The Modern Victorian Farm – Labourers’ Cottages

This is the last post (and my favorite) in my series on Victorian farms. This series is excerpted from The Farm Homesteads of England. Enjoy!

The cost of cottages necessarily depends on the amount of accommodation they afford, and the strength and substantiality of the structure itself.

The extent of accommodation which rural cottages should possess has recently been somewhat arbitrarily determined on sanitary grounds. The miserable hovels in which large families were crowded, and which still unfortunately exist, to the disgrace of our country, have called forth the indignation of all right-minded men, and we have been gradually led to conclude that no cottages are suitable unless they contain five rooms, of which three are bed-rooms, of prescribed dimensions, with minor offices. The principles upon which these dimensions of space have been determined are not very distinctly acknowledged, as will be seen by an examination of the views of different authorities and the regulations of different institutions. These show that the space considered necessary to maintain health in dwellings varies from 240 to 1500 cubic feet for each person.

Frederick Daniel Hardy - Baby's Birthday
Frederick Daniel Hardy – Baby’s Birthday

According to Dr. Arnott—perhaps the greatest authority on this subject as connected with ventilation—the actual quantity of air respired by an adult human being amounts to 300 cubic inches per minute—not quite one-sixth of a foot, or 240 cubic feet in the course of the day, while the total quantity of air, directly or indirectly vitiated during the same period, is 2880 cubic feet. Tredgold, however, states the amount of air respired by an individual to be as much as 800 cubic inches per minute, or nearly half a cubic foot, while the total quantity vitiated during 24 hours he considers to be at least 4320 cubic feet.

These figures are quoted to show the wide difference of opinion which has been expressed by high authorities on the vital point of respiration ; and if we examine the views practically carried out at our various national institutions in the space given to each person, we shall find parallel instances of diversity. For example, the space admitted to be sufficient by the police authorities under the Lodging-house Act is 240 cubic feet per person ; in the dormitories of the barracks of our army the quantity deemed sufficient has been 500 cubic feet, although the Commission on Warming and Ventilation to the General Board of Health urged that this space should be increased to 700 or 800 cubic feet per man. In hospitals, where obvious reasons exist for increased space, the amount varies from 1000 to 1500 cubic feet each person ; in the prisons 800 cubic feet seems to be the recognised space, and in the model lodging-houses about 550 cubic feet is given.

Charles Edouard Frère - Helping Hands
Charles Edouard Frère – Helping Hands

In spite of this prevailing diversity, experience clearly points to the adoption of the following dimensions of space for cottages :

The ventilation which will render these spaces sufficient is gained by having a fire-place and window in each room, with the door entering directly from the porch, passage, or stairs. Practically, all minute refinements in the art of ventilation are found inapplicable. In addition to these desiderata, each cottage should be provided with a pantry within the dwelling, commanding a free passage of air through it. The scullery, and not the living room, should have a copper and sink for washing, which should be a fixture; an oven is a desirable, but not an essential addition. The out-offices should consist of a small shed, for wood and coal ; a privy detached, with facility for emptying it; and an ash-pit, so connected with the privy that the ashes may be used to prevent effluvium. The whole premises should be perfectly drained. All the roof water should be preserved, and a supply of well-water should also be provided. The yard and walks (if any) should be paved or gravelled, so as to preserve cleanliness within the dwelling.

***

* According to the population returns of the Census of 1861, the number of individuals constituting families of the sizes mentioned below appears to be in the following proportion ; of course, as there are families of other sizes in the same district, these figures represent only those families specially selected to illustrate the point before us :

Population of the district

The late Duke of Bedford, in 1819, published, in the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, the designs and particulars of the several kinds of cottages he was erecting on his Bedfordshire and Devonshire estates. He had directed his surveyor to prepare plans of cottages, suitable for families of different sizes, singly and in blocks, and some most excellent designs will be found in the tenth volume of the Royal Agricultural Society’s Journal. The Editor has selected from them the plans on the [above] :-one showing a block of four cottages, in which two have two bed-rooms, and two three bed-rooms each ; the other showing a pair of cottages, in which each has a single bed-room.

James Collinson  - Answering the Emigrant's Letter
James Collinson – Answering the Emigrant’s Letter

On Sir Henry W. Dashwood’s estate, in Oxfordshire, may be seen some excellent cottages, which contain three bed-rooms, but one is placed on the groundfloor and two above; and scullery, pantry, &c., form a lean-to.

Captain Dashwood, under whose direction the cottages on the Kirtlington estate were erected, thus explains the advantages of the design : “ The downstair bedroom is adopted because it is found that a farm labourer, though requiring a third bed-room at one stage of his family’s growth, does not require it for any length of time, as his family are either very young, or as soon as able go out to service. The ground floor bed-room can, at such times, be used for a lodger ; or when the parents get old they can retire to this room and admit a married child, or even another couple, to help to pay the rent. The old woman, by looking after the children, enables the young wife to attend to work, and the old man can help to gain a living, by doing duties which frequently devolve on children, to the loss of their education.

The advantages of this plan are

First—That of enabling old and young people to reside under one roof, thereby securing nearly all the advantages of two cottages.

Second—It secures greater privacy from the position of the rooms, as the rooms are all distinct from each other, and the partition walls are constructed of brick, and not lath and plaster, as is the case with ordinary three-roomed cottages.

Third—It secures greater warmth and less draught ; and

Fourth—The third down-stairs room will be found available, if required, as a workshop, or as a bed-room, especially suitable for a crippled child or an aged parent.”

A modification of the same arrangement of sleeping rooms is shown by the following woodcut of a cottage designed by the Editor, in which the scullery forms a small covered yard, extending from the cottage to the outbuildings. The advantage of this arrangement is, that the yard and scullery being one, and under cover, the former is always dry, and the latter more spacious than under ordinary circumstances, whilst it is so constructed that it cannot be misappropriated as a living room.

Provision for married people without children, and for old couples whose children have left them, is a desideratum of importance; and the single bed-room cottage, erected by the Duke of Bedford, is a very good one for the purpose. But the plan suggested by Lady Caroline Kerrison is perhaps superior, inasmuch as the bed-rooms are all on the ground-floor, and are therefore more suitable for old people than bed-rooms upstairs.

Lady Kerrison’s plan is shown beneath.

Platt Powell Ryder - Fireside Companion
Platt Powell Ryder – Fireside Companion

With respect to the improvement and alteration of old cottages to meet the requirements of the present day, Lord Palmerston is of opinion that “it is not necessary to pull down old cottages to build new ones. A great deal can be done, at a moderate cost, in improving the old ones.” At Broadlands, his lordship has personally superintended the enlargement and alteration of his old cottages, so as to render them free from those objections which are so repugnant to good feeling. Sufficient bed-room accommodation, good drainage, and ventilation have been his primary objects, while the poor man’s comfort has been studied by the substitution of boarded for stone or brick floors, and by the provision of those little conveniences, such as cupboards and shelves, which we all know how to appreciate in our own houses. Without entering upon any details as to the cost of alterations and additions which may be made to existing cottages to render them conformable to present views, it is manifest that very much may be done with them at a less expense than by the erection of new cottages, an advantage which will enable landowners to adjust the rent in some measure to the circumstances of the labourers on their estates.

It is not here intended to discuss the question of wages. Theoretically it would be affirmed that the able-bodied man should be in receipt of such pay as will enable him to satisfy the just demands of his landlord : practically, however, it is not so ; and we must deal with the question as we find it. In the northern counties, the average weekly wages of able-bodied men, employed on farms, will be found to be 13s. 6d. ; in the midland counties they are 11s. ; and in the southern counties not quite 10s. Although there is a wide difference in the earnings of the labourers in different counties, in no instance is it possible for any labourer with a large family, by which the wife is disqualified from earning anything, to pay 3s6d. a week out of his wages for house rent.

George Hardy - The Leisure Hour
George Hardy – The Leisure Hour

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