Crammed into unfit rooms

Former WWI soldier Henry Salvidge was living at 16 Christopher Yard in 1921. He suffered ill health after the war but despite this ran a coffee stall in Market Place until forced to quit by the Council as his stall was getting in the way of traffic. This postcard of Market Place is believed to show Salvidge’s coffee stall.

If you were of limited means and in search of a roof over your head in St Albans in the 1900s you might find yourself sharing not just living but bedroom space with other families.

The lack of affordable housing was so acute in 1924 that in one property eleven adults and four children were sharing a two-bedroom house.

Many of the houses, courts and alleys that people were living in were described as ‘unfit for human habitation’. A survey of 718 properties found that families were living in homes in the city that lacked even the most basic amenities: 296 had no sink; 94 shared a toilet with others ‘ many in a very bad condition’; and 156 shared a tap with from one to eight other houses (1).

An estimated 500-plus houses were needed to reduce the overcrowding and provide people with a home of their own. Even then, when the population was less than half what it is today, it was not possible to meet the need.


The St Albans workhouse was renamed Oster House Public Assistance Institution. In 1946 the name was changed to Osterhills and, following the introduction of the National Assistance Act in 1948, it became an old people’s home.


Vagrancy Act amended section four of the 1824 Act so far as it related to persons wandering abroad and lodging in barns or other places.


The Housing Act greatly increased government subsidy available to local authorities to build new homes.

(1) St Albans Central Library, ‘St Albans Housing Enquiry Committee Report of a Survey made April-October 1924’ (ref. Y234.188).