. Sur, we hope you will let us have our complaints put into your hinfluenshall paper, and make these landlords of our houses and these comishioners (the friends we spose of the landlords) make our houses decent for Christions to live in. Preaye Sir com and see us, for we are living like piggs, and it aint faire we shoulde be so ill treted.

We are your respeckfull servents in Church Lane, Carrier St., and the other corts. Teusday, Juley 3, 1849.

Signed by John Scott, Emen Scott, Joseph Crosbie, Hanna Crosbie, Edward Copeman, Richard Harmer, John Barnes, and 47 others

I don’t think I need to add anything to that. It speaks for itself. What became of these “corts” and their residents I do not know.

(First published at Inside Housing 13th February 2012)

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