Nottingham: St Ann’s – Poverty in the 1960s

  Credit: Fremantle





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’.

You have to air [the children’s clothes] off before you put them on because they’re damp… everything’s mildewed that’s left in that cupboard.

St Ann’s resident in St Ann’s directed by Stephen Frears.
Credit: Fremantle

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.

[A] very large proportion of poor people [are] working a full week in often very onerous, arduous jobs and who earn, for a full week’s work, less than they would be able to draw if they drew public relief.

University of Nottingham researcher in St Ann’s directed by Stephen Frears.

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.

[The schools] can’t cope with the amount of meals. There is nowhere to seat the children. They have to deal with the very needy cases – people who are on assistance and have quite a few children in the family.

St Ann’s resident in St Ann’s directed by Stephen Frears

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.

Sometimes we find [the children] spend quite a long time in the toilet… we find them just sitting there. We think, perhaps this is a place where they go to be quiet. It’s a nice little house where they can shut the door and be entirely alone.

St Ann’s schoolteacher in St Ann’s directed by Stephen Frears

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.

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