Slum London: My Mum’s Youth

The districts of South London where my parents grew up were once considered to be little better than slums. Dwellings not really suitable for the large families that lived in them, lacking most facilities we would take for granted by the 1960s.

They had outside toilets, hot water heated on a stove or cooker, and were back-to-back small terraced houses with poor ventilation and little light getting into them.

In 1924, the year my mum was born, a national newspaper published an article about the lack of living space in those houses.

Two nearby streets, Sultan Street and Sultan Terrace, are shown here in 1939, the year WW2 broke out. Nothing had changed in those fifteen years.

Ironically, despite the loss of life caused by the German bombing of London, it was the devastation left behind that created the space for the gradual rebuilding. This allowed for much better living conditions in working class areas after 1960.

48 thoughts on “Slum London: My Mum’s Youth

    1. What interested me is that the people living there were usually very happy. They were seemingly content with their lot in life. Fortunately, those slums were cleared after WW2, but not for many years after 1945.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s interesting, Pete. I guess most people are grounded in their roots. Perhaps clearing the slums were one of the few good things resulting from the WWII bombings. Best to you, Pete.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. To me, south London is now so gentrified it is easy (for me) to lose sight of its past. I did not grow up in London, but I know my great grandfather was from Bexley. When my family traced his address we were able to tell that the family’s residence was a lean-to behind a storefront. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. By coincidence, my parents moved us to Bexley village in 1967. It was still in Kent at the time and quite affluent by then. Despite some obvious gentrification, and high property prices currently, I can assure you that many parts of South London are the same as they were in the 1960s, if you know where to look.
      Thanks for your comment.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi,
        Yes, I think you are right that areas of south London are still very much not gentrified. My great grandfather from Bexley emigrated out of the UK, and I went back to study in South London as an international student. I’m now back in my country, and my great grandfather’s adopted country. I guess for me I saw my time in London in general as so expensive, but I have to admit I was very privileged to be there as an international student in Britain. Lots to think about. Thanks again for sharing.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, until 1930. After that, they were renamed ‘Public Assistance Institutions’. At the outbreak of WW2, over 100,000 people were still living in them in Britain. They continued in use until 1948, managed by local councils after 1930. They were scrapped with the advent of the National Health Service and the Welfare State benefits systems.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that was very powerful, Beth. My mum shared a bedroom with her sister (1 year older) and her mum’s brother, Harry. He was 6 years older, and they used to hang a sheet between the beds on a string for privacy. But she thought it was very acceptable, in 1936.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My mum was from a tiny village in Wiltshire. I remember going to stay with her mother, brother and sister. They had an outhouse. Not sure they even had electricity. We had to sleep next door in a neighbor’s house because there was no room.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My grandparents lived on a ground-floor flat (and we shared it with them for a few years), and we also had the toilet and shower in what was the patio area. In fact, my father installed the shower cubicle himself. Later, it was decided that the ground floor should be reserved for shops or companies, rather than used as accommodation. Of course, here (Barcelona) most of the new buildings are high-rise constructions. Now, many of the shops and other facilities at ground floor level are being turned into flats (as quite a few businesses are closing shop). It is bizarre how things go in circles.
    What was considered acceptable and what not has changed so much even in our lifetime, that sometimes it feels as if we were living in a different time zone.
    Thanks for sharing those, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Olga. I lived in houses with an outside toilet and no bath until I was 8 years old. I still remember using the toilet outside in all weathers, and having ‘bath night’ in a metal bath that used to hang on the wall in the yard. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My youth was a time of what would now be considered dire poverty also … compared to today’s standards. We had the outside toilet too … we also had the water heated on top of the cookstove … water for clothes washing, for bathing …We burned coal for heat…I remember taking the ashes from the stove out and placing them on an ash pile …I guess we shared some similar experiences. It is good to revisit them from time to time to help us appreciate what we have now.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My Grandma Dot and my auntie Rene lived at 2 Shoot Up Hill in Cricklewood. Where they lived wasn’t much better. My mum Blanche was born there. The thing I always remember where the large cracks in the walls and ceiling, thanks to the bombings!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know Shoot Up Hill well, Jack. Even when I started in the Ambulance Service in 1979, a lot of the people livng in Cricklewood were Irish immingrants, and the accommodation was still sub-standard.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

All comments welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.