With the floors made, everything became more finished. The sawing stools, brought inside, became seats. Stair-cases, delivered ready-made from the joiners' shop, were fixed, their treads protected by temporary pieces of plywood. Door frames and door were fitted, skirtings and window sills were cut and fixed. There was a smell of freshly planed wood and men went home with small bundles of firewood.

Carpenters had always taken home the short off-cuts from the roofing joists, angle­ shaped pieces which would light the fire, or burn as brief logs. Now there was more variety to choose from. No piece of timber longer than seven inches could leave the site. This was a rigid rule and easily enforced by a watchful foreman. One evening I watched a man take a length of floorboard and carefully saw it into seven inch lengths, tie them neatly with string, and put them aside to be taken home. A few years later I went into another carpenter's house where there was a white butler's sink with a deal draining board, neatly pieced together like a chess board made of seven inch pieces.

When the carpenters' work was done, the plasterers moved in. In Finsbury Park, where we had come from, the house had internal walls made of lath and plaster, fine places for mice to run. We had kept down the mice by having a cat, but there was always the danger of mice returning. There were certainly mice in the coal cellar there, but in the new estate lath and plaster walls were banned. All inside walls were built of dark grey breeze-block, thin, hard and solid. No space for mice to run. Only the ceilings were set with lath and plaster: there was no plaster board as this had not been invented.

The plasterers brought in trestles and large mixing boards, white with dry plaster. They mixed sand, lime and cement to make a loose, sloppy mortar which they applied with wide, sweeping strokes. Then came a skimming layer of plaster, smoothed and polished by repeated strokes of the trowel. Plasterers were quick moving, wiry men, all muscle, and we were fascinated to see how rapidly the walls were covered. The dark, wet plaster seemed to set immediately and, two days later, it had dried to the palest of pinks. With the plasterers gone, the houses appeared almost finished. From buildings under construction, they were recognisable houses. Families could almost have moved in, so dramatic was the change.

Last came the glaziers, painters and decorators. Crates of cut squares of glass appeared. Glaziers with huge barrels of putty, rolled and pulled and squeezed putty into the window frames, pushed a sheet of glass into the soft putty and bevelled the edge with a quick putty knife. Here again was the speed of men doing a job they had done a thousand times, so that the familiar rhythm of work made the job easier. But their work was silent and intense. Nobody treated glass carelessly. The men never took their eyes off it and as they left, dabbed the windows with whitewash so that nobody would break them by accident.

Doors and staircases had come on site ready-primed with pink paint. Now floors were swept, damped to reduce dust, and the decorators in their white overalls painted the woodwork with undercoat and gloss paint in a pale stone colour. The older men had learnt their trade in a much more decorative period, when people had time and money to spend. They could tell tales of elaborate stencil work and multi-coloured painting, such as they had carried out in big houses in Muswell Hill before the First World War. Elaborate cornices painted in parallel bands of salmon, pale green, dark green, and salmon again; elaborate flock wallpapers, difficult to handle; deal doors painted and grained with a rabbit's tail to resemble oak, mahogany, or bird's eye maple. They some-times felt that they had come down in the world to paint a complete house in one colour and then to repeat the same colour all down the road. It was against their dignity. However, the immediate job was to get people into decent, clean houses. Perhaps elaboration would come later.

 

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