Court housing

Read a transcript of this video

Experience life in 26 Court, Burlington Street, North Liverpool in 1870.

This is the Scotland Road area, one of the most overcrowded and neglected parts of Victorian Liverpool. Small houses built off dark, narrow courtyards provided cheap housing for the huge numbers of people moving to the city at this time.

Discover who lived here, what their lives were like and what happened to them in this full scale reconstruction of a Liverpool court.

Watch a short film exploring the history of the courts from those built in the early 1700s as Liverpool's population started to expand, to those still lived-in until shortly before their demolition in the 1960s. An excerpt of the film is shown above.

replica of doorways round a tiny brick walled courtyard

© Mark McNulty


[Excerpt of music, Elgar’s ‘Pomp and Circumstance March number 1’]

Main female character (Irish accent): Here we are, the start of a new century. A new king, a flying machine in the skies. But more important to us, these courts have finally been declared 'insanitary'. Hah! My father, bless his soul, he could have told the corpy that years ago.

[Sound effect of voices and a dog barking.]

Younger woman (soft Scouse accent): This reporter chap looked at me like I’d gone mad. “Leave?”, I said. Neighbours is neighbours. Just because they’re slums doesn’t mean you can just get up and go. Not when you’ve shared so much happiness and sorrow over the years. It’s not right, is it?

[Sound effect of children's voices and a baby crying.]

Hugh Farrie: The first house we entered was 10 house, number 2 court, Fontenoy Street. The family have absolutely nothing and the cellar door has been lifted off its hinges and laid down upon the floor of the room to act as a bed for the children. The father, having used his clothes to cover them, then settles on a wooden box. Hugh Farrie, Daily Post.

[Sound effect of children's voices and a baby crying.]

Herbert Lee Jones: It’s the children that suffer. I watch them every day, swarming out like rats drawn to the light. Their pallor is awful to behold. Mere skeletons in rags. Some cluster around the Melly fountain, fighting for the right to quench their thirst. Herbert Lee Jones, the League of Welldoers.

[Sound effect of children's voices and a baby crying.]

Main female character: Paddy and me settled in Scotland Road, being as its Catholic and all. But, you know, you wander round and it’s a real melting pot. There’s a regular Chinatown down Pitt Street. There’s Black folk in Brick Street. Even Filipinos in Frederick Street. But somehow we all rub along together. There’s no point not to.

[Sound effect of dog barking, the creaking handle of a pump and water splashing.]

Woman’s voice: Are you still cleaning those windows Polly? You’ve been at it all morning!

Another woman’s voice: Father Ryan from Saint Vincent’s is round here later, so I want to make sure it looks nice.

Woman’s voice: Well it’s my turn to put a pot of tea on today, so come round when he’s gone.

[Sound effect of voices.]

Woman’s voice (broad Lancashire accent): My Tommy used to chirp “Each for himself and God for us all”. But when our Roisin died he changed his tune. The whole court turned out to pay their respects. Joined in subscription too, as we had nothing to pay for the burial [coughs].

Hugh Shimmin: The Saturday and Sunday that I spent in that court I always shudder at. I’m very sorry to think that although we’re told the world is getting wiser, the Liverpool courts are getting no better. New laws empower the corporation to clear these dwellings but their obsession with statistics saps their resolve. Hugh Shimmin, Porcupine Newspaper

[Sound effect of birds chirping.]

Main female character: Things are finally starting to change. I never thought I’d see that wretched Hornby Street demolished. But I don’t see it changing for me, not in my lifetime. These 450 new homes, it’s still just a trickle. It wont help the likes of us. Come back in 50 years and maybe by then we’ll have piped water and fresh air!