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Home Sweet Home

This house would have looked somewhat different in 1911, but it remains for the most part broadly similar to the dwelling in which Joseph and Emily Barrow, a couple in their early forties, resided. Living with them at the time were also their son Joseph Thomas aged 18, daughter Dorothy Emily aged 14 and Emily’s nephew William Sidney Jennings aged 12.

Father Joseph was originally from Market Drayton, a small market town in Shropshire, although his parents moved into this part of North Staffordshire after his birth, and was employed as a colliery fireman, having worked his way up from being an ironstone miner. Perhaps he worked at the nearby Holditch or Brymbo Collieries. His wife Emily (nee Wantling), was from Sedgley near Dudley in the West Midlands, an area with similar coal and iron industries.

To her, no. 45 Warwick Street must have felt spacious, having grown up in a small terraced house which somehow managed to contain, besides herself, her mother, her aged grandmother, two younger sisters, an uncle and aunt and their 7 children ranging in age from 16 to l year. At some time before 1891, Emily had moved out, and worked as a cook/servant in the home of William Blackie, a colliery proprietor of Bridge House, Cross Heath. The handsome red-brick villa, which still stands today, was home to Mr and Mrs Blackie with their 6 children, but was not located quite far enough into the suburbs to avoid proximity to industry altogether.

Over the road was a fustian mill, the 18th century building of which is still extant, although now adapted for modern purposes. The constant sound of the textile machinery must have seemed bearable enough in comparison with the noise and fumes from the small iron foundry situated a little way down from Bridge House, and the disturbance of workers arriving for an early start at the local cotton mill.

Perhaps it was on a rare afternoon off work that the paths of Emily and Joseph first crossed, as she went for a stroll in the company of housemaid Jane Tew. On August 4th 1891 they were married, and moved to a small terraced house on Warwick Street, where a son and daughter were born. By 1911 they had crossed the road to live at a different number on the same street, from where I write this 108 years later. It is one of a pair of terraced houses, divided by a narrow central passageway giving access to the rear of the property, and has the advantage of possessing the additional upper floor space over the entry.

The rooms are of a reasonable size, with the front door opening straight into a front room or parlour kept strictly for best, to impress visitors, and the occasional laying out. I imagine Emily would have been quite firm over the matter of Joseph and the children using the passage door so as not to tread street dirt, mud and coal dust through the front of the house and thus through the carefully tended “best room”. The area covered by the present day kitchen and bathroom would have been, in part, the location of the back kitchen or scullery, with whitewashed walls, a deep sink and cold tap, and a red and black quarry tiled floor.

There may have been a copper boiler in one corner to provide hot water for washing day, and perhaps a heavy cast iron mangle. As the house lacked an indoor bathroom, a silvery grey zinc bathtub would have been used for bathing, brought into the main living room for warmth. Joseph would have been working at the colliery before the widespread introduction of pithead baths, arriving home black with coal dust, and however hard he scrubbed, it would prove difficult to remove it all adequately ; so fine were the particles that they would insinuate themselves beneath the skin via the smallest cuts and abrasions, even along the lower eyelids, leaving a blue black stain.

His work clothes must have proved an endless and unwinnable battle for Emily as she sweated and cursed over the washboard, armed only with a scrubbing brush, hard green soap, and whatever elbow grease she could muster. At some point they may have found space in the scullery for a small new-fangled gas cooker, as use of the cooking range in the main room was beginning to be supplanted by the more convenient and labour saving early models.

The yard outside had an outhouse containing the wc, and possibly a coal shed, while at the furthest end a small pig sty had been built, the paved and brick outline of which can still be seen today. It was by no means unusual for working class families to keep a pig if premises allowed, feeding it on food scraps and vegetable peelings, with contributions from the neighbours who would be rewarded in kind at slaughtering time. For a minimal outlay it would have provided a good quantity of meat and bacon for the family.

Most of the home life of Joseph and Emily’s family would have taken place in the back room of the house, where a fire would have burnt in the black leaded range even on the warmest day. Part kitchen, part living and dining room, it was the hub of family activity and recreation, with a sturdy table serving not only as a food preparation and serving area, but also a reading and writing desk, and sewing and mending place. A washable oilcloth cover was spread over it, a cut above the newspaper used in poorer households.

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