In this age of tensions between deficit reductions, benefit cuts and housing crisis, the value of our welfare state this last century is brought into focus. In a global context, is there anything more humane and charitable than a system that, at base line, distributes wealth to shelter the low waged and the disadvantaged?
Clichés now, but it really wasn’t so very long ago that everyone was sharing outside toilets and sleeping five to a bed. Recent conversations I’ve had with Dalkeith residents tell of overcrowded, low quality housing that was a joy to escape. My own grandparents, like many, took the classic twentieth century domestic journey from a crowded tenement flat to their own wee post-war prefab, to over 30 years of home comforts in a 2-bedroomed council flat (which I can confirm enjoyed some blindingly patterned furnishings over the years).
Local authorities were required by law to provide council housing after 1919 and Lloyd George’s “Homes fit for Heroes” campaign, sparked by concerns over the poor physical condition of army recruits. But it was not until after World War II that the age of the council house arrived.
A 1930s social housing guide that I shouldn’t enjoy reading, has a recommended ratio for the optimum number of residential properties to associated community halls. By the 1950s and 60s pure demand meant this ratio was blown out of the water, as were the housing space and building standards. I love the leveling repetition of all planned housing schemes and the simplicity of Corporation design, but do grieve the lack of planned public space in this era.
Midlothian has its fair share of such post-war housing, but has been unusual amongst Scottish local authorities in building new stock in recent times. Here’s to the humble council house. And the community centres that can sit alongside them.
See a full history of council housing: http://fet.uwe.ac.uk/conweb/house_ages/council_housing/section1.htm
Photogram artwork by Susan T Grant