St Martin’s Cottages, 1954

St Martin’s Cottages, 1973

Housing is once again top of the political agenda (or near to the top if one excludes the European referendum, immigration and austerity measures) and so it should be. The population projections for Britain should be giving politicians nightmares – particularly in overheated London (where there could be a 40,000 shortage of school places within the decade). Too few new houses have been built and the cost of those available is out of the reach of most young people.
Of course, as with most things, nothing is new. Liverpool in the mid-nineteenth century faced its own population explosion (mainly from Ireland) and the result was chronic overcrowding in slum housing (with thousands crammed into insanitary cellars). Disease was rife but the laissez-faire politics of the time made it impossible for local authorities to spend ratepayers money on practical solutions. That was until the Liverpool Sanitary Amendment Act of 1864 gave the Council special powers.
The first project was St Martin’s Cottages, a development of 124 dwellings opened in 1869. This was one, if not the first, municipal ventures of its kind. Hardly an earth-shattering initiative but a significant piece of history (the next Liverpool involvement was 16 years later in 1885 with Victoria Square – see my post of 13 August 2010 – which added a further 282 dwellings. In fact, by 1900, all the Council initiatives only added about 700 new dwellings).
The legacy of bad housing still persists. I am astonished by how generation after generation has had to endure substandard conditions at a time when Britain has generated so much wealth. St Martin’s Cottages were, in fact, condemned before the War but I can remember visiting an old man there in the mid-1970s, shortly before they were demolished in 1977.
My two pictures throw up a question. The 1954 block has a nameplate identifying the building as St Martin’s Cottages but the building is clearly only three storeys. To my knowledge the only blocks built were four storeys (bottom photograph). The building style is clearly the same but where was this smaller block? Can anyone throw any light on this?
Finally, I will be at the Look 15 Photobook fair at the Bluecoat Art Centre this Sunday (31st). If you are interested in photography, there are some interesting publishers attending and you can also catch Tricia Porter’s exhibition of her Liverpool 8 photographs.