The Abstract

The high level of owner-occupancy in Britain today can be largely attributed to the wide-scale building of small, low-cost homes which took place in the inter-war period, especially in the six years between 1933 and 1939. This work will show that the enlargement of home ownership by the lower-paid worker was linked with an increase in prosperity, especially amongst that segment of the population with a job, and, more importantly, with the emergence of the working classes as the owners of a significant proportion of the houses sold during this time. The manner in which the houses were designed and built, and the evolution of the semi-detached dwelling as the most popular type of home will be discussed. In addition, the differences between the house built by the architecturally uneducated and often untrained builder will be compared with the architect designed council house which followed the principles laid down by Unwin. It will show how innovative the speculative builder was in designing and building the low-cost new homes and harnessing the funds from the building societies to provide large numbers of houses for the working classes.

Building societies provided funds to the purchasers and this was the catalyst that made it possible for large numbers of cheap houses to be built, often by small and new firms of speculative builders. The economic recession after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 had not threatened the stability of the banks; they had entered the 1930s with a healthy profit level and good dividend cover. Given the limited demand for credit from the older industries, the banks were willing to finance the activities of the speculative builders.

The municipal developer, following the dictates of architects and planners, failed to build homes which were satisfactory for the lower-paid workers. It was the speculative builder who built homes which met the needs of the working classes.