Tuesday 17 December 2019

Homes fit for Heroes

It is one hundred years since an Act of Parliament transformed housing in the UK. There was a significant housing shortage at the end of 1918 - 600,000 homes were needed in England and Wales alone - and many soldiers returning from the First World War were having to share accommodation or live in poor conditions.  Prime Minister David Lloyd George promised “habitations fit for the heroes who have won the war” – which became the slogan ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ in the general election he called the day after the 1918 Armistice. 

The government based their post-war housing policy on a report of a committee chaired by MP (and architect) Sir John Tudor Walters, set up to consider ‘Provision of Dwellings for the Working Classes’.  It included recommendations on minimum standards in the design of houses and the layout of housing estates – low-density garden suburbs, rather than the overcrowded narrow terraces of the past - and formed the basis of the 1919 Housing and Town Planning Act.  This became known as the Addison Act, after Dr Christopher Addison MP, who was influential in its creation and implementation as Minister of Health. 

The Addison Act was ground-breaking because it made housing a national responsibility for the first time, recognising that private companies would not be able to provide the quantity or quality of homes needed for working people at affordable rents.  It promised Government subsidies to help construct half a million houses within three years. Providing uncrowded, well-build homes on secure tenancies at reasonable rents to primarily working class people represented a significant change in social policy and to the future lives of these people. 

As the economy grew weaker in the 1920s, cuts had to be made and fewer than half of the planned homes were completed under the provisions of the Addison Act.  However further housing legislation through the 1920s and beyond extended the duties of local councils to make social housing (‘subsidy houses’) available – initially using land acquired following the Addison Act - and under the provisions of the inter-war Housing Acts, local councils built 1.1 million homes. 

Cheshire Archives and Local Studies hold a wide range of records relating to council housing, from the earliest houses outlined in the Addison Act.  Our collections include large numbers of plans and correspondence relating to the construction of council houses across the county, minutes of Housing Committees dealing with construction and management, records related to slum-clearance that took place nationally following the 1930 Housing Act, and Local Studies publications and images which can be viewed on the Cheshire Image Bank. 

Addison housing is mentioned by name in the minutes of Crewe Borough Council’s Housing Committee (document reference: LBCr 2407/10/2).  The images below, taken from a meeting in August 1925, refer to a report on contracts for Addison housing.  The minutes record details such as the builders doing the construction and the costs of the work, and also give an insight into the people who would be living in the new houses.  Their circumstances were typical of those the Addison Act was designed for: of 36 new tenants, ten were labourers and five worked on the railway as porters, goods porters, shunters or firemen.  Three were listed as shift foremen, and other professions included a machinist, blacksmith, motor driver and postman.  All the tenants had families, ranging from two to seven children, and for five of them, “an addition to the family is stated to be expected shortly”.  Almost 60% of this group (21 out of 36) were ex-servicemen, and all but one family were living in lodgings or with parents.  For three of the prospective tenants, the men’s wives and families were living separately in other towns. 
Having been granted an affordable Addison house, there was an expectation the tenants should look after them – and it seems this included the garden.  The image below shows the minutes of a Committee meeting that took place on the Gresty Road Housing Site in Crewe where members viewed “with considerable distress” the state of some tenants’ gardens, and privet hedges that were “not properly trimmed”.  They resolved to send tenants a strongly worded letter – unless their gardens were properly cultivated, the Committee would “seriously consider” terminating their tenancy! 
Further north east in Cheshire, the records of Macclesfield Rural District Council show the varying levels of rent paid by tenants for different types of houses.  In its Register of Houses Provided by the Local Authority (ref: LRM 4993) two columns show the “appropriate normal rent per week” and a lower “rent charged per week” – for example what could have cost ten shillings and sixpence in rent per week for a three bedroom parlour house cost eight shillings and sixpence for council tenants.

As for the construction of the houses, Cheshire Archives holds building plans and associated correspondence from across the county.  Addison houses were divided into five main designs, known as Types A to E, although individual councils were permitted to adapt them.  The simplest had a living room where most of the cooking would be done and scullery where you would wash, others would have most of the cooking done in the scullery but had a separate bathroom, and the most luxurious had an upstairs bathroom.  A superior version of each type would have an additional parlour - around 40% of immediate post-war local authority homes had them.  Most Addison houses had three bedrooms – only 15% did not, in contrast with 60% of pre-war houses that had only two bedrooms – and all had indoor toilets and covered coal stores, which had not been the norm in working class homes before.

This 1924 application for a subsidy house in Hungerford Road, Crewe (ref: LBCr 6492/57/43) is one of many bundles of contracts, correspondence and plans we hold for individual tenants. It is a three-bedroom parlour home.


And though they are almost a hundred years old, these Runcorn Rural District Council plans and blueprints for Type A houses in Frodsham  Lordship are still bright and clear.  The technical drawings of external elevations and internal floorplans clearly show the layout of the three-bedroom non-parlour house, with living room and scullery. (ref: LRR 27/64 and LRR 27/30).  
Designs for Type B and C houses are illustrated by these plans from Lache in Chester.  They date from 1931 but the designs include both parlour and non-parlour semi-detached homes, and a short terrace, in a style in-keeping with the Addison Act.
In terms of layout of estates, local Council planners were clearly adhering to the standards of the Tudor Walters report in their proposed housing in Helsby in 1929 (ref: LRR 27/51). Spacing between and in front of houses, good-sized gardens and a mixture of different styles of houses were used in the same area, to avoid the uniform and overcrowded feel of working class homes of the past. 
The Addison Act was the catalyst for an extensive council house building programme one hundred years ago, but this important housing continued ­to be provided after the 1920s, including in Cheshire.  The building work mentioned above at the Lache estate in Chester was not completed until after the Second World War, for instance, and building started at Blacon, also in Chester, in 1946 and continued until it was one of the largest council estates in Europe by the 1970s.  At the end of that decade, a third of the British population lived in social housing.  What began ­­with the Addison Act and Homes Fit for Heroes had a lasting effect on the lives of working class people and their families for most of the 20th century. 

All these documents and more are available to view at Cheshire Record Office in Chester.

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