This thread is a bit of an A-to-Z of the different types of temporary, prefabricated, post-war housing built in Edinburgh immediately after WW2.
In 1944, the Government passed the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act, in anticipation of a post-war housing and house-building crisis. While the primary intention of the act was to replace the c. 450,000 homes lost due to aerial bombing, a secondary consideration was to pick up where there pre-war slum clearance projects had left off in trying to provide better mass-housing for people. 300,000 temporary homes were planned to be built in the first two years after the war, to rapidly increase housing supply while the construction of new, permanent housing (be it traditional or prefabricated) tried to catch up.
The Ministry of Works approved 4 (later more) standard designs of prefabricated, two-bedroom temporary bungalows which could be rapidly built and give a life span of 10-15 years. They made use of as little traditional housebuilding materials (brick, stone and timber) as possible and many made use of the skills and industrial capacity of wartime industries. All of the temporary houses were of almost identical dimensions of approximately 32.5ft x 21.5ft (9.75 x 6.5m), so were all had about a 60m2footprint and ceilings 7ft 6in high. This meant they could all be built on the same (standard) foundation panel, on the same sized plot, in the same densities. Estates were often built of a mix of types depending on what was available.
All the temporary houses came with standardised, prefabricated kitchen and bathrooms units to designs approved by the Ministry of Works, including the Prefabricated Plumbing Unit which combined the kitchen sinks, water tank and hot water cylinder and was connected to the back boiler of the living room heater. Manufacturers had no flexibility to alter these, and only a small amount of leeway on the size and positioning of the other rooms.
While central government provided the houses, local authorities were responsible for identifying, securing and planning the sites for the Temporary Housing schemes. They also had to do the groundworks for them; build the roads, sewers, and lay the electricity, gas (if used) and water supplies up to each house. Three standard foundation types were used to suit different ground conditions and the authority was responsible for surveying the site and specifying which should be used. They could also specify the colours of external paint to be used.
Four thousand temporary prefabs were built in Edinburgh post-war, the first arriving in June 1945. In that year the Corporation estimated it had 5,000 families on their waiting list for housing and had requested 7,500 of the houses from the government. There were delays, however and in July 1946 there had been little more progress than the first 100 houses. The three largest schemes accounted for over half of the provision and were at Moredun & Ferniehill, at West Pilton and Muirhouse and at “The Calders” in Sighthill. All were built on the fringes of the city, sometimes where there were few (or no) facilities for people and where public transport was poor. Innovations such as temporary schools and mobile shops were required. The Corporation’s libraries department deployed its first mobile “bookmobiles”.
Where they were largely used for slum clearance and so displaced people away from their communities and families, meaning they could be quite unpopular. On the other hand, when new the houses were good, clean and modern and came with generous gardens.
No temporary prefabs survive in Edinburgh (the ones you can still see were all built as permanent prefabs), all were demolished in a programme starting in 1964, after lifespans around twice what had been intended. Most were replaced by permanent council housing on the same sites, some of which in itself was prefabricated.
Four types of temporary houses were built in Edinburgh:
A is for AIROH. This name is an acronym of Air Industry Research Organisation for Housing, developed by the British aircraft industry as a way to find use for its skills and manufacturing facilities in the postwar environment, and to make use of a glut of scrap aluminium from surplus aircraft. One of the 4 aircraft companies involved in their production was the Blackburn Aircraft Company at Dumbarton. These were the most common temporary prefab in both Edinburgh and across the UK, with 1,792 and 54,000 built respectively. The walls were aluminium trays sprayed with bitumen and filled with aereated concrete and coated on the inside with plasterboard. The roofs were lightweight alumnium trusses with corrugated aluminium sheet covering.
These houses have been described as an “airplane in house form“; manufactured in sub-assemblies on an aircraft production line, combined into 4 sections (complete with roofs, floors, windows, doors and all standard interior fittings) that could be transported by road and quickly joined together on site by unskilled labour. This material has its advantages; it is light, strong, does not rust or readily corrode and – initially – was readily available from scrapped aircraft. It took 2 tonnes of aluminium to build an AIROH house frame. So a single large fighter aircraft like a Typhoon give you all the aluminium for a house. The problem for aluminium houses of all types was that the price of the material soon rebounded and they became very expensive to produce, much more so than other types, but they filled a gap and were not the worst of the temporary prefabs by any stretch.
Identification features are the corrugated roof, the three equally-sized windows (with 4 to the rear) and the curved canopy over the front door. Some of the first permanent prefab houses ordered for Edinburgh were of the Permanent Aluminium or Blackburn Mk.II design. Visually almost identical, it was to a generally more robust standard of insulation and weatherproofing and was designed to last 60 years instead of the AIROH‘s ten.
A is for ARCON. The ARCON name was a portmanteau of Architectural Consultants, was founded as a collaborative research body between architects and builders. The. It was based on the steel-clad Portal House prototype by Tailor Woodrow . It has a similar tubular steel frame (designed by renowned Anglo-Danish engineer Ove Arup) but is covered with a double layer of corrugated asbestos sheeting, with a curving roof built out of the same material.
ARCON was the second most-produced temporary prefab after the AIROH, 39,000 were built across the UK with 757 built in Edinburgh. Many were prefabricated in St. Boswellsi n Roxburghshire, now the Scottish Borders.For recognition, these were the only temporary prefabs built in Edinburgh with a curving roof and corrugated cladding. They had the usual steel windows and doors, with two large windows on either side of the front door, which itself was next to two smaller windows for the WC and bathroom.
T is for Tarran. The Tarran was named for its builders, Tarran Industries Ltd. of Hull. It was built of pre-cast, externally pebble-dashed, concrete panels with a timber floor and a lightweight steel truss roof covered in corrugated asbestos sheets.
19,000 Tarrans were ordered by the government, with 636 built in Edinburgh. The best recognition features are the distinct vertical, pebbled panels, two large windows to the front and a squat, tapering chimney with a large metal cowled ventilator on top. Sometimes they had the front door recessed to the side, creating a distinctive notch in the building and a small, covered porch area.
U is for Uni-SECO. The name stood for Unit and Selection Engineering Co. Ltd. – the company that had been formed London to design and built them. The design was based off of that for temporary wartime military offices. These were built from pre-fabricated plywood-framed panels filled with wood waste and cement insulation, with a roof of similar construction covered in asbestos sheets and roofing felt. They were sent to sites as a flat-pack kit to be assembled and it was amongst the cheapest of the temporary prefabs; the AIROH was 43% more expensive in 1947.
29,000 Uni-SECO houses were ordered, with 815 built in Edinburgh. The best recognition feature is the roof pitch, which was was so shallow as to appear flat. They had a small, tapered chimney and two large windows to the front; the door was either offset to the left or central (Mark III model), in which case the living room window wrapped-around to the side.
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