Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Athy's Slum Clearance Programme of 1934

The current housing crisis prompts a reminder of the housing problems of a century ago and later when a majority of the families in Athy lived in unsanitary and unfit privately rented houses. The members of Athy Urban Council first addressed the local housing issue in 1909 when they appointed a committee to investigate the possibility of building houses under the Housing of the Working Classes Act which had been passed 19 years earlier. Another three years were to pass before the building contractors started work on three relatively small housing schemes in Athy. A total of 22 houses were completed, eleven houses in what was known as Matthew’s Lane, now St. Michael’s Terrace, five houses at Woodstock Street, now St. Martin’s Terrace and five houses in Meeting House Lane. Two local contractors were employed, as well as Sweeneys of Portarlington. D. & J. Carbery built the houses at St. Matthew’s Lane, while D. Toomey of Leinster Street built the Meeting Lane houses. On completion in February 1913 the houses were let at rents which ranged from three shillings to five shillings per week, but as the Town Clerk later reported none of the tenants were ‘of the labouring classes’. The newly built houses did little to help resolve the critical housing situation and the shocking housing conditions under which many of the local people lived. Dr. James Kilbride first drew attention to those dreadful conditions in a report to the urban councillors in November 1906 in which he noted: ‘In less than a dozen cases was there to be found any sanitary accommodation ….. the floors are wet and sodden in rainy weather and frequently are flooded.’ Despite Dr. Kilbride’s concerns the Councillors were very slow to react as they had been in 1900 when he drew attention to the town water supply which came from ‘wells situated within closely inhabited areas and from their faulty construction are liable to contamination.’ The frequent outbreak of gastro enteritis amongst those drinking water from the pumps confirmed the pumps as the likely source of infectious disease and multiple deaths were recorded each year as a result. Despite this the Councillors resisted for a time the call for a pure water supply scheme for the town and it was not until the Local Government Board required the Council to procure a supply of pure water for Athy that they acted. The local people had to wait until April 1907 before a piped water supply system was available in Athy, but even then the majority of those living in the laneways and courts of the town had to continue to rely on the existing water pumps. The Housing Act of 1932 represented the newly elected Irish government’s plans for tackling the then housing crisis which called out for more public housing and the clearance of the privately owned unsanitary dwellings which housed the majority of families in the country. Athy Urban District Council passed a number of Clearance Orders in 1934 which required the property owners to have designated dwellings vacated within 28 days and the buildings demolished. I have a copy of the No. 2 Clearance Order made 5th October 1934 which lists houses in Canal Side, Blackparks, St. John’s Lane, The Bleach, James’ Place, Upper William Street, Higginsons Lane, Nelson Street, Convent Lane, New Row, Offaly Street, Rathstewart and Woodstock Street. The James’ Place houses were owned by representatives of M.J. Minch and comprised twelve houses where the tenants were Joseph Rochford, Richard Dunne, James Ruan, John Knowles, Thomas Finlay, Mrs. Davis, Richard Goff, James Byrne, Patrick Crowley, Julia Ryan, Chris Carroll and Frank Keyes. The seventeen houses in Higginsons Lane were owned by Mrs. Higginson, while Nelson Street had ten houses owned by Mrs. Higginson and fourteen owned by Mrs. Annie Brennan. All of the houses listed in the Council’s Clearance Order would in time be demolished and the first tenants were allocated houses in the newly built St. Joseph’s Terrace, Upper and Lower, where there were 39 houses, and Michael Dooley’s Terrace which had 56 houses. The extent of the housing crisis in the 1930s can be gauged from the decision of the Council after they appointed tenants from unfit houses belonging to Dan Carbery and the late M.P. Minch. Under the terms of the Clearance Order the houses vacated should have been demolished, but the Council agreed to allow those houses, although unfit, to be used by tenants transferring from Shrewleen Lane houses owned by T.J. Whelan and other houses in New Garden owned by Mrs. Higginson. The Slum Clearance Programme continued and when finished represented the Urban Council’s most successful housing drive. It brought about enormous changes in the living conditions of those in rented accommodation, while changing the appearance and layout of the side streets of our ancient town.

No comments: