Reconditioning 1934 Flats in 1984

Bringing 1934 flats to 1984 standards By the late 1970's, forty years later, the flats needed reconditioning and bringing up to 1980's standards of comfort and style of living. In 1984, the work has just been completed and the tenants are living in what amount to new properties.

How does one bring 1934 flats up to 1984 requirements? There had been some natural deterioration, but basically, the buildings were sound. The woodwork had lasted well. Hardly any window frames needed replacement. Everything had to be redecorated but the fundamental problem was to deal with the way we lived in 1984 compared with fifty years before. Then, every flat had a downstairs shed in the yard, for a pram, bicycles or coal, but today most babies travel in fold‑up chairs, or by car. Car ownership was rare but was common by 1985. The flats were built to be heated by coal. The coalman could be expected to take coal up to the fifth floor but certainly not higher. This was the fundamental fact which controlled flat height then. Extra fuel was stored in the sheds.

Today however, Stoke Newington was in a Smoke‑free Zone. London peasouper fogs had become so bad, killing and injuring so many each year that no other course was possible, and smokeless zones were declared. One may still burn smokeless fuel but many people prefer central heating. The Council decided to install individual central heating systems in the flats, with radiators in all rooms including the bathrooms, where the worst condensation is likely to occur. Chimneys were no longer necessary but they are part of the structure of the buildings. It would have been difficult and expensive to remove them so they were made safe and left. The flats have been re‑roofed with pantiles. Instead of  the earlier rubbish chutes, which became smelly, large paladins (dustbins on wheels to take plastic sacks of rubbish) were installed. Fire safety was improved by building on new escape staircases, providing alternative escape from bedrooms and putting `fire resisting' doors within the flats. (All British Standard Code of Practice 1971).

The sheds were not needed for prams or fuel. They were often vandalised, so tenants preferred to carry their bicycles up to their flats. The sheds could be removed.

The changes can be followed on the plans (which also show the phases (1‑4) of the work). The demolition of Cedar House made room for segregated car parking, separated from the flats by high walls. The shed space provided more car parking and play areas.

The work was completed in 1984 and tenants found they were living in what amouned to new properties which would serve well for another forty years.


It is difficult to imagine the living conditions in some 1930s slums. Only films like ‘Housing Problems, by Edgar Anstey and Arthur Elton, 1935, or ‘Somers Town’, by Sue Crockford and Richard Broad, 1984, or some of the Picture Post articles photographs can remind us of the start reality.

1934-1984: Fifty Years of Change


Updated: October 7, 2011