New Century and New Standards

Interior of a Walmgate house taken to show mould on wall - 1933 (c) Northern Echo - Imagine York

A housing revolution

Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree’s report into York’s poor was published in 1901.  His researchers visited more than 11,500 families and concluded that a quarter of the city population was visibly poor – showing ‘obvious want and squalor’.

He linked slum housing and ill health with poverty and showed that the poorest children were shorter and lighter than their peers from the better-off working classes.

The York Corporation began to take action.  In 1908 the medical officer Edmund M Smith produced a report condemning whole streets in Hungate as unfit for habitation, repeating the exercise for Walmgate in 1914.  In a typical passage, Smith reported: “The back yards in Hope Street and Albert Street and in some other quarters can only be viewed with repulsion – they are so small and fetid, and so hemmed-in by surrounding houses and other buildings… There are no amenities; it is an absolute slum.

In Walmgate in 1913, the death rate was 23 per 1,000 citizens, nearly double the city average.  York Corporation used new powers under the Housing Act 1930 to begin slum clearances.  Whole streets off Walmgate and in Hungate were pulled down, and the residents moved to new council homes built outside the city centre.

By the mid-Thirties, the corporation housed one seventh of the city’s population in more than 3,000 homes in estates like Tang Hall and Heworth Grange.

A health revolution

When the National Health Service was born in 1948, it took over York County Hospital, set up and run by a charity; privately-owned Bootham Park mental hospital; and York Corporation-run organisations such as the City Hospital.  In 1954 the 100-bed Fulford Maternity Hospital was opened in prefabricated huts.

Better housing and sanitation combined with medical advances to improve the city’s health.  In 1956 infant mortality fell to 16.2 per 1,000, the first time the figure had fallen below 20.  By about the same time the scourges of tuberculosis and scarlet fever were all but defeated.

York District Hospital opened in 1976, taking on the responsibilities of most of the city’s other hospitals.

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