The history of social and council house development

In Britain, social housing has come to mean something negative, something that only poor people should be interested in. The property-based economy that has developed since the 1960s, and took a boost with the “Right To Buy” schemes of the 1980s, has meant that social housing is now seen to be only for the poor and those who cannot afford a mortgage.

But this is most definitely not how it should be viewed, and is far from the ideals in the minds of those who created the modern blueprint for social housing in the 1850s. The first proponent of social housing in Britain was Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband. From the 1890s local authorities took over from philanthropists as the main builders of social┬áhousing. The London County Council were the leaders but other cities, particularly Liverpool and Glasgow, were also enthusiasts. During the 1930s, this housing became generically known as ‘council housing’, and much of it built to high construction standards. Some superb housing on garden estates was built between the two World Wars and nearly all is still standing. Things started to go wrong in the late 1960s when cheap, poorly built and designed tower blocks started to be put up all over Britain. The quality was lost and their day-to-day management was not a priority, and it is taking a long time for authorities and charities to recognise the original methods of building and management were, and still are, the best.

This website contains research into the early social housing, concentrating on the period from the 1850s until 1914. The initial research resulted in a dissertation for my MA at Kingston University, and concentrated on early social housing in London Borough of Southwark. I subsequently expanded the research to encompass all early London County Council housing. The research and papers have been made available in the public domain to help other researchers. Please use the information intelligently. I have no political alliances and so the information and evidence is presented as factually as can be. My studies have concentrated on London, but the ideals, laws, regulations and finances applied to all of Britain. It was usually a case of London leading and the others following, particularly as regards building standards and housing Acts.

The only thing I make no excuses for is my admiration for the early philanthropists such as the Peabody Trust, and for the London County Council.

Martin Stilwell MA, 2015