The Great Victorian Housing Crisis and the Great Housing Crisis

A century of overcrowded homes: How we reported the story of the Great Victorian housing crisis

By the numbers | Updated: 2012-04-24

On April 23, the year ended, 3,800 more bedrooms than were required for the country as a whole were left standing. The number of people who lived in overcrowded homes had peaked in 1890, at 17.6 million; by 1990, they had increased to 24 million, more than the entire population of Nigeria. Nearly 6 million would continue to live in overcrowded homes even if all the homes in Britain were demolished, according to government estimates. In short, Britain had a housing crisis.

But in 1890, people thought they knew how to build a home that everyone would live in. In 1900, that was no longer the case. In this post, we have looked at how, in the same year as the housing crisis peaked, the nation saw the Great housing collapse and what, in the ensuing two decades, went wrong.

The Great Victorian housing crisis: how overcrowding rose to heights in the 1890s

The great Victorian housing crisis saw the creation of many of Britain’s great houses, with many people crowded into cramped conditions.

The problem for the middle and upper classes

Before the Great Victorian housing crisis, one of the biggest problems for the middle and upper classes was simply not being able to pay the rent. By the 1850s, a person earning £100 a year had little choice but to rent a two-bedroomed Georgian house because, at that time, rents were cheap, and landlords were happy to let lodgers for two for the price of one.

But while the middle class could easily afford to pay a rent, they often could not afford to build a home as much as they needed. With little experience of building, they often relied on contractors or tradesmen who had little experience of building a house of their own. The result was that new homes were extremely small, cramped, and often falling on their owners like leaves in a whirlwind.

The problem for the poor

However, in the early stages of the housing crisis, the poorest still needed to be housed. While many landlords provided little more than a bed and a paraffin lamp in each room, the poorest could not afford to pay the rent, let alone pay the deposit needed to put a roof over their heads.

In 1870, the poor were left with the only option of

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