The “Jerry” Builders from Everton

Saturday, February 16 – 1878
We remember, many years ago, being amused at the term, then very much in vogue in Liverpool, of “Jerry” builders. A certain class of men, living chiefly in Everton, who were just emerging from the chrysalis of the working man into the butterfly state; speculating in land and building by the aid of Building Societies, earned themselves this unenviable reputation by running buildings up with scanty materials, in the slightest fashion that could by any means hold together.

The “jerry”-builders of Liverpool have had their day; have earned their ill-gotten money and reputation, and passed on to oblivion. Their spirit, however, exists in many localities yet. We hear of them in different parts of the country, sometimes in connection with law-suits, at other times in cases of fatal injuries, but mostly in instances which do not reach the public ear, where the victims have given hard-earned money in lieu of trash, or have to pay heavy rents and suffer all the inconveniences, and discomforts and annoyances of ill-built residences.

Not many days ago an inquest was held in London to inquire as to the death of a bricklayer, who was killed by the sudden collapse of a wall of a house, in the erection of which he was assisting. The district surveyor had written and spoken to the builder, warning him of the dangers, but in the spite of every warning he had persisted in going on with his building until the fatal accident took place, and the jury returned against him a verdict of manslaughter.

We have not had many accidents of the kind in Rhyl; but how some houses stand together during the process of erection, and the severe gales we experience here is to many a marvel. Nominally we have a town surveyor – virtually we have two or three, who, under various fictitious names, exercise the power of that office. Between them many a clever hand, especially if he be a Commissioner, can build within the requirements of the Bye-laws by only the merest hair’s breadth, if he does not occasionally transgress them.

Rotten or badly burnt bricks, contorted into all manner of forms, or mere blocks of loam, can be used without a check, mud or sand with a dash of lime in it may pass into the building without supervision; perilously slender timber is made to support roofs and floors, which are in constant danger of giving way; thin, knotty, half-dried boards are laid, which gape and creak at every footfall; door and window sashes hang in their frames like malefactors in gibbets, rattling with every gust of wind; locks, bolts, and catches of the Cheak Jack kind have to do duty while they  may, and have to be renewed with every change of the moon; chimneys are so fixed that they will persist in sending their smoke down into the rooms instead of decently carrying it up into space; the glass in the windows make one’s eyes ache to look though it by presenting every object in fantastic shapes, and adding forms and motions not known to nature or art; the paint on the wood-work and the papers on the walls fill a man of delicate taste with horror and disgust, while blotches of damp eruptions on the walls and the clammy perspirations on the painted surfaces speak too plainly of the demon of “jerry” building, which destroys the health of the doomed inhabitants, and gives them in exchange the doleful pains of rheumatism, asthma, and other ills that flesh is heir to when aided by this foul fiend.

Every honest, substantial builder should be encouraged, but every scamper should be left with his miserable abortions to the mercy of wind and weather. Hitherto the demand has been so great in Rhyl that people were glad to put up with anything they could get. It cannot always continue thus. A reaction seems to he now setting in which threatens to upset all this artificial business.

We may then expect to get something like value for our money. The town of Rhyl has been disfigured and materially injured by the practices of over-reaching men. An instance of the kind has been furnished in a recent law-case, where a gentleman of standing and reputation has put up a really good building too near another house of a similar character, by which the “ancient lights” were darkened, and the house lessened in value.

If the Commissioners had watched the interest of the town, and looked after its “improvement,” as they were bound to do, they would not have allowed one of their own body to commit this fatal error. Not only has the new building itself been injured, but a permanent damage has been done to an old-established house, and the entrance to a good street been spoilt.

The costs of the law-suit and the unpleasantness attendant upon it may or may not affect the encroacher, but what is of infinitely more importance is the permanent injury done to the town, which will remain a standing memento of the stupidity that allowed it to be erected.

When we look about us and see how many streets have been wrongly laid out – how buildings are allowed to be put up without any regard to uniformity of design – how nuisances are allowed to accumulate and fester around us, we feel that we are truly under the laissez-faire system of government, where every man is allowed to what seemeth good in his own sight. We know not what individuals are charged with the duty of looking after these things, but we hold the whole Board of Commissioners responsible for a great dereliction of duty.
(Rhyl Advertiser, 16-02-1878)

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