31 Days of History: The Slums of York

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March 12th, 2012
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Much of York was in poverty at the beginning of the 20th Century, with areas like Hungate and Walmgate living in squalor. Apparently a quarter of York’s 45,000 inhabitants lived in these slums at the time. The main reasons behind the poverty were low wages, large families and the death of the chief wage earner within the family. In 1908, whole streets of back-to-back houses in the Hungate area were condemned as unfit for human habitation and demolition was ordered.

Later in 1914, the same process occurred in Walmgate. The back-to-back houses, and winding alleyways were described as “damp, run down and in need of repair, with no direct light or access to air. There were many unwelcomed inhabitants and a generally unpleasant place to care for a family”.

Between 1801 and 1901 the population of York had trebled. York did not become an industrial city compared to Leeds for example, but relied on small-scale manufacturing and marketing. The arrival of the railways and the confectionery industry were the exceptions, and these drew new immigrants into the city.

Saw mills and a flour mill were later established in the area, with the hope to provide inhabitants with work, but by the 1920s the area had been cleared of the slums and then redeveloped for light industry and warehousing. Further post-war developments took place after The Stonebow was laid out, but much of this has now been demolished and Hungate is poised for the next phase of its history.

Today Hungate is undergoing a massive regeneration, which sees the area transformed through a £150m mixed-use scheme including 720 new homes, new offices for City of York Council, neighbourhood shops and bars, new public open spaces and walkways across and beside the River Foss, a million miles away from the turn of the century slums.

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