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.
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?