A “Virtual” Tour of The Back to Backs – part 53




A Virtual Tour of the Back to Backs – part 53

As we move on to the later “1870s” privy we may wish to consider this statement “The town would be “parked, paved, assized, marketed, gas & watered and ‘improved'”. These were the words of Joseph Chamberlain who became the Mayor of Birmingham in the 1870s. The Liberal opposition were swept to power by a population appalled at the lack of interest in the living conditions and poverty in the town which was governed by the Tory administration. Chamberlain set about making Birmingham into the “Best Governed City in the World”.

By the 1870s the courtyard in Court 15 had been paved and this reduced the instances of washing falling from the line to land in a sea of mud and grime. But more was to come.

At the time there were two private gas companies and a private water company in Birmingham constantly digging up the streets. Chamberlain arranged for these to be bought by the town council and therefore put into public ownership. The water supply had been a constant source of disease as most of the water was drawn from wells and bore holes. The disease, it was discovered, was spread by all that wee and poo getting into the ground water. Remember Lawrence Levy avoided all these diseases by drinking home-made beer from his pewter mug? (Click here to read part 19)

The new council owned water company had set about bringing piped water to every resident using the profits from the council’s gas company. In Court 15 this manifested itself as a single tap in the courtyard. This was still a communal resource, but better than trekking back and forth the with a bucket to the well. Ultimately, by 1892, Birmingham had acquired the Elan & Claerwen valleys in Wales to supply clean water to the growing city.  

However, as they say – what goes in, must come out. So, disposing of the effluence also became a challenge.

Joseph Chamberlain – a carte-de-visite (visiting card) by Henry Joseph Whitlock – 1870s
The Privies with the doors open
A communal tap in a court in Rea Street
Craig Goch – one of the dams in the Elan Valley
King Edward VII opening the Elan Valley waterworks 21st July 1904