Thursday, 10 February 2011


I didn’t buy this because of the cover -- I ordered it blind from Amazon -- but it’s lovely, isn’t it. Is that Gill Sans?

It’s good. The first chapter’s about her own and her family’s experience of public housing (for North American bloggees, the ‘estates’ of the title are ‘council estates’ which means public housing developments/projects built and run by local authorities, the councils). The second is the best history I've seen of public housing in Britain -- a sad story. Wonderful development to start with -- Boundary Row in Bethnal Green which I've often walked through and admired -- by the LCC at the end of the 19th century. ‘Homes fit for heroes’ after the first war, built to the highest standards (‘Tudor Walters’), as were those provided by Bevan (Minister of Health and Housing) after the second -- but in both cases the gain in space and fresh air (the developments were on the edges of cities) were at the price of remoteness from family and work. In both cases, too, the standards of building were relaxed after a few years out of a need for economy, more rapid provision and higher density, so that whereas at first the council houses looked and were as good as those the spec builders were selling to private buyers, before long they were standing out a mile and attracting the social stigma that they’ve never since thrown off.

Then came ‘systems building’ (prefabricated units) and tower blocks and the familiar scene around us today in the inner as well as the outer city.


James said...

Yup, then this system of cheap low income housing was implemented all over UK colonies.... Here in HK, their quality, design, and value are not at par with private homes but have helped many families with a steady place to live. They are also used to keep private housing prices in check. They are definitely controversial and often used as political artillery, but in the end, they do help many people.

Pete Medway said...

Thanks for that, James. The quality of materials, space standards and construction was a problem in Britain once the Conservative government, with Harold Macmillan as housing minister, took over from Nye Bevan in 1951 -- but they did get many more homes built. There was quite a period, though, in which council houses were on a par with private ones in quality -- but they were bedevilled by another problem of being built where space was cheap, that is on the edges of cities, and where pulic transport was poor and people couldn't get to their jobs or to the family and friends they'd left behind in the lousy housing they'd moved from the in the city. Hence, concentrations of unemployed people and lonely, desperate housewives. Too bad. Pete