Prefab Homes from the Past Performed way beyond Expectations

A few weeks ago we took a look at the benefits of off-site construction methods and the fact that an increase in the adoption of modular, pre-fabricated buildings would help to address the current skills shortage being experienced by the UK construction industry.  The top five benefits were as follows:

1.      Speed

2.      Sustainability

3.      Safety

4.      Cost

5.      Quality

While many of us believe that pre-fabricated buildings are temporary in nature and not as durable or utilitarian as buildings erected using traditional construction methods, nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, we’ve just come across some news that will illustrate this fact perfectly – the pre-fab bungalows of the forties and fifties.

With Britain suffering such heavy bombing during World War 2, the Blitz coupled with continuous bombing of ports, industrial facilities and large cities led to the destruction of more than three million homes in the UK.  This resulted in a severe housing crisis that Winston Churchill addressed with the construction of pre-fabricated, or “emergency” houses.  Churchill’s war government launched the Temporary Housing Project as a military operation on a nationwide scale in 1944, before the War had come to a close. 

It was Churchill’s intention to provide up to half a million prefab houses, but due to inflation and an increase in the costs of materials, that number wasn’t actually reached.  However, beginning in the spring of 1946 more than 156,000 prefab houses were erected across the UK.  These were assembled in record time with each one taking between eight hours and three days to complete.  One of these set a Guinness World Record as it was built in 42 minutes, a huge achievement!

Pefab housing estates sprouted up all over Britain, on parks, bombed out streets, on wasteland and even in cemeteries.  They were mostly built to rehouse servicemen returning from the war with some gathered in small groups while others comprised whole residential estates.  Most of us probably have memories of visiting family members in one of these little prefabs in our childhood, I certainly do.

The prefab houses had innovative designs in a similar layout – a hallway, two bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom and a fitted kitchen boasting a fridge – a veritable luxury at the time when only 2% of the population actually owned fridges.  The interior toilets and constant hot water added to the sense of luxury and modernity back in the forties when many households had no inside toilet and no hot water.  All of the homes were detached and surrounded by gardens in which the householders could grow vegetables, an important consideration during an economic climate in which food rationing carried on into the fifties.

Most residents loved their prefab houses and this housing scheme, which was intended to be temporary, resulted in strong communities, some of which exist to this day.  Now, more than half a century later, there are still thousands of these prefab, temporary homes in the UK – some are preserved in museums and about 30 of them are listed by Historic England, a government organisation dedicated to preserving our heritage.  There are, however, plenty of these homes still being lived in, like the Excalibur Estate, London’s last community of prefab houses.  Residents have been fighting property developers and local authorities to save their homes from demolition in vain.  Rising land values mean the destruction of the last of our prefab homes.

It’s hoped that the prefab homes being planned for the UK in the future will last at least as long as those built in the wake of World War 2.