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The Changing Face of the High Street

The High Causeway & Wallis' Yard

A view of the High Causeway from the south
The High Causeway, showing the vaying width of the path and the double step up from the road
A view of Wallis' Yard in 1938
Left - the High Street frontage in the 1950s
Centre - The High Causeway
Right - Wallis' Yard

As the High Street rises steadily from the junction with Newman Street towards the corner of Pigotts Lane, it currently passes the Library and the former Health Centre. The pathway on the west side of the street is distinctly higher than that on the east side, and always has been. This is a result of the general lie of the land, which has set the pattern for all the development on the west side. On the east side, the land falls away down to the brook which runs under the bottom of Higham Road; on the west side the land rises gently up towards the area now occupied by the Recreation Ground. Coles Close is thus at a higher level than the High Street, and Churchill Way is higher than Coles Close.

With the pathway being higher on the west side, there needed to be a special kerb arrangement if the road was to be kept level. The solution for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was to have a double kerb arrangement. This required people crossing the road from the east side to use the first kerb as a step, and led to the pathway being dubbed "The High Causeway" - a nickname which gradually became applied to all the houses lining the path. Officially, this area was still the High Street, but everyone knew where you meant if you mentioned the High Causeway!

1886 Ordnance Survey Map, showing the High Causeway area in the High Street 1928 Ordnance Survey Map, showing the High Causeway area in the High Street
Left - The High Causeway area in 1886
Right - the same area on the 1928 Ordnance
Survey map. There are very few differences.
The buildings in this part of the High Street were nearly all of stone, and were among the first to be built in the mid-late 1700s as the village began to extend southwards along the old A6, away from the medieval core around the parish church. The properties can clearly be seen on the 1804 enclosure map.

This section of the High Street was characterised by a frontage of stone cottages and two complexes of further cottages round a well or pump. These complexes tend to be called "Yards", and are a common feature of many local small towns and villages. The northern yard seems to have been known originally as Hobbs Yard, and a Mr Hobbs is shown on the 1804 enclosure map as owning land nearby. The southern yard was known as Maycock's Yard. Both names appear in various Census returns for the nineteenth century. The yards were accessed via two alleyways which can be seen on the maps shown here as two narrow parallel sections in the centre of the frontage.

There was also a peculiar building line. Instead of the straight frontage one might have expected, there was a concave one, possibly due to the piecemeal nature of the building developments and the orientation of the first properties to appear. The road did not follow the line of the buildings, and as a result the path in the centre of the High Causeway was much wider than the sections above and below it, as can be seen on the maps and also the picture below.

Details of the way the high pathway needed two kerbs to the road, thus creating the nickname of the "High Causeway".  The alleyway entrances to the yards at the back can also be seen here. The High Causway in about 1950.  The man is using the two kerbs as a step.  The line of the houses also caused the pathway to get much wider in the central part of the terrace.
Left - Details of the double kerb arrangement and the alleyways which led through to Maycock's Yard and Hobb's Yard (Wallis' Yard).
Note the steps up to the front door in both photos and the mix of materials used in building and (presumably) maintaining the properties.
Right - the High Causeway in about 1950. This photo shows the effect of the double kerb and also the way the path widened greatly.

The Shops

There were two shops in this part of the High Street, on the corner of Pigott's Lane there was a barber's shop. In the early part of the last century it belonged to the Skevingtons, before the Benford family took over. Full details of the businesses can be read here.

Lower down the street there was another shop. Originally belonging to the Kilborn family in the early part of the last century, when Mabel Kilborn married Walter Piper (whose family ran the ..... business next door) the shop became known throughout Burton as "Mabel Piper's". It sold mainly sweets and tobacco. Today it is a hairdresser's with a Fitness Centre built on the back. To read more about the shop, click here.

Looking south down the High Street from a point near the Duke's Arms - in the 1950s, to judge from the street lights.  A parade passes Benford's barber's shop on the corner of Pigotts Lane Mabel Piper's shop on the High Street, looking south
Left - a Remembrance Day parade in the 1950s passes Benford's barber's shop on the corner of Pigotts Lane.
Right - Mabel Piper's shop in about 1947. Like other High Causeway properties, it was accessed by two steps
The yellow "Gold Flake" signs with their red lettering could be seen from a long way off!

The Yards

Though the notion of living in a group of stone cottages around a communal yard might seem nowadays to have a certain picturesque charm, it is easy to forget that the everday reality for the people who inhabited them was somewhat different. We now take so many amenities for granted: like a mains water supply, indoor toilets and damp-proof accommodation - none of which were enjoyed by the tenants of the cottages in the yards.

There was little incentive for landlords to improve the accommodation, and only the most basic running repairs tended to be done. Early Ordnance Survey maps (like the 1886 one above) bear the letters W and P to indicate the well or pump which was the only source of water for the properties. Every drop of water had to be fetched from outside - for drinking, washing, cooking and general cleaning. Bathtime usually consisted of hot and cold water being poured into a galvanised (zinc-coated) steel bathtub brought in from the kitchen or outside, and placed in front of the fire in the living room. The bathtub was often so small that people generally had to stand to wash themselves, or sit in it with their knees drawn up high.

It was not surprising that by 1935, the Council considered the accommodation unfit for human habitation and was pressuring landlords to improve it, under the threat of enforced closure and demolition. Click here to read of some of the case concerning Miss Talbutt and Wallis' Yard.

The demolition of the yards took place in 1938. Fortunately, a set of photos was taken in the final months before the gangs moved in, and they provide an invaluable glimpse into what life must have been like for the tenants - a far cry from anything we would now remotely consider acceptable.

Maycock's Yard

This was the yard accessed through the southern alleyway. There was a large detached property at the back, but mostly it was a collection of small stone cottages with tiled roofs.

The entrance to Maycock's Yard from the High Street Maycock's Yard properties, looking south
The rear of Maycock's Yard, looking west.
Maycock's Yard

The photos show all the hallmarks of the kind of life
which the tenants of these properties led.

Note the tiny windows which must have made the
rooms inside very dark; the barrels and bathtubs
collecting rainwater, with nothing to catch the
eventual overflow; the outdoor wash-houses;
the dirt paths and yards; the tell-tale dark patches
of rising damp at the bottom of the outside walls.

Wallis' Yard

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the shoe industry arrived in Burton. The very beiginnings were characterised by small units - outworkers, small production sites, etc - nowhere near the scale of the factories which were later built to gather the personnel together into a large-scale workforce. In Hobb's Yard - the yard entered via the northern alleyway - a Mr Wallis used a small building for the production of boots and shoes. He later relocated to another address, but the yard seems to have become known as Wallis' Yard, and that name survived until the demolition in 1938.

Mr G Borman - the council Surveyor - in the alleyway from the High Street to Wallis' Yard Wallis' Yard, looking east towards the High Street
Left - Mr G Borman, the Council Surveyor, stands among the empty properties in Wallis' Yard
Right - Wallis' Yard, looking towards the High Street. The building on the left was the former shoe
manufacturing unit. The old thatched roof was converted to slate when the building became a
house. The former roofline can be seen on the near end wall, and light stone has been used
to create an upper floor. The square cap of the old well is just visible at the far end of the yard.

For much of its history, Wallis' Yard had a well to supply its water, as did many other yards. These wells were not the "olde wishing well" type, with a gable cover over a circular brick surround, and a cranked handle lowering a bucket on a chain. Instead, they were open shafts covered by two flat boards, hinged at the sides. The flaps were thrown open, and a bucket with a rope attached to the handle was thrown down and hauled up. The technique was to throw the bucket in upside down, so that it filled with water instead of just floating!

Eventually, mains water arrived. However, this did not mean the end of the trek outside to fetch water. All the properties ever had in the way of a pressurised water supply was a single standpipe outside....

Wallis' Yard looking west.  The shoe factory in the far distance is in Alexandra Street
The last days of Wallis' Yard

Life goes on, but the signs of dereliction are all
too evident, and the end isn't far off.

Left - Wallis' Yard looking west. The factory in
the far distance was at the time the home of
Mediator Shoes. Read more here.

Below - the standpipe which was the only source
of running water for the inhabitants of the yard.

Wallis' Yard - looking towards the alletway to the High Street
The standpipe was the only water supply to the yard

When the yards were demolished, it was the end of an era, but to passers-by out on the High Street, very little had changed - the familiar High Causeway frontage remained for another fifty years.

The High Causeway in about 1947.  the building in the foreground is part of Mason's Garage The rear of the High Causeway houses, in an aerial shot from 1950
The High Causeway c.1950 - front and rear views
The frontage remains unchanged, but with the demolition of the yards, the High Street houses acquired long rear gardens

The End of the High Causeway cottages

The High Causeway, seen from the Regency Garage forecourtIn this rare colour photo of the High Causeway, probably taken in the late 1960s, we can get an idea of the character they had and the impression they created for those passing though this part of the town. The frontage was a mix of limestone and ironstone, but two houses near the far end had a face of red brick.

We can also see from the photo that changes were already taking place to the southern section of the High Street.

The old farmhouse of Washpit Farm, which had served as the home for the Mason family when they ran the garage which operated on the old farm site, had been demolished and new tarmac covered the forecourt and car sales lot. (Read more about this part of the High Street here). Suddenly, the east side looked very open. Changes were coming to the west side too. Close inspection of the photo shows that some of the properties were already boarded up.

With the steady growth of the town, some key services were becoming inadequate, and a decision was taken to demolish the High Causeway cottages and to build a new Library and a Health Centre on the cleared site. The process began in 1969. Strangely, it was the two brick-fronted cottages which were demolishde first, followed by others at the top end of the High causeway. Gradually, the whole site was cleared.

The beginning of the demolition of the High Causeway cottages in 1969
Then and Now

Left - the demolitions begin. Two cottages have already
gone, and now it's the turn of Benford's old barber's shop

Below - the view in 1969 and the same in 2007.

The Library covers the site of Maycock's Yard, and the
former Health Centre (currently empty) occupies the area
once called Wallis' Yard. The west side of the road is still
higher than the east side, but the double kerb which was
such a feature of the High Causeway has gone.

A view southwards down the High Street in 1969
More or less the same view down the High Street in 2007

The overall effect of the redevelopments can be tracked by looking at the two aerial views presented below. The first view is from the south-west, taken in 1971. The Health Centre is in place, but the site for the Library is still rough ground. The second view is from the west, taken in 1984. The Library is now there, and the properties behind the Health Centre have been demolished to create a large car park.

The town's new Health Centre in 1971 - a view from the southwest Aerial view of the Library and Health Centre in 1984

A last look back

The High Causeway in 1969.  The demolitions have started at the far end. The view of the former High Causeway in 2007.  A few properties at the southern end still remain.
Left - 1969, with the demolitions just beginning. Right - the same view in 2007

The High Causeway frontage was a familiar section of the High Street for the best part of two hundred years. To those who knew it, it was part of the character of the town. However, time marches on, and communities may expand or contract. Burton Latimer has continued to expand, and such a process brings with it many changes. We may regret the loss of familiar sights, and those who knew the High Causeway or walked up and down it whenever they went to town may still see in their mind's eye the view in the image above on the left. How many people queuing to take out or return a book at the desk in the Library would know that once, not very far from the spot, people might similarly have queued to get water from a standpipe or a well?

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