Some of our readers may recall back before the 1980s if you moved into a council house – as my family did – part of the tenancy agreement was that you had to keep the gardens, privets and the house maintained.
If you failed you could get a visit from the council ordering you to tidy up your garden – or else.
This gem of a story comes from the July 1916 edition of the Eccles and Patricroft Journal.
It tells the rather odd tale of Charlotte Barry, who was summoned to appear at Eccles Magistrates Court under the Public Health Act because her house was a health hazard.
Mother-of-five Barry lived at 18 Aldred Street in Patricroft. The house as it was is long-demolished.
Inspector CW Laskey who worked for the Health Department of Eccles Corporation, told the court that he had visited the house on 4 April 1916 and found it to be in a “very filthy condition throughout”.
Bedding was so dirty and lice-ridden that he recommended it should be taken away and incinerated immediately.
Ms Barry was ordered to “thoroughly clean the house” with promises of further follow-up inspections.
Sadly, Charlotte would appear to be a stranger to the mop and bucket, for on a further visit on 28 June that year the house was described as ‘being in an offensively dirty condition’.
Quite what the difference is between “very filthy” and “offensively dirty” is, we’re not sure.
To make matters worse for Charlotte the court was told that not only was she not cleaning the house when the Health Department visited, but she was actually “gossiping with a neighbour and her sister in law from Salford”!
The final nail in her coffin came when further visits were made to the house on 6 and 18 July and a female Health Inspector reported that no attempt had been made to clean the house.
Charlotte appeared in the dock and told the court a tale of woe.
Her husband had been dead for three years, she had five children, the eldest aged 11, she also worked on a farm where she earned three shillings a day in wages.
She denied that the house was “filthy” but admitted: “It is a bit rough,” something of an understatement, I think.
She then asked the court if she could have a fortnight to clean the house up as it was obviously a bigger job than she envisaged.
She was clear that all that was needed was a bit of soap and elbow grease.
The bench Magistrate seemed fit to warn Charlotte that if the Health Department of Eccles Corporation visited again, and her home hadn’t been cleaned to their satisfaction they would consider giving her a prison sentence!
Admittedly it seems that Charlotte and family were living in squalor – but to threaten to send her to prison for not keeping a tidy home seems frankly ridiculous – who would look after her five children? No doubt they would go straight from Aldred Street into the feared workhouse.
Charlotte Barry’s name does not appear in any more court lists for 1916, so it would seem the threat worked, and from then on she was the proud owner of the cleanest house in Patricroft. Hopefully.