Housing reform in Cambridge in late 1800s


Eglantyne Jebb gives me another pointer

In an excruciatingly tough session in the archives today due to a toxic mix of general election exhaustion and depression, I managed to re-read parts of Eglantyne Jebb’s study of social questions and cross-referenced it with a book published a year prior that she mentioned, “Housing in Cambridge” by Henry Caley. The reason why this book is important is that it’s one of the links between the grassroots work that Eglantyne was doing under the supportive eye of Florence Ada Keynes and Mary Paley Marshall, and the work of other groups in Cambridge – in this case the Cambridge University and Cambridge Women’s Branches of the Christian Social Union – today the Industrial Christian Fellowship.

041111 Cambridge Housing Problem1

What’s interesting was that the original report by Henry Caley was commissioned by a committee of the CSU to investigate all things housing in Cambridge. The newspaper article goes onto state our Medical Officer for Health, Dr Bushell Anningson (who was our first ever professional public health medical officer in Cambridge) advised the Mayor (who in those days had more influence than today) to start sanitary inspections. (See more on Dr Anningson and what is now the Brookfields Hospital here). The Wellcome Trust has also digitised a number of public health reports from the Chesterton Rural District (covering Cherry Hinton, Fulbourn & Willingham) which you can read here – most written by Dr Anningson.

In April 1905, the Cambridge Women’s Liberal Association under the chair of Cambridge Hero Julia Kennedy (who along with Rosamund Philpott was the first woman to stand for election to what is now Cambridge City Council) hosted a public debate on housing. It was in this meeting that Henry Aldridge of the newly-formed National Housing Reform Council raised the case of the Newtown area of Cambridge (the part of town between the Botanic Gardens and the Catholic Church on Hills Road) as being a slum in the making. Aldridge and campaigners were calling for much more substantial action on housing – including the demolition of slums without compensation to landlords. See the article The Institutionalisation of Planning p171.

Trying to find the missing parts of the jigsaw.

Cambridge’s first building by-laws were brought in, in 1889 according to the Cambridge Independent Press via the British Newspaper Archive.

060302 Cambridge Housing Problem1

They were also revised in 1902 – and note that the article highlights the work of the Housing Committee of the Christian Social Union. The above-article was a feature on Dr Anningson’s 31st annual report on the state of public health in Cambridge. It really is a wonderful read (See here but requires ¬£subscription). As far as archives go, what I’d like to locate are:

  • The minutes of meetings of the Cambridge branches of the Christian Social Union
  • The text of the housing bylaws of 1889 and 1902 passed by Cambridge Borough Council
  • The enabling Act of Parliament giving borough councils the necessary powers for housing bylaws

Manuscript minutes

There are a number of minute books in the Cambridgeshire County Archives that need transcribing, publishing online and publicising in order to get the information to a much wider audience. I just don’t have the necessary skills or competency to decipher the significant amount of papers that are there, let alone trying to read not always brilliantly written manuscripts. The big ones are:

  • The Cambridge Ladies Discussion Society (that held big public lectures once or twice a month with very eminent speakers being cross-examined)
  • The National Council for Women – Cambridge Branch
  • The National Union of Women Workers – Cambridge Branch

This I hope will cover the links between the women that shaped modern Cambridge and the institutions they were campaigning through.



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