Brits: What is a Two Up Two Down?

So I’m listening to Herman’s Hermit’s song “No Milk Today” (underrated classic by the way) and he mentions the following:

But all that’s left is a place dark and lonely
A terraced house in a mean street back of town
Becomes a shrine when I think of you only
Just two up two down

Now apparently it is a house. But what does the “two” mean? Two rooms, right? Well, what are the two rooms?

I did a google search for the phrase and it only showed info on a brit sitcom called “Two Up Two Down” so there appears to be a cultural reference that Brits get.

So, um, what IS a Two Up Two Down?

Downstairs - kitchen, lounge
Upstairs - bedroom, bathroom

Just my WAG, will be interesting to see what more learned folks have to say!

ETA: Actually, would the two upstairs both be bedrooms? With the bathroom being an outhouse along with the loo?

I think it would be:
‘Front room’ (living room)

Two bedrooms

Outside toilet and coalhouse built on the back, or at the end of the yard.

Many of these houses would have been built with hardly any internal plumbing - perhaps just a cold tap over a stoneware sink in the kitchen. Washing performed in tin baths or ceramic basins.

Yeah, it’s the bathroom issue that had me confused. It didn’t occur to me that the bathroom may have been outside.

Lots of my Granny’s relatives lived in houses like this in the Welsh Valleys coal-bunkers’n’all, it’s a very common arrangement in old terrace houses.

American "Bath"room or British Bathroom? Back in the day the actual bath was probably a tin tub in front of the fireplace.

Yeah, with one lot of tepid water to wash the whole family - and a pecking order to go with it.


Yep. That’s the one I grew up in.

Nowadays many of the houses have extensions built onto them to remedy some of the “no internal plumbing” issues. These extensions are usually at the back of the house, over the yard and are either one storey, with the bathroom downstairs, behind or to the side of the kitchen, or two storey, either with an extended kitchen downstairs and the bathroom upstairs, or with the bathroom downstairs in the extension and a third bedroom or second bathroom added upstairs, depending on the family’s needs at the time.

Just to clarify, houses on this plan with outside toilets haven’t been built in the UK for many years, but vast numbers of them went up in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. The inner suburbs of virtually any British city consist of little else. They have, of course, now been converted to squeeze an inside toilet and bathroom in.

Yes. A worthwhile clarification - thanks.

Another phrase you might hear regarding Victorian era housing is “back-to-back”. This describes a double terrace of houses which share common rearwalls. So they have no back yard or back door. In this type of house there is no room to add a bathroom.

Here is a photo of a terrace of two-up-two-downs near Bolton in Lancashire. The front doors open straight onto the street from the front room. I lived in a house not dissimilar to this in Sheffield when I was at university - the front room had been converted into a bedroom, so I could go out the front door straight from my room. (The rest of my housemates had to use the back door.) We did have a small upstairs bathroom - sadly the outdoor toilet was no longer functional, as it would have come in handy when my female housemate hogged the bathroom!

Here’ a Google Maps aerial view of the same street as shown above. The toilets would presumably have been in the yard at the back. (Note the alley running behind Water Street, called “Back Water Street”.)

Here is an aerial view of terraces of back to back houses in Leeds

Here’s some still in use. I’ve got a friend in one of these, which is why I knew about them. They’re spacious inside, unlike the notorious cramped slum ones, which I suppose is why they’ve survived.

ahhh England. Why do I find you so fascinating?
Thanks for the info, all!

In Leeds there are around 17000 back to backhouses still standing , probably more, than any other UK city, Birmingham which is a very much larger city only has eight remianing examples and these have been preserved, its a bit odd to live in a city that is effectively a Victorian museum.

The practice of building back to backs was outlawed under local byelaws in most cities around 1905 under the Local Government Provisional Orders (Housing of Working Classes) (no.2) Bill,which also gave city councils the power of compulsory purchase for the purposes of demolishing unfit housing, including in Leeds, however, during the consultation process before the law was enacted many landowners applied and were granted planning permission in the last few years leading up to 1905. The actual houses were often not constructed for several decades.

This planning permission was valid for another 30 years, it would have been longer but more local byelaws were enacted to close the loophole.

The result was that despite new construction being banned, further back to back houses were added to the housing stock in Leeds right up to the 1930’s.

There were three or four basic structures of this type of house, the earlier type ones are all long gone, they were already being demolished in the 1880’s having been constructed often very poorly in the early 1800’s.

The ones that survive are almost entirely the latter type III but isolated type II may still be around.

This is what it looked like en masse

Point to consider is that most of those houses in that image are still standing, my cousin lives in one.

This was one of the worst slum areas in Leeds.

…and this is what replaced them,

A set of housing that was of international note back in 1938 to the extent that Mussolini bragged that when the Axis won the war, Italian troops would be stationed in them…turns out that all that had been done was to replace back to back slums with mulit-level slums and they were demolished in the late 1970’s - less than 35 years life for the project from beginning to end.

And to the present day, here is a local real estate webpage, you’ll find plenty of back to backs on sale, but look at the prices, £110k and up ! no wonder the credit crunch is making these houses look overvalued.

Note on some of these houses the upper windows built our of the roof, this is to add a second bedroom, to replace the original second bedroom on the middle level whcih was used to fit an indoor bathroom - when the outside communal facilites were demolished in the early 1960’s.