During the middle third of the nineteenth century there was a dramatic increase in the number of people moving into the towns and cities in the UK.  Ipswich was a prime example; between 1831 and 1881 the population rose from 18,200 to 50,000, a three fold increase.

Above: Recent examples of HMO extensions to the rear of houses in Grove Lane.


They were leaving seasonal agricultural employment to work in the emerging factories and manufacturing industries.  Unsurprisingly they needed somewhere to live and row after row of terraced housing was hastily built in St Clement’s Parish (convenient for dock side employment) and on the hillside where Crown Car Park now stands.

Generally these poorly constructed houses lasted some 50 to 70 years before the slum clearance programme, between the wars, cleared these extensive sites.

These houses may have been poorly built but they were (relatively) expensive to rent (the ordinary working man couldn’t afford to buy).  The solution was to share, one family in each room.  In addition single men would squat in the back yard (there were no back gardens) in what became known as ‘hovels’.

As in all shanty towns they were built from scrap materials, procured from the immediate locality (usually the nearby factory, foundry, or in the case of St Clement’s, the brickyard).  The host properties, a group of terraced houses and their associated hovels shared one toilet (in an outhouse) and the well (water supply).

The combination of high density and poor sanitation increased the incidents of contagious diseases and it wasn’t until the mid 1870s when the town began to install a proper sewage system that we got things under control.       >

Roll the clock forward 150 years and history is in danger of repeating itself.  Unscrupulous commercial landlords are buying single terraced houses and by using ‘permitted development rights’ add a room (or two) in the roof space.  If this addition is on the rear elevation it does not require planning permission!

Why I suggest that these developers are ‘unscrupulous’ is because the changes being made to what was a two up, three down property are grossly unacceptable in terms of size, occupancy and dominance.  The host property, once the extension has been completed, has the potential to house nine single bedsits: a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO).

Such an increase in the middle of a terrace puts incredible pressure on the neighbours.  The noise, the comings and goings of the tenants and the number of cars being parked in the street are all too much. Long established families move out, another property becomes available for conversion and the problems multiply.

Despite close monitoring the Borough Council can do nothing to prevent these conversions, although they are talking to the Local Government Association.  The Health & Safety Executive has stopped work on at least one where building site safety was being compromised and in a number of other cases private prosecutions are likely because of damage to the neighbouring property, usually associated with the party wall.

John Norman