Your Home’s History: The Development of Council Housing

The rapid growth of cities during the Industrial Revolution, followed by the First World War, led to a severe shortage of affordable, sanitary housing during the 1920s and 30s. The Housing Act of 1930 attempted to rectify this by carrying out mass slum clearances and re-housing some of the poorest individuals. In August 1935, this slum area in Thomas Street, Huddersfield was photographed before being demolished, providing a record of the living conditions there. Photographs such as these provide an invaluable picture of a community and a vanishing way of life.

Before its demolition, the building below, situated on Thomas Street, was reputed to be the oldest house in Huddersfield and is thought to have originally formed part of Huddersfield Hall. It was later partitioned, becoming a pub called Shears Inn where Huddersfield’s first Co-operative Society was formed in 1860, with a total of thirteen members. Shears Inn closed in 1909 and the building became Martin Nestor’s lodging house at some point after this.

Martin Nestor’s Lodging House, reputed to be the oldest house in Huddersfield, 1935 (Ref No. KMT18)

Despite the government’s efforts to improve living conditions, many still lived in poor conditions. Under the Housing Act of 1935, a national survey was undertaken of 10,000,000 working class homes to determine what percentage were living in overcrowded homes. A survey card was produced for each house recording the number and size of rooms, the name of the tenant and owner and the number of children with their ages. There was no limit on the number of people of the same sex who could live in the same room. Shockingly, any room which could technically be slept in counted, including living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens. Surprisingly, these standards are still used to assess overcrowding today.

Gomersal Urban District Council Overcrowding survey card, 1935-1936, (KMT13/3/4/3)

The cards record the initial survey, as well as any later surveys, meaning it is possible to follow a family or house to see if circumstances changed. Not only do these records give an indication of the layout of a house, they also build a picture of the conditions in which working class families were living and the ways in which they used the rooms in their house. As the 1931 census was lost, and the 1941 census was not taken, these survey cards can also be used to fill in the gap, giving an indication of who was living in a particular house in those years.

Municipal Housing Estates, 1933-1939

The slum clearances carried out in the 1930s had outpaced the construction of affordable housing for those who had lived there, causing a social housing crisis. The Financial Provisions Housing Act of 1924 (more commonly known as the Wheatley Act), was intended to provide a solution to this. The government provided subsidies to local authorities to create affordable homes for families on a low income. Although this created pressure for council estates to be developed at a higher density, the quality of the housing was still high.

Photograph of Wormald housing estate, Huddersfield (KMT18/EN/6/1/4)

Huddersfield Borough was a pioneer in the creation of council housing, creating some of the first in the country. Estates such as Dryclough Housing Estate, erected 1937-39, were intended to be self-contained communities, complete with their own facilities such as shops, churches and schools. The majority of houses were intended for families, with two or three bedrooms and a decent garden. Over half a million council houses were built under this scheme, and by 1939, 14% of families rented council accommodation, compared to 1% in 1914.

Other Exhibition Pages

Your Home’s History: Introduction

Your Home’s History: Pre-Nineteenth Century Records

Your Home’s History: Building Control

Your Home’s History: Home Life