The Becontree Estate: Prefab Life

Prefabricated houses (prefabs) were a major part in building the post-Second World War housing shortage as a response to changing pressures. The idea was legally outlined in the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act of 1944. The idea was for factory made-units to be transported and assembled as homes, quick and easy to build in less than a day.

The population grew by one millions during the war. There was an immediate demand for housing due to war damage, a greater number of women at a childbearing age, and of course, the baby boom. Detatched prefab bungalows would be rented to families with young children, utilised as a successful method for the government to reinforce traditional family values after the war.

As our focus is on the Becontree Estate this year, this article will be looking at one particular type of prefab. Prefabricated house designs qualified under the U.K’s E.F.M (Emergency Factory Made) housing program. The Arcon was the second most manufactured prefab, after the aluminium AIROH. 39,000 of this type were manufactured and distributed across the UK, with some placed here in Barking and Dagenham. The Arcon (Architectural Consultants) group was formed in 1943, and existed until 1967, then absorbed into the Taylor Woodrow construction group, later Taylor Wimpey.

The floor plan had a living room, two bedrooms, and a “service unit”. This was a back-to-back kitchen and bathroom unit. Although small, the homes had everything one would need for comfortable living. This included a kitchen table that could be folded into the wall when not in use, steel built-in cabinets in all rooms, a gas oven and hob, a full size bath and toilet, and even an open could fire which would also heat a back boiler to provide ‘free’ hot water. The kitchens were deemed as advanced and the refrigerator revolutionary. The houses were so well fitted that the only furniture necessary to buy were beds, lounge seating, kitchen chairs, and floor coverings. This was particularly useful in post-war Britain, with many having lost their homes and subsequently their furniture too. It took away the extra cost of having to buy much more. Some prefab homes even had Anderson Shelters converted into sheds!

It was left to local authorities to decide where prefabricated houses should be erected and who should live in the prefabs, often favouring those with children or any special medical needs. They were classed as social housing and so the council would set the rent. While you would have areas with just a few prefabs, some were built into large estates of at least one hundred or more. An example of this are the Castle Green Prefabs, located just off Ripple Road.

A plan showing the layout of prefabricated houses at Ripple Road.opens IMAGE file
A London County Council record showing plans for 64 Arcon types on Ripple Road, 1946.

There are lots of happy memories associated with living in prefabs. One former Ripple Road resident remembers living in a ‘green’ formation in which seven prefabs formed a semi-circle, with a grass area in the middle. Gardening was encouraged and there were often competitions amongst neighbours. The estate was laid out with footpaths and alleys, making it easy to walk nearby each other’s gardens and admire the work. The gardens were also used to grow fruit and veg. Not only did residents have their own garden, but there were also fields behind the Ripple Road prefabs. The winter months were often remembered as being cold, so much so that ice formed inside the windows. The prefabricated estates had a lot of community spirit and residents were often willing to help each other out. Another former resident remembers a weekly donation to the Castle Green Prefab Association, where subscribers were encouraged to participate in events and activities such as sports days. Children could enjoy growing up and playing together on the car-free roads and alleys. Although cramped if you were living with a large family, they prefabs provided happy homes and fond memories. Some residents would even push their ceiling up to look at the stars!

Do you have any memories of living in prefabs?

7 thoughts on “The Becontree Estate: Prefab Life

  1. I lived in a prefab in Dagenham Avenue, part of the Castle Green/Ripple Road complex. I seem to recall that our particular prefab was made of cement based corrugated sheets. I was told that it was actually asbestos but I am uncertain in this is true. Each property had a wire fence around the perimeter which was held in place with wooden stakes. Each property also had a garden ‘shed’ which was in fact an Anderson shelter . There was one small fire in living room which, of course was totally inadequate for heating one room let alone the whole house. To combat the cold we simply went to bed early of put on gloves coats and scarfs. Not ideal, by modern standards but we were grateful for a roof over our heads

  2. I lived in a prefab in Barking, Blatchford Close, Ripple Road opposite the main gates of the cemetery. I was born in 1950, I cannot remember very much about the prefab as I was only 6 when we moved to Thames View Estate, I do remember the garden and the gooseberry bush, also one part backed onto Collaros where my Dad and Grandad worked, I also remember Amos the sweet shop again opposite the cemetery. I still have our rent book dated 1952, and our rent was 18s10d a week

  3. I lived in a prefab in Hepworth Gdns Barking until late 1950s,l went to Park Modern School.My mum and dad worked on the buses at Barking garage where l also worked in the 60s. We moved to Kier Hardy Way in the late 50s.

  4. We moved into a prefab in Blake Ave Barking in 1955 when I was 5yrs old. I remember there were only a few homes there in a field. We had a tin bath which hung on the wall outside and had to be filled with hot water from the copper in the corner of the kitchen at bath time. Wonderful community , all the kids played together and parents sat outside in the summer evening all chatting! Beautiful memories

  5. A school friend of mine lived in prefab estate behind The Harrow in Ripple Road Barking. I remember playing at her house and the large living room. Her name is Beryl. If she should see this perhaps she might like to get in touch again. Lovely Jubbly to all those who remember them and broken biscuits from the corner shop opposite.

  6. I lived in a prefab in Roding Avenue, Barking, which was a “t” shaped road off the middle of of Whiting avenue, where the Hearts Lane estate now stands. I was there from about 1954 to 1969 and we used to walk to school at Northbury infants and junior school. The Headmaster was Mr Brindley, I can’t remember what I had done and he threatened to cane my bottom, but he never actually did it, frightened the life out of me and I didn’t like school in the first place The prefab had a fitted kitchen with a refrigerator, something not everyone had in those days. We also had a proper bathroom with hot and cold running water into a proper bath. We backed onto the “Cape Asbestos” factory, which was the other side of a corrugated iron fence at the bottom of our garden. We had a real family atmosphere in the area where we lived and even at five years old, it was safe to go out and play in the street unsupervised, except for the other children I was playing with. I remember that no matter how much water you poured on the asbestos wall, it just soaked it up and I never did manage to make it stay wet, even with a garden hose! All the “prefabs” had a concrete front step, which I tripped and chipped my front tooth on, my tooth is still chipped today from the dangerous step lol.
    The only downside is that I now have asbestosis in my lungs☹ but they were good days.

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