Terraces to Tower Blocks

Living in terraced housing both before and for quite some time after the Second World War was very different to today. By 1966 54.9 % of Hackney households did not have exclusive use of hot water, a fixed bath or an inside toilet. (Greve, 1971)

Susan King remembers living in terraced housing in Hackney in the 1960s:

“It was a terraced house, but we only had rooms upstairs, we had er four rooms upstairs, an elderly couple lived downstairs, so we shared the front door, and then we were upstairs, we had two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen, and a toilet on the landing. But no bathroom, no hot water, no heating.” 

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During the bombing of London in the Second World War large areas of the borough were destroyed. By May 1941 2490 homes in Hackney were damaged or destroyed with a further 2955 in Shoreditch and 246 in Stoke Newington. As a result housing in the post war period was in short supply, and slum conditions increased. (Willes, 2012)

Housing became an increased priority for both national and local government after the war. In 1946 the Labour government’s housing policy aimed to build 2 ½ million new homes by 1957, ¾ of which would be built by local authorities.  Although by 1951 Labour’s ambitious target to build 900,000 homes a year had not been met, housing remained a key election issue.  A Conservative government was elected having promised to build 300,000 new homes a year. (Burnett, 1986)

In Hackney protesters invaded the council chamber in 1949 to demand more housing. By 1951 Hackney had become the second best borough in London at building housing, constructing 5,864 homes in the period up to 1961. Nearly 5,000 ‘pre-fab’ homes were put on bomb sites to house the homeless. However, the housing shortage remained and people waited for the new flats to be built. (Willes, 2012) Read about the history of provision for the homeless here.

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Established communities were disrupted by both the bombing and post war development of new council estates that often replaced older terraced houses. Demolition or destruction of housing meant that younger people tended to move out, leaving older generations behind. In The Way Home Georgina remembers how her large extended family who all lived within a street of each other were dispersed around the country when the council demolished their houses to build Clapton Park Estate.  Tony Osborne describes the demolition of houses on Duncan Road in the early 1970s:

“Um, it was old, it was terraced, three story buildings and so when they decided to move us, they were going to redevelop us, this was back in the early seventies, they moved everybody out, took all the housing down and that’s still down, they built a, they put a garden on it now… But lots of particularly, particularly lots of the older generation, you know they’d been there, they’ve been there for all their lives, literally, all their lives and their parents and their grandparents before them, you know, we had people down that road, there’s families that have lived there for 150 years… And they were old, they got moved out and most of them died off within nine months because they just couldn’t settle where they were… So that’s where they did go wrong” 


Burnett, J. (1986) A Social History of Housing London: Metheun

Greve, J. (1971) Homelessness in London. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.

Willes, M. (2012) Hackney: An uncommon history in five parts London: The Hackney Society


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