A series of photographs taken for the homeless charity Shelter 40 years ago are offering a glimpse into the harrowing conditions that Britain’s poorest families lived under at the start of the 1970s.

Forty years ago, being poor in Britain’s cities meant not being able to afford electricity, having no running water or even having to sleep without a mattress.

Photographer Nick Hedges spent three years visiting areas of deprivation throughout the UK to create these stirring images as part of a campaign for Shelter.

On his travels he found families who slept with the lights blazing to keep the rats away, children sleeping on wet floors, families of nine living in one mouldy room and mothers cooking over an open fire.

Exhibited for the first time following a 40-year restriction to protect the anonymity of the subjects, 100 black and white photographs like the ones below will be displayed alongside edited texts from Hedges’ detailed written notes of his travels and encounters in an exhibition at the Science Museum.

“It’s disgusting and appalling. The housing minister (Peter Walker) came round here and said it wasn’t fit for human habitation, and I’m still here,” said Mrs Chichockjy of Liverpool 8 in July 1971.

Woman and girl sitting next to eachother

Mr and Mrs Gallagher lived with their four children in a ground floor tenement flat in Glasgow Maryhill. Their bedroom was covered in pools of rainwater and at night they sleep with the light on to keep the rats away. One night they counted 16 rats in the room. Hedges photographed them in October 1970.

Man and child in kitchen

Mr and Mrs M and their four children lived in a council-owned house with no bathroom, no hot water,an  outside lavatory and inside walls running with damp. The children slept on sodden seat cushions covered by a couple of old macs, there was no heating in the room, the snow lay thick outside and the windows were broken. Birmingham, January 1969.

Children sitting on bed

Mrs T and her family of five lived in a decaying terraced house owned by a steelworks. She had no gas, no electricity, no hot water and no bathroom. Her cooking was done on the fire in the living room. Sheffield, May 1969.

Kitchen of slum house, Birmingham Duddleston, August 1970.


Woman with child on lap drinking milk

Terrace of back-to-back houses, Leeds, West Yorkshire, July 1970.

Terrace with Beecham's Pills ad on end Make Life Worth Living: Nick Hedges’ Photographs for Shelter, 1968-72 is on display at at Science Museum, London, from 2 October to 18 January 2015. Free entry.

Image credit: Nick Hedges, courtesy National Media Museum, Bradford.