In my previous post, I illustrated how much the left hand side of Park Lane had changed since the early 1970s. I have no photographic record of what was on the other side of the road before enemy bombing destroyed much of it. However, the photograph above shows a housing initiative that has been largely forgotten – the prefabs. The style shown was widely adopted in the aftermath of bombing as a quick fix to provide short-term housing. Over 160,000 were built throughout Britain, with the largest estate in the country at Belle Vale in Liverpool. Over 1,100 were built and their destruction in the 1960s was against a background of opposition from tenants who were happily settled in their estate.
These prefabs were not expected to provide a long-term housing solution. Quickly erected, they were aimed at families, and typically had an entrance hall, two bedrooms (parents and children), a bathroom, a separate toilet, a living room and an equipped kitchen. Construction materials included steel, aluminium, timber or asbestos, depending on the type of dwelling. The aluminium Type B2 prefab was produced as four pre-assembled sections which could be transported by lorry anywhere in the country.
Liverpool had, in fact, pioneered an earlier form of prefab. The concrete panels invented by City Engineer for Eldon Street flats (see my earlier post) at the turn of the twentieth century, never took off because of union objections (although the idea was used across Europe). Some 50 years later, the basic principle of prefabricated panels (now called the Camus system) was imported from France for use in Liverpool’s high-rise flats.
There has been a revival of interest in prefabs and kit houses, although it has not gained any real momentum. This is surprising in the face of the acknowledged housing problem. Surely quickly erected, low-cost houses which can last for 30+ years would be preferable to the ghastly and costly mistakes in public housing which have been made since the 1960s. After all, most of those initiatives have had a very short shelf-life too.