Due to the restrictions we had on the time available, our group were not able to look into the question of council housing in any detail. Although the provision of council housing has been a crucial element in the improvement of public health long term, its impact during the nineteenth century was very limited. During the period we looked at other matters, such as the provision of sewerage, took priority.
We did find an interesting proposal from William Crozier, the borough engineer in the 1850s, amongst the minutes of the Building Committee, however. He had been asked to prepare a report on converting the old workhouse building to a bath and washhouse. He did this, but stated that he would not recommend that they use the building for that use. As it was of such sound and durable character he reported that it was admirably adapted for model lodging houses. Further, he suggested that for a moderate outlay they could easily be converted into a tenemented building capable of bringing in a good revenue. He raised the question of whether this would be a proper investment for a corporate body, leaving it to the committee to decide. Unfortunately we were unable to find a record of the Committee’s decision, but it does not appear that Crozier’s proposal was acted on.
This report was given in 1857. Although in 1855 the Labouring Classes Dwelling Act had been passed to enable the erection of dwelling houses for the working classes, and several subsequent laws had extended the provisions for local authorities to build social housing, very little council housing was constructed until much later in the century. In 1885 a Royal Commission on the housing of the Working Classes drew attention to the shortage of suitable accommodation and the overcrowding that resulted. In the same year the Housing of the Working Classes Act was passed but even then little progress occurred until the 1890 Housing of the Working Classes Act. This resulted in the construction of the first council housing estate, in London, beginning in 1893. In Sunderland, council housing was not built in any significant quantity until 1918 when, following the end of the first world war, the local authority became one of the most active builders in the country.
You can read the full report and transcript here.