Poverty Truth- Nothing really changes for the poor. Sarah Louise Lennon

So on Tuesday 11th July I went with Thrive to Durham for the “Poverty, solutions and participatory approaches” event and although I was there for the launch of our 5 point plan involving our 5 ways to fight poverty I basically decided to use the trip as a way of coming closer to my family and managed to see some of what the Phillips family would have seen with St Oswald, St Mary the Less & St Nicholas CofE Churches, the Cathedral and Castle and of course those dreaded bridges. I had done a Google search and found that I would have only been a few minutes away from Neville’s Cross where they had the Papermill and I was also close to Gilesgate & Crossgate as well. In other words, I was truly home despite being born in Stockton and it being 207 years since the family were there. As I walked along the routes I closed my eyes and tried to picture my 4x Great Granpa William walking those very steps and those of his children and grandchildren etc.

Whilst walking about I started to think of the terms of poverty between then and now, the transport differences and the difference between the 3x Great Granpa John to my Mum, how he rose up from being the son of a Paper Mill owner to an established Publican & Shoemaker living in Great Stainton to Mum being the daughter of a hospital porter, a factory worker and even a foundry worker. In other words both William and John had set jobs for life but my Grandfather was in and out of various jobs and yet he still managed to feed the family on meals every week and provide a home for them all.

Sadly John and William both ended up bankrupt at some point but they did manage to do the very thing I didn’t- set a name for themselves. Enough of a name that I can still to this day search for “William & Nicholas Phillips- Papermakers” in Google. I guess even the Companies Directories was about before the current Government came up with the idea for keeping track of us all. 207 years ago the other Phillips lot were most likely stood about the market steps waiting for work to fall in their laps and praying for a miracle to feed the family whilst today we have to go to the job centre. The bad news is that they didn’t get government grants then to feed their families but we do now, however they didn’t have to worry about the bills that we do today, I guess both time frames have their good and bad parts. Am I thankful for this money? Yes! But it’s still not enough to make ends meet due to the bills we have to pay such as Council Tax and Rent. William most likely only paid a couple of shillings to live where he did in the Toll Bar of Neville’s Cross.

Whereas we can hopefully find work in our own homes most of the Phillips had to uproot the entire family to the other end of the country just to make ends meet. I think John’s sons Robert and Thomas must have had a new occupation for every birth, marriage, and death and census record within the family and moved from the North East of England to London and even America before coming back to Stockton.

Even their houses would have been a death trap compared to today, sure our own house may be full of damp, cracks and dangerous plugs but they’d have had to cope with poisonous wallpaper. The introduction of oil and gas lamps, and the abolition of window taxes, meant that, for the first time, the Victorian middle classes could put deep, vivid colours on their walls. There was a particular fashion for wallpapers in Scheele’s Green, a brilliant, long-lasting green which was made from copper arsenite and therefore, unbeknownst to many consumers, potentially poisonous. The Times estimated that Victorian British homes contained 100 square miles of arsenic-rich wallpaper.

I think I’d rather deal with mould and damp that just gives me Asthma than deathly diseases that can kill me.

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