The following account of slum clearance near Homerton Hospital gives a picture of what was happening all over London
Housing Conditions in Stoke Newington over the Years
The Right of Councils to build and let properties
In the 19th Century Local Councils were not allowed to build houses and let them to poor people. This was thought to be the right of private enterprise. Many philanthropic built blocks of flats. People like Ruskin bought properties and let them to poor but respectable people, but even Ruskin thought he should get 5% return on his money. Philanthropists like Peabody built blocks of flats as near as Essex Road, in Islington, but none in Stoke Newington.
Despite all efforts, private money could not build enough houses at low rents for all the poor people who needed decent homes, and in 1900 Local Authorities were given the right to build and let.
Compared with the older parts of London, Stoke Newington houses were good. The majority of the houses had been built without bathrooms: many had outside lavatories, but, relatively speaking, the houses were sound so Stoke Newington Council did not build any flats at that time.
During the First World War there was Compulsory Service for all men from the age of eighteen. This revealed that vast numbers were undersized and malnourished. They had been underfed and lived in bad housing all their lives, but this was the first real review of public health across the nation. It shocked everyone and Lloyd George, who could pluck a popular slogan from the air, promised ‘Homes For Heroes'. The returning soldiers would have decent houses to live in and, after 1924 and the Wheatley Act, these began to appear. Again, the need was greater in other parts of London than in Stoke Newington and no ‘Homes For Heroes' houses were built here. Elsewhere in London the housing need was more urgent and different solutions were found to the common problem.
Homes For Heros
In 1917, towards the end of the First World War, Lloyd George had coined the slogan ‘Homes For Heroes'. etc. Write this from about 1924 in different parts of London. Where there was open space, in for example, Muswell Hill and Tottenham, they built cottage estates, with log gardens. In old built up areas like Hoxton, old properties were demolished and five-storey blocks of flats built on the sites. No blocks were built in Stoke Newington at this period, but some Stoke Newington people were re-housed in the new London County Council flats at White Hart Lane.
Building in Cities
In Fisherton Street, in the Lisson Grove area of St Marylebone, land was scarce, so they had to build five storey blocks of flats. Flats never rose higher than five storeys at that time, as five storeys was as high as anyone could be expected to carry a sack of coal.
From The Growth of St Marylebone and Paddington, by Jack Whitehead.
Building in the Country
In Muswell Hill, where there were still fields and woods, some of the thousand year old Middlesex Forest was cut down and a large estate of cottages with big gardens was built.
The drawings show a typical parlour-type house, with the bath
in the kitchen,
Both the above pictures are from ‘The Growth of Muswell Hill', by Jack Whitehead.
Stoke Newington housing was relatively good, compared with some other parts of Hackney. Some houses were still very desirable but there were pockets which were very bad, as there were all over London. At this period Stoke Newington did not build any municipal flats but took advantage of some of those offered by the London County Council, which had been building since 1900.
Some people from Stroud Green were among the first who moved into tbe Coppetts Road Estate, so I am sure some from Stoke Newington went there as well. Stoke Newington did not build any municipal houses in this early period, but probably took advantage of buildings built by others when places were offered.
The Slum Clearance Movement in the Nineteen Thirties.
Overcrowding in 1933.
During the 1930s there was a world wide slump. Millions of people were out of work and yet nothing seemed to be happening to improve matters. Everything was at a standstill. Millions were out of work and millions were living in appalling housing conditions. The Architectural Journal carried out a huge survey of living conditions and published a damning report. The following is a tiny extract.
Overcrowding in 1933
By the 1930s housing conditions had become a national scandal. Some good work had been done but it far too small. Architects and housing reformers began a vociferous campaign to encourage large-scale building by Local Authorities. This is a typical report.
'At one-and-a-half to a room Kitchens counting as rooms - there are six people in this house, divided for sleeping purposes thus : main bedroom, husband, wife and child; second bedroom, two girls ; parlour, son.
Accommodation which necessitates five people sleeping in two small bedrooms, and one person in the parlour, is by every civilized standard odious.
Nevertheless, today in England it is a standard of perfection. Of the eleven and-a-half million people dealt with in our survey, one in four live in conditions of overcrowding, besides which this is luxury.
If one adds the presence of vermin, the bug, the beetle, the rat - the all pervasive slum smell, and the absence - in thousands of cases of bathrooms and.W.C.s and even of water taps, one arrives at some idea of the living conditions of a quarter of the population as dealt with here.'
The Report galvanized action and the government called on all local authorities to to designate Slum Clearance Areas, apply for grants, demolish, and build. Not only was the country ashamed but many saw it as a way to build themselves out of the Slump. In America Roosevelt was to have the New Deal. This was a similar process in Britain.
Housing was then under the Ministry of Health and local Health Department submitted reports and planned to build.
These reports are important as vital descriptions of actual living conditions. Local Historians could spend time on them, find in the Local History Archives the Borough Housing reports and follow through, year by year, the repeated demands for better living conditions. Local Medical Officers of Health had been submitting more and more urgent reports fo years. Now something was to be done.
Each year the Medical Officer of Health for Stoke Newington had to report to the Council on the state of housing in the Borough and to fill in statistics for the Ministry of Health. Both made depressing reading.
Reading them one will see that the modern complaints about housing conditions go back a long time. Each generation has to refight the battles. Shelter, and the 1985 Church Report on the declining; housing stock can be seen in perspective. In the 21 st Century the problems continue and housing costs take an ever increasing proportion of family income. There were the Booth series Housing maps of the end of the Nineteent Century, 1920s Slum maps, the 1930s Slum Clearance Maps, the bombed and damaged houes of the late 1940s, the Shelter Reports, The Church Reports on the declining house stocks and many more. There are reports and maps for all towns and reading a succession of them on a local area, backed by maps, can be a moving experience.
Living conditions are described in novels too. Not only Dickens but modern novelists have expanded on the theme. "The Years" by Virginia Woolf descibes housing conditions in Lissom Grove in 1894. The Brensham Trilogy by describes a slum cleared after the Second World War to make an small open space. A modest contribution These new small lungs have been created in many places. Any new park has a history, often sad, sometimes sordid, forgotten under the new trees. They make good stories when found.
It is difficult today 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 of he time, can remind us of the start reality.
In 1930 a Slum Clearance Act was passed giving more power to Local Authorities to compulsorily purchase and build to let. During the 1930's, large areas of old housing were designated as ‘ Slum Clearance Areas'.
The London County Council had been building flats from 1900 but at in 1933 Stoke Newington Borough Council started to build. Some of the old properties were overcrowded and unsanitary. In 1933 Stoke Newington Borough declared the following areas as (Slum) Clearance Areas under its powers under the 1930 Housing Act.
The Nesbet Street area, in Homerton, was typical. It had some houses in 'comparatively satisfactory condition' but they must have been pretty squalid because the whole block was cleared and fine new flats erected.
The map of Nesbet Street
Slum Clearance money was available from central government, so maps like this are available for all parts of the country because the local authoity had a statutory duty to report on bad housing, but they had to make out a case before money was granted.
The following is a typical report.
The Medical Officer of Health's Report on Nesbet Street,
an area in Homerton, near Homerton Hospital
Nesbet Street Area, 72 buildings
‘With the exception of two small cottages (Bones Cottages) this Area consisted of typical terrace type dwellings of four rooms and back-addition wash-houses. The dwellings were small and very cramped, lacked internal ventilation and natural light, had very cramped and low rooms and were badly planned internally. The street doors opened directly into short passages communicating directly with the back living rooms. Staircases led out of the ground floor rooms and washhouses directly communicated and ventilated into each other. All the dwellings were originally of poor construction and had deteriorated through lack of proper maintenance, the structures were very weak and in a state of disrepair. Considerable dampness and other sanitary defects were found.'
This area has since been acquired 'for re-housing residents from other confirmed Clearance areas'.
In 1870 Homerton was a prosperous suburb full of with houses with large gardens. Later, Nesbet Street was built as a mean, gimcrack row of houses down a long stretch of gardens. This for no other purpose but to make money and give little in return.
Nesbet Street in all its ugliness. No gardens, no trees, and mean spirited in every way.
© Hackney Archive
One of the tiny, insanitary rooms in which
This was Nesbet Street in all its squalor. The houses were poorly built. The rooms were small, with low ceilings. Houses were subdivided, with two or more families in each, and all severely overcrowded. There were no bathrooms and probably an outside lavatory shared by several families. No refrigerators of course and no proper place to store food. At most there might have been a meat safe with perforated zinc sides to protect food from the flies. With luck it might have been nailed to an outside wall and reached through a window. If not it was inside the room. A family living in one or two rooms would have had to buy food every day, as nothing could be kept. To add to this, there were mice, bugs and fleas. Conditions like this were to be found up and down the country.
© Hackney Archive
© Hackney Archive
These flats were built on the site of the the old Nesbet hovels and must have come as a revelation to those fortunate enough to move in.
Building in Stoke Newington
About 1930 there began to be rumours of building flats for renting at economic rents in Stoke Newington. The L. C. C. and Stoke Newington Borough Council were both considering sites. The former were the first off the mark and built in Meadow Street, while Stoke Newington designated pockets of slums which were to be cleared and announced a competition for the design of new Flats for the Glebe Place site.
The London County Council had been building flats from 1900 but at in 1933 Stoke Newington Borough Council started to build. Some of the old properties were overcrowded and insanitary. In 1933 Stoke Newington Borough declared the following areas as (Slum) Clearance Areas under its powers under the 1930 Housing Act.
In 1934, Barn Street was added.
The map shows the houses of Barn Street
which was added to the Clearance Areas
"The erection of three blocks of 100 flats to provide rehousing accommodation for persons to be displaced from eight small clearance areas is nearing completion. The site is in Lordship Terrace and in close proximity to Clissold Park. The three houses are to be named "Ormond House", "Lordship House" and "Clissold House". It is claimed that when the new flats are completed and the houses in the Clearance Orders are demolished, Stoke Newington will be a slumless borough."
Stoke Newington Housing report
These flats were outstanding. The architectural press praised them highly
"The new estates built by the London County Council in Kennington and Stamford Hill and the Somers Town buildings of the St. Pancras House Improvement Society must be included in the most aesthetically satisfying achievements of our time. At Kennington and Stamford Hill they come as close to perfection in their type as anything done in Germany, Holland, or Austria, and they definitely surpass the most expensive block of flats built in the West End of London."
`Housing and Slum Clearance in London ',
The flats described in these glowing terms include the flats in Lordship Terrace opposite St Mary's Primary School.
(I CANNOT ADD THIS TO THE TEXT BU IT CAN BE OPENED AS A SEPATATE DOCUMENT)
They were the first houses built on the Glebe Fieldon lots 666-670. Swift's Cottage was the Labourer's cottage mentioned in the 1851 Census Return. Today the houses are the site of Manston House flats.
Two of the Glebe Place houses
These 1936 flats were built as part of the Slum Clearance movement of the period. They followed immediately on the building of the Lordship Terrace flats.
The design is different from the Lordship Terrace ones. An arch leads to a private central courtyard with flats all around. The front access balconies give views onto Clissold Park Park. Germany, Austria, Holland, all built blocks like this, built at the same period and there are many other examples allover Britain. The St. Pancras Housing Estate near Euston Station area is very famous.
The Rear Courtyard of Manston house
Fifty years after they were built, the flats in Lordship Terrace needed refurbishment. They had survived the wartime bombing but required ordinary repair and refurbishment. This refurbishment revealed how our living conditions and expectations had changed over the period. Many of the people who moved into the flats in 1935 had come from places like Nesbet Street, cramped, insanitary slums, verminous, damp and unhealthy, with shared outside lavatories, no hot water or other things which we take today for granted. The fresh air and healthy living conditions in Stoke Newington, the luxury of an inside lavatory must have come as a breath of heaven: Those in the flats under fifty years old, perhaps been born there, had never known anything else and they had still further expectations.
This account of the 1985 refurbishment reveals how the way we spend our lives had changed in the previous fifty years.
By 1984, the work had 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 buggies, or by car. Car ownership was rarein 1934 but was common by 1984. 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 when they were built. Extra fuel was stored in the sheds.
By 1984 however, Stoke Newington was in a Smoke-free Zone. In the 1960s London pea-souper 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 preferred 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 so they were made safe and left.
The flats were 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 changes can be followed on the plans (which also show the phases (1-4) of the refurbishment.
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.
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 large pram, bicycles or coal, but today most babies travel in fold-up chairs, which can be carried upstairs, 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. By the 1950s 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 and Cedar House was demolished. This reduced the number of flats but made room for off-street parking,separated from the flats by high walls.
The changes can be followed on the plans (which also show the phases (1-4) of the work). The demolition of Cedar House
The work was completed in 1984 and tenants found they were living in what amouned to new properties which would serve well for another fifty years.
THE SLQUATTING MOVEMENRS
THE THATCHER GOVERNMENT TAKING AWAY THE RIGHT TO BUILD FROM LOCAL AUTHORITES
THE START OF HOUSING TRUSTS.