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Swansea's hidden slums

A brief look at how many of the poorest families used to have to live

Slums

During the nineteenth century the population of the town grew rapidly as trade and industry developed. Land for housing was at a premium, so much of the new housing in the centre of the town was of a poor quality.

Worst of all were the slum developments that occupied the space behind the main streets. The casual observer hurrying past might not even have noticed them. Little passageways led off the main streets to the courtyards behind. If you went through one of these, you would find a narrow alley lined with up to a dozen cramped little houses. They had one room upstairs and one downstairs, and sometimes they were back-to-back. The front doors opened straight onto the alley. Opposite was either a row of similar houses or a high boundary wall: there were no gardens, and the tall buildings on either side made them dark, dingy, dismal places to live.

Sanitation was appalling. Several houses shared each privy (toilet), and disease was rife. Nevertheless, the people who lived in these houses raised families and worked hard for their living.

In 1852 the Local Board of Health commissioned a very detailed map of the town, to help them plan for the future of the town's sanitation. The map shows that over a quarter of the total houses in the town centre had one room to a floor. This extract from the map shows a cluster of these alleyways that opened out onto York Street. They are on the site occupied by the Vue Cinema today. The houses have been highlighted in pink and the privies in brown.

Read more about the occupants of the houses in 1901

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