The many sorts of housing and histories which
may surround your school.

In the streets around any school, which are the common stamping ground of the pupils and staff, there will be houses of all kinds.

  • There may be some very old houses which have survived by chance. An old parish map might even reveal a medieval village which was razed and the agricultural labourers removed to new cottages in a nearby gully, well out of site of the main house. England hides many clearances and the traces of Goldsmith's Deserted Village may be hidden in your urban sprawl.
  • History may go back further than that. Stoke Newington, for example, is one of the most important Palaeolithic sites in North Europe . When the foundations of the new Victorian villas were being dug in the 1860s, flint hand axes and the flakes formed by making them were found side by side. This revealed an important hand axe manufactory some feet below the present surface and aroused great interest. Within a short period there was a revival of Stoke Newington flint axe trade as local people made them for the burgeoning antiques trade. The only capital needed was a flint nodule and a bradawl and the returns were very pleasing.
  • There may be houses and blocks of dwellings built for the deserving poor under the 5% Philanthropy system, where good hearted people like Ruskin, built houses to let at low rents, but still expected some return. Many of these were administered by Octavia Hill and her disciples.
  • There are Alms houses built by local vestries or Livery Companies for their old people. There were large charities like the Peabody Trust, built in the most deprived areas.
  • There were houses built by the Local Authority under the 1890 Act, which was passed as a reaction to the shock of Booth's 1889 Maps of London Poverty. It is difficult to remember the effect of these maps. Suddenly wealthy people could see, in colour, that only a street away from their own back doors, were people living in appalling housing conditions. They may not have understood the full importance of water borne disease, but they knew that disease was contagious. The nearest that one can get to the shock produced by the Booth maps today, is to read Karel Capek's reaction in the 1920s, when he first saw the unending slums of the East End. Other slums which he had seen on the Continent were small, but these stretched for miles.
  • Only a year after the Booth maps exploded on the London public, Parliament passed the 1890 Housing Act. For the first time Local Authorities were given the right and indeed the duty, to ‘Build to Let'. Previously the two had been separated by law. This change led to the immediate building by Councils of five-storey blocks in towns and cottages on the outskirts, where land was cheaper.
  • Then the First World War revealed that the majority of the population were undersized, mal-nourished, brought up in slums and C3, while the children of wealthier people were taller and A1. Lloyd George, who could snatch a headline from the ambient air, coined the phrase ‘Homes for Heroes'. Blocks of flats and cottages estates began to appear all over the country as a promise of what was to come. Then came the post-war slump and the building effort faltered.
  • In the 1930s a large architectural survey showed that millions of people were abominably housed and a Slum Clearance Programme was started. Incidentally we would build our way out of the Slump. This process continued up to the start of the Second World War, when building stopped.
  • Every effort then had to concentrate on patching up bombed properties to provide some semblance of shelter for homeless people. These patched houses can still be seen. Immediately after the War the stress was on pre-fabs: houses built in factories and dotted on the cleared bomb sites. Ordnance Survey maps of the 1950s show hundreds of them.
  • There was an immediate rush to build dwellings after the Second World War. Labour and Tory Governments vied with each other to build faster. At first there were four and five storey blocks with flat roofs, heated by coal and with tall chimneys to make sure that the tenants in the top flats were not asphyxiated by coal fumes. Later blocks were given gas boilers with balanced flues, so the tall chimneys were not needed.
  • When Mrs Thatcher came to power, she stopped all council house building. Everything had to be built by private enterprise, so costs and sizes were cut. Houses became smaller and rooms more cramped, with advertisements peopled by dwarfs.
  • Later, when Labour came to power, they altered the selection procedure for tenants from a points system, which took account of family size, length of time on the local housing list and the relationship of of family members, so that grandparents were given the right to move near the new family home. When the new Towns were created these rules applied , so often family groups moved with the factories. Labour scrapped this and made NEED the priority. Thus newcomers could take precedence over local and family ties. This became very divisive and a political minefield, causing widespread protest.
  • Housing Associations were then introduced. These are new and still under development. They were set up by the Tories as a method of developing old Council estates. After Lady Porter's gerrymandering exploits in Westminster, the tenants of Walterton and Elgin Estate in North Westminster realised that the new legislation required their approval. They refused Westminster 's plans and voted to take over and run the estate themselves. As a result the estate was redeveloped to the tenants' wishes. The architect became a consultant instead of the demigod he had been, telling people how they should live, brooking no argument.
  • Today many architects are co-operating with tenants, finding new and more imaginative solutions to housing problems. The best are working more like surgeons than the old kings of the castle and finding it rewarding. At the same time, the price of housing has gone through the roof and people are finding it harder and harder to get on the housing ladder.

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