Memories of Back to Backs Living
We received more than 200 letters from all over the country During the restoration. Some of these lare displayed at the Back to backs where visitors can read them at their leisure.
Mrs Iris Hackett who was born in a back to back in 1926 gives us a vivid description of the house in which she lived with her parents and elder brother and sister:
We didn’t have our own W.C. we had to go to the top of the terrace where there 5+ had to share with the next door neighbour. The women used to take turns to clean them. Across the top of the yard were about 5 wash houses & were shared to do the weekly wash. Only cold water, & used to boil it in a huge boiler heated by a small fire under it fuelled by slack & potato peelings. The other corner housed the dust bins, a horrible smelly place. We called it the ‘Miskins’. They were emptied by dustman carrying large baths on their shoulders or heads, over flowing with ashes. They emptied them into a horse drawn cart waiting in the street.”
Sheila Gordon came to Birmingham as a student midwife and cared for mothers and babies in the community:
If the baby was to be delivered at home the midwife would require a table or old marble topped washstand. On this a large jug and bowl for washing mother and bathing the baby would be required, & somewhere to put her equipment. The clothes horse, which when draped with old cloths etc would help keep draughts off the newly delivered baby.
A very important item required was some form of cot for the baby, as midwives were not allowed to leave the child to sleep in the parents bed in case of suffocation. This would often take the form of a drawer on two chairs, surrounded by the clothes horse. On one occasion a motor-bike sidecar served the purpose very well.
It was not unusual to see many of these items passed from family to family at the time of confinement, and neighbourliness ensured that there was always a pair of clean sheets to put on the mother’s bed when the confinement was over, plus an uncracked cup to give the midwife a cup of tea, after the mother received hers.
Childbirth, in these circumstances, and at this time seemed a relatively straightforward event with no special fuss. It had to be – it occurred so often!
Mrs I Mead, born in 1926, describes her “excellent landlord”:
…we had a very good landlord, who was a real gentleman. Every week at exactly the same time, he would arrive in a limousine – the only one we had ever seen – complete with chauffeur! Every child would line up, all the mothers having made sure we all had a clean face, and he would pat us all on our head! …… he looked after his tenants very well. We dreaded wash-day and all that went with it, especially if it was a wet day, and everything had to be dried indoors, a very miserable prospect indeed! Another chore that never changed was children being bathed in front of the living room fire in a tin bath. What a performance! It was really hard work when there was only ever a cold tap, and every drop of water, for whatever reason had to be heated in the kettle