1. Regulation


1a. Nineteenth-Century Housing Regulation by Andrew Walker

During much of the nineteenth century, in many expanding industrial urban centres the quality of workers’ housing was invariably very poor. In rapidly growing towns and cities, workers and their families tended either to occupy parts of older, neglected large properties in urban centres, previously occupied by middle-class residents who had moved to more salubrious suburbs, or were living in newly-built, cheaply-constructed housing, often served by rudimentary ineffective drainage systems.

A common urban house type, constructed in many northern and midland industrial towns and cities, particularly in the first half of the nineteenth century, was the back-to-back terraced house. Often constructed by speculative builders, back-to-back houses were arranged in rows, with houses at the front and back, each one-room deep. The rear houses in such rows would face into courts, with shared privies and water provision. The courts were often accessed via a tunnel from the houses facing the street.

Major health problems arose as a consequence of this type of cramped building, with its ineffective sanitary provision. Cholera outbreaks, caused by infected water supplies, regularly prompted significant death tolls in such urban residential districts. It was often medical professionals who were amongst the first to draw attention to the poor quality of workers’ housing. Such individuals included W.H. Duncan, Liverpool’s, and Britain’s, first Medical Officer of Health (appointed in 1847), and the sanitary reformer Edwin Chadwick, who was a key architect of the 1848 Public Health Act that sought to ameliorate the situation. (Figs.1.1 and 1.2 demonstrate with local examples the kinds of problem that had arisen by the mid-nineteenth-century).

This major piece of legislation stipulated minimum street widths and permitted local authorities to introduce higher standards relating, for instance, to the development of drainage systems and access to courts and yards.

In the 1860s and 1870s local legislation was introduced in many towns and cities to regulate residential building activity and sanitation. Gradually, this began to forbid the construction of back-to-back housing and removed some of the worst types of unsanitary housing. Much of this local legislation was informed by both the Public Health Act 1848 and the Local Government Act of 1858, the latter of which provided much regulatory detail relating to the construction of new housing. Guidelines were issued, called the Form of Bye-laws. These were used as the basis of their own local regulatory frameworks by many English and Welsh urban authorities during the 1860s. They stipulated that all carriage streets must be 36 feet wide; there had to be 150 square feet of clear space at the rear of each house; and there was to be a minimum of 15 feet distance to the next building in the case of a two-storey house.

New Model Byelaws were produced in 1877 and were widely adopted, following the passing of the Conservative Government’s Public Health Act in 1875, introduced by the Home Secretary, Richard Cross, appointed by the Conservative Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. This Act required all new residential construction to include running water and an internal drainage system. The Act also compelled local authorities to appoint a Medical Officer and a Sanitary Inspector. The same year, Cross also introduced the Artisans’ Dwelling Act. This was a central piece of permissive legislation, which enabled local authorities to implement slum clearance.

Through the development of this legislation, there was, as Martin Daunton has observed, a move from ‘a cellular and promiscuous’ to an ‘open and encapsulated’ residential style. Self-contained courts, with communal space and shared sanitary provision were being replaced with individual houses that were private and self-contained spaces. The building controls that enabled this change, argues Richard Dennis, represented the triumph of middle-class values, with the regulations introduced and implemented by largely middle-class councillors. The sweeping away of enclosed courts and alleys and the building of open-ended, connected residential streets enabled not just improved health and sanitation provision but also the construction of urban residential districts that were visible for inspection and policing.

Fig.1.1a Part of Gadsby’s Court, 1849, from George Giles, drawing 3, entered by tunnel next to 38 Sincil St. Houses are pink, privies are green, dust holes (ash pits), manure and piggeries are red. One pump for 13 houses.

(From Giles’s report, Local Studies Collection, Lincoln Central Library, courtesy of Lincolnshire County Council.)

Fig.1.1b Gadsby’s Court , 1930s, looking inwards from Sincil St end of tunnel, which latterly and until 2016 led to the City Bus Station. (From the Local Studies Collection, Lincoln Central Library, LC256, courtesy of Lincolnshire County Council.)

1b. Lincoln’s Building Regulations by Andrew Walker

The city of Lincoln was a relatively late adopter of the 1858 Local Government Act. In early 1866 a special meeting of Lincoln Town Council took place to consider the implementation of the legislation. A detailed report of the debate was published in the Lincolnshire Chronicle on 2 February 1866. Following a four-hour meeting, the Act was adopted by 17 votes to five. The meeting had been convened as a consequence of a requisition signed by 500 of the city’s largest ratepayers calling upon the Council to consider adopting the Act.

During the debate concerns were expressed at the city's high death rate – 29 per 1000 – which was six above the level at which the Government could interfere to enforce the Act. It was noted that, where towns had implemented the Local Government Act, all had reduced their death rates. Several council members had, prior to the debate, visited the towns of Worthing and Croydon which had successfully implemented measures associated with the Act.

The principal advocate of the Local Government Act in the debate was Alderman Richard Harvey, a medical doctor, and three-time mayor of the city. He stated that the powers Lincoln Corporation currently possessed were not commensurate with its dignity and the wants of the town. He noted that nearly every town in the country had adopted the Act and that many populous villages had also implemented regulations relating to its contents. All of these places, he asserted, were far ahead of Lincoln as regards their powers of local government. The poor quality of the city’s housing provision was highlighted and the comments of Mr Garnham, former surgeon to the city’s Dispensary were introduced to the debate by Harvey, himself previously employed in this role at the Dispensary. Garnham had described the poor quality of the ‘tenements’ of the city, the courts uphill with homes with no back windows, the open drainage channels, and the housing with one privy for 30 people. References were made to: Sincil Street, with its courts within courts; the backyards and alleys of the Waterside; the houses on High Bridge, which were ‘more fit for rabbit warrens than human habitation’; and the ‘conglomerate mass of ill-built dwellings, stables and slaughterhouses’ on Witham Bank South. (See here for information on some courts and yards).

Several councillors admitted within the debate to changing their minds regarding the adoption of the Act. Alderman Ward had opposed the adoption of the Act in a Lincoln Town Council debate in 1859 but had altered his view , he stated, largely owing to the recent rapid growth of the city’s population, the associated significant increase in the city’s land values and builders consequently ‘packing the largest possible number of houses’ in these valuable spaces.

The Lincolnshire Chronicle report explained to its readers that the 34th clause of the 1858 Local Government Act enabled the Corporation to exercise its control with respect to the levels, width, and construction of new streets and the sewerage thereof, the security of walls, the prevention of fire, the ventilation and drainage of buildings and the provision of water closets. It also stated that builders were required to submit all of their plans for examination and approval to the Corporation.

A few observations arising from late nineteenth-century newspaper reports are worth making regarding the list of building plans produced by Lincoln Corporation. It is clear that not all of the plans deposited, even where the buildings concerned were constructed, actually conformed to the plans. Similarly, it seems that in some cases buildings could have been constructed without plans being submitted and, in other cases, where plans were deposited, these were, on occasion, considered after the point at which construction work had commenced.

Newspaper reports in Lincoln indicated that, following the implementation of the regulations, breaches of these were relatively common. Indeed, on 8 September 1882, the Lincolnshire Chronicle reported a story in the national publication, The Architect, that highlighted the fact that the byelaws of the Lincoln Urban Sanitary Authority appear as far as building regulations are concerned ‘to have been a dead letter’ It seemed more common ‘to violate rather than observe them.’ The report noted that several people had lately been summoned by the City Police Court for infringement of some of the byelaws and had been ‘let off’ with a small fine. It was reported that the Deputy Town Clerk, H.K. Hebb, had observed a long list of other offenders and that if all the houses which had been erected in the last 18 months were inspected, ‘in no instance would it have been found that bye laws had been complied with.’

Twelve years later in 1894, a high-profile breach of building regulations came to court, involving Charles Clarke, a tailor who had undertaken major building works on Dixon Street without submitting plans in advance. According to a Lincolnshire Chronicle report on 24 July 1894, it was noted that during the court case a clerk, John Miles, employed for twelve years by the prominent Lincoln architect Henry Goddard, had stated that it was customary for buildings in the city to be commenced before plans were deposited.

Clearly, the production of Lincoln’s building regulations, and the associated plans, were the result of a significant amount of reforming zeal, initially at the national level, but also ultimately, and somewhat belatedly, within the city itself. However, it is also evident that the records generated by these regulatory processes need to be treated with a degree of caution, given the concerns about the application of the local planning processes in the final decades of the nineteenth century.


Burnett, John, A Social History of Housing, 1815-1985. Second Edition, Routledge, London, 1986.

Daunton, M. J., House and Home: Working-Class Housing in the City, 1850-1914, Edward Arnold, London, 1983.

Dennis, Richard, English Industrial Cities of the Nineteenth Century: A Social Geography, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1986.

Gaskell, S. M., Building Control: National Legislation and the Introduction of Local Bye-Laws in Victorian England, Bedford Square Press, London, 1985.

Ley, A. J., A History of Building Control in England and Wales, 1840-1990, RICS Books, Coventry, 2000.

Mills, Dennis. R., Effluence and Influence: Public Health, Sewers and Politics in Lincoln, 1848-50, Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology, 2015.

Muthesius, Stefan, The English Terraced House, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1982.

O’Brien, Charles, Houses: A Pevsner Architectural Guide, Yale University Press New Haven, 2016.

Rodger, Richard, Housing in Urban Britain, 1780-1914, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989.

Rubinstein, David, Victorian Homes, David and Charles, Newton Abbot, 1974.

Figs.1.2a-1.2c. Fig.1.2b is an extract from Giles’ 1849 Drawing 2 of the Michaelgate Terraces showing the location of the two photos, 1.2a, being Maud’s Hill Terrace in 1958 and 1.2c probably St Michael’s Terrace west end in 1959. Maud’s Hill Terrace is on the right hand side of the path, the photo dramatically indicating the hillside location; to the left is Prospect Terrace only just begun at the end of the 1840s. The main problem in these terraces was the existence of the County Hospital above them, the source of polluted water from its kitchen and from the burial ground, which found its way downhill and emerged at the top of Hungate.

Sources: photos by Laurence Elvin - from the Local Studies Collection, Lincoln Central Library, LC4220 and LC4254, courtesy of Lincolnshire County Council; plan – as for Fig.1.1b.

Fig. 1.2a

Fig. 1.2b

Fig. 1.2c

1c. Background to Lincoln’s Building Applications System by Beryl George

As mentioned above, Lincoln Corporation adopted the Local Government Act of 1858 in January 1866. This enabled the setting up of the Lincoln Local Board. Holding its first meeting on 30 April 1866, it was rapidly decided that most of the powers of the Lincoln Lighting and Paving Commission (set up under Act of Parliament in 1828) were available to the Local Board under the 1858 Act, so most of the Act could be repealed. At an inquiry held in June 1866, it was stated that the Local Board only wanted to keep the clauses of the Lighting & Paving Act which related to the thatching of houses, the projection of buildings, unsafe grates and cellars etc. because these would apply to existing building, whereas the new byelaws would only apply to new ones (and then only once they had been fully approved).

The Building and Improvement Committee of the Lincoln Local Board first met on 13 September 1866. From 13 May 1867 this became the Highways, Paving, Lighting, Building and Improvement Committee. The first proposed byelaws concerning new streets and buildings were given in a notice in July 1866 which included:

    • The level, width, and construction of new streets and buildings, and the provisions for the sewerage thereof.

    • The structure of the walls of new buildings for securing stability, and the prevention of fires.

    • The sufficiency of the space about buildings to secure a free circulation of air and the ventilation of buildings.

    • The drainage of buildings and of water closets, privies, ashpits, and cesspools in connection with buildings.

    • The giving of notices and the deposit of plans and tracings by persons intending to lay out new streets, or construct buildings, the inspection thereof by the Local Board, and the power of the Board to remove, alter, or pull down any work begun or done in contravention of the said byelaws.

These byelaws were slightly amended on 16 October 1866. By August 1867, byelaw 157 (which appeared to cover the giving of notice and deposit of plans etc.) had become two byelaws. By 1880 there was a whole booklet on the byelaws concerning new streets and buildings, including several specifically on the giving of notice (see extracts from these below). By this time the Local Board had become the Urban Sanitary Authority under the Public Health Act of 1875 (which had further expanded its powers).

Byelaws made 3 August 1880 by the Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of the City of Lincoln acting by the Council as the Urban Sanitary Authority with respect of New Streets and Buildings in the Urban Sanitary District of the City of Lincoln [agreed to by the Local Government Board, 11 September 1880]:

Byelaw 99.

    • ‘Every person who shall intend to lay out a street, shall before beginning to lay out or construct such street, give to the Sanitary Authority notice in writing of such intention, which shall be delivered or sent to their surveyor at his office. [This should include] …a plan and sections of such intended street, drawn to a scale of not less than one inch to every twenty feet and a longitudinal section and three cross sections drawn to the same horizontal scale as the plan and to a vertical scale of not less than one inch to every five feet.

    • Such person shall show on every such plan the names of the owners of the land through or over which such street shall be intended to pass, the intended width, the points of the compass, the intended mode of construction, the intended name of such street and its intended position in relation to the streets and properties nearest adjoining thereto, the size and number of the intended building lots, and the intended sites, height, class and nature of the buildings to be erected therein, and the intended height of the division and fence walls thereon, and the name and address of the person intending to lay out such street.

    • Such person shall sign such plan [and it] shall be signed by or on behalf of the owner or all the owners of the land through or over which such new street is intended to pass.

    • Such person shall show on all the sections the levels of the present surface of the ground above some known datum, the intended level and rate or rates of inclination of the intended street, the level and inclinations of the streets with which it is intended that such street shall be connected, for a distance of one hundred feet at least on each side thereof, and the intended level of the lowest floors of the intended buildings.

Byelaw 100.

    • Every person who shall intend to erect a building shall, before beginning to erect the same, give to the Sanitary Authority notice in writing of such intention, which notice shall be delivered or sent to their surveyor at his office, and [include] complete plans and sections of every floor of such intended buildings, which shall be drawn to a scale of not less than one inch to every eight feet and shall thereon show the position, form and dimensions of the several walls, timbers, windows, recesses, openings, or other parts of such building, and of every water closet, earth closet, privy, ashpit, cesspool, and well, and of the means by which access is proposed to be afforded from the nearest public carriage way to such privy, earth closet, ashpit or cesspool, for the removal of the contents thereof and of all other appurtenances, and by reference to some fixed datum adjacent to the site of the proposed building, the level and depth of the foundations, floors, doorsills, or other vertical points of such proposed building, and of all other appurtenances.

    • Such person shall together with such plans and sections, give a description in writing of the materials of which it is intended that such building shall be constructed, and of the intended mode of drainage and means of water supply.

    • Such person shall, together with such plans and sections, furnish a block plan of such building which shall be drawn to a scale of not less than one inch to every forty-four feet, and shall show the position of the buildings and appurtenances of the properties immediately adjoining, the width and direction of the street in front, and of the street, if any, at the rear of such building, and the position and dimensions of the yard or ground belonging thereto.

    • Such person shall likewise show on such plan the intended lines of drainage of such building, and the intended size, depth, and inclination of each drain and the details of the arrangements proposed to be adopted for the ventilation of the drains.

Byelaw 101.

    • Every person who shall intend to lay out or to construct a street, or to erect a building, or otherwise to execute any work to which any of the byelaws relating to new streets and buildings may apply, shall before beginning [send] to the surveyor of the Sanitary Authority at his or their office notice in writing, in which shall be specified the date on which [such work will start].

    • Such person shall also, before proceeding to cover up any sewer or drain, or any foundation of a building or to slate or cover the roof thereof, deliver or send … to the surveyor of the Sanitary Authority … notice in writing, in which shall be specified the date on which such [work will start].

    • [If they fail to do this, the surveyor can take some of the building or other work down to check. If they have broken the byelaws, it can be taken down anyway.]

Notes in the byelaws also specified that the plans, sections etc. would be retained by the Corporation; that the decision on the application would be made within a month and that if a start was made before the month was over (or the application was refused), the building could be taken down at the owner’s expense.