Prefabs were spacious and well designed with modern conveniences; a fitted kitchen with refrigerator, cooker and water boiler, fitted cupboards in every room, indoor toilet and bathroom with heated towel rail, running hot water, a back boiler and ducted warm air heating. Often sited on spacious plots of land these detached bungalows provided space to grow vegetables and flowers, and for children to play.
Read Sam Webb’s account of visiting the 1944 Tate exhibition of prefabs with his father, that inspired him to become an architect.
Please visit our History page to find out how the Burt Committee viewed prefabs and prefabrication as the solution to the housing crisis, and listen to an extract of Churchill’s famous speech read by Neil Titley, actor.
Prefabs were built round a central core, or service unit, supplying utilities to the kitchen, toilet and bathroom, designed by the Ministry of Works. For many people the modern conveniences and spacious design of the prefab was a huge leap in quality of life. Prefabs did not look like inter-war British houses, but more like American houses, so many thought they were American in design. Some American prefabs were imported, but most were British designed and built. The Burt Committee visited the Tennessee Valley Authority, and drew inspiration from the temporary towns set up to house workers and their families employed in the hydro-electric dam projects.
Thanks to Charles Horsey who pointed us towards a discussion forum where you can view GPO instructions for 11 types of prefabs! http://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/topic/120128-council-houses/page-2
Was there a downside to prefab living? Prefabs were not well insulated, at least compared with modern standards. Former residents report that some were very cold in the winter and hot in summer, and metal window frames could cause condensation. However this was as true for some traditionally built houses as prefabs at the time.
Prefab fitted kitchens were a marvel of modernity. They were a development of the Frankfurt kitchen of 1926, designed by Margaret Schutte-Lihotsky.
Prefab bungalow types
There were four main types of temporary bungalows manufactured in great numbers in the UK after the war – the Arcon (steel frame), Uni-Seco, Tarran (both timber framed) and the aluminium alloy AIROH B2 which was manufactured from recycled aircraft. Other types like the Universal and Phoenix were produced in smaller numbers. You can read about Uni-Seco on our guest blog post. Some manufacturers involved in prefabs production: Turner and Newall (asbestos cement), Fisher and Ludlow (service units), Stewarts and Lloyds (tubular steel for Arcon roof), Crittall (windows), Williams and Williams (steel framework for the walls) Darlington & Simpson Rolling Mills (steel), Pressed Steel Company (Portal house), Briggs (steel tubes).
Permanent prefabs – bungalows and two storey houses
Permanent prefabs were designed and constructed, including two storey houses like BISF (British Iron and Steel Federation), Orlit and Airey.
Prefabs were imported from the USA and Sweden. We don’t know of any lived in examples of American prefabs in the UK, but there are some still inhabited in Normandy and Brittany in. There are many UK examples of Swedish houses still up and lived in – see our guest blog post. If you can help Neil with new locations he would be grateful!
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