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Archive for June, 2017

World War 2 saw the destruction of over 200,000 houses from the effects of bombing throughout the country, with a further 250,000 damaged beyond repair. Many families had been left homeless, often moving in with friends or relatives or being billeted by the local authorities with strangers. By the end of the war there were hundreds of thousands of displaced people living throughout the country. Only about 19,000 new homes had been built during the war, hardly sufficient for the natural increase in households, let alone the ones who were now displaced.

The Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act was passed in 1944, envisaged by Winston Churchill, the then Prime Minister after the Burt Committee was set up in 1942 to investigate solutions to the predicted housing shortage after the war. This led to the eventual building of just over 156,000 prefabricated buildings between 1946-1949, or prefabs as they were affectionately known. Despite this, there were still several families living in cramped, crowded accommodation often sharing one or two rooms between them.

During the summer of 1946, many of these families took the situation into their own hands, and the Squatters Movement was born. Throughout the country there were hundreds of now unused military bases with plenty of accommodation often comprised of nissen huts. The movement began quietly on 8 May 1946 when a cinema projectionist, his wife and four children moved into the officers’ mess of an abandoned anti-aircraft gun site near Scunthorpe, Yorkshire. They were later joined by 20 more families and the movement spread to further camps in Scunthorpe then on to Sheffield and Doncaster.

The following article appeared in the 19 August 1946 edition of the Hull Daily Mail:

Capture

The family had been living in a four roomed cottage in Brandesburton before the owner needed it back, after which they lived in a cramped caravan that was not water tight and not suitable for a family of four. There was no water laid on and the electricity had been shut off, but the hut was clean, painted and secured against the weather.

Nissen Hut

Squatting was becoming commonplace as the summer moved on with more and more families moving into abandoned nissen huts. In Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire, one ex-commando John Mann who was sharing a small unsanitary cottage with his wife, young son and several strangers overhead a Polish captain say that the deserted army camp at Vache Park was to be readied for Polish soldiers. At dawn the next morning Mann and a few other homeless veterans seized Vache Park and by the next day, over 100 families had moved into the abandoned huts.

British Pathe made a film about the Squatters town in Chalfont St Giles, a copy of this is available to view on youtube and shows some of the women and men being interviewed as well as a ‘town meeting’ where residents got together to hash out problems. The majority of men who had moved in were ex-servicemen and this is pointed out in the film by the interviewer.

This mass squatters’ movement helped thousands of families find accommodation in the early post-war years before the prefabs were available and before new houses (both council and private) could be built to rehouse those displaced by the war.

Sources

Housing Policy into Practice Post Graduate Diploma (1997-2001)

humanities.exeter.ac.uk – Howard Webber – A Domestic Rebellion: The Squatters’ Movement of 1946

Prefab History from the Prefab Museum website

Hull Daily Mail article from the newspaper collection at FindMyPast

The Chalfont St Giles Village Website

 

 

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