Architecture through the ages looks at 1930s houses this week. Although not to the taste of everybody, the growth of suburbs in the 1930s meant that millions could enjoy owning their own home for the first time.
The 1930s: A new era of owner-occupied homes
If you speak about the 1930s to most people, they think of the after effects of the great depression, and the build up to World War Two. However, from a housing point of view the thirties were a great time. There were approximately 4 million homes built between 1919 and 1930. Nearly 3 million of these were owner by the occupiers, an unprecedented change from the 750,000 of the early 1920s. But what were these 1930s houses like?
But what caused this increase in owner-occupied housing? It was in fact the great depression. In a time when people weren’t sure of the security of their savings, there was an increasing desire to invest in bricks and mortar. Mortgages were readily available, and those who would-be savers instead flocked to the building societies. Mortgage requirements dropped from 25% deposit to just 5% (although that seems typical now). The lenders estimated that a salary of £4 per week was good enough security on a mortgage.
1930s suburbs: The birth of Arcadia
To meet this new demand for housing, new suburbs exploded out across Britain. The arterial roads of the country soon saw rows of mock-Tudor homes pop up. These were met with disgust from architectural experts of the time. The new style of homes were popular with the rising middle classes who wanted to own their own homes. Crescents, drives and avenues began to take over the areas outside urban centres. But what about the design at the heart of the 1930s houses?
The architecture and design of 1930s houses
As mentioned previously, much of the architecture of the 1930s was met with derision by famous architects. They viewed the mocking of the Tudor and Georgian period houses as an affront to style. The novelist Graham Greene thought that the new style of homes represented “something worse than the meanness of poverty – the meanness of spirit”. But although the elite disliked them, millions of families soon moved into their new homes.
The developers would boast of estates where no two homes were the same. They would offer Jacobean, Georgian and Tudor style homes. Pebble-dash wall rendering was popular, as it was cheap and didn’t require much maintenance. Bay windows were found on almost all 1930s homes because council houses would never have them. This was the hallmark of home ownership.
1930s front doors usually had three panels at the bottom, with a large glass window at the top. Brass knockers and numbering adorned the front of the door. You can read our blog post about these doors here.
Inside the 1930s home
In the hallway would most likely be a hatstand and a small table for letters and other post. The flooring would be linoleum, a new versatile material giving the impression of tiles but with none of the cost. Cream and duck egg kitchens were the fashion, and they would be equipped with a large ceramic sink and a gas cooker.
Living rooms had chintz curtains and throws over a three piece suite. Rexine, the artificial leather developed in Hyde near Manchester, was soon a popular material for sofas and armchairs. Oak and mahogany tables were trendy, although the scarcity of timber meant that veneered plywood was more common. Upstairs in the master bedroom pink or peach eiderdowns covered the bed. Boxed-in baths and freestanding sinks signaled a change in the times, as the idea of a tin bath in front of the range was scrapped. 1930s interior doors were often painted a cream of eggshell to match the kitchen.
An era of empowerment for the masses
Although the wealthy hated the new suburban developments, for millions these homes meant there own life, with real ownership of property. The dream of one day owning your own home became a reality in the 1930s, and that can only have been a good thing for people. Unfortunately, many were not to last long, as the Blitz saw 2 million houses destroyed. A sobering fact, although the cartoonist and writer Osbert Lancaster felt it was ‘an eventuality that does much to reconcile one to the prospect of aerial bombardment’.
Much of the information in this article was taken from excerpts of Juliet Gardiner’s book, The Thirties: An Intimate History of Britain. You can read about the excerpt here.
If you enjoyed this blog post why not check out our infographic on Britain’s building ages.