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Nelly's Stafford cottage rented for 40p a week

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: August 10, 2014

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STAFFORD’S road system isn’t perfect but turn the clock back 40 years and the build-up of town traffic was beginning to become a problem - and that’s where Nelly Shaw comes in.

In 1974, spinster Nelly lived on Common Road in a 40p-a- week cottage which stood almost isolated as one by one properties around were sold to make way for a wider road.

Work had already started on the town’s eastern distributor road and diggers were beginning to make their mark in the land surrounding her family’s property which she had sold to Stafford Borough Council two years earlier.

So Nelly stood by the rickety gate of her life-long home watching as bulldozers roared in the distance moving earth for one of Stafford’s most ambitious projects. Mistakenly, she believed that the promise of a new home would soon herald a new life for herself.

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After all, she lived in the primitive cottage for all of her 47 years and was accustomed to life without basic facilities such as electricity, running water or sanitation. Amenities which in 1974 most took for granted.

Every morning before setting out for work at the Stafford Box Company, she would draw water from the well in her backyard but even that needed priming before water would pour forth into numerous buckets and jugs she kept handy.

“It is quite polluted,” she told the Newsletter. “I don’t like to wash the pots and pans in it but it is the only water available to me,” adding that in years past she would cross fields at the back of a home and make for a farm to borrow water.

Without electricity, she used paraffin lamps and candles for lighting. “I usually use the candles because the lamp gives off a bad smell,” she said, not used to the luxury of a light at the flick of a switch.

Her biggest hardship, however, was a lack of heat for cooking, describing how all her food was cooked on an open fire in the living room of her tiny cottage. “Boiling water takes time but I have to put up with it because I have nothing else to cook on.”

Her toilet was a bucket at the back of her house which was emptied once a week. “It is very unhygienic and it would be very nice to have a flush toilet.”

Month after month, Nelly was forced to make appeals to the borough council for news of being re-homed but all too often the news was dispiriting.

She confessed that work was her chance to get away and that the life would be unthinkable if she had to stay at home all day.

When she first sold her house to the council, she had been assured that the property would be demolished as soon as possible but she had since become almost resigned to staying in the house for the rest of her life.

“I got very disheartened then I saw the bulldozers and the excavators outside my home,” she told a Newsletter reporter, who was able to tell her that the council was concerned. Indeed, housing official Trevor Roberts said his main concern was to ensure that she was re-housed.

In the meantime, Nelly continued paying the rent . . . a mere 40p a week, but longing to pay more for some of the basic amenities of life.

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