Wednesday, March 26, 2014
The future, once
Here’s another prefab, a different design from the ones in my previous post. It’s one of a kind that I remember seeing when I was a child, and which recalls a particularly distinctive vision of times to come.
The Welsh politician Neil Kinnock spent his childhood living in a prefab in South Wales, and is on record as saying of the experience that it was like living in the future, and that his home produced an abiding impression of cleanliness and newness. Many residents who moved into prefabs in the years after World War II felt something similar. ‘We felt that we were part of something new and exciting,’ said one, quoted in Greg Stevenson’s Palaces for the People. A colleague of mine who as a child had a prefab-dwelling friend said something similar: travelling from his home to the friend’s prefab was like entering the space age.
The prefab in my picture is one of those on the Gloucestershire estate that my colleague was referring to. It’s one of a kind known as the BL8 Aluminium Bungalow, a design produced by the Hawksley Company, which was set up by Gloster Aircraft Company and based in nearby Hucclecote. These BL8s had wall and roof panels made of Duralamin, an aluminium alloy used in aircraft production. The windows have steel frames and inside the buildings had, I think, fitted kitchens and bathrooms that were similar to those in the other prefab types and that so impressed people with their modernity. Modern, that is, for the time – BL8 were made in the late 1940s and early 1950s, so were not part of the Temporary Housing Programme that brought the other prefabs into being immediately after the war. Indeed, they were seen as a higher-spec design and were intended to be longer-lasting.
These aluminium prefabs survive in a few places (there are apparently some in Letchworth, which I’ve not seen), but here in Brockworth nearly all of them have in recent years been clad in more conventional materials, so that brick walls and tiled roofs make them look less industrial and more like conventional bungalows. The example in my picture is one of a very few that retain their original outside walls, roofs, and window frames, although there’s a new door. I remember similar prefabs from my own childhood, which was long enough ago for the painted metal walls to look shiny and for the neat rows of little bungalows to give just that sense of difference and modernity that others noticed.