... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Tuesday 9 February 2021


Well, I was meant to be writing a post about my house, but I've just spent half an hour reading old posts about it instead.

I am very lucky to have a house, and I love my house very much. The interesting thins (well, an interesting thing) is that this is, in at least one way, the house I always dreamed of, in that it has the staircase going crossways through the middle. There were a couple of houses in Haywards Heath when I was growing up that were like that - they had their 'front' doors in the side as well, and that was the sort of house that my adult self occupied in my childhood imagination.

My house, whilst being a largish example, is in layout a classic Sheffield byelaw terrace. This is in many respects different from a Sussex byelaw terrace. If you've not come across that term, well, neither had I until I moved to Sheffield, but as you might imagine, it was a delightful discovery.

The Public Health Act of 1875 required local authorities to bring in byelaws to regulate housebuilding. It stipulated what they were to achieve, but not the detail of how they were to achieve it. So, all new houses had to be built with an outside toilet. At first this would be an earth or 'pail' closet (which will need no explaining for boaters), and there had to be access for the night soil men to empty it. 

Back in Sussex, the closet would be at the bottom of the garden; the terraces would be continuous and solid, and an alleyway would run all the way along the back of them. This sort of set up is pretty common in the north as well, I think, and you can place a person by what they call the alley (gennel, jinnel, etc.) In Sussex I don't recall it having a particular name; there is such a thing as a twitten, but that is a passageway between two (high) walls.

In Sheffield, however, the closet would be adjacent to the house, and accessed from the front, via a passageway every four houses - at a minimum. This meant that gardens or yards could back directly onto one another, with shared walls. My house is essentially part of a court, a square with terraces on all four sides facing outwards, and the gardens in the middle. On my street there's a passageway every two houses, which might be because it's on such a steep slope. A great benefit of that is that the gardens can be individually fenced off, whereas it's still very common here for byelaw terraces to have shared gardens, and for access to two of every four back doors to be across the neighbour's garden.The first floor flies over the passageway (I have a couple of lovely vaulted arches holding mine up) and each house gets half the space - so I have a massive front bedroom, while my next door neighbour's bigger room was at the back, which means they now have a more spacious bathroom than me.

When it was built, this house was a classic two up, two down, with a cellar (for coal), and attic, and an outside toilet. The front door opens directly into the front room - which is another difference from down south, where a separate hallway seems the norm, even though it results in a much smaller front room. Because the front door opens direct into your best room (and often, although not in my case, straight off the street) you don't use it. These days front doors are rarely used because the space is needed for furniture (or in my case, a giant rubber plant).

At some point, I assume in the 1960s, the council bought up a lot of the houses in my street. Most of them got sold again under Right to Buy in the 80s, although one remains as a council house. It was during that period though that the council put in indoor bathrooms, subdividing the upstairs back room, and built the kitchen extensions which are known as an 'offshot' (and which everywhere else seems to be called a tunnelback, although that might by definition be two storey). They also put Veluxes in the attic and possibly rerouted the attic stairs - I haven't quite got my head around that yet.

Cups of tea so far this February: 86
Online meetings so far this February: 21


  1. Another great post Sarah. My childhood is from just the same type of houses, in my case we had the Walsall canal at the bottom of th garden. I've often wondered when our houses were built. I can see from old maps that they were built by 1900 but I've never traced them back any further. Now, thanks to your post, I think that they must have been built after the 1875 act. I remember that the access between the houses to the back was called an "entry" but, like you, I don't recall the passage along the back of the houses having a name.

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  3. Sarah,
    Our house has a "front door" at the side, directly opposite our neighbour's and the stairs go up through the middle of the ground floor, although we have created a small hallway and restored an interior wall to create two rooms. The top floors overlap with our backroom (at the back) and next door's (at the front) being sited over the passageway (which we call a "ginnel") in what is known as a "flying freehold". Ownership of the ginnel is unclear. Based on ownership of the rooms above next door own the bit next to the street and we own the rest. However, that would mean we have no access to our front door and next door would have no access to their back yard! It's a good job we all get along.

    1. Don't get me onto tenure - I have what is apparently called a 'good' leasehold (common round here, less so elsewhere) originally for 800 years (from 1899) at a ground rent of £2.0s.5d p.a. which I have insurance against anyone ever trying to collect.

    2. When I lived in Bolton I owned a terraced house that despite being a freehold property was still subject to something called "Chief Rent". The rare, which was fixed in perpetuity was £1.47 per annum payable in six-monthly instalments. To my amazement a man with a cash bag, notebook and pen used to come and collect it!

  4. A great post - I was born in a two up and down in the back downstairs room. Eventually there were seven of us in the house with four sisters I eventually was given the front room ( divided off by my dad) as my bedroom so in effect seven of us in one back room and a kitchen. was there till at 15 we moved.... into another terraced house this one didn't have a bathroom and just an outside toilet so at least there was three upstairs bedrooms but two of my sisters had come back home so we were back to seven. I like my cottage and my boat - plenty of space now !