• Leicester’s first council owned flats were built in 1900 on Winifred Street
  • 162 houses were built in 162 days on the new Park Estate in the 1920s
  • After World War Two 500 temporary pre-fabricated houses were built but people lived in them until the 1970s

Homes fit for Heroes: The Early Development of Council Houses in the City

In November 1918, the Prime Minister David Lloyd George stated that Britain should build ‘homes fit for heroes’. Parliament decided to make local councils responsible for providing new housing. 

In 1919 Leicester City Corporation had 1,455 people needing a house and began building houses on the Coleman Road Estate in North Evington and the Tailby Estate in West Humberstone. By October 1924, 746 houses had been built on these estates.

In 1924 building started on the Park Estate, now known as the Saffron Lane Estate. 1,000 houses made from concrete were built on the estate and 500 were built on the Braunstone Estate. They were called ‘Boot’ houses after the building company Henry Boot which built many council houses across the country. The concrete Boot houses were quicker to build than standard brick houses. They weren’t cheaper to build to than standard houses, costing £465 per house compared to £395 for a brick house, but needed less skilled labour. There was a severe shortage of skilled labour to build the new council houses. During this time, it was estimated that only 140 construction workers out of a total of 4500 in the city were building council houses.

In 1925 the Corporation brought the 1,200-acre Braunstone Estate. The plan was to build 1,200 houses on the site.  The estate was carefully planned in the Garden Suburb style; where there were wide streets with trees, open spaces and grass verges. The houses had gardens and were very light; bungalows were provided for elderly people.

One of the early estates to be built was Braunstone. Seen here is Meadwell Road

The £299 Council House

In 1922 Leicester based architect Arthur Wakerley designed the £299 house as a response to the housing shortage after the First World War.  Wakerley’s innovative design of sharing services between two semi-detached houses including, chimney stacks, roof ridges, water and gas pipes, meant that the cost of construction was only £299 as compared to £433 for standard houses.

Examples of Wakerley’s innovative houses can be found all over the City. There is a particularly good example on Linton Street where the houses externally remain little changed and are Grade 2 listed buildings.

A £299 Wakerley designed house on Linton Street. These are in original condition

Fumigation

During the 1930s large areas of ‘slum housing’ were demolished in the City Centre particularly around the St Margaret’s area.  In 1936 building started on the North Braunstone estate. Many people were re-located to the estate from St Margaret’s parish. 

People who moved onto the North Braunstone estate had to have their furniture and bedding fumigated.  Before they moved into their new house the City Corporation would take away their furniture and spray it with prussic acid which left a bitter almond smell. The furniture was fumigated to stop the spread of infection although the practice created a stigma of ‘problem families’. These families were thought by other people on the estate to be bringing in dirt and disease.

 

A shared yard in Eaton Square which was off Upper Brown Street, c.1950

The ‘Prefab’ Houses

After the Second World War the demand for council housing increased dramatically. 10,000 homes were needed for ex-soldiers and their families.  A quick solution was the building of temporary pre-fabricated (prefabs) houses. In 1946 the Corporation began erecting the prefabs. They were referred to as ‘Little wooden huts’ and ‘Civvy Nissans’ were erected on the Hinckley Road, Aikman Avenue, New Parks Estate, Ambassador Road (Evington) and Hughenden Drive (Aylestone). A total of 570, two bedroom, prefabs were built and were predicted to last for 10 years.

The prefabs were very popular with tenants. In an article in the Leicester Mercury a tenant from New Parks said “it has all the amenities you could want. Indeed, the bungalows are well designed with two bedrooms, a living room, a large kitchen and a separate bathroom and lavatory”.

By 1970 the high cost of maintaining the prefabs led the Corporation to lead a programme of demolishing the houses. They had exceeded their predicted lifespan by nearly 15 years. Tenants were sad to leave these practical and well-loved properties.

The Right to Buy

In the Housing Act 1980 council tenant’s in England and Wales were given the legal right to purchase their council house if they had been a council tenant for 3 or more years. The scheme offered a discount on the market value of the house. The discount started at 33% (for 3 years tenancy) and went up to a maximum of 50%. Right to Buy applicants were able to apply for mortgages to buy their houses. 9 out 10 Right to Buy purchases were funded with mortgages. By 1987 more than 1,000,000 council houses across the UK had been brought by their tenants.

The Right to Buy scheme still exists in England (it has been abolished in Wales and Scotland). Council tenants of 3 years or more standing can apply to purchase their houses.

Demolition of Boot houses in Braunstone, 1987

Demolition of the Boot Houses

The concrete ‘Boot’ houses on the Saffron Lane and Braunstone Estates in the early years of their construction developed issues with damp but lasted many years; however, by the 1980s the houses were showing signs of serious structural problems. This was caused by corrosion of the metal reinforcements in the concrete frames and deterioration of the materials that were used to bind the concrete. 

In 1983 the Council took the decision to replace the Boot houses. The policy for replacement was ‘one down, one up’. So as one Boot house was demolished a new house would be built in its place. By June 1989 500 Boot houses had been demolished and replaced. In June 1997 the remaining 972 Boot houses were demolished.

Council Housing Today

Today, there are 20,303 council houses across the City. In 2019 phase 1 begins to build 29 new council homes in the Evington, Humberstone & Hamilton, Abbey and Thurncroft wards. The council is also working on phase 2 plans to build over 370 council houses units by 2023.

Gallery

Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Medieval Leicester

(500 – 1500) The early years of this period was one of unrest with Saxon, Danes and Norman invaders having their influences over the town. Later, of course, came Richard III and the final battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought on Leicester’s doorstep.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Early 20th Century Leicester

(1910 – 1973) The diverse industrial base meant Leicester was able to cope with the economic challenges of the 1920s and 1930s. New light engineering businesses, such as typewriter and scientific instrument making, complemented the more traditional industries of hosiery and footwear manufacturing.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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