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Housing in Leicester, 1945-1962

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Housing in Leicester, 1945-1962

Much of the information below came from material held by the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland and all the images are courtesy of the Record Office unless stated otherwise.

This PDF is a printable version of this article that includes references - Housing in Leicester, 1945-1962.pdf

Introduction

In 1946, after the Second World War, 10,000 houses were urgently needed for returning service people and the families they were starting. Quick solutions included 573 ‘prefabs’ in Braunstone, New Parks, Ambassador Rd, Hughendon Drive, but there were shortages of labour and material and by 1951 only 4,000 houses had been built.

However, production increased and between 1946 – 1959 13,000 houses were built, around 3,000 in New Parks, over 1,000 in Stocking Farm & Mowmacre Hill, over 1,500 at Thurnby Lodge, and over 2,500 at Eyres Monsell. By 1957 the cost of all the building caused targets to be reduced to 600 houses a year, and these houses were built for people displaced by slum clearance.

The pre-war slum clearance programme started up again in 1953/4 and was in full swing by 1956. Slum clearance continued into the 1970s. In the late 1950s estates at St Matthew’s, St Mark’s, St Peter’s, Rowlatts Hill started to be planned and built, with St Matthews starting in the late 1950s.

Slums

Prior to 1945 many people lived in red brick pre-1914 terraced streets. New council housing had been built between the wars at Coleman Road, Saffron Lane and Braunstone, while many privately owned semi-detached houses had also been built around the city. For most people, though, life was lived in a terraced street. If that street had been built before building regulations were tightened at the end of the 19th century, it was looking pretty run down by the end of the 1940s. Walls were often only a single brick in width, toilets were outside, there was no central heating, lighting could still be gas rather than electricity, conditions were damp. A huge slum clearance programme demolished the older housing and moved residents into new housing, usually on the outskirts of the city.

Link to website about Leicester's terraced housing - https://www.le.ac.uk/emoha/leicester/terraces.html
Link to memories of slum housing in Leicester - https://www.le.ac.uk/emoha/community/resources/braunstone/slums.html
Link to film of slum housing problems in 1935 - https://vimeo.com/4950031
Link to ‘Home Sweet Home: A century of Leicester housing 1814-1914’ by Dennis Calow - http://specialcollections.le.ac.uk/cdm/ref/collection/p15407coll5/id/1304

Further reading - 'The Slums of Leicester' by Ned Newitt.

Temporary Solutions

Immediately after WW2 there were shortages in both materials and manpower. Some people had to squat in former prisoner of war camps or military barracks, while wartime Nissan huts might also be converted into homes. Over 500 pre-fabricated houses (pre-fabs) were built and some lasted until the 1970s. These were compact, modern homes that could be put together quickly and easily. For many people they represented an improvement on what they had been used to, having indoor bathrooms and well-equipped kitchens.

Further reading - 'Living in a Box. Leicester's Post-War Prefabs' by Brian Johnson

Picture of Nissan Hut Picture of Prefabricated house.
A converted Nissan Hut on Braunstone Park (photo by Leicester Mercury) A pre-fabricated house (photo taken at the Museum of Rural Life by Colin Hyde)

Getting a council house

Houses that could be rented were built by Leicester City Council all over the city with rents that were affordable for all but the poorest members of society. The houses were warm and had inside toliets and bathrooms, as well as a good sized garden. The streets were wide and there were green spaces for children to play on, while the countryside was often not far away. However, amenities that people took for granted in the city centre - shops, doctors, cinemas etc. - were now miles away and it often took a long time for them to be built locally. People who were being moved out of slum cleared areas were usually given a choice of several locations but, as might be expected, not everyone got their first choice.

At one point 162 houses were built in 162 days on the New Parks Esate and the photos below show the three main types of house. Brick building may have been the best quality, but steel and concrete houses could be built quicker and with less skilled workmen. These basic designs were promoted by central government with the result that many post-war council estates across the country look very similar. Worries about the uniformity created by the mass production of three bedroom houses for families led to experiments with flats at Aikman Avenue (following exploratory trips to Scandinavia to look for ideas).

Further reading - 'A Home of Our Own. 70 Years of Council House memories in Leicester' by Bill Willbond.

Picture of brick housing Picture of steel tube housing Picture of concrete housing
Brick housing on the New Parks Estate, 1949. Steel framed houses on the New Parks Estate, 1949. Easyform concrete houses on the New Parks Estate, 1949.

Buying a house of your own

Many people wanted to buy their own house and started to save for a mortgage. As with council housing, housing estates were built all around the outskirts of the city and people interviewed for this project often mentioned buying houses in the Wigston area. For couples with no children council houses often weren't an option, so many saved for their own house. As Brian Belcher recalls, being on a low wage meant it could be tricky getting a mortgage:

"We got married in 1960. I'd saved up a small deposit while we were courting, I mean, I was only getting an apprentice's wage. My first week's wage for 44 hours was only £2.55, that's what I came out with. I used to save all my spending money, we hadn't used to go to the pictures, we saved really hard, we saved £200 in a short time. We couldn't get a mortgage... we were very disappointed, we didn't know what to do, and someone said, 'Why don't you try the Abbey?'... They said, 'Yeah, we'll give you a mortgage'. Of course, we were over the moon... we went down to Jelson's and they gave us three plots to view. In those days they used to put you on a separate agreement... £10 for the land and £25 for a house, signed over a stamp, separate agreements. The house went up in price four times while they were building it, but we only paid £1,600 for the house and £200 for the land. That was Jelson's at Birstall.'

Many people remember not having enough money for carpets, or even furniture sometimes, and it took time to save for the creature comforts many of us now take for granted.

Something out of the ordinary

In the 1950s it was extrememly unusual to see a house that didn't look like a standard terraced, semi-detached or detached home. In 1956 a strange new sight appeared in Clarendon Park, a modernist bungalow built for Mr & Mrs Goddard. Although the Goddards influences were European designs and architects, the house has an American feel to it. Local people didn't know what to make of it!

When is it going to be finished? Modern housing in the 1950s (photo by Colin Hyde)

 

 

This project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

 

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