The population of Liverpool had swelled in proportion to its wealth and from the early years of the 19th century there was a need for more and more houses. Speculators were not slow to see the opportunities and set about building cheap housing for the masses. There was nothing humanitarian about their projects --- the homes were designed with but one specification which was to accommodate as many people as possible in order to accrue as much rent as possible, and the simple design did just that.
The design of a typical block was of two rows of terraced houses, back-to-back, each sharing a common dividing wall which ran like a spine down the centre of the building. Each side of the dividing wall consisted of a cellar dwelling and three stories above ground level----- each of the three stories containing a single room with the source of light and air coming from the front elevation of each.
The buildings were nothing more than the human version of a pigeon-loft and their construction was a monument to the greed and inhumanity of those who designed and built them. Adding insult to injury, the rents were so high that in many cases several or more families were forced to join forces to occupy a single room in order to share the rent.
Sanitation was almost non-existent and the communal latrine was emptied on a "need-to-do" basis so that when it was overflowing, a number of men called "scavengers" had the unenviable job of a drainingthe whole putrid mess and removing it until next time. It is an indication of just how far we have come in such a relatively short time that in many parts of India, the same system is still in use.
The cellar dwellings were literally the lowest of the low and were reliably described by no less an authority than Dr Duncan as ;
"Being 10 to 12 feet square, sometimes flagged but more often than not with an earthen floor, windowless and with no source
of light or air but a door standing lower than street level."
Washing facilities were also lacking and if they existed at all it were situated within the confines of a communal courtyard along with a single source of cold water. In the more luxurious yards there was a communal washing area consisting of a stone-bench.
A municipal rubbish removal scheme was non-existent. These places were called 'courts' and as noxious as they were in their conception their notoriety was to increase further after 1840. The Irish Famine saw unprecedented numbers of Irish immigrants arriving in Liverpool with the intention of traveling to America but many of them were unable to afford the fair and others were fleeced out of what little money they had. Inevitably, a great proportion of the immigrants found themselves becoming a part of life in the courts swelling the numbers to insupportable numbers of seething humanity.
Even Dickens would have found it beyond his descriptive powers to tell of life in a Liverpool court, circa 1840, and the residents would have been excused for believing that Compassion, Philanthropy and Humanity had taken a long holiday but there were caring people working behind the scenes and they are the true heroes and heroines of the city.
Hopwood Street Court