My new house has a lovely garden; in fact it was one of the things that decide me. Unlike most gardens in the area, it is completely private and enclosed. Down south, where I'm used to, Victorian terraced houses tend to have a back alley (twitten) that goes along behind the bottom of the gardens. This would allow access for the collection of 'night soil' from the privies at the bottom of the garden as required by the 1875 Public Health Act. The Building Act of 1878 required local authorities to introduce byelaws setting standards for the construction of new homes, including ceiling heights, the fact that houses had to have front and rear access (no more 'back-to-backs'), and the means of access for the night soil men.
The Local Government Board produced model byelaws which many local authorities adopted, but many also adapted them.
In much of Northern England, including many areas of Sheffield, a different system of rear access was established. Here, rather than an alley behind the gardens, access to the rear of a 'byelaw terrace' often runs directly behind the house, effectively across the garden(s) which would originally have been a shared yard for four houses. Every four houses, as required by the byelaw here, there is a 'jennel' which gives access to the back. If your house is over the jennel, you have the advantage of a bigger upstairs room, but your next door neighbour's rear access is across your garden. Many gardens to this day are not divided but are still shared between two or even four houses. And I have seen some cases of where they have been divided, but with each house retaining access to its own privy, resulting in some quite odd shaped plots. This was more efficient for the builders in one way as it meant that the yards could share a rear wall with the street behind.
However, my house - lucky me - is part of a terrace with jennels every two houses, meaning that no one need cross anyone else's yard. What's more, previous occupants have erected a very good six foor high fence on the jennel side, with a gate to each house - and on the other side is an equally high brick and stone wall. A perfect Ricky-proof garden, in other words. Furthermore, it is just the right size and quite nicely laid out, with a herb garden by the back door, a nice acer tree, and a few other established plants.
Today I started clearing a tiny corner and discovered that there are brick-bordered beds all around the garden - well, one side at least. So I followed them round, uncovering the bricks and weeding the beds as I went. What to do with the (ex) lawn is a question deferred for another day.
Braunston Historic Boats 2018
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