Wednesday 8 October 2008


The simple single-storey prefabricated houses, widely known as prefabs, erected in a hurry, often on bomb sites and often by prisoners of war, to house people made homeless by World War 2, were a common sight when I was a child. They were meant as a short-term solution, but the UK housing shortage has never ended and many had much longer lives than intended. Few, though, now remain. A row of survivors stood, perkily enough, until recently in my South East London suburb. Then one after another was swallowed up by new housing developments. Now there are just two, one visibly abandoned, one just recently vacated and surrounded by a fair-sized and lovely cottage-style garden not yet returned to wilderness, though it won't take long.

Humble, basic homes they were, gratefully received by their occupants, but no-one's preference. Expectations have changed, and not necessarily in the ways you'd think: the size of these houses, and certainly the size of their gardens, is quite generous by modern standards of all but the most affluent. They have their own charm, a spacious, timeless quality, sitting lightly, but as it turns out quite enduringly, upon the earth. I'm kind of sad to see them go, certainly sad to see their gardens go. Perhaps this modest, inexpensive style will have its time again in future aftermaths.


Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the little garden cottages in the huge area of allotment gardens we saw in Helsinki. They were absolutely charming and obviously used in the summer as holiday homes while tending to their lush plots.

Zhoen said...

I'd love a cozy place like that. I'm not the only one,

Jean said...

Zhoen, yes, I've encountered the Tiny House Company before, and love them. Land prices and inflexible planning regulations are a big problem in the UK, but less so in some parts at least of the US, I think?

YourFireAnt said...

This photo could bring out the story teller in ANYone.

Thanks, Jean.


Lucy said...

Little fragments, become beautiful in their fragility.

Lovely eloquent, luminous writing, I love that last sentence.

Anonymous said...

Who'd have believed that, 60 years on, the pre-fab would inspire nostalgia! Surely there must be some on which preservation orders have been made. Future prefabricated housing will have as its priority the smallest space consistent with human rights. One of the charms of the post-war pre-fab was the attempt to capture something of the character of the fully constituted cottage.