Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Back To Backs Museum....A Wonderful Place!

Over the past couple of weeks or so I have not been around again for all sorts of reasons. But one of the more interesting places I have been lucky to get to was the wonderful Back To Backs Museum up in Hurst Street, (in Birmingham - UK), which is run by the National Trust. From a miniaturist's point of view, it is a glorious venue to gain ideas and inspiration from. 
The Back To Backs Museum is the sole surviving court of back to back houses in Birmingham, where houses were literally built back to back around a single courtyard, and where multiple families would have lived, sharing the washhouse and just a couple of outside toilets. Families living in these kind of houses would have had a tough life. The National Trust has restored several of the houses around this courtyard and set them through various eras ranging from the 1840s, through to the 20th century, right up to the 1970s.  As you are guided around the various rooms, you are taken through the different eras, and will hear about some of the original residents who had once lived there, what life would have been like for them and you can even see some of their original possessions.  Is fascinating!
I have to admit that we had a very special reason to visit this museum....
as we had discovered that my maternal grandfather had lived in a Hurst Street back to back, just a few hundred yards down from the museum, when he was a young boy during the late 1800s/early 1900s....and interestingly also discovered that my great-grandfather was a cobbler.  In fact, we now know that we come from a whole line of cobblers on my mother's side...going right back to the early 1800s, and possibly beyond. At some point, presumably for work, my great-grandfather moved up the family from Somerset in the late Victorian times and ended up in Hurst Street. Researching our family tree has been fascinating and we are unlocking all kinds of wonderful pieces of information!

Life would have been very hard indeed.There would be no running water, and we were told that one of the children would have had to make quite a trek to fetch water for the family each day from a nearby source. Rats, cockroaches, bedbugs, etc. would have been part of their everyday life. Although the museum for obvious reasons in this day and age, is presented in a far more sanitised condition, from the graphic accounts given to us by our guide as we continued around the buildings on our tour, one is able to begin to imagine what it must have been like. I couldn't help wondering how on earth my relatives ever survived....but they did!
Standing outside the washhouse are some of the now redundant galvanised dolly tubs once used for laundry washing.
Set in the courtyard, we were able to step inside the one washhouse where there is the original copper plus all kinds of laundry paraphernalia, including mangle, washboard, etc. We were told that each family would be designated a specific time once a week when it would be their turn to use the washhouse. Families couldn't just use it randomly.
The fire would be lit underneath which would then heat water that would have been poured into the metal bowl above.

When my family moved into our 1930s Gloucester lodge house during the 1950s, there was one of these coppers but like many families up and down the country, was removed in favour of an electric washing machine! Hmmm...not surprising really, don't you think? What a palaver wash day must have been back in the early days, and such hard work!
When the washing was done...and it would have taken some considerable time, the same precious hot water would have been used to bath the whole family in a metal washtub (one can be seen in the courtyard photo above), beginning with the eldest first and ending up with the youngest. To imagine what the water must have been like by the time the youngest child would have had a bath after all the dirty laundry, parents and elder siblings had been in it, is not a pretty thought!
It was absolutely chucking it down on the day we went so outdoor photographs proved a little tricky. We were so engrossed in the guided tour inside, that we never even thought to take photos inside...although come to think of it, am not even sure if inside photography was allowed? Not only from my family's perspective, did this place give us goosebumps as it had very personal resonance to us as we retraced my grandfather and great-grandparents steps, but from a miniaturist's point of view there is plenty to feast your eyes on and inspire! I can strongly recommend that the Back To Backs Museum is well worth a visit. 


Giac said...

Hello Celia,
What a wonderful museum and thank you so much for sharing the pictures. It is really fascinating to see and learn how people lived. I especially loved seeing the copper.
Big hug,

KT Miniatures said...

It is a fascinating place Giac. Yes, that copper is just an ordinary UK copper. To think that once there were thousands of them very few are probably in existance. Celia

Robin said...

Loved this post Celia! I remember that copper being used. It lived in a lean-to room attached to our cottage when I was quite small. We called it the'copper hole'. It was replaced by a big gas fired galvanised boiler affair.

KT Miniatures said... that is fascinating. Ha ha...."the copper hole" has such a fantastic ring about it!!! And actually, I have never seen a gas fired galvanised boiler before?

I remember my grandmother telling me about how washdays (now this would be about 1920s/30s) used to be traditionally on a Monday. And because it would take practically all day, for dinner every Monday, they would have cold leftover meat and often vegetables from the Sunday dinner. (The vegetables would often be mixed together and fried, to make "bubble and squeak")! In our 1930s lodge house, the copper was originally in the corner of the kitchen which must have taken up one heck of a lot of room, as it was not a big another reason why it was quickly taken out once my family moved in. Celia

Troy said...

Very neat post and great photos. It is interesting to see how our ancestors lived. Thanks.

KT Miniatures said...

Thanks Troy.....glad you liked the post. Must have been a hard life back then though. Thank goodness someone was clever enough to invent electric washing machines!!! Celia