Social Policy: From the Victorians to the Present Day
Susannah Morris

Session 3 The Katharine Buildings

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The Katharine Buildings were erected on a slum clearance site in Cartwright Street, behind the Royal Mint and close to the Tower of London. They were opened for general use in 1885. The story of these dwellings provides a fascinating case study of Victorian social housing provision and philanthropic ideals.

Katharine video Susannah Morris discusses life at the Katharine Buildings, a nineteenth century tenement dwelling close to the East End of London.
(8:28 min)

These dwellings were the first to be erected by the East End Dwellings Company (EEDC), a voluntary organisation founded in London during the 1880s. Seven new housing organisations were founded in London at this time to provide the working classes with accommodation at a price that they could afford and in a manner that did not threaten the physical and moral health of society.

Yet the attempts to regulate the social and moral life of the inhabitants of the Katharine Buildings did not always sit easily them. Efforts to organise social events and to advise and control the residents' living and working habits could, and sometimes did, end in conflict. Yet such exercises were strictly in accordance with the aims of many Victorian housing organisations to improve the lifestyles and living conditions of their tenants, and to elevate them morally, socially and even economically--if that were possible.

J.N. Tarn, Working Class Housing

This is an image of the rear of the Katharine Buildings. They were the first dwellings erected by the East End Dwellings Company and were built on a slum clearance site in Cartwright Street behind the Royal Mint. The Katharine Buildings were opened for occupation in 1885. They provide us with an interesting case study of Victorian social housing provision.

The EEDC was concerned that existing housing organisations were not housing the poorer sections of the working classes so it was this group which it resolved to try and reach. In order to do so, however, the EEDC was going to have to keep costs down and this implied keeping building standards to a sanitary minimum.

By the 1970s such interventionist ideals and the buildings themselves were out of fashion. The Katharine Buildings were finally demolished, paving the way for a new wave of council housing.
The Katharine Buildings Log

The East End Dwellings Company employed lady rent-collectors to co-ordinate the basic administration of the buildings. The rent-collectors were Beatrice Potter (later Beatrice Webb and co-founder of the LSE) and a woman we know very little about, Ella Pycroft. The Company required the rent-collectors to keep a log. So, during their time as colleagues Ella and Beatrice kept a record of the inhabitants of the building recording information about their occupations, family circumstances, lifestyles, rents and length of residence. This log still exists and provides a fascinating insight into the physical and moral standards and prejudices of Victorian dwellings companies. Below are a few excerpts from the log, with information on some of the people who actually lived in the Katharine Buildings.

ABBOT, John: Large room, 3s. 6d. 8 months, 1888-9: Casual labourer. Had been imprisoned by School Board at the time they came in. Low class people, very poor, seemed honest. Wife did a little cleaning. Boy at truant school. Emily, b. 1878. Eliza b. 1885.

ABRAHAMS, Hyman: Double rooms, 5s.6d. 2 weeks, 1886: Tailor. Jew. Wife and children dirty. Left after two weeks: said the children of the Buildings hooted them as Jews.

BARDON : Large Room, 3s. 0d. 3.5 months, 1886-87: Bricklayers, labourer. Wife, Young people, Came from a cellar in Margan Street. Clean but doubtfully respectable. Mrs B's mother wanted to come to K.B; refused to have her. Her landlord advised me not, and her appearance would have been enough. She accounted for the numerous scars on her face by saying that she had always lived in dark places, and so knocked herself about! The Bardons moved to be near her and we were glad.

CLARY, James: Large room, 3s. 6d. 1 year 2 months, 1888-89: Stevedore's labourer. Wife, Norah Murphy, daughter of Patrick Murphy ; vegetable maid, had to give up work in consequence of miscarriage. Said her husband had deserted her. I allowed her to move her thing away, then was told it was only a made-up story.

Session 4