Badgers and Little Thatch about 1930. Photograph M. Mercer
Living conditions in 1891 would have been very different – small damp cottages, tiny rooms and little light. Seven members of the Hale family lived in a two roomed cottage. Nine members of the Wells family lived in two rooms. Albert and Laura Hiscock and their seven children of 11 and under lived in a three roomed cottage. The electoral roll for 1939 shows Albert and Laura as living at Box Hedge Cottage, but it was not necessarily their home in 1891. Unfortunately, the census enumerator does not give individual house names or locations, usually saying “in the village” as the address for most people.
The 1891 census required the enumerator to state which families lived in houses of less than five rooms. Perhaps those agricultural labourers Basil Sealy, Thomas Stevens, Daniel Trueman and Saul Cox and their respective families who all had five rooms or more lived in the more recently built 1-4 Manor Farm Cottages. Real improvements in rural housing in Etchilhampton did not take place until the first four council houses were built in 1931. No other dwelling was built until after the war when Oak Hill House, then called Whiterig was erected in 1950.
Plum Tree Cottages as they were in 1928 with Grace Boyce neé Cox and her brother Victor Photograph Grace Boyce and Alison Duffin
In 1948 the results of a housing survey were presented to the Devizes Rural District Council. This was required by the Ministry of Health and had taken place over the previous two years. The scope of the survey was limited to dwellings “suitable for occupation by persons of the working classes”. This was interpreted as houses having a rateable value of not more than £20 per annum. All 24 parishes were surveyed and Etchilhampton was tenth worst in the league table for the District. There would have been about 45 dwellings in the village and 38 were inspected (see Table 1).
Table 1 – Results of housing survey in 1948
Dwellings with/without Numbers
Piped water 2
Without sinks 22
Without WC’s 38
Free from damp 11
Very damp 3
Without larder or pantry 16
With ceilings below 7 ft 6 inches 29
Without drainage 18
All required some work, ranging from minor repairs to four which were considered unfit for human habitation.
In these houses lived: 12 farm workers, 2 smallholders, 2 building workers, 2 garage workers, 1 clerical worker, 10 miscellaneous and 8 retired.
A general observation in the survey on houses in the Devizes Rural District was that many had been badly built at the turn of the century. This may also have applied to those houses which were erected in Etchilhampton in the 1880’s. The survey also comments:
“One of the main difficulties encountered in rural districts in securing the repair of houses by the pressure of the Housing Acts, is the extraordinary low rentals which obtain in a large proportion of habitations”.
In Etchilhampton 21 tenants paid up to 3/- a week, 5 paid 3/1 to 5/-, 3 paid 5/1 to 7/6 and 6 paid 7/7 to 10/-. Wages for men averaged about £5.00 a week at this time.
The Housing Act of 1949 required local authorities to give housing grants “where the dwelling so improved will provide such accommodation for a period of not less than thirty years from the completion of the work”. The grant was not to exceed half the cost and could be determined by the local authority. There was a contribution from central government towards the financing of these grants by local authorities. Help was also available for the first time to supply piped water and the building of a bathroom (see Table 2).
Table 2 – Devizes RDC set a scale for its contributions towards the cost of the various improvements:
A. Fixed bath of shower £25
B. Wash hand basin £5
C. Hot water supply £75
D. Water closet £40
E. Satisfactory facilities for storing food £10
The amounts were usually enough to cover half the cost of the amenities in the 1950s and early 1960s. Discretionary grants could also be given and these might amount to several hundred pounds towards the conversion of two small dwellings into one of reasonable size. When piped water and main drainage came to the villages and improvement grants were available it led to the reconditioning of many properties. Some landlords were slow to apply for grant aid, but gradually they responded to the pressure put on them to make improvements. Several houses were sold and the new owner occupiers took advantage of the available grants. The rural housing stock began to improve in Etchilhampton through the 1960s so that by the 1970s most houses were connected to the sewer and had piped water and bathrooms.
Little Thatch as it is today with an extension to the right. Photograph Bev Usher
PURCHASING POWER OF THE POUND
These figures are given to assist in making comparisons on rents.
Prior to the introduction of decimal currency there were
• 20 shillings in each pound
• 12 pens in each shilling
• 240 pennies in a pound
Prices of goods and in voices might be written as £3.2s.6d or £2.3.6 and smaller amounts as 2s.6d. or 2/6.
In 1950 when average weekly wage for an agricultural worker was £4.14s.
£1 would have bought goods and services costing £36.51p today.
By 1960 when average weekly earnings for an agricultural worker were £10.11s and for male manual workers were £14.10s.
£1 would have bought goods and services costing £24.54p today.