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Back-to-back houses are a form of terraced house in which two houses share a rear wall (or in which the rear wall of a house directly abuts a factory or other building). Usually of low quality (sometimes with only two rooms, one on each floor) and high density, they were built for working class people and because three of the four walls of the house were shared with other buildings and therefore contained no doors or windows, back-to-back houses were notoriously ill-lit and poorly ventilated and sanitation was of a low standard.
Houses of this type had become common in Victorian English inner city areas, such as those of Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Salford, and Nottingham. In Leeds, this style of terrace continued to be built right up until 1937 when it was decided that houses should be of a higher quality.
The advent of council housing after the First World War resulted in councils organising programmes of slum clearances which were all part of post-war redevelopment programmes. These procedures saw the beginning of mass demolition of back-to-back houses in the 1920s. The process started again in the 1950s and continued through the 1960s, and by the 1970s the vast majority of back-to-back houses in England had been cleared. However in cities such as Leeds and Bradford significant numbers remain and are still being used as housing.
It has become common for the term "back-to-back" to be applied erroneously to "through" terraced houses, the backs of which face each other but are separated by an alleyway, and are thus not contiguous like a true back-to-back.
Back-to-back houses can also be known as blind-backs particularly when built up against factory walls, or occasionally as a terrace of houses standing on its own (from the end elevation this looks like a terrace that had been sliced in half and then one half demolished).[clarification needed]
Other forms of back-to-back housing include tenements, courts, tunnel-backs and cluster houses. Usually there was no internal staircase and access to the upper bedroom was by the way of a 'fixed' wall ladder leading through an aperture in the ceiling.
- Hey, David, ed. (1996) The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History. Oxford University Press; p. 32
- Beresford, M. W. (1984) "The back-to-back house in Leeds, 1787-1939", in: Beresford, M. W. Time and Place: collected essays; ch. 25. London: Hambledon Press ISBN 0907628397
- Engels, Friedrich (1845) Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England. Leipzig: O. Wigand (German)
- Engels, Friedrich. "The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844 with a Preface written in 1892". Project Gutenberg.