Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Brockworth, Gloucestershire

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.


Andimac said...

This post, and your previous, certainly brought back memories for me. When I was a boy, in the West of Scotland, I was really jealous of my pal who lived in a prefab. To be fair, my parents and I had been rehoused in a newly-built modern tenement flat, but I thought prefabs were just so much better, being little self-contained bungalows with all mod cons. I thought it was a bit unfair that we didn't live in one as my Dad worked in the Blackburn Aircraft factory in Dumbarton where the prefabs were made and he even operated a crane which loaded them on to the low-loader lorries which took them out to sites. I think they were the A.I.R.O.H. (Air Industry's Research Operation on Housing) model. We called them "The Aluminiums". Sadly, Dad, the Blackburn factory and all the prefabs are long gone but I remember all three with fondness.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you for sharing your memories. I too remember the AIROH aluminium prefabs – there was an estate of them near my first school. In fact the AIROH was the most successful of the 1940s prefabs: some 54,000 were built, according to Greg Stevenson in his book Palaces for the People.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I too used to live in pre-fab country:
Living in a jungle,
Living in a tent,
Better than a pre-fab,
(Children's rhyme from one of Birmingham's once-numerous pre-fab suburbs)

Philip Wilkinson said...

Brilliant rhyme! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

We own a Hawksley BL8 in Letchworth Garden City. It is one of 60

Philip Wilkinson said...

Anon: Thank you for your comment. I didn't realise there were that many still in Letchworth.

Unknown said...

Reading the early chapters of 'Concretopia' has re-kindled my interest in prefabs. I had relatives then living in a prefab immediately after WW2. They lived in Tennyson Avenue off Podsmead Rd in Gloucester. I made a brief visit to the area yesterday to see whether they are still standing in some form. It seems they are although I believe that the council carried out some maintenance about 12 years ago.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Steve: Yes, these Gloucester prefabs seem mostly to have been covered in some sort of cladding - presumably both to extend their life and to improve insulation. Concretopia is an interesting book, isn't it?

carol caslin said...

There is a large estate of these bungalows in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire. Many over the last few years have been refurbished by the local authority. I myself have just bought one and have had a hard time trying to convince the mortgage lender that these are not on the 1985 defective housing list. It shows the Hawksley SGS house but not the BL8 bungalow. There are still a fair few in their original state. These are fantastic large bungalows

Carol Caslin

Anonymous said...

We too own a BL8 in Hamble Hampshire. Only 4 survive there now of the many that were made for the Air training school that once operated from Hamble airfield. Ours is virtually original too. If you type Hawksley BL8 into YouTube you will see our house.