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PREFABS: Factory homes for post-War England

Copyright Crown copyright.NMRThe idea of prefabricated houses goes back to the Industrial Revolution and - ultimately - to the tent. In the 19th century, hundreds of iron homes, hospitals and churches were exported from England to the colonies. But 'factory homes' in large numbers were a response to the housing shortages after two world wars. Because they look conventional, few people realise how many 'semis' of the 1920s are in fact made of concrete panels.

But in the popular mind the name has come to mean specifically the detached bungalows erected between 1944 and 1948 under the Temporary Housing Programme announced by Winston Churchill in March 1944. He promised 500,000 little bungalows, most of them similar to a standard Government model which was first exhibited outside the Tate Gallery in May 1944. 156,623 were actually built, to eleven designs by approved manufacturers using a variety of materials. The Programme ended in 1948 as the bungalows proved too expensive, at an average cost of £1,324 each.

The bungalows were supposed to last only 15 years, but they have proved so popular that many still exist. They are most plentiful in the south west, especially around Bristol and in Newport, Wales. The 1940s also saw permanent bungalows and houses being built using similar unconventional methods.

It is not known how many prefabs survive, but in 1998 16 were 'listed' as historic buildings by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The NMR has inherited the unique historic archive of the Ministry of Works from the 1940s, which shows many of these houses being built.

Story author: English Heritage

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