On the brink of the 1960s, British Premier Harold Macmillan boasted: “We have never had it so good”. But in Derry, people were having it as bad as ever.
Bishop Street in the 1940s – No King Here.
Only householders could vote in local elections. Business owners had multiple votes. The gerrymandered system still operated. Thus, a city with a 67 per cent nationalist majority was still under unionist rule.
This came with a human cost. Over 20 per cent of the South Ward lived in homes officially classified as overcrowded, compared to less than six per cent in the North Ward and eight per cent in the Waterside Ward. One local doctor wrote of 26 people living in two rooms of a condemned house in Walker’s Square. As the Corporation ran out of space to cram more nationalists into the South Ward, they built the high-rise Rossville Flats, extending upwards when they wouldn’t build outwards.
St Columb’s Wells in the Bogside.
Mass unemployment remained endemic. Only six advance factories had been built in Derry where unemployment was around 20 per cent. Thirteen were built in Lurgan, where unemployment averaged six per cent, and ten in Bangor with four per cent unemployment. Prospects for the Derry working class were worse than ever. There was some work available for women in the shirt factories. But male unemployment ran close to 30 per cent.
The time had come to demand change.