Most of the landlords concerned having agreed to the Rushden Urban District Council’s “slum clearance” proposals under the Housing Acts of 1925 and 1930, only two areas, comprising nine scheduled houses, were under review at the Ministry of Health public inquiry held at the Council Buildings on Thursday morning.
About an hour was occupied by Mr. A. Archer-Betham, F.R.I.B.A., the Ministry’s inspector, in hearing the case for and against demolitions in Little-street. There were objections by Mr. E. A. Leaton, a property owner, but the only other objector was a landlord who learned with surprise that none of his property was involved.
When the notice convening the inquiry had been read, the Inspector asked if there were any formal objections.
Mr. E. A. Leaton, of Rushden, rose at once to say that he objected to the fact that the landlord of property which had come under the Order had to read from the newspapers of the decisions concerning the property. “I think it was most unbusinesslike of whoever took it on, not to have notified the owners by post,” he said.
The Inspector seemed puzzled by the objection, and Mr. W. L. Beetenson (Clerk to the Rushden Urban District Council) explained: “I think the germ of the objection is that he was not notified directly by post of this inquiry.”
The Inspector: But he wrote a letter to the Ministry, I understand, and has not said anything in it with regard to the objection he has now brought up.
Mr. Leaton: I am not objecting to that particularly….. I maintain that if four gentlemen can go and a landlord knows nothing about it--.
The Inspector: Have you any objection to this morning’s formalities?
Mr. Leaton: No, not to that.
Not His Property!
Mr. Noble, of Washbrook-road, Rushden, figures in a second misunderstanding.
“I have some property,” he said, “which I understand is being condemned, but I neither had a letter from the Council nor the Council’s Clerk, and all I know is from the weekly paper.”
Mr. Beetenson: Are you an owner of property affected by the Orders?
Mr. Noble: I understand I am the owner of three cottages which have been condemned.
The Inspector: They are not condemned at present. That is subject to this inquiry.
Mr. Beetenson: Surely you are not the owner of any of these properties?
Mr. Noble: That is what I want to know.
Case For Council
Mr. Beetenson stated that the application of the Rushden Urban Council related to five areas, in which were 19 houses, but in three cases the owners of the properties had agreed that their houses were absolutely unfit for human habitation, and would raise no objection to the demolition. Objections had been received from Mr. A. A. Leaton (Area No. 3) and Mrs. Featherstonhaugh (Area No. 4), but Mrs. Featherstonhaugh had now sold her property, and it was unlikely that there would be any objection to that area.
The Medical Officer of Health, together with the Sanitary Inspector, visited and inspected the properties after a report from the County Medical Officer, and reported to the Urban Council. Their report was presented to the Health and Sanitary Committee, which appointed a sub-committee, and their report was received by the Council and adopted.
The properties were about the worst in the town, and were certainly not fit for human habitation. They were to be found in the oldest parts of the town. Rushden was fortunate in having very little slum property, and the Council had been alive to the need for new houses. Forty-one houses were erected immediately before the War, and since 1919 a total of 602 houses had been erected, and a further 66 houses were about to be put in hand. The Council had chosen for these buildings one of the healthiest parts of the town – the Irchester-road Estate.
Should Be Destroyed
Mr. John Spencer, J.P., a member of the Council for over 30 years, said he was appointed to the sub-committee which visited and inspected the houses mentioned by the County Medical Officer.
Mr. Beetenson: What in your opinion is the only satisfactory way of dealing with these properties?
Mr. Spencer: They should be destroyed altogether. The Council was unanimous in adopting the report on these houses.
Dr. O. A. J. Muriset, Medical Officer of Health for Rushden Urban Council for the past 12 years, said he made representations to the Council under the Housing Act, 1930. He had no hesitation in saying that not only were the houses in a state of decay, but there was a general condition of insanitation. They were lacking in modern sanitary arrangements, and there was a lack of air space and ventilation.
Mr. Beetenson: You examined No. 2, Little-street, and No. 4, Little-street, in Area No. 3, and submitted your representations to the Council in connection with these various properties?
Dr. Muriset: Yes.
Shared By Others
These houses are open to a yard shared by three other houses? – Yes.
There are five houses in this bunch, but there are only two water-closets in connection with these five houses? – Yes.
They are built in stone without any damp course, and the stone walls are decaying? – Yes.
The roofs are covered with pantiles, which are in bad condition in some places? – Yes.
On the whole you consider, and it is your opinion, that the only satisfactory way of dealing with these properties is their demolition? – Yes.
Mr. Leaton stood up, and the Inspector said he had with him Mr. Leaton’s letter to the Ministry of Health, in which he said the properties were in a fair condition, and he would be willing to repair them.
Mr. Leaton referred to the inside of the houses. The ground rooms were lofty. He admitted there was not quite the light there should be, but some trees in the front could be lopped by the Council. There was more air space in his houses he thought, than in some of the Council’s property he had seen.
He pointed out that after the extraordinary storm a few weeks ago no water entered those houses. Surely that should be noted.
When Was It Settled?
“I must leave it,” he added, “after what the Doctor has said. But I don’t see why the property should not be lived in for some time. And if it is not fit for people to live in, I could make use of that place. If there is anything I can do, I am prepared to do it.”
He understood that the Council had practically settled this question in June of last year. The sale of that property was not until September, and he went to the sale and bought the two houses under consideration. To his mind, if the Council knew those houses were under a demolition order, they ought not to have let anyone be hoodwinked into buying them.
Mr. Beetenson interposed, and suggested that Mr. Leaton meant June, 1934. The properties had not been inspected in June last year.
Mr. Leaton: No, but they had been scheduled.
Mr. Beetenson: How could they be scheduled before they were inspected?
Mr. Leaton: Will you tell me whether it is a fact that the Council knew these houses were to be cleared, before last September?
Mr. Beetenson: These houses were not examined until after September.
Mr. Leaton: Then I’m sorry.
Mr. F. S. F. Piper, Sanitary Inspector to the Rushden Urban Council for the past 14 years, said he had a thorough knowledge of the properties in the areas concerned, and had examined them many times in the course of his duties.
It was impossible, he thought, for those houses to be made fit for human habitation. They were in a state of decay, and were so arranged as to obstruct light. In many cases the stairs were dark and dangerous, the rooms were below standard size, and the only improvement would be demolition.
In No. 2, Little-street, the ceiling was 7ft. from the floor, and the joists were exposed.
Mr. Leaton: Sort of Shakespearean! It seems to be coming into fashion again!
Mr. Piper, continuing, said that across the room there was a large beam. The room was 11ft. wide and 13ft. 6in. long – not a bad sized room – but there was only one small window, 3ft. by 3ft. There was land at the rear of both houses 2ft. above the floor level, and the street which ran at right angles to the houses was from 2ft. 6in. to 3ft. 6in. above the level of the ground floor.
The walls were of stone and were dilapidated, and No. 2 had a defective floor. There was a coal store under the stairs, in the living room – the only room downstairs – and it could only be reached from the living room. There was no proper food store in the house, and no sink.
Stables Are Plastered!
Mr. Piper went on to describe a 7ft. 6in. wood partition between two rooms, “walls decaying, bulging and dilapidated,” and a room which looked “more like a stable than a bedroom.”
Mr. Leaton: It is plastered, isn’t it?
Mr. Piper: Well, most stables are!
Mr. Leaton: Thank you!
When Mr. Piper had finished his description, Mr. Leaton enquired: “If these houses were in such bad condition as you state they were, why didn’t you go to the late owner?”
Mr. Beetenson: I must object to that question. Mr. Piper is a servant of the Council and he has to carry out the Council’s instructions.
Mr. Leaton: When I bought these houses I had a ton of sand and cement ready to start work with. I told Mr. Piper what I was going to do, but he said, “You must not do anything.”
Mr. Piper: I object to that.
Mr. Leaton: But didn’t you say that?
Mr. Piper: I don’t think so.
Mr. Leaton: Then you must have a bad memory. Apparently I have got a good one.
Mr. Leaton added that Mr. Piper told him, “I shouldn’t do nothing there, Leaton.”
“I had the sand and cement,” he continued, “and you are the man who stopped me doing it.”
“Would It Be Wise?”
Mr. Piper: Assuming I did, would it be wise to do repairs to that property? If it was my property I certainly should not start repairing it on the verge of a decision by the local authorities. You would not like to spend your money fruitlessly, would you?
Mr. Leaton: Well, I have finished with it, Mr. Piper. That’s all I have got to say, thank you.
The Inspector dealt next with Area 4, consisting of seven houses in Little-street, the owner being given as Mrs. Featherstonhaugh
Mr. Leaton, however, announced that his wife had bought “the remainder of the property” so that the two lots “met up.”
Mr. Beetenson: You agree to that being demolished?
Mr. Leaton: Well, of course. I bought it under that heading.
The Inspector: I thought Mrs. Featherstonhaugh was going to appear before me this morning, because she has put in an objection.
Mr. Piper described two of the houses in No. 4 area as examples of the whole. In one, he said, there was no proper means of cooking, no sink, no proper food store and no through ventilation.
Councillor A. Wilmott was informed that the seven houses did not include the old bakehouse, No. 18.
Below The Standard
Dr. J. M. Mackintosh, the County Medical Officer of Health, said he inspected last year, as part of the general inspection of some 4,000 houses in the county, all these properties comprising Areas 3 and 4. The point he would like to represent, looking at it from the standard of working class houses in the county as a whole, was that these properties were below the standard.
He had no doubt the Inspector, in viewing the properties, would consider the area as a whole, and a point he wished to mention with regard to Area 3 (Nos. 2 and 4) was that the retention of other houses in the same yard depended on the demolition and clearance of Nos. 2 and 4. The retention of Nos. 2 and 4 for any other purpose would prevent the proper ventilation and lighting of the other houses in the yard. The same applied in the case of Area 4, for if the houses scheduled were retained, it would leave others with all the conditions and character of the slum.
Mr. Beetenson: Mr. Leaton’s main objection appears to me to be, not that he considers the houses are fit for occupation, but the fact of them being pulled down. He thinks he should be allowed to use the property for some other purpose. But as the County Medical Officer has explained, if these remain it will obstruct other houses. So far as the Council are concerned, they will insist that these two houses shall be demolished.
The Inspector then closed the inquiry and announced that he would visit the properties.
Among those present were Mr. J. Allen, J.P. (Chairman of the Rushden Urban District Council), Councillors J. Spencer, J.P., J. Hornsby, G. W. Coles, J.P., A. Wilmott and L. Perkins, M.B.E., Dr. J. M. Mackintosh (County Medical Officer), Dr. O. A. J. N. Muriset (local M.O.H.), Mr. F. S. F. Piper (Sanitary Inspector), Mr. J. W. Lloyd (Surveyor) and Mr. W. L. Beetenson (Clerk).