Mark’s History: The 19th century cellar dwellers of Leeds

west leeds cellar dwellers
Image: Google Maps

Words and map: Mark Stevenson

Mary Schofield from Rawdon was living on Spark Street in 1851, near Leeds city centre (the street is now gone but was situated between Abbey Street and Bingley Street).

She had her two children with her: Thomas, aged two, and one-year-old Sarah Anna. She worked as a Char Woman and rented part of a cottage property. 

Mary, like thousands of other people across Leeds, was living in a cellar. ‘Cottage property’ was a term used for Back to Backs and other cheap housing costing less than £10 a year. The cellar Mary and her children lived in may have cost as little as £2 a year. 

Research was undertaken by Dr Robert Baker, who at the time had him describe one such cellar:

“Every drop of wet and every bit of dirt have to be carried up into the street. There are two beds covered in sacks for five people. There is hardly anything to sit on but a stool and a few bricks. The floor is wet in many places and a pig is kept in the corner.”

I originally wanted to do something census related as today (Sunday) is census day. As usual, I got sidetracked but I managed to bring the article back to the census.

There is a map to go with this article (below) and this shows the cellar dwellings that are entered on the census from 1841 to around 1881. Click on the Black House Icon and it will show who lived there at the time of the census. 

During the Victorian period, cellar dwellings were a bit of a catch 22 problem.

They knew then that they needed to get rid of them but where would the people live? As it is now no one wanted to pay for new social housing to sort the housing problem. What of the income that was generated for the Landlord from renting out the cellars.

In the end, they managed to sort it out and banned cellar dwellings when the council as we might know it was formed.

I had to miss some of the cellar dwellings on the map because it did not give an exact address. Some were in Holbeck and others located on the Chathams.

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  1. My father and his siblings were brought up in a cellar house, Grandma and Grandad lived there until they died in 1950.It wasn’t wet and the pig was in the garden.


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