Hard Times: Life for the Poor 100 years ago
On until 13 July 2013
The fascinating new ‘Hard Times’ exhibition at the Ancient House Museum looks at life for the poor in Thetford around 100 years ago.
Edwardian Britain is sometimes described as a ‘golden age’ but poor living conditions for many people had changed little since the early Victorian period. Insanitary slum housing, disease, poor working conditions, low wages, and the fear of destitution and the workhouse were the norm for a large proportion of the town’s inhabitants.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries Thetford was renowned for its poor sanitation, which resulted in a high death rate. Water supplies were often contaminated with sewerage. Following a typhoid epidemic in 1868 recommendations were made for a proper sewerage system in the town. The people of Thetford had to wait until 1952 before one was installed!
Thetford’s town centre was also notorious for its “pestilential stench” coming from the tannery yards where rancid sheep and rabbit hides were soaked in pits of urine.
Families of up to 11 people lived in many of the small one-up one-down cottages in St. Mary’s parish, described as slum dwellings “unfit for human habitation”. Electricity was slow in coming to the town in 1933 and even by 1950 400 homes still had no electricity.
Unemployment in Thetford was high in the depression of the 1920s and 1930s, particularly after the closure of Burrell’s in engineering works in 1928, the main employer. Many people had to leave the town to find work.
Hard Times looks at the stories of real people in Thetford around 100 years ago using objects, photographs, and documents from the museum collections.
Programme for Schools
Bring your class to learn about life in the town. Please contact the museum for more information.