The Myth of the Sociable Estate Agent

June 21st, 2022

I have been thinking about the misconception that you have to be sociable to be an estate agent. I am slightly autie, and I don’t enjoy socialising at all. Nobody would ever call me sociable. I kind of want to be around people, but group situations are too hard to cope with, and I avoid them. I used to like going to a disco – I could just dance – but socialising in a bar would be a nightmare! In a group, I feel like an awkward, panicked gooseberry. I’m either the one in the kitchen at parties, or the one in the corner on her phone.

I have been self employed almost my whole life (I’m 61). If I applied for a job in a corporate estate agent today, I doubt I would get it. I generally flunk interviews even though I could do the job standing on my head. I struggle to process the new information coming at me in a pressured situation, and worry about what is required of me, what they want me to say, and how to present myself. (This started when I was young and failed a group interview for McDonald’s!) I can’t be a lower ranking sheep or a cog at work – I wouldn’t be a malleable employee. If I saw injustice, malpractice, or a better way to do something, I would feel compelled to call it out. I am not seen as a team player. Nor would I be a natural manager. I would find it stressful to handle responsibility to multiple stakeholders, and deal with the dynamics of a group of team members.

But… I’m a great estate agent (or so my husband and clients tell me!)

Being autie makes me quite an avid people watcher, hyper analytical in my relationships, and a good psycholgist (I have a degree in Social Psychology too). I have also learned over the years that underneath the autie reactions I am weirdly gregarious – I will talk to anyone one to one in a queue at the checkout, or one to one in a work situation, provided that I am confident in my subject and know my worth. I get intensely involved in anything I do. And I’m intelligent and love to learn. And I’m honest – sometimes brutally so! You might say that I have a faulty filter, but I prefer to think of it as an asset – it’s neurotypicals who have the faulty gene!

These skills are perfect for estate agency. I am not trying to build a friendship or a long term relationship, just an intense, short, honest, open, and supportive relationship with one or two people.

Almost my whole life I’ve assumed that people don’t like me. But I was looking in the wrong places for validation. Now, thanks to estate agency, I feel so much more confident. I describe myself as quirky and I am working on a dress style to match that. I am often open with clients about being autie, so people don’t misread my lack of eye contact or my occasional abrupt/misplaced remark. Clients appreciate my honesty (I find it almost impossible to lie or hold back on my thoughts).

Anyway – I hope that hearing my story is helpful if you are in a position where the labels you (or others) have applied to yourself are not serving you.

How to sell a house in England

June 14th, 2022

Here’s a simple step-by-step guide to selling a house in England. This does not pretend to be a comprehensive guide. I’d just like to run through a few basics to help to orient you as you proceed along this rather overwhelming journey! These steps are listed in chronological order.

1) Talk to your existing lender

You will want to know

  • Your redemption figure (how much money will be needed to pay off your mortgage)
  • whether there are any early repayment charges (these will apply if you don’t need another mortgage or if you change to a different lender)
  • whether you can port your mortgage i.e. swap your existing mortgage onto another property. Normally a lender porting your mortgage will insist that the house you are buying is about the same value or less than your current home.

2) Talk to a mortgage broker

If you are buying another property you may need a mortgage. You are free to choose your own mortgage broker. Your agent may suggest one, but as with solicitors, they may add on a referral fee. I generally recommend Yellow Brick to my clients. The broker will provide:

  • mortgage advice
  • estimates of how much you can borrow
  • information on the best available deals for your circumstances (porting may or may not not be the best option)
  • access to a Mortgage in Principle – although this has no formal status, it is a good thing to show estate agents, as it serves as a declaration of your commitment to buying, your relationship with a broker, and a strong indication of your buying power.

3) Decide whether to tie your sale in with your purchase

This is the conventional way to buy and sell a property. You would aim to complete on all the transactions in the chain of properties at the same time. Putting a chain together can be a stressful and difficult process, especially in a ‘hot’ market where there may be a lot of competition for any houses on the market. You will probably be making offers against first time buyers and cash buyers. I often hear of buyers being pipped at the post time after time, and sellers taking their property off the market because they can’t find anything to buy.

4) Break the chain

The alternative to tying together the buying and selling transactions is to ‘break the chain’ by selling your property first. This route, with a period of renting in between selling and buying, or staying with family or friends temporarily, is becoming increasingly common. The advantages are:

  • No pressure to meet a buyer’s or seller’s time scales
  • Less chance that you’ll have to compromise on your sale price
  • You won’t be forced into buying whatever is on the market – you can wait for a better property to come along
  • You will look like a much better candidate when you are making offers

The disadvantages are

  • The cost of renting in between
  • The cost of storing your belongings

5) Choose an estate agent

The conventional method is to invite two or more agents to visit your home and give you a market valuation. You can use this opportunity to meet some agents face to face and decide who has the necessary rapport, skills, tools, knowledge, availability, and commitment, to sell your home successfully. DO NOT simply look for the most established or popular agent with the most houses on their books – they may not be the best! Check what marketing strategy each one offers, and compare their fees. Make sure to watch out for any up-front or non-returnable fees. My valuation advice page will help to guide you through this part of the process.

If you are abroad, please note that in the UK the estate agent only works for the seller, and is paid by them via a commission on the sale price when the sale completes. In the UK commissions are much lower than their US equivalents.

N.B. A market valuation does not tell you what your home is worth. That’s a surveyor’s job. Instead, each agent will advise you on the price they believe you should advertise your property for. Listen to their strategy advice – not just £ signs!

6) Instruct your agent

You will need to sign a contract with the agent, then you will need to provide them with identity information. Exact requirements (e.g. a meeting, a passport, a photo, or a driving licence etc) will vary depending on the agent’s identity verification platform. They are not being awkward – this is a legal obligation because they have to comply with anti money laundering legislation. Please provide what they need promptly, as they cannot do anything to help until this is done.

7) Order an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)

Your previous Energy Performance Certificate or EPC (if you have one) is valid for ten years. You may want to get a new one if you have changed anything and the rating may have improved. If you don’t have one, legally you have to apply for an EPC within seven days of putting your home on the market. You must have one available to buyers within 28 days of marketing. Your estate agent may suggest a firm or a portal through which you can find an EPC supplier. Bear in find a referral fee may be added to the bill. There is not much point in following this recommendation as you can easily check whether you EPC is valid and find a register of suppliers on the Government Website.

8) Choose a conveyancing solicitor

Solicitors can be very busy so it’s worth speaking to the ones you’d like to use so you are not caught out when you get a sale. Although you can’t officially instruct them until a sale is agreed, they can do a few things up front, for example they can provide the forms you need to fill in, and can help you to start gathering the documentation that will be needed.

If you are not sure who to use, your agent may suggest a firm or a portal through which you can find one. Bear in mind a referral fee may be added to your bill. Estate Agents are legally obliged to declare this fee.

9) Prepare your home for photography and viewings

This is a very important step, so much so that I provide my sellers with a stylist to help them with this process. A well presented home could sell quicker and could achieve a higher price. Decluttering is the most important part of the preparation – you are aiming to make the rooms look brighter and bigger, and you are trying to make it easier for potential buyers to imagine themselves and their possessions in your space. There is plenty of advice onlne if you don’t have access to a stylist.

10) Approve the details

The estate agent will send you the draft details and photos to check. Do this thoroughly. It is important that there are no mistakes or omissions of material information.

11) Conduct viewings

You or your agent may conduct viewings yourself on an ad hoc basis, or if the property is likely to be popular, your estate agent may book the viewings close together in blocks. If there is a viewing day, it’s a good idea to go ourt for the day so that the estate agent can negotiate freely on your behalf.

12) Receive offers

Your estate agent is legally obligated to pass all offers on to you. Remember, they are working for the you, the seller, and they will negotiate with each buyer to get you the best possible price – but it’s not just about the money. The estate agent will also explain the relative merits of any potential purchasers, including whether they are first time buyers, cash buyers, or in a chain. You are not obliged to follow their advice, but there is normally good reason to take it.

13) Accept an offer

When you have decided on the best offer, you can formally accept it. The estate agent will tell the lucky buyer on your behalf. You can change your mind at any point up to exchange. If a seller accepts a higher offer at the last minute we call this gazumping, and if the buyer lowers their offer at the last minute, we call this gazundering. This can cause much distress and anger. Culturally the British think this is wrong and unfair. Some property buyers, sellers, and agents still promote this hard-nosed way of thinking, but many English buyers and sellers would prefer to follow the Scottish system, in which properties are always taken off the market when an offer is accepted and gazumping is almost unheard of.

14) Instruct your solicitor

At this point you will formally instruct your solicitor to act for you in the sale and in any related purchase. Just like the estate agent, they will need to do identity checks, which are required by law. They will also ask you to fill in some initial forms confirming the basis on which they will be acting for you.

Your buyer will also be beginning the process of instructing a solicitor and applying for a mortgage. This is something which they cannot do in advance of choosing a property, so it can take a little time. Their solicitor may not start searches or raise enquiries on a draft contract until the mortgage offer is in place.

15) Memorandum of Sale

The estate agent now prepares a Memorandum of Sale detailing the buyer’s name and address, the seller’s name and address, and the full contact details for both their solicitors. It is important to provide these details as quickly as possible if you have not yet done so, as without it, the estate agent could continue marketing the property, and the solicitors will not start work until they have received it.

16) Offer on a property and apply for your mortgage

If you have not already done so, now is the time to offer on a property and apply for a mortgage through your mortgage broker. You will need to act promptly to ensure that you obtain a lender’s valuation and an offer in good time, and that the money can be released when required.

17) Fill out the property information forms

If you have not already done so, now is the time to fill out the property information forms I mentioned when you chose your solicitor. You will need the TA6, TA7 (for leaseholds only), and the TA10. You can download samples of these forms on the Law Society Website. Don’t worry too much if you don’t know the answer to any questions. Just put, “Don’t know”.

18) Let the buyer’s surveyors in

At some point a surveyor may come to see your property. If the buyer is getting a mortgage you will see a surveyor who is acting for the buyer’s lender. They will value the property and ensure that it is mortgageable. There may also be a surveyor who is emploted by the buyer, particularly if they are buying cash. At this point things can go wrong. The surveyor may downvalue the property or raise significant concerns about it. Be prepared for disappointment or a renegotiation of the price. Nothing you can say will change matters.

19) The Draft Contract

Your solicitor will use your TA forms to start putting together a draft contract pack for the sale of your property. They will request lots of supporting documentation such as compliance certificates and guarantees. Make sure that you supply everything promptly so that there are no undue delays. If you can’t find someting, explain and send whatever you do have. When the pack is ready, your solicitor will send it over to the buyer’s solicitor.

20) Searches

The buyer’s solicitor will be conducting searches on your property. They often ask the buyer to make a payment on account before they will start the searches. The length of time this takes varies greatly around the country. If this causes an unacceptable delay it is sometimes possible for the buyer to take out an indemnity policy and proceed without them, but some solicitors will advise against this, and some lenders will not allow the purchase to proceed on the strength of an indemnity policy. Unfortunately you may simply have to wait.

21) Deal with enquiries

The buyer’s solicitor will now send enquiries to your solicitor, to fill in any gaps in the information they need. Your solicitor may come back to you with more questions, and there may be a great deal of toing and froing until there are no more questions. The more information you can supply, and the quicker you can supply it, the better.

Eventually you will be ready to exchange contracts – there are two last jobs to do.

22) Choose a completion date

You and the buyer will have to decide a mutually acceptable completion date, normally leaving between 7 and 28 days between exchange of contracts and completion.

23) Sign the contract

Your solicitor will send you the contract to sign, but if they are local, you can visit the solicitor to sign the contract in person. Signing contracts does not in itself make the transaction legally binding. You will only be bound by the contract on exchange. The solicitor will simply hold the signed documents on file in readiness for exchange, so there is no last minute rush to get them signed.

24) Exchange contracts

The solicitors do not literally exchange contracts. Each pair of solicitors holds a conversation on the phone. During the conversation the solicitors read out their copies of the contract to make sure they are exactly the same, and they record the phone conversation as evidence. The transaction becomes legally binding at this point. If either the buyer or the seller decide to pull out after this, they will likely be liable for severe penalties to compensate the other party. If you pull out as a seller, the buyer’s deposit will be returned to them and you may be sued.

You remain responsible for your property after exchange. You must keep it in the same condition that it was in when your buyer agreed to buy it. It is not unusual for the buyer or the estate agent to come round before completion to ensure that everything is hunky dory.

It is the responsibility of the buyer to insure the property on exchange, but it is still advisable to keep your buildings and contents insurance going until completion, as you never know what disaster might happen!

25) Book removals

Now that you have a completion date you can get removals quotes and book a company. If there will be a gap between your sale and your purchase, many removals companies offer a temporary storage facility.

26) Move out

You can move out at any time up to and including the day of completion. There is no need to wait until completion day.

27) Completion

Completion usually, but not always, happens at midday on the prearranged completion day. The money is transferred and the deeds of the property are transferred between each side’s solicitor. Unfortunately delays can happen, particularly when one of the lenders does not transfer the money in time. Normally the solicitor at the bottom of the chain calls the next solicitor up to say they are ready, and so on to the top of the chain, then back down again. When everyone is ready the property changes hands. Either the seller or the estate agent hand over the keys to the buyer. Finally the buyer’s solicitor registers the transfer of ownership with the Land Registry.

28) Final transactions

Your solicitor will use your buyer’s payment to

  • pay your mortgage lender the outstanding amount of your mortgage, in accordance with the lender’s final redemption statement.
  • pay for the property you are buying
  • pay the stamp duty for the house you are buying
  • pay your estate agent their fees.

All this normally happens on the same day.

29) Completion Statement

Your solicitor will send you a final statement itemising everything they have spent, and enclosing any balance.

30) Congratulations – you’ve sold your house!

The History of Rothay Street, Leigh

June 11th, 2022

This history is a new project – do come back later to see what I have added!

The Canal

The Bridgewater Canal opened in 1761 and is often named as England’s first canal. It was an entirely man-made cut, built to transport coal from the Duke’s collieries in Worsley into Manchester. It was named after its founder and owner, Francis Egerton, the third Duke of Bridgewater.

Stanley Mill

In 1833 Bickham and Pownall built Stanley Mill as a silk mill on land just to the east of Duke Street, in the Bedford area of Leigh. They also built a master’s house on the site. They used to employ about a thousand workers of which 500 to 600 worked in the mill and the remainder worked in their homes. In 1870 there were still nine silk weaving sheds at Stanley Mill, but the silk trade was already in decline. The mill was gradually converted as the cotton trade took over from the silk trade.
In 1876 a job was advertised at Stanley Mills by James Syddall and Co.

Rothay Street 1845-1847

Three fields

For most of the 19th century Rothay Street did not exist. In the 1840s there were three plots, probably grazing fields, to the east of the Stanley Mill site. To the north, the three fields were bounded by the properties on Chapel Street, and to the south, they were bounded by the Bridgewater Canal.

The westerly field is now Cosworth Close and Avon Street. Rothay Street runs down the boundary between the westerly field and the middle field. To the north of the middle field, fronting onto Chapel Street, was a public house. It was named the Three Crowns by at least 1856. Tweed Street and Picksley Street run down the boundary between this middle field and the easterly field. To the north of the easterly field was Bedford Grove. On the 1840s OS map Bedford Grove looks like a handful of properties including a grand house surrounded by a large pleasure garden, several cottages, and some outbuildings. These houses may have been renamed 1 to 4 Orchard House by 1891 (TBC).

Bank Farm

A farmhouse, Bank Farm, once stood by the canal opposite Rothay Street. Some time before 1895 the farm was renamed Canal Farm.

On 14th June 1895 Elizabeth Whittle died at Canal Farm, aged 12 years.

On the 4th March 1905 the Wigan Observer and District Advertiser advertised a sale at the farm, which gives a good indication of the scale of the farm’s business: “CANAL FARM, LEIGH, the Canal Bank, close to Mather Lane Mills, and 1½ Miles from Leigh and Bedford Station. On Tuesday, March 14th at One pm. George Wilcock has received instructions from Mr Joseph Dickinson, who is declining Dairy Farming, to sell by auction, as above, his very valuable Farming Effects and Contractor’s Plant, comprising Live Stock, etc. — Newly calved and present calving cows, one served in January; fat calf, valuable bay mare, 16 hands, 9 years old, suit spring lurry; two store pigs, 100 fowls, &c. Carts, Implements &c — Stylish nearly new float, dog cart, waggonette to carry 6, two spring shandries. capital spring lorry, with fittings, about 18 cwt; three nearly new carts, pulper, hay cutter, ploughs, weighing machine and weights, &c. Gears and Dairy Utensils — Seven nearly new sets of shaft and chain gears, two sets of brass-mounted harness, kits, &c. Contractor’s Plant. – Nearly new 130-gallon tar boiler (Henley’s patent), two dobbin carts, 12 navvy barrows, tools, wood buildings, &c.”

The disposal continued several months later, when the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported another sale on 15th September 1905. It is a delight to see the horses’ names in this advert. “CANAL FARM, LEIGH. Pursuant to instructions from Mr Joseph Dickenson, Messrs, Richard Greenough & son will Sell by Auction on Monday September 18th 1905, at 1 pm, at the Farm and Premises in his occupation, known as CANAL FARM, the whole of the FARMING STOCK, IMPLEMENTS, DAIRY UTENSILS, and effects, comprising: — 1) Light Roan Cow (had 3 Calves), 2) Roan Cow, served January 25th. 3) Light Roan Cow, in full flow. 4) Black Cow, in full flow. 5) Roan Cow, newly calved. 6) Dun Cow, newly calved. 7) Black Mare, ‘Scott’, 15-3, 5 years old. 8) Bay Horse, ‘Bob’, 16-0, aged. 9) Useful Black Mare, ‘Dolly’ 15-2, 9 years old. 8 Pigs. 30 Head of Poultry. Three Fast Carts, one with Sideboards, &c, complete; Milk Float equal to new; Wagonette to carry 8, Turnip Pulper (by H Mc G & Co Ltd); Chaff Cutter, 3 Sets of Cart Harness, Set of Trap Harness, Sundry Saddlery, Mixing and Lick Tubs, Cow Chains, Milk Tankard, Milk Cans and Measures, Churn, quantity of Oak and Pitchpine Spars, 3 in and 2½ in by ¾ in by 16 ft long; about 12 tons Manure, Hen Cote, and numerous Miscellaneous Effects.”

The Three Crowns and Naylor’s Fold

A hotel or public house existed on Chapel Street long before any properties were built on Rothay Street. Wigan Council’s ‘Bridgewater Canal Conservation Area Appraisal 2012’ states, “The pub dates from the late 18th Century, with alterations. This building originated as Naylor’s Fold Farmhouse, reflecting the rural origins of the area. Notable features include its sandstone slate roof and timber framed sash windows to the first and second floors.” There were three cottages tucked in behind the pub, called Naylor’s Fold.

The pub was one of two which came up for sale in 1895, and the advert which appeared in the Wigan Observer and District Advertiser on 12 April 1895 in which the auctioneers, Holden and Holden, give a short description of it in those days:

“VALUABLE FREEHOLD PUBLIC HOUSES, situate in the Town ol LEIGH, in the County of Lancaster. Messrs Richard Greenough and Son will SELL BY AUCTION, on Thursday, the 25th day of April, 1895, at 6.30 for 7 o’clock prompt in the Evening, at the COURTS HOTEL, LEIGH, subject to conditions of sale to be then and there produced, Lot 1: – All that Old Established Freehold, Fully Licenced PUBLIC HOUSE known the Three Crowns lnn, Chapel Street. Leigh, in the occupation of Mrs Jane Kemp. The site of the premises has a building frontage to Chapel Street of 103 feet 6 inches, and to Rothay Street of 81 feet 9 inches, and contains altogether an area of 1117 square yards. The premises contain bar, bar-parlour, smoke room, sitting room, kitchen, scullery, pantry, coach house and stable, yard, garden, vacant land in the rear, cellars, clubroom, and bedrooms. This house is the only fully-licensed house between Butt’s Bridge and Brunswlck Street, a distance of 900 yards on the main highway. The house is in Lease to the Wilderspool Brewery Co until the 12th May, 1896.”

Rothay Street 1888-1892

The Recreation Ground

In the late 19th century, there was much concern in Leigh about the lack of recreation space. By the 1880s a bowling green had been built at the northern (Chapel Street) end of the Rothay Street, just to the west of the Hotel, and the rest of the left and middle plots had been developed into a Recreation Ground with a viewing stand on its northern edge. This must have been a lovely facility for the locals, but unfortunately it didn’t last long, as the increasing need for labour led to a rapid expansion of housing.

Rothay Street – the first six houses

On 1st August 1890 Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported, “Plans submitted by Messrs. Banks, Fairclough, and Stephen, of six houses proposed be built by Mr Peter Mort, in Rothay Street, Bedford, were referred to the Highways Committee. The minutes were passed.”

I believe these were the six cottages behind the pub stretching down the east side of the future Rothay Street towards the canal – odd numbers 1 to 11 Rothay Street. These six cottages appear in an OS map surveyed between 1888 and 1892, and published in 1893.

The Gas Main

On 2nd October 1891 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported, “It was resolved that the gas manager be authorised to extend the gas mains in Rothay Street, Mill Lane, Widdows Street, and Cunliffe Street, and that the price of coke be reduced to 6s 8d per ton at the Gas Works. The minutes were approved.”

The 1891 Census

By 1891 there were more houses in Rothay Street. The census lists four houses on the west side, even numbers 2, 4, 6, and 8, and nine houses on the east side, odd numbers 1 to 17. In addition, there were still three cottages behind the Three Crowns in Naylor’s Fold.

  • 2 – Peter Hayes, tin plate worker
  • 4 – John Leigh, staionary engine driver
  • 6 – Thomas Lee, coal miner
  • 8 – Richard Shuttleworth, coal miner
  • 1 – John Collier, checkweighman
  • 3 – Ann Lee, widow living on her own means
  • 5 – Elizabeth Barlow, widowed mother
  • 7 – John Seddon, labourer for local board
  • 9 – John Wilcock, coal miner
  • 11 – William Ashton, iron moulder
  • 13 – John Butterworth, loom tackler at cotton mill
  • 15 – James Robinson, cotton reeler overlooker
  • 17 – Aloysius Smith, brass finisher

The new houses in Rothay Street were built with Accrington Brick with Welsh slate roofs. Wigan Council’s ‘Bridgewater Canal Conservation Area Appraisal 2012’ states incorrectly that they were built in 1903, however, the entire street was complete by 1901. The report reads:

“The grid of former workers’ housing formed by Rothay Street and Severn Street is concentrated in a small area between Chapel Street and the canal. This is a densely built up area of red brick terraced housing built to the back-of-pavement, with yard or garden space behind. The form of development is typical of the Victorian grid-iron development that was very prevalent in Leigh at the turn of the 20th Century, to provide housing for the mill workers. The terraces of workers’ houses were developed in 1903 and are considerably plainer than the houses on Chapel Street. Nonetheless, they are distinguished by often subtle variations in window and door details. Rothay Street has a number of properties with tripartite sash windows, divided by stout mullions with the wider central sash having a single vertical glazing bar. Above the windows are segmental brick arches. Some of these houses have segmental arched double reveal door openings.”

Next 10 houses in Rothay Street

On 2nd September 1892 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported: “HIGHWAYS AND BUILDINGS COMMITTEE, Meeting held July 26th, Mr Fairclough, chairman. — It was resolved that the plans of three houses proposed built by Mr James Kerfoot, fronting Widdows Street, Bedford; of ten houses proposed to be built by Mr John Fairclough, fronting Rothay Street, Bedford; and of five cottages proposed to built by Mr James Ince, fronting Organ Street, Westleigh, be approved and passed, all with the recommendation to adopt Duckett’s closets.”

There are ten houses in one terrace on the east side of Rothay Street, odd numbers 13 to 31, which I thought could be these ten houses, but this does not tally with the existing 1891 numbers. This remains a mystery.

The Naming of the Streets off Rothay Street

Until 1894 the roads off Rothay Street were not officially named. The Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported on the Highways and Building Committee meeting on 27 April 1894, “The Chairman read the report of the Assistant Surveyor with reference to the naming of streets, which stated that the following streets […] require naming as well as nameplates; the name put opposite the street in the list below is the name put on the plans at present being prepared by Messrs Banks, Fairclough, and Stephen: — First street off Rothay Street, Bedford —  Avon Street; 2nd street off Rothay Street, Bedford — Severn Street; 3rd street off Rothay Street, Bedford — Wye Street.”

It is apparent that there was a developing theme of naming local streets after rivers. Wye Street is probably today’s Cosworth Close – what a shame that this name did not survive (probably due to the building of the Bedford Spinning Mill). Picksley Street, built at about the same time as Rothay Street, did not share the river theme. It may have been named after John Picksley, an Overseer of the poor in Bedford in 1856.

The Drowning of Martha Priestley near the bottom of Rothay Street

On 29 March 1895 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported this tragic story:

SAD DROWNING CASE AT BEDFORD Mr S Butcher, district coroner, held a second inquiry Tuesday afternoon at the Railway Hotel, Leigh, into the circumstances attending the death of Mrs Martha Priestley, the wife of Joseph Priestley, spinner, of 9 College street, Leigh, who was found drowned the Manchester Ship Canal Company’s canal at Leigh, near the Mather Lane Bridge, about six o’clock on Tuesday morning.

Joseph Priestley, husband of the deceased, residing at 9 College Street, Leigh, said he was formerly a spinner but was now a general labourer. His wife was forty-four years old. He last saw her alive at twenty minutes to nine o’clock on Monday evening. Whilst witness was putting the children to bed — two of whom were twins — deceased went out without saying anything. On Sunday night she came home after visiting one of her married sons, and told him put her into a club. She seemed to have been upset. She had not been well of late, and had suffered from a cough. One of her sons went away one Saturday morning a few weeks ago and got married the same day, and that seemed to have upset her. Deceased was away all night. In witness’s opinion deceased went to see a cousin of hers named Slater.

Ellen Arrowsmith, Brunswick Street, Leigh, said she was ‘knocker-up’. She knew the deceased very well, and last saw her alive about half-past five that (Tuesday) morning at deceased’s front door. Deceased said: “Well, Ellen, I think it has been a wet night.” Witness said : “Yes, it has.” The front door was partially open, and deceased stood on the door step.

Joseph Priestley (recalled) said the front door was unlocked all night. Witness saw the witness Arrowsmith that very morning at half past four. Witness had been up all night waiting for his wife to come back, but at half past five he locked the door and went into the yard.

Elizabeth Blackburn, 122, Trafalgar Street, said she last saw the deceased at nine o’clock on Monday evening near her house. She saw deceased cover her face and turn her head away from the light so that witness should not see her. Deceased at that time was about ten yards from the canal. Witness said: “Are you going to the canal?” Deceased replied: “That I am not.” Witness recognised deceased by the clothes she wore, for they were the same clothes as those worn by the woman when pulled out of the water.

By a juryman: “There was no lamp lighted near the place.”

Thomas Harris, Dakin’s Lane, Butt’s Bridge, said he was going to his work about quarter to six along the canal bank when he saw the body of the deceased in the water about 120 yards from Dick Mather Bridge on the Butt’s side at the bottom of Rothay Street. Witness pulled it to the side, and then went for PC Higginbottom. Deceased was perfectly dead, and her arms were stiff. The body was removed to the Navigation Inn.

Hannah Woodward, 7 College Street, Leigh, said the deceased was brought home about nine o’clock that morning.

The body bore no marks of violence. The Coroner said the probabilities were that the body had not been in the water very long, for it is certain that otherwise it would not have been floating. The jury returned a verdict of “Found Drowned.” Deceased leaves a widower and eight children.

Sewerage arrives in Rothay Street

On 15 April 1898 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported the resolutions of the Highways and Buildings Committee, “Resolved that the specifications and provisional apportionments, now submitted by the Surveyor, in respect of the sewering etc the following streets, that is to say: Avon Street, extending from Back Rothay Street to the west side of No 20 Avon Street. Back Avon Street North, extending from Back Rothay Street West to the west side of the rear of No 20 Avon Street. Passage, extending from Avon Street to Back Avon Street North be approved.”

The 1901 Census

By 1901, the entire street was complete, from numbers 2 to 48 on the west side and numbers 13 to 47 on the east side. This was an interesting survey, as I expected to see many more mill hands among the heads of households. Reputedly these terraces were built for workers in the mill industry, but there was a much wider range of residents. That being said, many of their wives and daughters worked in the mills. The heads of each household were:

  • 2 – Caleb Owen, iron foundry cashier
  • 4 – James Hayes, cotton spinner
  • 6 – Thomas Leigh, coal miner
  • 8 – James Daniels, iron grinder
  • 10 – James Pomfret, machine painter at iron foundry
  • 12 – William Ward, self-acting minder at cotton mill
  • 14 – John Leigh, corn mill carter
  • 16 – James Graham, cotton card room hand
  • 18 – William Williams, house painter
  • 20 – James Hayes, coal miner
  • 22 – Alice Leigh, living on own means
  • 24 – James Fletcher, journeyman joiner
  • 26 – Thomas Wood, sexton at the cemetery
  • 28 – James Hampson, furnace tender at the iron foundry
  • 30 – Martin Conway, coal miner
  • 32 – James Robinson, cotton spinner
  • 34 – Jane Makin, widowed mother
  • 36 – George Dunn, superannuated retired police sergeant
  • 38 – Frederick Crank, agricultural machine fitter
  • 40 – James Ratcliffe, coal miner
  • 42 – John Yates, core maker at the iron foundry
  • 44 – Joseph Walton, coal miner
  • 46 – Charles Burridge, wood worker, sawyer and machinist
  • 48 – James Heaton, coal miner
  • 13 – William Hunter, general carter at a brewery
  • 15 – Patrick Gibbons, factory engine tender
  • 17 – Martha Woodward, widowed mother
  • 19 – Thomas Eckersley, cotton spinner
  • 21 – Joseph Harvey, journeyman joiner
  • 23 – Jane Cross, housekeeper (non-domestic)
  • 25 – John Butterworth, cotton weaving overlooker
  • 27 – Robert Thorpe, machine painter at iron foundry
  • 29 – John Gregory, foreman at grocery warehouse
  • 31 – John Rainor, clogger
  • 33 – William Langhorn, police pensioner, retired
  • 35 – William Hindley, striker at the iron foundry
  • 37 – Mary Parkinson, widow living on own means
  • 39 – Peter Rowbottom, coal miner
  • 41 – Samuel Pendlebury, agricultural iron machine fitter
  • 43 – John Collier, colliery check weighman
  • 45 – Mary Holt, married mother
  • 47 – Alfred Lythgowe, iron moulder at the iron foundry

The arrival of WCs

The houses in Rothay Street would not have been built with flushing toilets. Instead the residents would have used ashpits and midden privies. On 14th October 1904 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported plans to convert unsanitary ‘wheelout’ ashpits and midden privies in the St Thomas’s area and many other parts of Leigh into water closets. “The Urinals Sub-Committee recommended that the Town Clerk be instructed to ascertain on what terms sufficient land could be obtained for the erection of urinals on the following sites, viz: […] east side of Rothay Street, etc.”

Rothay Street 1905

Concerns about the unfenced canalside

On 6th September 1907 the Leigh Chronicle reported, “Councillor Gregory has called the attention of the Highways Committee to the land adjoining the canal near Rothay Street being unfenced, and the Town Clerk has been instructed to draw the attention of the owners to the matter.”

Naylor’s Fold, Rothay Street, demolished

On 24th July 1908 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported, “OLD PROPERTY TO BE DEMOLISHED. Mr S Wilson, the Town Clerk, applied for an order for the demolition of property in Naylor’s Fold, Rothay, Street, Leigh, on the ground that it was unfit for human habitation. Mr T Hunter, the Borough Surveyor, said the buildings were dilapidated, dangerous, and quite beyond repair. Mr Dootson, who appeared on behalf Edmund and George Seddon, said he did not object to the order. They, however, asked that no part of the expense of pulling down should fall upon them, and if there was any surplus, that it should be handed over. Smith thought they had better acquire the ground for a public park. (Laughter). The order was made.”

Fencing off the canal

On 30th October 1908 the Leigh Chronicle reported, “The Town Clerk reported that several of the owners of property in and about Rothay Street refused to agree to contribute towards the cost of erecting an unclimbable iron fence on the vacant land adjoining the canal. Resolved that the Mayor and Town Clerk be appointed to confer with such owners with view to their agreeing contribute towards the cost of the fence.”

On 15th January 1909 the Leigh Chronicle reported, “A DANGEROUS PART. Councillor Gregory moved that the vacant land adjoining Severn Street and Rothay Street be at once fenced off from the canal. He said there had been six or seven children in the water, and it was miracle none had been drowned. Part of the fence had been put up, but it had been left open in the middle, the most dangerous part. Councillor Hunter seconded. The Town Clerk said they had made a list of the owners affected and apportioned the cost between them. The greater number had agreed to sign, but there were one or two that he and the Deputy Mayor had not seen. It would be a dangerous precedent to pass that resolution as there were other dangerous places in the borough. The matter might be left while to enable them to come to some arrangement. The resolution was defeated, and the Council rose at 25 minutes to eleven after a sitting of about three and half hours.”

Proposal to use the space by the canal

On 5th February 1909 the Leigh Chronicle reported, “The Town Clerk has been instructed to enquire from the owners of the vacant plot of land behind Rothay Street whether the land can be acquired temporarily as an open space, and if so, upon what terms.”

Paving, Lighting, and Sewage

On 16th April 1909 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported, “The Borough Surveyor submitted specifications, plans, sections, estimates and provisional apportionments in respect of the sewering, levelling, paving, flagging, channelling, making good and providing with proper means of lighting the following streets or parts of streets: — Back Severn Street North No 1, extending from Back Rothay Street East to point 82 yards or thereabouts in an easterly direction; Back Severn Street South No 1 extending from Picksley Street to Howarth Street; Picksley Street, extending from Severn Street to the Bridgewater Canal…” etc.

The Building of Bedford Mill

On 16th July 1909 the Cotton Factory Times reported, “PLANS.—The Highways Committee of the Leigh Town Council have approved plans of a new spinning mill to be erected in Avon-street, Leigh, by the Bedford Spinning Co., Ltd.” The new mill was to be built on the vacant land bounded by Avon Street, Rothay Street, the canal and the Stanley Mill.

On 23rd July 1909 the Cotton Factory Times reported, “New Mills at Leigh. The Bedford Spinning Co, Ltd, has now been registered, with a capital of £60,000, for the purpose of erecting a new mill in Avon Street, Leigh. Land has been secured and the contracts placed for machinery. The following are directors: — Mr J H Holden (Leigh), Mr O E Tunnicliffe (Eastbourne), Mr W Fairclough (Leigh), Mr H Speakman (Leigh), Mr J Fairclough (Leigh), and Mr T D Paradise (Kingston-on-Thames). It is officially announced that the new Leigh Manufacturing Company’s mill, which is situated at the Bedford end of Leigh, is to commence work in September. Work will be found for a considerable number of weavers, and a few warpers and warp dressers.

On 13th August 1909 the Cotton Factory Times reported, “APPOINTMENT. Mr H L Moulds, who for the last 14 years has been in the service of the Leigh Corporation, has tendered his resignation, to take effect at the end of the month, he having been appointed secretary to the Bedford Spinning Co, Ltd, who are erecting a large mill in Avon Street, Leigh. Mr Mounds is to be complimented on his appointment.”

On 4th March 1910 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported that the building was complete, “The inclement weather which has of late been experiences comes very hard on the outdoor worker, and with the building trade not being at all brisk, much hardship is being endured. Some 140-odd men find employment at the Bedford Spinning Company’s new mills in Avon Street, and had the weather been at all suitable, the building would have been roofed many weeks ago. The chimney is now completed, and the bricksetter sees fit to follow the usual custom, denoting to the townspeople that his work is done by flying the Union Jack from the top. The pillars from the roof are in position, and the directors, who by the way are local men, expect the roof to be on before the end of the month. The first sod was only cut as recently as July last, and an endeavour was being made to turn out yarn not later than June next. Whether or not this will be done, time alone will tell. If it is delayed, it will certainly not be the fault of the directors.”

On 24th June 1910 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported, “Mr S Boond, electrician, of Leigh, has been entrusted with the electric lighting installation of Bedford Spinning Co Ltd, Rothay Street.”

In October 1910 the first consignment of cotton arrived at the mill. On 21 October 1910 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported: “The first consignment of cotton was received at the Bedford Spinning Company’s new mill on Friday last, being exactly 15 months since the cutting of the first sod. More than one half of the mill is already fitted with machinery, and it is hoped to have it completely filled before the end of the year. The trial runs of the engine and of the machines already fixed have been quite satisfactory. It hoped to have the mill in full swing before the end of February, a state of things upon which the directors are to be congratulated. Mr J H Holden, of Messrs Tunnicliffe’s and Hampson Ltd, is the chairman of directors, whilst the management has been entrusted to Mr George Holden. Work will be found for about 250 people, and this additional means of employment should greatly benefit the town in general.”

The 1911 Census

To follow

Mill Lane Mill

In May 1914 the owners of the Bedford Spinning Company opened a second mill, Mill Lane. On 23 May 1914 the Manchester Evening News reported, “LEIGH MILLOWNER’S GENEROSITY. To celebrate the completion of the Mill Lane Spinning Company, Leigh, which has now got into full working order, the directors of the Bedford Spinning Company and the Mill Lane Company took their workpeople and wives, husbands, or sweethearts to Blackpool to-day, and not only paid their Railway fares but allowed each employee half-a-crown for expenses. Over 1,100 people went this morning in two excursion trains the famous Lancashire resort. Arrangements were made so that twelve full hours could be spent Blackpool.”

The Bedford Mill in Wartime

In October that year employment was affected by the First World War. The Daily Citizen (Manchester) reported on 31st October 1914: “LEIGH MILLS ON FULL TIME. It is officially announced that Messrs Tunnicliffe and Hampson’s three spinning mills and the mill of the Alder Spinning Company, the Bedford Spinning Company, and the Mill Lane Spinning Company, which employ altogether nearly 2,000 hands, are going on full time on Monday until further notice. The Mather Lane Spinning Company’s three mills, Messrs S Courtauld and Co’s Brook Mill, and the Platt Fold Mill, belonging to the Fine Cotton Spinners’ Association, which employ about 1,600 hands, have been on full time since the war started. The collieries are also busy working five and, in some cases, six days a week.”

Rothay Street 1926 – coal yard

The Coal Yard

In 1926 the land at the bottom of Rothsay Street was being used as a coal yard, probably serving the Bedford Spinning Company Mill.

Combined Egyptian Mills

The Bedford and Mill Lane Spinning Companies were two of the 34 cotton mills bought up by Combined Egyptian Mills, which was formed in 1929.

Rothay Street 1937

The 1939 Register

In 1939 there were many more cotton workers in Rothay Street. The heads of each household were:

  • 2 – Doctor Thomas Flitcroft, medical practitioner
  • 4 – Peers Bent, gas works foreman
  • 6 – John Lee, retired cotton spinner
  • 8 – James Hayes, cotton spinner
  • 10 – John Smith, retired cotton spinner
  • 12 – Matilda Jones, widow, domestic duties
  • 14 – Harold Makin, blacksmith, incapacitated
  • 16 – William Smith, bobbin carrier
  • 18 – Alice Barlow, widow, domestic duties
  • 20 – Albert Brindle, cotton spinner
  • 22 – William Prescott, cotton spinner
  • 24 – Samuel Hayes, cotton spinner
  • 26 – John Tildsley, cable examiner for cable manufacturer
  • 28 – Thomas Shaughnessy, iron moulder
  • 28 – Thomas Howe, colliery onsetter
  • 30 – Margaret Conway, spinster cotton weaver
  • 32 – William Rothwell, cotton operative, bobbin carrier
  • 34 – George Makin, textile labourer
  • 36 – Henry Smith, cotton spinner
  • 38 – Peter Lythgoe, baker and cake confectioner
  • 40 – Joseph Wood, cotton spinner
  • 42 – Arthur Yates, tool fitter and die sinker
  • 44 – Emily Bullard, cotton weaver
  • 46 – Elizabeth Gibson, widowed householder
  • 48 – James Eaton, colliery surface labourer
  • 13 – Oswald Collier, cotton spinning mule cleaner
  • 15 – Thomas Jenkinson, old age pensioner
  • 17 – Frederick Woodward, iron foundry labourer
  • 19 – Florrie Leigh, widow, domestic duties
  • 21 – Sarah Haspell, widow, domestic duties
  • 23 – William Carrington, Inland Water Transport
  • 25 – Ellen Gore, widow, domestic duties
  • 27 – Robert Newsham, colliery shop firer
  • 29 – Granville Grundy, coal merchant
  • 31 – Ellen Corrin, cable stores packer
  • 33 – Edward Smith, cotton tape sizer
  • 35 – Charles Belshow, agricultural engineers’ mechanic
  • 37 – Thomas Costello, bus driver
  • 39 – John Hindley, blowing room major, cotton mill
  • 41 – Robert Thorp, retired cotton spinner
  • 43 – William Lee, warehouseman at cotton mill
  • 45 – James Morris, cloth transport worker
  • 47 – Samuel Lythgoe, operative baker

Combined English Mills

Combined Egyptian Mills was renamed Combined English Mills in 1953.

Bedford Mill to be closed

In 1963 Combined English Mills announced the gradual closedown of ‘the Bedford Mill’ in Leigh. On 3rd January 1963 the Liverpool Echo reported, “COTTON MILL TO BE CLOSED. Shutdown To Be Gradual. Last remaining mule-spinning mill owned by Combined English Mills (Spinners) Ltd, the Bedford Mill at Leigh, is to close down gradually. In a statement to-day the company said that the trade union representatives and the 70 operatives still employed at the mill had been informed. Production, it was stated, had been at a low level for some time. The closure will not affect the overall productive capacity of the groups, which was being increased by the extension of shift working at re-equipped mills in the same locality. Many of the operatives who will be displaced will be offered employment at nearby units of the Combined English Mill group.”

Planning Permission Granted for 51 Rothay Street

Planning Permission was granted in 1982 to erect 10 semi-detached houses and 1 bungalow on ‘Part Of Site Of Former Bedford Mill Avon Street Leigh’. This development included 51 Rothay Street.

Stories in the Street

Much though I would love to do so, I can’t research everyone in the street. A few individuals and businesses have grabbed my attention, though:

2 Rothay Street – Caleb Owen, Dr Thomas E Flitcroft

This prominent double fronted property is on the corner of Rothay Street and Chapel Street opposite the Three Crowns. It had certainly been built by 1901, and may have been one of the first six houses.

In the 1891 census it was the home of Peter Hayes, tin plate worker.

In the 1901 census it was the home of Caleb Owen, a cashier at the Bedford iron foundry. In 1899 and 1901 he stood as a candidate to represent St Thomas’s in the local council elections.

On 24 April 1908 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser advertised that 2 Rothay Street was available to let, “TO BE LET.—Parloured HOUSE, No 2 Rothay-street. — Apply John Sims, 33 Chapel Sheet, Leigh.”

From before 1915 until the 1940s number 2 was the home of Dr Thomas E Flitcroft. On 14th July 1915 the Liverpool Echo reported, “Dr T E Flitcroft, 2 Rothay St, Leigh, has been appointed certifying surgeon, under the Factory and Workshop Acts, in succession to Dr C Challinor (deceased), for the district of Leigh.”

Mrs Margaret Flitcroft was one of four women appointed in a group of 18 new Magistrates. The Lancashire Evening Post reported on 29 January 1931, “FOUR WOMEN IN LIST. The following names are to be inserted in the Commission of the Peace for the County Palatine of Lancaster by fiat of the Chancellor of the Duchy Lancaster, dated yesterday, on the recommendation of the Lord Lieutenant.”

When Dr Flitcroft died in December 1946 a charming obituary was printed in the Manchester Evening News. It read, “GAVE TOWN BEAUTY. Dr T E Flitcroft, Medical Officer of Health for Tyldesley since 1928, has died, aged 71, at his home in Rothay Street, Leigh. He beautified refuse tips at Tyldesley by planting them with lupins.”

10 Rothay Street – Alfred Wilkinson VC

On 16th November 1896 an article about a mining accident appeared in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, “Cage Accident at a Leigh Colliery — As the night shift were descending the No 2 Pit of Messrs. Ackers, Whitley and Company’s extensive Bickershaw Collieries, Plank Lane, Leigh, on Friday, an accident occurred of an alarming character. The cage, which was full of men, was lowered with great velocity, and on reaching the bottom of the shaft it was jumped with such force that four colliers were badly shaken. One named Alfred Wilkinson was so seriously injured that he had to be removed on the ambulance to his home in Rothay Street, Leigh.”

Alfred Wilkinson of 10 Rothay Street earned a VC in 1918 at the end of WW1. His story broke in the Manchester Evening News on 28th December 1918. They reported: “LEIGH’S FIRST VC. Private Alfred Wilkinson, 1/5th Manchester Regiment, a piecer, Rothay Street, Leigh, has been awarded the Victoria Cross for signal bravery in France. Four messengers had been killed in succession when sent for reinforcements, which were badly needed. Private Wilkinson stepped forward and volunteered to try a fifth time. It seemed certain death, but he managed to get through, and reinforcements came. He is the first soldier the Leigh district to gain this distinction. The news arrived to-day.”

His story and photograph then appeared in the Liverpool Echo on the 30th December 1918: “LEIGH SOLDIER’S VC. Information has reached Leigh that Private Alfred Wilkinson (22), Manchester Regiment, of 10 Rothay Street, received the Victoria Cross for bravery in France. Reinforcements were urgently needed in a critical position, but one after the other four messengers who had tried to get through were shot dead. Wilkinson then volunteered, got through safely, and brought back help. He was a piecer for the Mather Lane Spinning Company, Leigh, before joining the Army in December, 1914. He has a brother in the Army.”

On 30th December 1939 a story submitted by J R Smith of 10 Rothay Street appeared in the Daily Herald. It read, “No Place Like It. A member of the balloon barrage section called up for duty did not wish to leave his family alone in the house and sent them away to the seaside. When he reported for duty he found was to be stationed in a field behind his own home! — J R Smith, 10, Rothay-street. Leigh, Lancs.”

This was also the address of Barnes Business Agent. On Christmas Eve 1947 he advertised in the Manchester Evening News, “Now is the time to Sell your BUSINESS: Free Advice, No Charges if not sold. — Write for particulars, H. Barnes, Business Agent, 10 Rothay Street, Leigh.”

Non 25th June 1958 an advert was placed in the Manchester Evening News which read, “MORRIS 8 Series E (1947 model). £200 o.n.o., 10 Rothay Street, Leigh.”

17 Rothay Street

On 19th Feb 1913 Martha Woodward of 17 Rothay Street was buried at Leigh Cemetery, aged 77 years.

18 Rothay Street – Williams and Dean

Williams and Dean frequently advertised for staff in 1893: “Agents wanted for the new patent Gas Burner. Enormous saving in gas. Selling by thousands. Good commission. Sample 6d. Williams and Dean, Rothay Street, Leigh, Lancashire.” These adverts for agents continued into 1894.

On 2nd Oct 1906 Rothay Street resident Ann Dean was buried, aged 50. She may well have lived at number 18.

On 3rd June 1911 Georgina Bonner of 18 Rothay Street was buried at Leigh Cemetery age 68 years.

20 Rothay Street

On 7th April 1909 John E Brindle of 20 Rothay Street was buried at Leigh Cemetery age 2 years.

31 Rothay Street – James E Corrin

James E Corrin moved from Mill Lane to number 31 sometime between 1901 and 1905. He was a plumber who was born on the Isle of Man. On 10 February 1905 he advertised in the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser, “Lead and Glass Works Brideoake Street, James E Corrin, Sanitary Plumber, Glazier, Authorised Gas and Water Fitter. Incandescent Gas Fittings a Speciality. Estimates Free. Repairs promptly attended to. Residence – 31 Rothay Street, Leigh.” In 1909 James Corrin was one of the first in the Leigh Exchange area to obtain a telephone – number 143. In 1914 he advertised a gents bike with a three speed gearbox for sale cheap, then in 1914 he advertised a ‘swath turner’ for sale for £7 cash. James died in 1925,

41 Rothay Street

On 7th Oct 1913 Alice Pendlebury of 41 Rothay Street was buried at Leigh Cemetery age 9 years.

46 Rothay Street

On the 22nd May 1894, James Howard died at 46 Rothay Street, aged 59 years.

Unknown House Numbers

The McGee family

Sarah McGee, age 54, of Rothay Street, was buried at Leigh Cemetery on 3rd February 1900. Her husband Patrick died later the same year and was buried on 30th October 1900.

Mr Whalley, Rabbit Fancier

On 30 November 1894 the Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser reported, “Success of a Leigh Fancier — Mr J Whalley, of Rothay Street, Leigh, took the first and special prizes at Wigan on Saturday, with his rabbit, ‘The Leigh Hero’. The same rabbit took the first prize at Harwood and Bradshaw on the 17th inst., also the first at Blackburn on the 3rd Inst.”

A Tragic Railway Accident

On 12th April 1929 the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer reported a terrible accident, “Joseph Wood (49), blacksmith, of Rothay Street, Leigh, was found with his head cut off yesterday morning on the LMS Railway line, between Glazebury and Tenyon Junction, about two miles from his home.

Cellofoam, Avon Street

Cellofoam was a significant business and employer in the 1970s. In 1971 they advertised: “BONDED JERSEY AND JACQUARDS AT FACTORY PRICES! Bonded Jersey and Jacquards assorted colours from 60p yard. Remnants from 25p. Bri Nylon curtaining and ready-made curtains. PLUS Fantastic reductions on bonded garments. Surplus Ladies Coats and dresses in Dicel art silk only £6. Midi trouser suits in herringbone worsted wool £8. Also, large selection of Ladies garments and child’s wear. Call now at the Cellofoam Shop, Avon Street. Leigh. (Off Rothay Street, Off Chapel Street, Near County Meters.) Open 10 am — 4 pm Mon — Sat. 39 Bus from Liverpool passes door). Telephone: Leigh 5277. 26 (Greengate) bus.

Windoplan, Avon Street

Another business based in Avon Street and Rothay Street from about 1968 to 1971 was Windoplan, a division of Seba Products. They advertised in 1970: “INSTANT CURTAINS from only £2-15-0 per curtain, way below shop prices! Taped and hemmed… just hook them up. Tailored to your own window size in only two weeks. Choose from luxury fabrics in a beautiful range of colours. All fully lined for perfect drape. 14 DAY DESPATCH GUARANTEED. Send for FREE samples and size/price chart. Credit terms available. Dept. DM8, WINDOPLAN, PO Box 21, Rothay Street, Leigh, Lancs.”

Chasing the Dream – a Canalside Plot with a Mooring

May 16th, 2022

In the years I have been running my canalside property pages, my most requested canalside property, without a doubt, is a plot of land where a boat can be moored. There are hundreds, if not thousands of you, who share that dream.

I always list canalside land on my Mailing Lists and on my Canalside Homes Facebook group if I find it, and I will always sell land if instructed, but canalside plots are very rare. I have never yet seen an ideal plot for a private owner come to the open market. There have been a handful of riverside plots, but these are probably slightly easier to find because of their extant riparian rights.

Almost all canalside land which I have seen coming to market is one of the following:

  • a prestigious building plot (expensive),
  • a brownfield development site (urban and expensive),
  • warehousing or factories with complex and expensive demolition or conversion costs (also urban and expensive),
  • large tracts of agricultural land which will not be divided
  • land which is unlikely to obtain change of use from the local council
  • land which is unlikely to obtain permission from the Canal & River Trust
  • land which is unlikely to be suitable for mortgage finance (e.g. no services, no road access)

If you do find a plot, there is a big question mark over whether you would get permission to moor there. You can find information about End of Garden Moorings on this website. Permission is more likely to be granted if there is a previous history of mooring, and nothing has changed since. Permission is unlikely to be granted if the land is on the towpath side, on a bend, near a bridge, near a lock, requires dredging, is on a narrow stretch, or is edged with mature trees.

As you will see on my End of Garden Moorings page, it is possible to apply for a mooring before you own a property. However, in reality the Canal & River Trust may take longer to grant an End of Garden mooring than the legal transaction takes to complete. They have to carry out searches, feasability surveys and more, before they grant permission. You might lose out on the property long before you establish that permission will be granted.

Canalside plots do exist – but they are generally sold privately to those in the know. One possible strategy is to look for these sites in the areas you are interested in, and perhaps get to know the manager or the mooring owners. Over time you may be lucky enough to hear of a plot becoming available, but always remember, demand far exceeds supply.

There are three attractive alternatives to waiting for a canalside plot to come up:

  • It is much easier to find a house with a mooring than it is to buy canalside land.
  • Visit the Canal & River Trust’s Waterside Moorings site and find a nice long term site on there.
  • Buy a house NEAR a mooring or a marina – this is a much cheaper option than a house with a mooring of its own.

I hope you find this useful. Good luck with your search!

Help I’m Buying a Canalside Home!

May 14th, 2022

This page will point you in the direction of the information you may need when buying a canalside property.

How can I find a canalside home?

There is no single central portal for sourcing canalside homes. Without doubt the best place to find them is the Facebook group ‘Canalside Homes‘ which shares canalside property for sale by all agents. You can also conduct keyword searches on Rightmove or Zoopla. There are a few estate agencies which specialise in canal and riverside properties.

Here are seven places to look:

  • Sheridan Parsons is the best known estate agent for selling canalside homes. She is an independent one-woman agent with a small exclusive portfolio.
  • Sheridan Parsons runs the popular Facebook group ‘Canalside Homes‘ featuring thousands of canalside homes.
  • Sheridan also runs a Mailing List where you can receive hundreds of canalside homes in an email digest.
  • Waterside Properties is a website by the Waterside Network, a group of estate agents with knowledge and expertise of waterfront homes in their areas. The network also publish a glossy magazine called Waterside Life.
  • Waterside Estate Agents is a local, independent Norfolk Broads estate agency that specialises in the sale of property on or near the water, throughout the area.
  • Water Side Residential specialise in the sale and rental of riverside, island and floating homes on the Thames and its tributaries from Kew to Windsor.
  • Interested in Static Holiday Caravans, Lodges and Park Homes? – Click here!

When house hunting, always look out for issues which often accompany canalside homes, such as no road access or awkward road access, flooding (see below), nearby roads and railways (especially motorways and HS2), workshops (narrowboat marinas can have some very noisy processes such as welding and shot blasting), and factories. See also Noise and Nuisance below.

If you live in the US and you’re thinking of buying a property in the UK you may find this page (on this website) useful: Dreaming of Moving to England.

Canals v Rivers – what’s the difference?

Canals are man-made watercourses. Rivers are natural watercourses. Here is a great information sheet by the Canal & River Trust explaining the difference to children. You will also come across canals which are ‘tamed’ rivers – these can usually be recognised easily by the gentle flow of the water, the type of weeds in the water, the clarity of the water, and the presence of weirs. When you look at Google maps you will often see the name of a river, where in fact you are looking at a navigable ‘canalised’ river, for example the eastern part of the Kennet and Avon Canal is labelled as the River Kennet. This often leads estate agents to misdescribe the waterway on their details.

Every canal and river is administered by a waterway authority, which may be a government department, a business, or a charitable orgaisation. There is a very good list of waterway authorities on the Inland Waterways Association website, or you can check the members’ list on the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities website. Most canals – over 2000 miles of them – are administered by the Canal & River Trust. They have a very good interactive map on their website where you can see routes, information about an area, and nearby facilities on and by the water. Many rivers are administered by the Environment Agency.

Flooding

One of the first things you need to check when buying a canalside property is the flood risk. Canals are man-made channels with carefully managed water levels and generally they do not flood. However, you will find that many of them are fed by natural water courses, and therefore lie near or alongside streams and rivers which present a flood risk.

You can check the flood risk of an area by entering the postcode in the Government’s Long Term Flood Risk interactive map. This includes both surface water (from flash flooding) and flood risk from rising river and sea levels. Make sure that you check both types.

Occasionally canals are built above the surrounding ground level using large embankments. Thankfully breaches in the structure of a canal are very rare, and if they occur it is usually possible to close off a section of canal with locks or stop gates to contain the affected area before any severe damage is done. The risk, such as it is, can be covered by insurance.

Damp

Damp in a canalside property has much in common with any other property, although there are some special cases. There are many buildings along the canal with their ‘feet in the water’, and yet they show no sign of rising damp. That’s because it probably doesn’t exist! Take a look at this article from Heritage House. Some properties are built directly into a canal embankment, with their basement set below water level. In these properties you may find some dampness. As is usual with any basement, they may benefit from tanking membranes.

Noise and Nuisance

I recommend visiting the property at different times of day and at weekends. Are there many passers by? Is there a bridge nearby which rumbles or clangs as cars and lorries go over it? Lockside properties can be especially noisy. Leaky lock gates suffer from the sound of rushing water sound all day long, but brand new gates are silent. Lock gates are generally replaced every 20 to 25 years, with interim repairs as required. How noisy are the paddles? Most cruising is done during the day, but sometimes a boat will pass through a lock at night, when clanking lock gear can seem very noisy indeed! How do you feel about people knocking on your door for assistance? Or peering into your windows? Is the towpath busy with cyclists and fishermen? Or with troublesome drinkers and graffiti artists!

Getting Involved – Adults

Once you’ve moved into your canalside home, there are many ways to get involved with your local canal, including sports like paddleboarding, cycling, and fishing. If you prefer to contribute your leisure time to the work of the Canal & River Trust, volunteer opportunities are advertised on their website. Typical volunteer opportunities include being a lock keeper, manning an information point, leading walks, being a ranger along a stretch of canal, being a boat data collector, helping at a museum, working with children on Explorers activities, or joining a local towpath taskforce, who help to clear and refresh the canal areas and improve wildlife habitats. If you want to do something really physical, there are restoration projects around the country where volunteers are welcome. The Inland Waterways Association has a volunteering page where you can find out about local branch opportunities, such as clean-ups and work parties, as well as administrative tasks and campaigning projects you could get involved with. If you are interested in the wildlife commonly found in canal habitats, the Canal & River Trust has a useful Spotter’s Waterways Wildlife Guide with links to pages about many of the animals which benefit from a canal habitat (but not fish!)

Getting Involved – Children

There are lots of resources and printables for families and schools on the Canal & River Trust’s Explorers pages to engage children with canals. You can search for individual sheets and activities on this resources page. Here are some of my favourites:

  • All about Canals is a great introductory printable for children
  • How a Lock works is an excellent YouTube video suitable for children
  • Build a Canal is a very easy history printable for younger children
  • The Build a Canal game is probably the best children’s game on the Canal & River Trust website in terms of performance and educational content.
  • Waterways Today is a downloadable printable for children
  • Canal Boats – a printable about the different boats using the canals, past and present.

Planning to Buy a Boat

If you are buying a canalside house you may also be thinking of buying a boat for the first time. Let’s start by clearing the terminology up before a boater glares at you or grimaces at you smugly for getting it wrong – it will happen!

  1. Narrowboats are usually between 6′ 10″ and 7 feet wide. They are designed to navigate narrow canals, and can cruse on the majority of inland waterways. When you see tv programmes like “Celebrities go Barging” they are in a narrowboat, not a barge! I’m afraid experienced narrowboaters often cringe and shout at the telly during those programmes!
  2. Widebeams are extra wide versions of narowboats. They come in various widths up to about 14 feet. They cannot cruise on narrow waterways and will not fit in narrow locks. They do provide lots of interior space, but you may find that narrowboaters look down on you. This is not snobbery – widebeams can cause damage to the canal bed, and often cause obstructions. You can find out more about the pros and cons of widebeams on the CRT website.
  3. Barges are commercial narrowboats or widebeams. They normally have some sort of cargo hold.
  4. Dutch barges are traditional flat-bottomed cargo boats which often have a higher wheelhouse to the rear (the stern). They come in various widths from Dutch barge style narrowboats up to monsters of about 20 feet. They may be commercial or leisure boats. They are often used as houseboats.
  5. Butties are normally unpowered boats designed to be pulled by a narrowboat or tug. You must give way to a butty as it can’t stop!

If you are new to boating I highly recommend watching this Boater’s Handbook playlist of YouTube videos from the Canal and River Trust, which includes an excellent description of How a Lock Works from a boater’s perspective. For more resources, the Trust have an excellent page for those who are new to boating.

I would strongly advise that you NEVER buy a boat without hiring one first, for at least a week, or possibly two. There is no substitute for hands on experience. If you are very nervous about boating, then you can have a boat holiday with a skipper. This provides an excellent opportunity to ease in slowly, and to pick the skipper’s brains!

I would also strongly recommend that if you are a novice boater you should take an RYA Helmsman’s course for skippers on the inland waterways. You can search for available courses on the RYA Website. Some of these courses span several days and include a night or two sleeping on the boat!

You should also check out the social media section below.

Boaters on Social Media

I strongly recommend subscribing to YouTube and following some narrowboating channels. There are literally hundreds to choose from, depending on your particular interests. Three of my favourites are Jo and Vic, a young and quirky couple with a baby on Holly the Cafe Boat, Fran and Rich, who enjoy the natural pleasures of rambling, foraging and weaving on Floating Our Boat, and David Johns, a superb journalist offering cruising videos, maintenance, documentaries and more on Cruising the Cut. Some YouTube narrowboaters have successfully transitioned their footage to television, such as Robbie Cumming. You will also find many boaters on Instagram and Twitter, including the legend that is Boating David. If you intend to be a solo boater, it is well worth following these three chaps, as you will quickly get a feel for the pains and pleasures of solo boating.

Buying a Boat

There are over 34,000 boats on Canal & River Trust waters. Good places to find boats for sale are marinas which may have private sales and with brokerages, and the Apollo Duck website. You will also find listings in canal magazines and newspapers. Most boat builders advertise in canal magazines. It is also a good idea to visit a boat show where there are show boats to explore. The biggest of these is the famous Crick Boat Show which is held annually in Crick.

Buy your boat with caution, and ALWAYS GET AN INDEPENDENT SURVEY from a qualified marine surveyor. The main marine surveyors’ associations are the International Institute of Marine Surveying and the Yacht Designers and Surveyors Association. Other official qualifications are the IMarEST, the Dip.MarSur, the ABSSE, and the IEng. Remember the most important aspects are the hull and the engine. Don’t be swayed by a pretty fit-out. A survey will probably cost between £400 and £700, plus any craneage or dry docking charges to take the boat out of the water. Trust me, it’s money well spent. I also recommend that you attend the survey. A good surveyor will teach you many useful things during the process, which adds considerably to the value of the survey.

The cost of narrowboats has gone up astronomically during the covid pandemic and may take a while to settle. As a rough guide, if you see a boat under £25k, with a few exceptions, you may have major cause for concern. From £25k to £60k there will be a wide range of acceptable boats available, but some, especially at the lower end, may require works to bring them up to standard. From £60k to £100k you should be getting a decent and reliable boat. At the bottom end of that bracket the boat may be a few years old, a bit jaded, and need some attention, but at top end you’ll even find some basic new boats.

Decent new boats (other than tiny boats and fibreglass boats) will generally cost over £100k, and the sky’s the limit thereafter! You may have to wait a year or more for a building slot, and this too has forced up the price of a second hand boat. You may even see second hand boats more expensive than their brand new counterparts! The big advantage of a new build, though, is that you can specify every detail and adaptation to your own taste.

Licencing

All boats using inland canals and rivers must be licenced, and that includes both powered and unpowered vessels of any size, from a paddleboard to a barge. Boat licences are issued by the respective waterway’s authority. You can learn about boat licenses on the Canal & River trust website.

Mooring

In addition to the boat licence, you will probably require a permanent mooring on the water. Mooring fees depend on size and location, and are payable either to the respective waterway’s authority, or to the marina or boat club. All moorings will have been granted a specific status, for Leisure use (you cannot live aboard), Business or Commercial use, or Residential use. Some moorings will have part-residential status with some limitations (similar to static holiday caravans).

There are some exceptions to the requirement to pay for a permanent mooring, for example, if you cruise continually, if you own a freehold mooring space within your curtilage, if your property is on a river and has riparian rights, or if your boat is an unpowered, portable tender to a larger vessel.

You can find out about licencing a mooring against your the bank at your property on this page: End of Garden Moorings.

If you do not have a permanent mooring, by default you will be subject to the continuous cruising terms and conditions.

Cruising

Canal time should always be relaxed and unhurried. You default speed should be LESS THAN WALKING PACE! Maybe a little more on open water, but a little less when passing moored boats. Most people soon adjust to this pace of life, so before long you’ll be laughing scornfully at the cars you see hurtling over the motorway bridges.

Your cruising options will depend on the width and length of your boat. The canals frequently undergo both scheduled and unplanned repairs and maintenance, such as lock repairs and clearing fallen trees, so you should make a habit of checking for stoppages along your route, and sign up for alerts. The majority of planned works take place during the winter, so it is always important to check that you can get back to your home mooring before it’s too late!

Your first decision when planning a cruise is whether to go out and back, or round in a ‘ring’. Ring routes are very popular, as you don’t have to revisit the same canal on the way back, but do be careful not to overstretch yourself with too large a ring in the time available. There are many useful resources for planning a route. Look out for:

The History of Yew Tree Cottage

March 29th, 2022

Valentine postcard showing Gibraltar and Yew Tree Cottage in 1914

In the 1770s when the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal was built, Kinver was already an important town with a busy ironworks and an established woollen industry. To the east of the town the River Stour swept around Dunsley hill, and the canal was dug to the east of the river. As the wharf area at Kinver Bridge developed over the years, it would have been bustling with activity, with horse drawn boats coming and going, a weighbridge, and labourers loading and unloading goods. There were two pubs, the Lock Inn in Mill Lane, and the Vine Inn. Even the temperate frequented the inns. In 1839 the Wesleyan Methodists held their services at the Lock Inn, then in 1846 they held their services in one of the rock houses at Dunsley Rock. Up at the top of Dunsley hill were Dunsley House and Dunsley Manor Farm, the homes of well-to-do families with a host of servants. At the foot of the hill there was a small hamlet, consisting mostly of rock houses built into in the hillside. These became known as the Dunsley rock houses. (A further group of cave dwellings can be found at Kinver Edge).

Kinver Bridge, the wharf, the Lock Inn and the Vine Inn.

1830

By 1830 there were probably twelve or thirteen rock houses nestled into the sandstone slopes. Unfortunately the early censuses do not allow us to separate those who lived in cottages from those who lived in rock houses, and in both the census and the church records, the residences of the same families are inconsistently named, either Dunsley or Dunsley Rock, making identification even more difficult. Although it is impossible to identify individual homes, we can learn a great deal about the families who lived there. Most of the men were boatmen and iron workers, and several of the women were screw makers. Although some of the labourers were agricultural, others must have been employed at the iron works or the canal wharf, where there was a weighbridge. According to Bills and Griffiths, labourers at the canal wharf rented lodgings at the rock house caves for 1 shilling a week.

1841

In the 1841 census the properties seem to be listed from north west to south east, starting at the Lock Inn, where the brewers and victuallers were the Williams family, and continuing along Gibraltar Lane to Dunsley Rock without any form of identification – the records give all addresses simply as ‘Dunsley’. The heads of the households were a nailer, a cordwainer (shoemaker), a maltster, five agricultural labourers, four female screw makers at the local screw factory, and a spade maker (the Spade Works can be seen on 1880s maps). As we continue south east, we find eleven boatman, three agricultural labourers, a general labourer, a forgeman, three iron puddlers (working at the iron works), three lady screw makers, and two female servants.

1851

In the 1851 census, Dunsley Rock is separated out from Dunsley. There were 17 households living at Dunsley Rock. The heads of these households were Thomas Humphries, a labourer, and his lodger, a lady screw maker; John Oldnall, a labourer; Abraham Thomas, a labourer whose granddaughter was working at the screw factory; Thomas Preston, a forge labourer, whose son was a labourer and whose daughter in law worked at the screw factory; George Bennet, a forge labourer, whose son was also a forge labourer and whose daughter worked in the screw factory; James Green, a labourer; James Mallard, a forge labourer, whose lodger Ann was a boatman’s daughter; John Preston, a forge labourer, whose wife was a charwoman; William Coley, a boatman, and his lodger Robert Morris, also a boatman with his own young family; Henry Preston, a forge labourer; Richard Morris, a boatman, with two sons working as a boatman and another as a boat boy; Sarah Poole, a field labourer, with her daughter and her lodger Thomas Hall, a labourer; Robert Morris, a boatman, whose daughter worked in the screw factory, and whose son in law Joseph Willington was also a boatman; John Longmore, a forge labourer, with his wife and his lodger George Patrick, an iron puddler; William Inchmore, a disabled pauper, and his lodger Sarah Inchmore, perhaps a sister; Edward Elwell, a boatman, with his son, a forge labourer; Joseph Longmore, a forge labourer, with two stepsons, a forge labourer and a boatman, and Emma Hall, a lodger working at the screw factory.

Bills and Griffiths suggested in their pamphlet about the rock houses that the ones Dunsley were of crude construction, smaller, more crowded, and damper than the ones at Kinver Edge because of their proximity to the river and the canal, although the shade from the hill and its overhanging trees probably had more effect on the dampness than the watercourses. From studying the parish registers from 1814 to 1884, they concluded that disease was rife and lives were foreshortened by the unhealthy conditions. They cite two families who lost 14 members in the space of 49 years, and six deaths from smallpox.

Nevertheless, there were some people at the rock houses whose lives were just as long as those in the village. For example Hannah Green died in 1850 age 74, Benjamin Oldnall died in 1845 age 82, and Ann Thomas died in 1854 age 76. Some of the deaths at Dunsley Rock were due to accident, not illness, for example 13 year old Mary Longmore drowned in the canal in December 1849. On Wednesday 05 December 1849, the Worcestershire Chronicle reported:

Kinver.—Child Drowned.—An inquest was held on Monday at the Lock Inn, Kinver, before Mr. Phillips, coroner, on the body of Mary Longmore, a fine little girl of 13. Her parents reside at Dunsley Rock, which overhangs the canal near Kinver, and she had been seen in a boat that was moored near her father’s house on Sunday. On being missed, the canal was dragged, and soon after three o’clock the body was found quite cold and dead. There was a mark on the temple and right cheek, as of a blow, which might have been occasioned by a fall against the side of the boat. By direction of the coroner the jury returned an open verdict, “Found dead in the canal.”

1873 – William Henry Price

At some point William Henry Price acquired some of the rock houses. William lived at Rockmount, Dark Lane, Kinver from at least 1871. He probably purchased the rock houses in an auction sale of land, houses and cottages which was held in September 1873 and Lot 3 probably included the last remaining occupied rock houses. The catalogue entry for this lot read:

Lot 3. All those five cottages with the garden sloping down to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, situate at Dunsley Rock, in the occupation of Edward Knott, George Bennett, John Barker, and two void. For further particulars, apply to W. J. Cowper Esq., Solicitor, Newbury or Mr. John Taylor, Land Agent, Stourbridge.

William also had property in Rhyl, Flintshire, Wales. He married Sarah Julia Mannix there in 1874.

On 29th August 1874 the County Advertiser & Herald for Staffordshire and Worcestershire published a report by Dr Ballard on “The Sanitary State of Kinver”. This provides some fabulous detail on the state of the cave dwellings. He wrote:

“There are in the neighbourhood of Kinver two series of cave dwellings which require mention; one at Dunsley Rock, and the other at Kinver Edge. The Inspector of Nuisances has made a thorough inspection of these dwellings, and has furnished me with a copy of the tabulated statement of the result of his inspection, which I forward with this Report. 1) There are thirteen cave dwellings at Dunsley Rock, of which eight are occupied by families. The caves are dug out of the face of the sandstone rock at an elevation of about 40 feet above the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. The front of each cave is usually in part built up with bricks, so as to leave a window opening and a door opening. In all instances there is one inner cave, in several instances there are two or even three inner caves, entered from the first or outermost one. These inner caves are used as bed rooms, have no means of ventilation whatever, and are dark. I measured two of the inner caves used as bed rooms. One of them measured 13 feet x 13 feet x 7 feet (on an average) high, 1.183 cubic feet, or thereabouts. In this case there were three beds. In one slept a man and his wife, in the other, two sons, one by night and the other by day; and in the third bed a daughter, when she is at home. The other inner cave measured 9 feet x 9 feet x 8 feet (on an average) high – 648 cubic feet. In this cave there were two beds, but I was told that one of these is unoccupied. The ventilation of the outermost caves used as living rooms is also very defective. Mostly the caves are dry. The privy accommodation is very insufficient, is of rude construction, and unwholesome. Domestic slops are thrown out anywhere, to find their way down the face of the rock into the canal below. The water supply is a spring at the base of the rock which bounds the canal. The water of the spring is received in a rude basin of rock, over the well worn edge of which water from the canal flows whenever a boat passes down through the lock just above, or when a passing boat causes a swell. The approach to this spring is very dangerous. These cave dwellings are the property of various persons, and they are rented by their inhabitants. They are unfit for human habitation.

The report went on to describe the more commodious caves at Kinver Edge, as well as some dilapidated ones in that area. In conclusion Dr Ballard wrote:

Where dwellings are unwholesome, and therefore nuisances under section 8 of the Nuisance Removal Act, 1855, from want of proper drainage, and as such drainage will render them wholesome is impracticable, they ought to be regarded as unfit for human habitation, and proceedings should be taken with a view of having them closed….. The cave dwellings at Dunsley Rock and at Kinver Edge, which cannot be properly lighted, ventilated, and otherwise made wholesome, should at once be dealt with, and proceedings must be taken for the purpose of having them closed as unfit for human habitation.

1881

When the 1881 census was compiled, the heads of the houses beyond The Vine were listed as Eli Forest, a spade manufacturer; Frances Rudge, a dressmaker; Edwin Hoult, a general labourer; Sarah Wakeman, a farm servant, and her lodger John Bradley, an agricultural labourer; Thomas Lane, a boatman; Henry Preston, an iron works labourer; George Bennett, an iron works labourer; William Coley, a boatman, his wife Hannah, two of their sons, both boatmen, and a lodger Edgar Thomas, also a boatman; Edward Knott (recorded here in 1873, see above), a general agricultural labourer; James Green, a coal merchant’s labourer, and Edward Williams, a boatman, with his wife Sarah. Listed after them were a group of residences labelled as Dunsley Dell. These were three unoccupied properties, followed by three households, the heads of which were Thomas Gregg, a gardener; Catherine Coley, a boatman’s wife; Mary Milward, a widow, with her two sons who were iron works labourers, and finally an unoccupied dwelling. It is fairly safe to assume that these last listings in Dunsley Dell included the remaining cave dwellings, but it is not clear whether the name Dunsley Dell included any newly built cottages.

The cottages are built c.1881

William Price’s daughter, the actress and author Lilian Nancy Bache Price, known as Nancy Price, was born in 1880 and lived with her father at Rockmount. In 1953, she wrote a memoir of her childhood, ‘Into an Hour-Glass’, and recorded that her father, William Henry Price, owned the land on which the rock houses stood. She also wrote that the local health board forced him to rehouse the tenants of the rock houses elsewhere in the village. I have not read the original extract in the book so I do not know whether she recorded exactly when this occurred. I don’t think she said that he built the new cottages to replace the cave dwellings either. (Does anyone have a copy?)

The new properties were probably built at the beginning of the 1800s. These included a terrace of three cottages on the left (now Yew Tree House), a single cottage (perhaps two joined?) in the centre (now Yew Tree Cottage), and another terrace of three workmen’s cottages on the right (now Dunsley Rock Cottage). Although we cannot be certain exactly when the cottages were built, all three were definitely in existence by 1882, because Yew Tree House, Yew Tree Cottage, and Dunsley Rock Cottage are clearly marked on the 1887 Ordnance Survey map which was surveyed in 1882. This 25 inch to the mile map clearly shows the outlines of the three properties at Dunsley Rock which exist today. There appears to be a row of buildings to the north west of the cottages, probably the last remaining rock dwellings shown in the postcard below, but there are none to the south east of Dunsley Rock Cottage. The location of a spring by the canal bank is shown to the south east of Dunsley Rock Cottage, with a short path descending to it.

Bills and Griffiths’ wrote in their booklet that by the 1880s the caves were no longer rented by permanent residents, but that boatmen still rented them. Gradually the caves deteriorated to the point where they could no longer be used, and they were never restored. It is possible that people still lived in some of the caves after the cottages were built, but gradually these last rock houses slipped into disuse.

William Henry Price died in 1903.

1890 – Henry Parrish Downing buys Yew Tree Cottage

The next known owner of the Rock Cottages was Henry Parrish Downing, a former glass manufacturer. He owned property at Dunsley from at least 1874, when the first of a series of conveyances were made to him. In 1881 he appears in the census as a farmer of 330 acres at “Dunsley”. I have found no primary evidence that he owned the Rock Cottages, however, a declaration written by Selina Jane Price in 1930 and found with the papers of Yew Tree Cottage states that he was in ‘undisturbed possession’ of Yew Tree Cottage from at least 10 years before his death in 1900. This confirms that he bought Yew Tree Cottage from William Henry Price in around 1890, about ten years after it was built. This declaration will henceforth be referred to as the SJP declaration.

It seems likely that Henry Downing and William Price (and/or their wives) were friends, and perhaps they were also in business together. They both had property in Flintshire, and Henry Downing married his second wife, Elizabeth Stewart nee Aaron, in Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales, in 1876, just two years after William Price had married there.

1891

The continuing decline and abandonment of the Dunsley Rock cave dwellings can be seen quite clearly from the census returns in subsequent years. By 1891 the number of households had reduced substantially. Beyond The Vine the heads of the households were Samuel Harris, a gardener; and Sarah Blunt, a widow, with her two sons. These were followed by four uninhabited dwellings. Next came three households labelled as ‘Dunsley Rock’, perhaps the three cottage which make up the present Yew Tree House or Dunsley Rock Cottage (as yet unnamed). The heads of these three households were James Preston, a retired iron worker; Hannah Coley, now widowed; and Benjamin Craddock, a woodman. These were followed by two households labelled as Dunsley Dell, and finally two unoccupied residences also labelled as Dunsley Dell.

Henry Downing continued to acquire properties in the area until 1895.

1900 – the Cottages pass to the Price siblings

According to the SJP declaration, Selina Jane Price was a frequent visitor to her uncle Henry in Dunsley, and she lived with him entirely for the last 18 months of his life. She must have held a special place in his heart, as she was named after his first wife.

Henry Parrish Downing died in 1900 at Dunsley House. I believe Henry Parrish Downing had no children. The SJP declaration confirms that on his death his estate passed to two Trustees. The first was his nephew Samuel John Price, then living in Cardiff. I wondered whether I might find a familial connection between Samuel John Price and William Henry Price, but there does not seem to be one. The second Trustee was Dinah Hawkings, a spinster. It is possible that Dinah was Henry’s common law wife.

The SJP declaration states that either Henry or Samuel also owned The Gables in Dunsley and the wharf adjoining (I have not seen the relevant page).

1901 – The Railway

From 1898 to 1901 Kinver Light Railway was built from Amblecote to Kinver, providing more employment for the local men. It was opened in March 1901 and remained in service until 1930.

1901

In the 1901 census Samuel Price was still living in Cardiff and was employed as an accountant. His sister Selina Jane Price was listed at Dunsley House. Dinah Hawkings was listed as her companion.

In 1901 the census lists the the properties at Dunsley Rock by name for the first time. ‘Yew Tree Cottage’ was occupied by Joseph Fletcher, a 44 year old agricultural labourer, and his wife Annie. ‘Yew Tree Cottages’ are listed as two unoccupied properties. ‘Dunsley Rock’ is listed as three separate cottages, occupied by Thomas Haward, a 29 year old groom and non-domestic gardener, and his wife Sarah, James Perkin, a 37 year old non-domestic gardener, and Arthur Parker, a 36 year old carter at the Coal Wharf, and their respective families. The name Dunsley Dell has disappeared from the census, and there appear to be no more rock dwellings.

Early 1900s – a Walk

An undated booklet, “Illustrated Guide to Kinver” was published in the early 1900s. Names of business proprietors in the booklet date it as after 1901, but before 1910. The booklet describes a walk through Gibraltar and Dunsley Rock.

Walk No, 2. Gibraltar Rock and Whittington Inn, 2½ miles. Starting from the terminus of the Kinver Light Railway,immediately on getting to the public road, which is adjacent, we turn to the left, passing over the Canal bridge and taking the first turning to the right. From the terminus itself the rock above-mentioned may be seen, and will give one some idea as to the direction in which to go. After turning to the right, a mere path leads past the rock, parts of which are inhabited, whilst a little further on the walk takes us through some beautiful woods, where in Spring, a carpet of blue bells are to be seen, whilst a wealth of foliage forms a grateful shade on a hot summer’s day. After leaving the wood, a walk of two or three minutes brings us to one of the oldest hostelries in the country, the Whittington Inn, an example of Early English architecture which is well worthy of inspection.

The walk returns to the terminus via the church. It is interesting that no cottages are mentioned in this description. Bluebells still flourish in the woods!

1903

In 1903 Samuel Price’s sisters Joannie and Mary Elizabeth died in Cardiff.

1906

It is not until 1906 that I first saw the name Gibraltar Rock – this was the title on the postcard shown here.

Valentine postcard showing properties in Gibraltar Lane and the path leading on towards Yew Tree Cottage (photo registered in 1906)

1910

Some of the rock cottages were demolished early in 1910, an event which was recorded in the County Express on Saturday 19 February 1910:

Rock Houses Demolished. The many visitors who resort to Kinver will be sorry to learn of the partial demolition of some of the rock houses on the bridle road to Whittington, which has taken place during the last two months. […] The rock houses which have been affected must not be confused with those at Nanny’s Rock. which are perhaps better known. […] Gibraltar rock is well-known to the residents of Kinver and the surrounding district, and many people in the Midlands besides, for the rock homes have for years formed the objective of many interested visitors The path on which they abut is the Bridle Road to Whittington, and in summer is sought by many desirous of a pleasant stroll through scenes of exceptional natural beauty. On the one side of the path towers a tree-crested cliff, while on the other hand wind the canal and the River Stour. In themselves the rock houses are exceedingly interesting, as is evinced by the initials of many excursionists who have examined them. The rooms have been hollowed out from the solid rock, and in some cases chimneys cut through it. Whitewashed inside, and with brick fronts, they were twenty years ago utilised as dwellings for quite a number of persons. […] Ten years ago one of the houses was occupied by an old dame, who had spent a good part of her life there, and who was disinclined to leave the humble dwelling, which for her had the fascination of old memories. She too has gone, and for a decade the houses have been but a showplace for visitors, and the playground of youngsters, in whose imagination caves always raise romantic visions.

1911

In the 1911 census, the name Gibraltar does not appear. Only four households were listed at Dunsley Rock, immediately after High Park Farm and its cottages. In the order in which they were recorded, they are:

  • Arthur John Parker, a coal merchant, with his wife, three children, and a boarder Albert David Pantall, a general labourer, at ‘Dunsley Cottages’. (There is no mention of any other households at Dunsley Cottages.
  • Alfred J Lloyd, a tailor, at ‘Yew Tree House, Dunsley Rock’ with his wife and daughter.
  • Miss Clara Bates, a single woman, at ‘Yew Tree Cottage, Yew Tree Cottages, Dunsley Rock’.
  • Edward Hill and his wife Elizabeth, old age pensioners, at ‘Yew Tree Cottages, Dunsley Rock’.

Following this entry there are several boats moored at Stewpony Wharf, starting with The Francis. George Brown, a general carrier, was master of the Francis, with his mate William Morris.

In the 1911 census Dunsley House was still owned by Samuel (and perhaps his sisters), but was now used as a ‘Home of Rest’. Selina Price was living with her brother Samuel and sister Sarah in Cardiff. Samuel had obviously retained an interest in boats – he was now a steam tug owner. Dinah had left Dunsley too, and was living with her sister in Burnham, Somerset.

1911 to 1915 – Holidays

It appears that the cottages were becoming increasingly popular for holiday accomodation. Number 3 Dunsley Rock Cottage was advertised in the County Express on Saturdays 21 October and 28 October 1911:

Cottage (furnished), Kinver; sheltered from winds; very low winter terms.—Apply 3 Rock Cottage, Dunsley Rock.

On 15 May 1915 a newspaper advert was published which may refer to any of the properties along Gibraltar and Dunsley Rock. It read as follows:

Kinver – Furnished cottage (small); stamp; also Apartments. The beauty spot of Kinver. Parties catered for. – Lloyd, ‘Switzerland Tea Gardens’ Dunsley Rock.

1921 – Jane Roberts

In the 1921 census, which taken on 19th June 1921, Yew Tree House, Yew Tree Cottage, and Dunsley Rock Cottages are all listed. The residents of Yew Tree Cottage, which was listed as having 5 rooms, were Jane Roberts and three young visitors:

  • Jane Roberts, a single woman who was 65 years old and had no children. Her personal occupation was given simply as “Apartments”.
  • Olive Brettell, a short hand typist at E Blakemore and Sons Lino, Salop Street, Wolverhampton, age 19 years.
  • Thomas Brettell, a full time school boy age 13 years.
  • Ivy Brettell, a full time school girl age 7 years.

All three of the young siblings were the three youngest children of Thomas and Mary Brettell. They were all born in Heath Town, Wolverhampton. Their father Thomas, a Master Butcher, had died in August 1914, just over a year after little Ivy was born. Their mother Mary was still alive but she was not at Yew Tree House with her children, she was still in Heath Town.

1925 Samuel Price’s death

Samuel Price died in 1925, having appointed his sisters Sarah and Selina Price, and his nephew Andrew Downing Mein as his executors. Andrew Downing Mein was the grandson of Henry Parrish Downing, the son of Samuel’s sister Joannie. Like their Uncle Henry, all the siblings except Joannie had been childless.

1930

In 1930 Sarah Price died, leaving Selina and Andrew as the last of the family with an interest in the Dunsley cottages.

In 1930 Friths registered a postcard showing all the cottages.

Friths postcard showing Yew Tree House, Yew Tree Cottage, and Dunsley Rock Cottages, c. 1930.

In October 1930 Selina signed a declaration (the SJP declaration) stating that Yew Tree Cottage had been in the possession of Henry Parrish Downing and then the Trustees, for 40 years, from 1890 until 25th September 1930, when they had entered into an agreement to sell the property to Jane Roberts for £195. The sale was completed on 14th October 1930.

1931

In 1931 a Wayleave agreement was created at one shilling a year (presumably for the supply of electricity to the cottages) with the Shropshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire Electric Power Company.

1939

The 1939 Register was taken on 29 September 1939:

Edward Houlston, a motor body builder, his wife Hilda, and one child were living at Yew Tree House.

Two other households were recorded after this record, also addressed as Yew Tree House, but they were probably mis-addressed and should have been Yew Tree Cottage. It seemms likely that they were tenants. Jane Roberts was not in residence. In one of these households was Kate Harman, a widow of private means. In the other were Edward Thomas Elkes, a woodman (classed as a heavy worker), his wife Winifred, and one child. No households were listed at 1 or 2 Dunsley Rock Cottages.

In 1939 43 year old Eizabeth Horton, a dressmaker, was living at No 3 Dunsley Rock Cottages with her children 13 year old Margaret, 11 year old Frederick, 9 year old Elsie and 8 year old James, who was at school. Elizabeth’s husband Albert Joseph Horton was the son of a Kinver boatman, so it seems likely that he was a boatman too, especially given the various birth locations of the children, and the fact that I have been unable to track him down in 1911 or 1939, when he was away from home. The family later moved to Walsall area, where Elizabeth came from.

On 25th November 1939 Jane Roberts died.

1940

On 7th Feb 1940 the personal representative of Jane Roberts sold Yew Tree Cottage for £185 to Irene May Dewsbury Jackson, wife of Cecil William Jackson of Forest Lodge, Kinver. Irene later moved to Jersey.

1969

In 1969 Irene sold two properties, Yew Tree Cottage for £1000, and Heather Mount, Stone Lane, for £3000, to L’Etocquet Ltd, a company in Jersey of which she was a Director.

1974

On 16th December 1974 L’Etocquet Ltd sold Yew Tree Cottage for £5000, to John Greaves Smith of the West Midlands Historic Buildings Trust and his wife Maureen Ann Smith, for their own family use. John was a visionary architect, and he extended the cottage to create a comfortable home with a warm and welcoming ambience. Smith’s architecture has retained many of the cottage’s original period features, and entrances to some of the remaining caves were incorporated into the rear walls of the extension which he built. He has created a fantastic retreat in a stunning rural location, yet within walking distance of the lovely village of Kinver and all its facitities.

1985

The Smiths purchased a piece of land in Gibraltar as a parking space.

2006

The present owners purchased Yew Tree Cottage in 2006.

Further Reading:

  • Into an Hour-Glass, 1953, by actress and author Lilian Nancy Bache Price, known as Nancy Price
  • Living on the Edge, thesis, Willetts
  • Kinver Rock Houses, Bills and Griffiths
  • Survey of 1831, Bright
  • A Natural History of Staffordshire, Plot
  • A History of Kinver, unpublished, Bennett
  • Extracts Relating to Kinver, Enville and Himley, 1832, W. Scott
  • Life on the Edge: the Rock-Cut Dwellings of Kinver Edge, paper, Edmund Simons
  • A History of the County of Stafford, Greenslade, Johnson, and Tringham, 1984
House Price Review March 2022

March 24th, 2022

The latest House Price Index from Rightmove, which was released on 21st March 2022, was widely reported as a groundbreaking one, as the average price of property coming to market had jumped to £354,564, surpassing £350,000 for the first time ever. Canalside homes buyers, who are less frequently restricted to buying in a particular region, may find the wide variations in prices across the country interesting. This year we are definitely seeing a trend towards a slightly more level playing field across the southern part of the country, as house prices in more rural counties have risen significantly, partly thanks to increased flexibility in working from home opportunities. The most notable change in this year’s figures is a slight plateauing of prices in London (there’s even a drop this month!) mainly as a result of covid, the economy, and previous over-inflation.

Despite a gradual levelling, especially in the south, there is still a wide disparity in prices, from £175,749 in the north east to £473,922 in the south east (and London is even higher, of course!) That makes the average house price in the south east about 2.7 times higher than the north east! These massive price differences really confuse some buyers. It is not unusual to see jibes on my Facebook group about how expensive particular properties are, or comments, especially from buyers in the US, about our ‘high’ or ‘low’ prices in the UK.

It is impossible to generalise about house prices based on looking at one property. Not only are there huge differences across the regions, but also local variations due to a range of factors, including on the positive side proximity to good schools or lovely views, and on the negative side poor access, motorway noise or mining subsidence. Riverside properties can suffer and take longer to sell, as savvy buyers are increasingly concerned about flood risk.

Canalside homes almost always attract a premium price, especially where there is a beautiful view or a mooring. In fact you’ll find that canalside properties can have the same kind of cachet and price uplift as a front line coastal property, as compared to its neighbours. They also tend to sell faster, unless there is a negative factor to contend with, such as poor access.

In general as a buyer of canalside homes, you’ll find the best bargains in the north, the next best in the Midlands, and the most expensive in the south – (just look at that jump from the East Midlands to the South!) – but there are unexpected pockets of good value in many areas of England and Wales.

The following table shows regional prices from lowest to highest, as reported by Rightmove on 21st March 2022.

21st Mar 2021Average priceMonthly changeYear ChangeDays to sell
North East£175,749Up 3.6%Up 10.1%35
Scotland£178,461Up 2.2%Up 8%25
Yorks & Humber£230,935Up 1.2%Up 12.4%35
North West£239,312Up 1.3%Up 11.7%36
Wales£246,104Up 3.3%Up 14.4%38
West Midlands£273,100Up 1.8%Up 12.6%33
East Midlands£275,118Up 2.7%Up 13.3%34
South West£369,971Up 2.6%Up 14.5%30
East of England£408,337Up 1.1%Up 10%33
South East£473,922Up 3.3%Up 12.6%36
London£664,400Down 0.4%Up 6.3%57
Canalside Static Caravans & Lodges

January 26th, 2022

There are several fantastic static caravan and lodge parks along the canals and navigable rivers of the UK. (Scroll down for a list!) The type of caravan park, whether for holiday or residential use, is determined by the park’s current planning permission, and their ongoing licence from the local authority. In the UK parks vary greatly in size, reputation, presentation, and facilities. They include everything from small, simple parks, to high class developments with large, high quality units, often called lodges. When you buy one, you will own the unit itself, but you will not own the pitch. Instead, a licence agreement will control your rights to occupy a pitch on the park, including the end date. The site agreement will specify other factors such as the style and maximum age of the unit, whether the licence is renewable, any conditions of sale, and the terms of use. All sites have their own rules, so read them carefully.

If you are from the US you will know this type of park as a mobile home park. You can buy a static caravan in the UK if you live outside the country. Many parks have dedicated maintenance services so your home from home will be cared for until you next come to stay.

Holiday Parks

Local planning authorities control the terms of use for each park, eg a site may be open only 10 months of the year. The local authority also has the power to enforce compliance. Holiday caravan owners are not protected by Mobile Homes legislation. Caravans are usually sold by the park, or privately by owners. A holiday caravan can usually remain on a pitch for 15 to 30 years from new, but the period may be considerably longer for lodges.

Residential Parks

Residential Parks may be privately owned or local authority owned. It is important to ensure that the site is a ‘protected site’ for which residential use is allowed all year round. Occupiers on protected sites are are covered by Mobile Homes legislation. Residential park homes are not freehold or leasehold. As with holiday vans, you will buy the unit outright, and sign a site agreement for the use of the land. Residential units are generally built to a higher specification than holiday homes and should last for around 70 years if well maintained. Site agreements are also longer for residential lodges, normally about 70 to 100 years. You will pay an ongoing pitch fee, a service charge, and your utility bills. Many of these parks are exclusive to retired people.

Get to know your park

It is well worth getting to know a few parks well before settling on your favourite. Consider whether you want a park which is mainly used for holiday lets, or is mainly owner occupied. These can feel very different. Don’t rely on the advertising materials alone. There is no substitute for visiting in person, ideally several times in different seasons, and talking to some residents. In some parks you may even be able to rent a holiday caravan before making your decision. If finance is required it is raised via a specialist loan, not a mortgage.

Finding Units for Sale

Residential homes are usually sold through estate agents. Holiday homes are usually sold through the park offices, but may also be advertised privately. It is wise not to rely on the ‘for sale’ pages on park websites – they may not be up to date. It is well worth giving the site manager a ring to find out what is available. They may also be aware of units which might be coming up soon.

Do your research

NB I am not a lawyer and this information is provided as general guidance only. There is a good page on the Government website if you would like to know more about licencing, the legislative framework, and owners’ rights.


Canalsite Park List

NB Some of the photos are rather old or generic. I will update them as soon as I can.

The History of The Boatyard, Boatyard Lane, Barlaston

January 17th, 2022

My research into Barlaston Boatyard and Boatyard Lane has now been moved to its own dedicated website: www.barlaston-boatyard.uk.

The History of Women in Estate Agency – the 1880s and 1890s

December 3rd, 2021

Winter 1890 Fashion Plate (Winterthur Museum Library – Wikimedia Commons)

In the 1880s estate agency was almost unheard of as a career for women, especially as we know it today. Home ownership was relatively unusual, and was largely the preserve of the upper classes. Estate Agents were generally employed to manage portfolios of property for the landed gentry, and a significant part of their duty was to collect rents. This was big business – especially as property letting was far more common than today. It was usual to sell freehold property by auction, rather than by private treaty.

Estate agents operated a powerful old boys network, and would almost invariably employ their sons and proteges in their businesses. The pages of the estate agents’ yearbooks and journals of that time are full of gentleman estate agents, with not a lady in sight. Women rarely if ever worked for them, let alone heading up their own agencies. But times were changing.

There was a well established season for lettings in the UK which followed the rhythm of Parliament. Upper class families set off for the London season in late October with the opening of the new session of Parliament, and returned to the country in June with the summer recess. Women saw a gap in the market, matching up house hunters, who were mostly women, with their ideal London homes or holiday residences. Thus the majority of women coming into estate agency during this period established letting agencies.

The first lady I have found who took up estate agency in her own right in the 1880s was Miss Eliza Langley of Reading, Berkshire, who was born in 1834 or the New Year of 1835 in River, near Dover. Should you be inspired to find out more about her, a photo of Eliza, some of her personal papers, and some records of her business, ‘Lovejoy’s Library and Estate Agency’ are held at the Berkshire Record Office.

By 1871 Eliza was an assistant in George Lovejoy’s successful circulating library, said to be the largest of its kind outside London, with more than 70,000 volumes, and 268 registered susbcribers. George had taken over the business in 1832. It incorporated a bookshop, stationery sales, and a small printing business publishing local directories and almanacs. He was operating a small employment agency by 1834, and a letting agency from at least 1836. His business premises were at 39 London Street, and he lived next door at number 37. Eliza was lodging with his sister Mary by 1871, then with George and his family by 1881. Eliza must have been an astute businesswoman, as George nominated her to manage the business, on a salary, in the event of his death. When George died in 1883, George’s widow and unmarried daughters moved away. Eliza took over the running of the business, including the letting agency. She purchased the business from George’s trustees in 1884, when she was 46 years old.

Eliza’s letterhead was a CV in itself:

Lovejoys Circulating Library. Office of the Southern Counties’ Estates Register and Lovejoys Household Almanack & Year Book. Miss Langley, Bookseller & Publisher. Stationer. Bookbinder. Printer. Engraver. Die Stamper. &c. Land House And Estate Agent. Agent for the Liverpool and London and Globe Fire & Life Insurance Company. Second hand books and libraries purchased, 37 & 39, London Street, Reading.

It seems that Eliza used the printing and distribution channels of the existing operations to enlarge the estate agency business from a list mainly confined to the Berkshire area, to properties across the whole of the South of England. The Southern Counties’ Estates Register which she published appears to have been Eliza’s own property listings publication. Atypical advertisement, in the London Evening Standard, 26 March 1894, read:

THE THAMES and COUNTRY. Miss Langley’s List of Furnished Riverside and Country Houses (a selection of over 250) is now ready, and will be sent on receipt of six stamps. Address Miss Langley, House and Estate Agent, 37 and 39 London Street, Reading, Publishing offices of the Southern Counties’ Estates Register.

A short article in The Sketch published on Wednesday 17 April 1895 corrected a description of her enterprise, thus giving us more details of her business.

In a chat with a lady house which recently appeared in these pages, it stated that another lady house agent, Miss Langley, of Reading, confines herself to houses on the Thames. Miss Langley, who has since 1884 carried on the large establishment of the late Mr George Lovejoy, the well known bookseller and librarian, informs me that this is not so, for Miss Langley has had on her books during the past twelve years not only riverside houses, but houses furnished and unfurnished, situated in all parts of the kingdom, and some on the Continent. She publishes, by the way, the Southern Counties Estates Register.

The Chat in question was with Miss Etta Nauen, of whom more later.

Eliza died at London Street on 22nd December 1897. Her reputation was strong enough that ‘The Bookseller’ published her obituary [The Bookseller No. 482, 13th January, 1898].

Eliza Langley (?–1897) was the proprietress of a well-known bookselling, library, and stationery establishment on London Street in Reading. After serving as a manageress to George Lovejoy, the former owner of the business, she purchased it from his trustees in 1884 and acted as proprietress until her death in December 1897. She was the daughter of George Langley, a paper-maker for Ford Mills, in Kent.

Th business was purchased by William Colebrook Long, who continued with the letting agency.

This article apppearing in the Dundee Evening Telegraph on 3rd April 1891 the lady house agent in Berkshire probably refers to Eliza Langley. The other lady is unknown.

A LADY HOUSE AGENT. Those of my readers, says “Miranda” in Lady’s Pictorial, who are interested the question of the various fields of women’s work, will remember that I referred last year to lady house agent in Berkshire. I have now heard another lady who has started an estate agency, and will undertake to collect rents, make out agreements and inventories, and do the usual work which appertains to the profession. Without doubt, women should make excellent estate agents, and succeed in letting desirable residences to tenants by means of their courtesy and knowledge of details.

In early February 1893 the newspaper correspondent Sydney Carstone in London sent out a synicated news aricle about two women of independent means who had spent several years as house decorators and were now setting up as estate agents in their own name. Carstone wrote:

Your energetic countrywomen Miss Caroline Crommelin and her sister Mrs Goring Thomas have struck out a new course for women by becoming house agents as well as house decorators. Those who know what it is to be at the tender mercies of the ordinary house agent will welcome the advent of a trustworthy, sympathetic and capable substitute  for that unsatisfactory personage. Although the London season can scarcely be said to have commenced as yet, the lady house agents have their hands full looking out for houses, flats and lodgings, furnished or unfurnished, for their numerous clientele. In this brancj of their business Miss Crommelin and Mrs Goring Thomas are assisted by Mr Shaw, son of a well known Irishman – the late Sir Robert Shaw.

These redoubtable women were Caroline Anna de la Cherois Crommelin (c 1854-1910) and her sister Florence Frances De La Cherois Crommelin, who had married a solicitor, Rhys Goring Thomas. Caroline and Florence were not specifically trained or apprenticed to the business, but came into it via decorating a room which their father allowed them to use in Carrowdore Castle. From then on they continued to develop their own taste and style. In 1888 Caroline lauched a business at 12 Buckingham Palace Road called ‘Arts at Home’. Its original remit was the sale of distressed Irish ladies’ handiwork, but as time went on, she developed her reputation as a house furnisher and decorator. Before long her sister joined her in her expanding business. One of the sisters’ specialities was upcycling plain oak furniture, with their own craftsmen adding ornate carving to it.

Tragically Florence died on 21st Feb 1895, aged only 37. A few months later Caroline married their assistant, Robert Barton Shaw. Caroline carried on the business, but she continued to develop the interior design aspects of her career. Robert must have taken a more central role in running the estate agency side of the business. Caroline died in Ramsgate on 1st February 1910.

In March 1894 Miss Etta Nauen launched a letting agency. I have found it difficult to research her life. The most likely person I have found is Henrietta Louisa Nauen who was born in Islington in 1866, the daughter of Edmund Nauer and Rebecca nee Baumann, and lived in Holland Park, Kensington, in 1881. She never married. Tragically she was killed during WW2, aged 77, in Gwendwr Road, Fulham. I hope to find out more about her, as she seems to be quite a strong willed and interesting young woman. She would have been just 28 years old when she started her letting agency. Etta was the subject of several longer editorials and interviews. I do wonder whether journalists heard of her themselves, whether she had a friend in journalism, or whether she was an expert in sending out press releases and engaging the press in her story. The first of these articles appeared in The Queen on 26th May 1894 and was penned by the anonymous ‘Onlooker’. The article gives us some insight into the perceived difficulties Victorian women experienced in finding and building a niche business:

NEW OCCUPATIONS. WHENEVER I HEAR THAT someone has ‘invented a new occupation for ladies’, I confess to hearkening with an inattentive ear. I have no belief in ‘invented occupations’. People do occasionally invent wants (running, I fancy, chiefly in such directions as dressing cases and recipes for making strawberries palatable), but the majority of us find ourselves equipped with such a large assortment of ready-made wants on arriving in this world that we come to the end of life before we have exhausted our outfit. Our principal wants are to be housed, fed, dressed, amused. It is a hackneyed statement of truth, no doubt; but all truths are hackneyed now, they have had such a long run. And another hackneyed truth is that you must catch one of these old wants and supply it if you want other people to supply these same antiquated wants of yours. But nine-tenths of the struggling gentlewomen remain struggling because they persist in offering to do for people just those things that people like doing for themselves, as, for instance, choosing their clothes, washing their face, reading their novels, and taking their lap dogs out walking. In this manner the struggling one tries to deprive her richer sister of her occupation, and the richer sister to whom the adjective “unemployed ” has become the worst term of opprobrium, naturally declines to surrender her claim upon public respect. Meantime the four primary wants remain the monopoly of the clever people.

One of these clever people — l am sure she is clever, for she has studied the want in a most systematic manner — is a lady who has just been made known to me. The want to which she addresses herself is the first in my list — housing — and therewith, it may be said, she combines something of the fourth, or amusement element. For the business upon which this lady has embarked is that of agent for houses and rooms such as people require for the summer holidays. Miss Nauen, 14, Ladbroke Gardens, W. (that is this enterprising lady’s address), has drawn up a Register of houses in the country or by the sea or riverside which appears to me eminently attractive. Having Londoners evidently chiefly in view, the majority of these summer residences are to be found at such places as Dorking, Guildford, Reigate, Maidenhead, Worthing, and so forth, but I also notice that Miss Nauen has brought into her list such places — to take a few at random — as Milford in Hampshire, Nairn and Aberfeldy in Scotland, Torquay, Tenby, and Ottery St. Mary. l am particularly glad to see that Miss Nauen in her prospectus lays stress on the fact that she ascertains for her clients whether the house they contemplate taking has not already been let through other agents. This is a point of great consequence. She abo undertakes to visit houses before recommending them. I notice, too, that very few of the houses in the register exceed in rental the sum that average families of the middle class are disposed to spend per week on their summer outing. Altogether, this seems to me to be one of those “well-laid schemes” which do not “gang aft agley,” the poet’s experience notwithstanding.

It seems to be Etta about whom a short piece was written in the York Herald, published on 1st March 1895.

Yet another avocation once sacred to men has been taken up by women. There is in the West End of London a lady house-agent. She confesses that she is not the only one of her kind, but she at present enjoys a monopoly, as far as her sex is concerned, in the West End of London. Her special occupation is the letting of furnished houses, a class of business which she says has bean very much neglected by the ordinary house agents. The result of her enterprise is described as satisfactory. She has a large and ever-increasing number of houses on her register, and she gets a fair proportion of applications which terminate in an arrangement to her advantage and to that of her clients.

An article in The Sketch later that month gives us some more wonderful insight into Etta’s business and its progress. There are many parallels to be drawn with estate agents starting out today. [The Sketch, Wednesday 27 March 1895].

A CHAT WITH A LADY HOUSE-AGENT. A house-agent’s business, started and managed entirely by a woman, seemed to me something of a novelty; so, ever on the look-out for anything new, on a Monday afternoon I found my way to one of the handsome private houses in Ladbroke Gardens, and inquired for Miss Etta Nauen. There was nothing suggestive of the ordinary business establishment about the trim parlourmaid in cap and apron who showed me into a cosy room at the back of the house which serves as office. But one glance at the bright, dark-eyed little lady, who rose to greet me from behind her writing-table, covered with folios and books of reference, convinced me that, though her surroundings were not those of the conventional house-agent, it was a business woman with whom I had to do. I opened the campaign by inquiring how long Miss Nauen had been in business. “Since March last year.” “In so short a time I suppose it is too early to ask if you are satisfied with your progress?” “No, I do not think so. Of course, initial expenses are very heavy, especially printing and postage, but no business is started without expenditure of capital, and I am quite content with my success up to the present time.” “Do you advertise much?” “Not so much as at the beginning. At first, I put notices in most of the country papers, and sent circulars to all the country rectories and vicarages, so that I might find out what accommodation pretty rural and seaside places could offer. But neither venture was of much good.” “Do you mind telling me why?” “Well, I hardly know, except that, in the first case, country people do not seem to read the advertisements of their country papers. In the second, the clergy sent me ample particulars of their houses, but my clients so often object to furnished rectories, and prefer anything else.” “But what made you think of such an unusual employment?” “It was suggested to me by a City man, who always spends the summer months in some pretty spot, sufficiently remote to be countrified, and yet near enough to town to enable him to run up three or four times a week. He made no restrictions as to locality or terms, yet found so much difficulty in meeting with what he required that he proposed someone should come to the rescue of those wanting to rent furnished houses.” “And you are that someone?” “Yes, I am. Furnished houses, as you will have gathered, are my specialite. The ordinary house-agent hardly finds it worth his while to take much trouble over such a small matter as letting a furnished cottage, say, for a couple of months. The result is that clients are constantly being annoyed by finding that, even among the few ‘orders to view’ given them, some of the houses are still occupied, some are not to let, and others are quite unsuitable. This annoyance I try to avoid by care fully ascertaining, before I give orders, if the property has been disposed of through other agencies.” “Do you inspect personally, Miss Nauen?” “Yes, when desired and practicable, but I have over four hundred houses and apartments on my books, and many are in Scotland and Wales.” “So you include apartments as well?” “Oh, yes, but I make a point of never recommending any unless I can obtain a reference from a recent occupant.” “And your terms are the usual ones, I suppose?” “The same as other agents’, except in the case of apartments, and then I charge a small fee for entering the name upon the books, and another, a trifle more, when an arrangement is completed.” “Do you find it difficult to enforce this charge?” “Sometimes, and I cannot help seeing that there is something to be said on the side of the landlady who is asked to put down half-a-crown and have her name entered on a book which, as far as she knows, may never exist. You see, she has no power of knowing I am not a swindler.” “Then what do you do?” “Enter the name, if I think it wiser, without the fee, and send the lodgers before I ask for anything.” “Do you get many funny letters?” “Some are very droll. Here is one from a poor soul very anxious to let her house, because ‘she has a heavy life insurance to pay, and to keep the kettle boiling.’ Rather a strange combination! Another owner of a cottage writes that she can provide very ‘comphordauble loggings’, the house being in the midst of ‘hills and walleys’, and covered with ‘onezsuckle’.” “Are you the only lady house agent?” “There is the Ladies’ House Agency in London, and Miss Langley, of Reading, carries on the same business, but she confines herself solely to houses on the Thames. I think I am the only lady who, single-handed, undertakes the letting of ‘country, seaside, riverside, and London houses, flats and apartments’, to quote from my circular.” And then the parlourmaid brought in tea, and, after the manner of women, we fell to talking of other topics.

A largely similar interview appeared in the Woman’s Signal on 30th May 1895, penned by ‘J M’.

A WOMAN HOUSE AGENT. INTERVIEW WITH MISS ETTA NAUEN. “The age of talkers must precede the age of practical reformers,” was the sage remark of Tourgenieff on a recent occasion. Tourgenieff is right, and indeed I must frankly own, and I trust it is a sign of grace on my part, that I fully appreciated the force of his dictum, on the occasion of my recent visit to Miss Etta Nauen. That lady is a practical reformer, whereas I — well, perhaps on occasion I am a talker, but to come to the point, I delineated a principle — l always said I should be a house-agent—and to my surprise I found Miss Etta Nauen had already incarnated it in action.

A NEED OF TO-DAY. We have been told to “learn of the past, live in the present, and make our laws to meet its needs,” and Miss Nauen, living in the present, from her experience in the past has learnt that a great need of today is that there should be women house-agents. Who — the house hunter is generally of the feminine gender — has not been in tribulation over the lodgings for the summer, or the house by the seaside into which you want to fit your family; the square family that must be fitted into the round hole? And who so well able as a woman, and perhaps a woman who has suffered, to enter into all the necessary details and find you “just the very thing.” So it will be with sincere pleasure and a sigh of deep relief that the readers of THE WOMAN’S SIGNAL will welcome this lady who has risen up to help them in their hour of need; Miss Etta Nauen, of 14, Ladbroke Gardens, W.

She is a charming little lady, young, bright, and eminently business-like and capable. Although it was long past business hours, Miss Nauen received me very courteously, and in answer to my first question as to what made her strike out so independent a line for an occupation, replied with great frankness. “Well, you see, it became necessary for me to do something, and here I felt was a real want, and an occupation that ought to be remunerative. I know the troubles and difficulties my friends and acquaintances have had to go through when they have wanted furnished houses or apartments at the seaside or in the country. My first intention when I started my agency was to go in for furnished houses only, but very soon I found people came to me for unfurnished ones as well. People living in the country, wanting houses or apartments in town, write and ask me to go and look at them.

WOMEN V. MEN. “Don’t you think,” Miss Nauen asked, looking at me for assent, “that women are more likely to understand and take trouble about the thousand and one details than men?” “Certainly I do,” I replied quickly, ” but tell me, Miss Nauen, you are the only woman house-agent in London, are you not?” “I believe I am the only independent woman house-agent in London. There is one lady at Reading who has taken up the same work, and yet again there is the Ladies’ Agency in Ebury Street, but with those exceptions, as far as I know, I am quite alone.” “And how long have you been in the business, if I may call it so,” I asked. “Only since March of last year. Just about a year and a quarter, you see.” “And,” — hesitatingly — “am I indiscreet, I wonder, if ask you if you have been as successful as you anticipated?” “I will forgive your indiscretion,” said Miss Nauen charitably. “I have been more successful than I anticipated. The expenses are of course very heavy. but no business is started without a considerable expenditure of capital; printing and postage mount up in a truly wonderful way.”

“How did you open fire — I mean, how did you make yourself and your business first known?” “By advertising, principally. I have a large number of country houses on my books, over four hundred (furnished), varying in rent from 12s 6d per week to twenty guineas, situated all over England, Scotland, and Wales, including London, Paris, the Isle of Wight, the Isle of Man, and even Jersey, so that I ought to be able to find what people want. But I make a special point of apartments. Realising the difficulties of house hunters, I have established an agency where I propose keeping a register of apartments which can be thoroughly recommended, and I never recommend any unless I have references from people who have stayed there. And again, there is another great point in letting furnished houses, there are not so many formalities to be gone through.” “You have not told me if you have any assistance with your work. Surely you don’t do it all yourself?” “Oh, but I do. You must know l am very systematic and regular. But let me show you my books.

THE LADY OF THE LEDGER. With these words, Miss Nauen brought out some ponderous volumes — ledgers she called them — at which I looked with a certain amount of awe and increased respect for the lady who seemed so at home with them, but I did not ask to be fully initiated into the mysteries contained in those awe-inspiring ledgers; I felt that my time was too short, and therefore, I hurriedly asked Miss Nauen if she went as far as to take the inventories herself when she let furnished houses. “No, that is one thing I don’t do myself. It really is not worth my while, ono can always employ someone to do that.” “In your work you must have a good deal of business with other house agents, men house agents, both in the country and in London. Do you find them pleasant and willing to co-operate with you?” “Yes, indeed, in all cases they have been most kind and helpful. When co-operating with other agents it is the custom to share the commission. And I must tell you that on one occasion an agent in Folkestone sent me my share of the commission before the tenants got into the house.”

PERSONAL INSPECTION. “And you very often go into the country yourself and see the houses?” “Frequently. You see, the more houses you can say you have ‘personally inspected’, the better it is. But really, you know, I find people rarely trust anyone else in the matter of choice. Almost always some or other member of the family goes and interviews it, just as you are interviewing me, for instance. By the bye,” Miss Nauen added, “you may, perhaps, be interested to know that all my printing is done by women.” In that I was particularly interested, for I had observed there was a good deal of printing — circulars, bills, orders to view, etc. — and I was just going to suggest mildly that here was an opportunity for one woman to help another, when Miss Nauen, to whom I must have telegraphed my thought, broke in and told me she had all her printing done by women. “But in your business, Miss Nauen, you must have many disappointments?” “Disappointments! Yes, their name is legion. But now l am getting philosophical. How well I remember my first client, and, simultaneous with my first client was my first disappointment. A lady wanted a house in Surrey, and, after much seeking, I thought I had found just what she wanted ; but when I went to see it, I discovered that the garden did not exist — it was merely a back yard — the much-vaunted pony could hardly crawl — it was a poor old fat beast that had to be led; in fact, everything was wrong. However, I took an infinite amount of trouble and tried other houses, but finally, my client wrote to say her friend had been taken ill and was ordered abroad. Wasn’t that heartrending?”

AN OCCUPATION FOR WOMEN. “Yes, indeed. But tell me, Miss Nauen, what do you think of house agency as an occupation for women?” “As an occupation for women I think it excellent, and women are eminently suitable as house agents; but if you ask me if I think it likely to be a remunerative occupation to a large number of women taking it up now, I should hesitate to say yes. I have been successful beyond my hopes, but then, you know, I am in the van; there is plenty of room in the van for others also, but they must have the necessary qualifications, which are, I think, tact, commonsense, and, certainly, a business capacity. That is where I fear many women fail; they have wasted their life working in an amateurish kind of way. But, of course,” Miss Nauen added, ” I am speaking of the women of the past; the women of today are realising that ‘time is the stuff that life is made of’. But l am getting too serious. Let me show you some of the letters I have had; they might amuse you. “Whereupon Miss Nauen produced some letters which did amuse me, and thinking it possible that some of my readers may be glad to know of lodgings in a farmhouse which are described a follows, I reproduce one here: “I beg to recomand comphordable country lodgins in a larg farm house in a beautful elthy village. Plenty of good milk and fresh eggs with cooking and plenty of out-housing, but no horse or trap, also bathroom, but no bath. Fir putticllers rite Mrs……” J. M.

It is interesting to note that Etta was an Old Girl of Notting Hill High School, the oldest of the schools founded by The Girls’ Day School Trust, (I too am an old girl of the GDST). She served as Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of the Old Girls’ Association, in which position she doubtless encouraged the well educated young girls to pursue a life in business.

The crossover between estate agency and interior decoration was not exclusive to the Crommelin sisters. Two others who followed both careers were Edith Ann Wetton and Mrs Innes.

Edith Ann Wetton (1848–1923) was the daughter of Henry Wetton, a serial entrepreneur, bookseller and shipping agent. In 1881 Edith was living in Chertsey and was listed as a Manageress to a Work Society in the census. Edith launched her business as an interior decorator some time before 1891. In the 1891 and 1901 census she was listed as an house decorator, but during her career she also advertised houses and apartments to let. Two of her London business addresses were 49 Kensington High Street, and 21 Lower Phillimore Place, Kensington in 1899. Her business must have prospered, for by 1901 she was listed as an employer and had a house at 138 Kensington High Street. By 1903 she had moved to 52 Lower Sloane Street, Chelsea, then in 1906 she moved to 54 Church Street, Kensington, where she remained until at least 1912. Latterly she moved to Knatchbull Road, Camberley, and she died on 14th Oct 1923 at 104 Christ Church Road, Tulse Hill. She had never married.

Mrs Innes of 8 Princes Street, Hanover Square, London, advertised property to let in the Morning Post and the London Evening Standard from 1897. She appears to have been principally a house decorator, furnisher, and furniture designer. She also specialised in antique furniture. It is interesting to note that business women of the day were accustomed to some networking, and recommended each other quite freely. Mrs Panton wrote a reply to a reader’s question in a column called ‘Other Folks’ Houses’ in the Gentlewoman on 20th February 1897:

M. B. de H. — I am so truly sorry that I cannot possibly come and see your house before May, when I hope to be in town for some little time, but that I fear will be of no use to you. I can see you here at Brighton quite well, where my fee for an interview is £2 2s, or I could advise you by letter. If you would rather have personal advice let me mention my friend Mrs Innes, of 8 Princes Street, Hanover Square, W.; she has excellent taste and would be quite competent to advise you about your house, and would arrange your furniture to the very best advantage possible. If I were not sure of her qualifications I would not recommend her, I can assure you.

Mrs Innes later placed advertisements in The House. In 1898 she was reported to be training women in the trades of papering, whitewashing and painting. [‘Women and Domestic Art’, The House, 1 March 1898]. She also employed female upholsterers. A typical advertisement for her services in ihe Morning Post in 1897 read:

A LADY, with practical experience and artistic taste, will UNDERTAKE all Details of House Furnishing and Decorating; estimates free of charge.— Mrs. Innes, 8, Princes-street, Hanover Square.

The advertisements for Mrs Innes disappear in 1899, and I have been unable to identify her further, although a Mrs Innes can be found furnishing the set of A Marriage of Convenience, mounted in Eastbourne at the end of the year. [The Stage December 1898].

Another route into estate agency was via running an employment agency. An example of this was the sisters Helen and Isabel Woollan and Mary Anne Philips who launched an employment agency for servants, before diverting into into estate agency. They even went into selling novelties. – their agency name ‘The Decorative Artists and General Agency’ gave them a pretty wide remit!

Women estate agents were still such rarities that it was not unusual for later enterprises to be claimed as the first. A short article in The Queen on Saturday 16 June 1894 reads:

Some remarks recently published in these columns concerning a lady house agent have elicited a letter from Miss Eldrid, 5a Chepstow Place, Bayswater, who tells us that, to the best of her belief, she was the first to open an agency and keep a register of furnished rooms and boarding houses in London and elsewhere, having opened an office for this purpose in November, 1893. Her monthly list for June, she adds, contains notices of both lodgings and furnished houses.

Even as late as 1939 lady agents were claiming to be the first.

WOMAN HOUSE AGENT Another vocation for women has started up. A womanly one also; for who knows as well as a woman the essentials of house and house requirements? A certain woman advertises a list of furnished houses to be let for the summer months. This is first lady house-agent, and very probably others will quickly follow suit.

A postscript to the above article about Miss Eldrid was synicated in June 1894. [Cambridge Independent Press, Friday 22 June 1894]. Here for the first time we see a lack of qualification questioned. We could imagine the same being said of estate agents today.

The first lady house agent has recently set up in business in Bayswater. She issues monthly list of lodgings and furnished houses, and has already made a satisfactory beginning. We do not know what has been done in this case, but we think house agents should be obliged to have some certificate of fitness for a position of so great responsibility. Difficulties between landlord and tenant are of such common occurrence that the agent should have the law relating to such matters by heart. It is not a business to be lightly taken up by any one, more especially by a woman, who has to run the gauntlet of criticism. We see no reason why women should not make excellent house agents, but they certainly need a special training, and should conduct the work with more intelligence and a graver sense of responsibility than some registry offices for governesses and servants have been conducted.

It seems particularly unusual to find a lady estate agent in any other area than the south east. So Mary Vevers in Yorkshire is especially intriguing. Her advert in the Yorkshire Evening Post on 13 August 1896 reads:

MARY VEVERS, LADY ESTATE AGENT, RENT COLLECTOR, Copying done. 1 St Mark’s Terrace.

I look forward to extending this research and adding more articles in the future.