Birmingham City Council Tenants Sub-Committee Minutes
The Tenants Sub-Committee was appointed in November 1922. It reported to the City Estates Committee, its chief function being to deal with applications for municipal housing. Estates Department officials had considerable powers to monitor residents, enforcing the collection of rental arrears, inspecting houses and evicting ‘nuisance’ tenants.
Such supervisory powers caused resentment amongst some working-class families living on new housing estates like Weoley Castle, especially regulations governing tenant conduct, which led to some degree of unnecessary victimisation. An interview preserved in the Carl Chinn archive demonstrates the invasive impact random visits could have. Margaret Smith moved to the Stonehouse Estate near Weoley Castle in the early 1930s. She described the officials who visited homes unannounced to inspect beds, kitchens, even the heads of children for nits, and noticed how her mother would ‘shake with emotion when they were gone’.1
This report of 14 February 1934 demonstrates how rules and regulations impacted on the economic position of tenants moved on to new estates. Many derived their income from a wide variety of ad hoc means, including wardrobe dealing, chopping firewood and making and selling sweets and ice cream. Officials felt that more provision should be made on new estates to allow people to continue such work, often the sole domestic income. The report was prompted by the case of a tenant of Millhouse Road, Yardley, accused of violating the conditions of his tenancy by continuing to make and sell toffee from his house, as well as complaints from neighbours. The report recommended the department wait to receive further instructions, noting, as this comprised his sole living, ‘it is obvious that he will suffer a severe hardship in being forced to conform to the conditions of tenancy.’
There were instances where municipal inspectors relied on reports of neighbours, which in turn fed into criticisms of the estates as ‘dormitory-like’ or ‘impersonal’.2 Such behaviour would have impacted on community life, with some arrived families from slum-clearance areas feeling the scrutiny of neighbours as they struggled to adapt to a new way of life. Another sub-committee report noted that a tenant living on the Kingstanding Estate was evicted following twelve visits from inspectors, most prompted by comments from neighbours repeatedly complaining about his swearing and dirty habits.3
1Some memories of a Northfield woman, by Margaret Smith, Carl Chinn Archive [BA&H: MS 1902/7/10], p.10 2 George Orwell, The road to Wigan pier (London: Penguin Books, 2001; orig. 1937), pp.63-8 3 BCC Tenants Sub-Committee Minutes, 22 November 1934 [BA&H: BCC 1/AM/13/1/14]
Copyright information: Copyrights
to all resources are retained by the individual rights
holders. They have kindly made their collections available
for non-commercial private study & educational use.
Re-distribution of resources in any form is only permitted
subject to strict adherence to the guidelines in the Full
Terms and Conditions statement.