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During the Second World War, the UK lost tens of thousands of homes, either destroyed or made uninhabitable due to damage by enemy action; some where even lost to ‘friendly fire’ when they became part of army firing ranges or were demolished to make way for vital airfields. The result was a postwar Ministry of Works programme to build prefabricated homes (or ‘prefabs’ as they became known), in anticipation of a surge in the demand for housing as Service personnel were demobilised (or 'demobbed', as it was called). The cost, in 1945 terms, ranged between £663 – £1,161 Sterling, and there were several versions, including a steel-tubed framed house, a timber with asbestos cladding model, and an aluminium design. One of the main reasons for 'industrializing' the production of the houses in a prefabricated form was the fact that there was a distinct lack of skilled tradesmen to build houses of a more conventional type. They were either still in the forces, or had not been trained in the required trades, as house building for the civilian market was a very low priority during wartime (the WHOLE economy of the United Kingdom was 'directed' using emergency powers during the war).

Here you can see a fine example of the aluminium type of 'prefab'; the expansion of the aluminium manufacturing industry, to serve the needs of the various aircraft companies, had been a feature of the Second World War. This house used to stand in Llandinam Crescent, Cardiff, but was removed, and re-erected at St Fagan’s, to form part of the National History Museum of Wales collection. Prefabs were supposed to only last around 15 years, but a number survived into the 1960s and 70s. I can remember visiting a school friend who lived in one, and they were quite comfortable inside. When local government tenants were eventually asked to move out into newer housing, many resisted. There are a few still standing (in Hall Green, Birmingham, for example) mainly due to the fact that Preservation Orders have now been enforced; these are now recognized as being nationally significant buildings. However, it now looks as if the 'Excalibur Estate' in Catford, London, consisting of 187 'prefabs', and regarded as highly significant in architectural terms, will be demolished. Only six are subject to Preservation Orders.

'Prefabs' were intended as postwar, emergency, temporary housing; instead, many turned out to have a utility and character far beyond all expectations.



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Originally posted to shortfinals on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 07:46 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKos Military Veterans and History for Kossacks.

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