A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
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The history of Beverley after 1918 is one of change, gathering momentum and becoming massive by the 1970s. Among general causes, the development of motor transport was probably the most important. It made the commuting distance between Hull and Beverley insignificant, and the analysis of employment is consequently rendered difficult by the fact that many people resident in Beverley worked in Hull and vice versa. (fn. 1) It also initiated a change in the map of the area which would scarcely have been possible before. Motor transport allowed direct communication between Beverley and the crescent of middle-class suburbs, from Cottingham to Hessle, which lay outside the western boundaries of Hull. The existence of that area found institutional expression in the establishment of the urban district of Haltemprice in 1935, and Beverley was included with it in the staunchly Conservative constituency of Haltemprice created in 1955. (fn. 2)
A second general influence on the evolution of the town was the growth in the 20th century of administrative and welfare agencies for which Beverley became the local centre. At the same time the range of activities which were administered entirely locally, within the borough, was becoming circumscribed. Responsibility for education in the town was thus shared between the corporation and the county council under the Education Act of 1902. Beverley was included in the Hull telephone area from 1914, and electricity, which was supplied to Beverley as late as 1930, was taken from Hull from the start. It was not until after the Second World War, however, that Beverley ceased to have its own water and gasworks. (fn. 3)
The corporation's responsibilities after 1918 moved increasingly into the area of housing and town planning. At the end of the war there was a housing shortage, as elsewhere, which was the result partly of pre-war demolitions and partly of four years' interruption of normal building. A survey made in 1919, by the medical officer of health, assessed the scale of the problem: of 2,923 working-class houses 39 were dilapidated, of which 21 were empty, there was 'marked' overcrowding in 115, and 33 were occupied by more than one family. In the next 30 years the standard of 'unfitness' was to rise markedly. (fn. 4) The corporation was quick to make use of the subsidies available under the Addison Act of 1919, and bought land on Grovehill Road in 1920. It was there, between the town and Swine Moor, that most space was available for the development of new housing estates. The corporation had built 88 houses there by 1923, when government funding ceased, and added a further 78 by 1926 under the Wheatley Act of 1924. (fn. 5) In 1926 the Hall, Lairgate, and its grounds, occupying much of the open area remaining between the town and Westwood, were bought from the trustees of the Walker family, and 119 houses were built there, the Hall itself becoming municipal offices in 1930. (fn. 6)
Government housing policy changed in the 1930s. With the passing of the Housing Act of 1930, local authorities were charged with the duty of identifying and replacing slum-clearance areas. Under this Act the corporation laid out two more estates east of the town, at Cherry Tree Lane, where 126 houses were built between 1931 and 1933, and at Mill Lane, where another 128 houses were built between 1936 and 1938. Land was also bought in Goth's Lane in 1938 for another estate, but building was held up by the war. (fn. 7)
Altogether 285 council houses were built before 1930 and a further 254 by 1938. That represented an 18 per cent addition to the working-class housing stock of 1919, and offers an insight into the housing conditions of the 19th century. According to the criteria adopted by the 1901 census Beverley was not overcrowded, yet the 'historic' centre of the town had become more and more tightly packed, with terraces and cottages built in backyards and alleys. In such a place the concept of a clearance area as laid down in the 1930 Act was difficult to apply. The lists of dwellings condemned show that they were to be found in clusters of perhaps half a dozen, some in and behind the principal residential streets, many of them in the areas on either side of Toll Gavel bounded by Lairgate and Walkergate. They were condemned as being too small and in a general state of disrepair. (fn. 8)
The slum-clearance programme was slow to begin. In 1933 the owners of 14 of the houses scheduled for demolition appealed successfully against the Order in the county court, the judge holding that 'the houses in question are decent houses for the class of tenant who resides in them'. That decision put the rest of the clearance programme in jeopardy, and it also found favour in the council's health committee, which carried a motion stating that 'the need for an appeal procedure has their hearty support'. As in the case of the water proposals of 1881, however, the council was overridden, this time by the Ministry of Health. (fn. 9)
Outside the programme of house-building, change was slow, for example in the conversion of privies. By 1934 water closets were provided in about half of the houses in the town, but it was not until the late 1950s that practically all houses had them. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s both the birth-rate and the death-rate remained consistently higher than the national average, though the rates do not necessarily point to unhealthy housing conditions. (fn. 10)
The industrial life of Beverley in the period largely continued along the lines which had been established in the 19th century. Of the old-established industries brewing was reduced when production ended at the Golden Ball brewery after Robert Stephenson's death in 1919, though his malting was kept going by new owners. (fn. 11) Similarly fertilizer manufacture suffered by the winding up of Tigar's Manure Co. in 1923, (fn. 12) and seed crushing by the ending of production at Hull Bridge in 1942. (fn. 13) The last of the town's brickworks had been closed by 1927. (fn. 14) The 1920s also saw the end of another long-established industry, the manufacture of agricultural implements. The East Yorkshire and Crosskills Cart & Waggon Co., which had been wound up in 1914, was revived in 1919 as the Beverley Waggon Works, but it was in liquidation by 1927. (fn. 15) The firm's advertisements of the 1920s made it clear that, despite its impressive name, it had ceased manufacturing on its own account, and was merely an agent for various makes of agricultural and gardening equipment. (fn. 16)
Scarrs' shipyard at Weel was closed in the 1930s. (fn. 17) Cook, Welton & Gemmell continued to build trawlers and other small ships at Grovehill throughout the period of the depression, although output and employment varied greatly from year to year. That was at a time, moreover, when shipbuilding in the north-east suffered a catastrophic loss of orders. Hodgson's tannery was taken over by Barrow, Hepburn & Gale, a national concern, in 1920. After expanding to meet wartime demands the tannery stagnated in the 1920s before moving forward again in the 1930s. By 1937 the number of hides treated had been more than doubled. The firm also diversified. Glue and gelatine production, which was started before the war, was much increased and vegetable tanning extracts were also produced on a large scale. (fn. 18)
In general it was still true that the economy of Beverley was tied to that of Hull, but the town acquired one new and successful industry which owed nothing to the proximity of Hull. In 1907 Gordon Armstrong opened a garage and workshop in North Bar Within and in 1909 he built a car, which he manufactured until the First World War. During the war he worked on munitions and tractors, and in 1917 to provide additional space he bought the Eastgate site which had formerly been occupied by Crosskill's sons. In 1919 Armstrong produced the first of several models of shock absorber. They became the mainstay of the firm, and by 1926 he was producing 200 shock absorbers a week and had gained orders from Ford. An order from Morris in 1929 enabled the scale of the business to be enlarged tenfold, and in 1938 Armstrong built new and larger works on the Eastgate site, where at the outbreak of war he produced 4,000 shock absorbers a day and employed about 450 workers. (fn. 19) The town acquired another new industry in 1925 when Charles Deans of Hull bought the former Tigar manure works at Grovehill. The firm already made musical instruments but it greatly expanded after turning to motor vehicle and furniture components. (fn. 20)
In spite of these developments unemployment occasionally rose to critical levels between the wars. In 1931-3 the figures, at the end of January each year, were 498, 548, and 981 respectively, (fn. 21) which must be measured against a total population of 14,000 at the 1931 census. There appears to have been a quick recovery thereafter. In 1933 the medical officer of health referred to 'the activity which has prevailed at the shipyard' and to the briskness of various occupations employing young people; in 1934 he wrote in similar vein, and in 1935 he stressed the constant work going on in the tanneries. Employment remained steady in 1936 but in 1937 there was a shortage of work in the shipyard. The reports show how industries catering for particular local demands could prosper in a way which contradicted the national trend. (fn. 22)