Slum Clearance



In 1875, Richard Cross, Home Secretary in Disraeli’s Conservative government, piloted the Artisans’ Dwellings Act through Parliament, which gave local authorities the power to purchase and rebuild slum areas.

The intention was to improve homes for the poor, but in Birmingham, the result was the displacement of thousands of people and the creation of a commercial district centred on Corporation Street.

Over the course of ten years, Birmingham turned its back on the kind of piecemeal and organic growth that had served it well (or badly, depending on your point of view) for centuries. Instead, the town was to plan strategically and ambitiously. The Corporation was to become a landowner and a social engineer, as influential as its landowner neighbours the Calthorpes and Goochs.

The Cross Act gave local councils the right to demolish any designated area under its control, if the houses in it were considered unfit for human habitation, or the average death rate rose above a designated level. Here lay the origins of the huge slum clearance schemes and compulsory purchase orders that swept through the nation in the twentieth century. Initially, however, take-up was slow and only 32 such schemes had been completed by the First World War.

KEYWORDS: Joseph Chamberlain, Birmingham, Housing

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