Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Back to Backs. I'm thankful for the dorm!

We've had a very informative week! First we learned about Bonfire Night, and then yesterday we visited the "Back to Backs," a historical site in Birmingham.

The Back to Backs were a popular cheap housing option, and were first built in the 1800s all over England. In 2001, a block of the old buildings were declared a historical landmark and are now preserved as a museum and open to the public for viewing.

Basically, the inexpensive buildings were one room deep apartments, that shared the back wall with another apartment facing the opposite direction. The brick wall dividing the two apartments was one layer thick, leading to terrible noise and over-population of certain areas. By building the apartments in this manner twice as many people could fit on the same plot of land.

Birmingham was the birthplace of the industrial revolution, so a great deal of inexpensive housing was necessary to accommodate all the workers filling factory jobs. It was common for a couple thousand people to live in a single complex, with many communities (built nearly identical) spread out across the city. The cheap housing was built up in other  cities as well to deal with the growing housing shortage. These buildings were used as living spaces well into the mid 1900s, with shops and stores occupying them far after the government condemned them as housing apartments.

The museum in Birmingham has preserved several different units and in each one a different time period is represented. It was really interesting to start in the early 1800s and continue through 2000!

They did not allow photography inside the buildings, but here are a couple from the courtyard. Each complex included outdoor toilets and a wash room, which was put on a rotating cycle for tenant use.

The scariest thing of the tour? The staircases! Each building includes several flights of tightly curled circular stairs, the entire staircase being no wider than a small coat closet. These were hard to climb just for our tour, I can't imagine living there and climbing them several times a day!

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