Harehills Festival

First of all, I’d like to thank everyone who took an interest in my research, and especially to those who filled in questionnaires – it was great to meet you all, and I’m very excited to have been given such rich information from both current and former residents of back-to-back houses in the area. Second, I extend a big thank you to Jean, Allen and Andrea who helped me throughout the day.

But what happened at the festival, and what did I learn?

Well, it was a busy and tiring day, but most of all it was lots of fun, and I loved being part of it. The two main activities on my stand were a real success – an exhibition about back-to-back houses in Harehills, and a questionnaire about the architectural features of the houses, how the houses are used, and how people feel about the houses, neighbourhood and local heritage.

I think my ambitions for the festival were rather grand however! I’d prepared lots of other activities to get people thinking about the things they like / value or  dislike / would like to change about the houses and neighbourhood, but there was little opportunity to get stuck into that as I had a steady flow of people looking at the exhibition, chatting about their experiences, and filling in questionnaires – and that really was fantastic. I now realise that any future workshops I plan will need to be either limited to one or two activities, or I’ll need the assistance of resident volunteers to help me run them! Do get in touch if you’re interested in helping.

Wordsearches proved popular with the children and it would certainly be great if I could engage local schools so that schoolchildren can learn about the houses they live in. There was also the suggestion that I should look for a permanent home for my exhibition, and so that’s something I’ll look into as well.

It’s been so great to have such a positive response to my research, and I am really looking forward to getting to know residents over the next few years, working together to improve Harehills and to get the recognition the neighbourhood deserves for being such a special place. Contact me if you’d like to be involved!

Photo 2

Heritage Open Days

The Heritage Open Days events were a great success earlier this month. The Compton Centre Community Hub hosted my introductory exhibition from September 2nd-10th. This traced the history of back-to-back house building in Leeds, showing the amazing variety of house designs and architectural detail still present in Harehills today, and outlined how to get involved in the research about the history, present and future of the back-to-backs.

To complete the week, there were four walking tours of the back-to-back houses in Harehills on the 9th and 10th. These guided attendees not just through the back-to-back streets of Harehills, but through the history of their development between 1891 and 1912, setting it in the context of late Victorian and early Edwardian social and sanitary reform and national legislation. We looked at the architectural detailing, materials and features, and discussed the impact of modernization and improvement works on the historic character.

For a summary of the events, and photos of the sights we took in, see my guest blog at Secret Library Leeds

Collaboration with Leeds Libraries

The research has got off to a great start thanks to the Leeds Local and Family History Library. Over the last few months I’ve been collaborating with Antony Ramm and we have commenced the first stage of reaching out to engage current and former local communities in Harehills. Posters and flyers have been distributed across the Leeds Libraries network, and a blog has been published on Secret Library Leeds to introduce people to the history of the back-to-back houses, and to request participants for the historical aspect of the research.

We hope to continue working together, and as future events are confirmed, they will be listed on this blog, the facebook page and on Secret Library Leeds.

PowerPoint Presentation

The poster that has been distributed across the Leeds Libraries sites

A5 leaflet_historic

Information flyer for potential participants


A short history of back-to-back houses in Leeds from 1890 -1937

Back-to-back houses were the subject of controversy throughout the Victorian period as they were considered to be among the worst type of housing. They were associated with overcrowded slum conditions, poor sanitary provision and no through ventilation, which was thought to be the cause of disease.

From the 1890s, back-to-backs were being built in three urban layouts, all with a maximum street length of 120 yards. The first type was the street-lined house built in blocks of eight, with closet yards between each block and a minimum street width of forty-two feet. The second type featured houses built in blocks, but with each having its own exclusive outdoor space, and a minimum street width of thirty-six feet. The third, and most common type, was the house built in a continuous row, with an outdoor space of at least fifteen feet, and a minimum street width of thirty-six feet (Housing, Town planning etc Bill 1909. Statement of the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of Leeds, 2-3 cited Daunton 1983, 27).

A local act of 1893 brought about improvements to sanitary facilities, and back-to-back houses were being built in a variety of sizes and designs (Burnett 1986, 173). The smallest type was the three room house which had a living-kitchen on the ground floor, and a bedroom on each of the first and attic floors, plus a single basement room. The most common type was the four room house which had a living-kitchen and scullery on the ground floor, two bedrooms on the first floor, and a third bedroom in the attic. The basement contained the coal cellar and wash-kitchen with the newest, and most ‘superior’ type including an outside toilet, usually shared between two houses although sometimes they had one each. The improvements to the urban layout and the plan form and facilities in the houses themselves, had combined to provide adequate ventilation and sanitary provision – the back-to-backs had overcome two of the longest-standing criticisms (Daunton 1983, 26-27).

Although the by-laws already controlled space, density and materials, the Housing and Town Planning Act 1909 was to incorporate them, and significantly, the building of back-to-backs was prohibited (Beresford 1971, 116; Harper, xxvii-xxviii). The Corporation of Leeds fought the case to keep them, arguing that back-to-backs had been improved considerably and that the criticisms of the early back-to-backs were not relevant to those now being built (Daunton 193, 26-27). The Leeds Master Builders Association also objected on the grounds that rents would be increased beyond the means of working-class people (Beresford 1971, 116). The Act however came into force, although a loophole meant that building could continue for those developments that had been approved before May 1909. Building in Leeds had traditionally been slow, and with a six year break in building after the first world war, the last street was not completed until 1937 (Beresford 1971, 119).

These final back-to-backs – Moderns – incorporated further improvements to the design. The streets had increased to forty-two feet wide in addition to the requirement for forecourts, and two notable typologies emerged – the smaller two storey ‘cottage’ style back-to-back with a living room and kitchen on the ground floor and one bedroom and bathroom to the first floor; and a cleverly devised split level house with a basement, living room and kitchen to the ground floor, bedroom and bathroom at first floor and two further bedrooms in the attic (Muthesius 1982, 117). With the inclusion of an indoor toilet, the houses had at last overcome the final criticism, to become self-contained.

The back-to-backs in Harehills

In the Harehills Triangle, the following house types are found:


Figure 1 The types of back-to-back houses in the Harehills Triangle area (Source: Dolman 2007; Harrison 2015)

There are around 100 variations in architectural detailing, a small sample of which are shown in the photographs below.


Figure 2 The only Type 1 house in the Harehills Triangle


Figure 3 Street-lined Type 2 houses


Figure 4 Garden fronted Type 2 houses


Figure 5 Type 3 houses (shared WC accessed from outside)


Figure 6 Type 3 houses (own WC accessed from outside)


Figure 7 Pseudo Type 3 houses


Figure 8 Split level ‘Moderns’

The full history of back-to-back housing in Leeds from 1787-1937, and an Historic Area Assessment of the Harehills Triangle  can be accessed at the University of York library. See below for details.


Beresford, M. (1971). The back-to-back house in Leeds, 1787-1937. In S. D. Chapman ed. The history of working-class housing: a symposium. Newton Abbot: David and Charles. 93-132.

Burnett, J. (1986). A social history of housing, 1815-1985. London; New York: Methuen.

Daunton, M. (1983). House and home in the Victorian city: working class housing, 1850-1914. London; Baltimore, Md., USA: E. Arnold.

Dolman, M. (2007). How to identify types of back-to-back housing in Leeds.

Harper, R. (1985). Victorian building regulations. Summary tables of the principal English building Acts and Model By-laws 1840-1914. London: Mansell Publishing Limited.

Harrison, J. (2015). Heritage at risk: Victorian back-to-back houses in 21st century Leeds. MA dissertation. University of York.

Housing, Town planning etc Bill 1909. Statement of the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of Leeds.

Muthesius, S. (1982). The English terraced house. New Haven: Yale University Press.