Manuscripts and Special Collections

Activity 2: Living conditions in Sun Street in the mid 19th century

Enquiry Question

How different would the living conditions have been in Sun Street in the mid 19th century compared to the early 20th century?


  • Use of original documents to gain an understanding of living conditions in parts of Nottingham during the mid 19th century
  • Compare and contrast living conditions in Nottingham throughout the mid 19th century and the early 20th century
  • Gain a chronological understanding of how Nottingham living conditions changed


  • Document 1 - Extract from Gray, Duncan and Walker, Violet W. (eds.), Records of the Borough of Nottingham, vol. IX, 1836-1900 (Nottingham: T. Forman, 1956) (East Midlands Collection Not 3.E12)
  • Document 2 - Extracts taken from T. Cokayne, A report of the evidence given before the commissioners appointed to enquire into municipal corporations, taken in short-hand by Thomas Cokayne, reporter for the Nottingham Journal (1833)
  • Document 3 - Extract from Edward Seaton, A report on the sanitary condition of the borough of Nottingham (1873) (East Midlands Special Collection Not 3.G66 SEA
  • Document 4 - Extracts from J.R. Martin, 'Report on the Sanatory Condition of Nottingham, Coventry, Leicester, Derby, Norwich, and Portsmouth' (Second Report of the Commissioners for inquiring into the State of Large Towns and Populous Districts, Appendix Part II; 1845 (602) (610), XVIII.1, 299)


Outline Starter

  • Recap from last lesson, pupils to talk in pairs and record words which they think best describes the living conditions of the early 20th century.
  • Teacher could take feedback from pupils and place these key words on a timeline (this will help pupils grasp the idea of grandmother and granddaughter and understand the time difference).
  • Lead onto what don't we know about living conditions in Nottingham. Where else could we get this information from?


  • Pupils are now going to engage with a series of documentary evidence, e.g. sanitation committee reports (Documents 1-4). The pupils will analyse the written documents based upon living conditions in the mid 19th century. Using the knowledge which they have gained from previous lesson, based on photographic evidence of the early 20th century, pupils are asked to draw comparisons and contrasts over two different time periods. They are to complete a table with the similarities and differences.
  • This will lead into a construction of a role play based on pair work, one pupil as granddaughter and one pupil as grandmother. Pupils are asked to recreate a conversation between the two, focused on the granddaughter asking her grandmother about life in the mid-1800s.
  • Questions should be based around:
    • Water supply;
    • Sewage;
    • Privies;
    • Living Conditions;
    • Refuse removal.


  • Feedback from role plays.
  • Ask pupils what evidence is missing and what else they need to know, e.g. oral history is missing hence the role play activity. What are the limitations of comparing the two periods of time?

Alternative options

  • Possibly expand on timeline activity to ensure pupils understand chronology.
  • Act as a health officer and draw up a report on the conditions in parts of Nottingham based on the documents.

Next: Activity 3: Life and death in Sun Street in the mid 19th century


Manuscripts and Special Collections

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Nottingham, NG7 2NR

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