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Archaeology of domestic life in early 20th century Britain

The aim of this blog is to publish data on early 20th century buildings, whilst this is still accessible. Much material of interest to the historian is being destroyed through 'home improvements' and DIY, and objects are increasingly being divorced from their context through dispersal after the death of their owners. By creating an easily accessible contextual record of material culture, it is hoped that those interested in this period of history may have a resource through which the details of domestic life might be studied.

If you have any artefacts of interest, or make discoveries during the process of your own investigations that you would like to share, please contact me!

BUILDING D: outline. Late Victorian inner-city terraced house

Brief description

This building is a small (2/3 bedroom) terraced house, built by 1900-01, located in a short 'dead-end' street (of 8 houses) on the northern outskirts of inner-city Derby; the terrace is currently within a designated conservation area. The main living space on the ground floor is a room to the front, reached directly from the entrance to the street; and a back room, originally a kitchen-living room (now dining room); the original scullery (now kitchen), which appears on the plan as a rear annex (though seemingly contemporaneous with the rest of the house), is reached through the back room. Off the 'scullery' is a lobby (with back door to yard and garden), with a bathroom beyond: the latter is a modern extension, perhaps dating to the 1990s (however, this extension is almost certainly built above the original outdoor toilet);a pantry / larder may have been housed where the lobby now, between the toilet and scullery, although more work is needed to check out the building fabric, which is currently overgrown with climbing plants). Beneath the stairs, which led off the living-kitchen, is a cupboard, within what would have originally been a lobby, but what is now open-plan from the back room. The first floor consists of a front bedroom, overlooking the street; a back bedroom, with walk-in cupboard above the stair well, overlooking the garden to the rear, and a third, smaller room, above what was the scullery, and is reached through the back bedroom. 

The modern back door opens on to a yard, most probably once paved with blue-bricks (now mostly paved with concrete slabs, although some blue bricks remain), which leads to the small garden. The maps of 1900-01 show that, like the first house in this street, but unlike the other houses, the yard had a dividing wall to separate this usually shared space from that of the neighbouring house (which originally formed the end of the terrace). It may be speculated that this was because end-terrace houses, in sharing only one interior party wall, were seen as being of slightly higher status than mid-terraced houses, due to having a higher degree of privacy (and consequently drew higher rents); therefore, this division (and that of the end- terrace at the beginning of the street) further enhanced the privacy (and desirability, if not status) of the adjoining end terrace. Although a new, higher fence (reflecting modern concerns for greater privacy) was recently constructed between this and the adjoining property, the earlier fences seem to have been quite low - at approximately waist height: sufficient to prevent wandering children and animals, but also allowing interaction over the fence; the wall on the other side of the garden is higher.

The terrace was built in short walking distance of numerous industries, including an iron foundry, railway goods yard, silk mill, and timber yard, and it may be assumed that it was constructed to house the families of workers employed in these industries. Further research will expand upon this assumption.

Investigations of this building will be quite thorough, leading to the creation of a detailed archaeological building investigation report (ABIR), although the survey will to some extent be constrained by renovation work taking place within the property (the survey is voluntary, rather than necessitated by planning regulations). Initial appraisals have demonstrated the presence of remains of early décor. The main aims of the ABIR is to record these features and the layout of the building.

Case study: house with green door

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