When people think of slums and extreme poverty, they tend to think of the Victorian era. But in St Ann’s in Nottingham, families were living in slums as late as the 1960s.
Around 30,000 people lived in just half a square mile – three times the population density of the rest of the city – in appalling conditions. Over half the houses had no hot water and eight out of ten homes had no bathroom, just a tin bath filled using a saucepan. Children grew up in overcrowded homes with five to one bed and mildew running down the walls. One family had ‘a hole in the ceiling that a man could crawl through’.
Residents worked hard to care for their families. Elderly women worked with lace, one of Nottingham’s most famous industries. They tirelessly pulled threads with their hands. Yet their pay was low, often not enough to make ends meet. One housewife worked pulling lace for just £3 per week.
Families struggled to feed and clothe themselves. They relied on hand-me-downs and meticulous budgeting. One housewife fed her family of four on £4.10 per week, carefully planning one meal to the next and using every scrap of leftovers. Schools were so overcrowded they could not offer school dinners.
Schoolteachers found that some children struggled to communicate, were often ill and were not toilet trained – the school kept spare underwear. On one school trip to the seaside, children saw sheep, cows and sand for the first time.
In 1969, ITV broadcast a documentary about life in St Ann’s. The filmmaker, Stephen Frears, interviewed residents and social researchers alike to document day to day life in the area. The documentary was based on the book St Ann’s: Poverty, Deprivation and Morale in a Nottingham Community by Ken Coates and Richard Silburn, republished by Spokesman Books in 2007.
Watch the documentary here.
Soon after the documentary was first aired, the slums were demolished under slum-clearance legislation. While slums have long been redeveloped and are now a thing of the past, many families in the UK still live in dire poverty. Child poverty rates remain high in Nottingham – around 40% of children are living in poverty in some neighbourhoods.