Looking back on the history of a housing movement
From Aneurin Bevan to i2i, Wales has led the way in campaigning for social housing and its related community benefits. Our latest blog, to mark #housingday, is from Stephen Kay who has just published a new book ‘Homes for Welsh Workers’. He argues that it is important to remember the history of the Welsh housing movement, a history which housing professionals, campaigners and tenants can be proud of.
If Wednesday’s Housing Day is about tenants and social housing in Wales, my just published book “Homes for Welsh Workers” is about its history. The explosion in the population of Wales from 1800, caused housing problems which some say have still not been resolved. Faced with these pressures, some industrialists sought to create not only industry and employment, but a good standard of life for those who came to work for them and increasing the supply of affordable, quality housing was key to achieving this goal.
Legislation from the 1880s up to the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909 tried to improve housing. At the same time, the emergence of a new approach to design and layout intended to improve the environment and establish communities produced the Garden City Movement. This greatly reduced housing density, with the appearance of houses owing more to the Arts and Crafts movement than the typical Valleys terrace. If Hampstead is the most famous garden village, and Rhiwbina [Cardiff], the best known one in Wales, what I try to reveal in my book is the wide range of other housing developments and innovations. As well as Wrexham and Llay in the North, Ebbw Vale and Oakdale in the South, there are many others scattered across Wales.
A number of organisations were set up to meet the housing needs of the population. The longest lasting and most successful, was the Welsh Town Planning and Housing Trust, “to develop estates on town planning lines and to provide homes with gardens in industrial and rural districts.” These co-partnership schemes were supported by enlightened employers and investors, and included tenants on the board.
Prominent Welsh people were involved in attempts to improve housing. The chair of the WTPHT was David Davies, he and his sisters were famous for their philanthropy. His position on the board of the Great Western Railway led to Welsh influence spreading well over the border. The WTPHT ran large schemes in West London from their office in Cathedral Rd in Cardiff.
Some local authorities began to improve housing well before 1914, most notable was Swansea, establishing a housing committee in 1901, and in 1910 holding the South Wales Cottage Exhibition. This built and displayed a variety of houses at what would later become Mayhill.
Inevitably, exactly a century ago, many plans and projects were disrupted because of the Great War. Housing improvements resulted as garden villages were built for workers in war-related industries; for the shipyard at Chepstow or the TNT factory at Burry Port. During the great depression, the Welsh Land Settlement Society tried to create self supporting rural schemes for unemployed miners, but few were built.
“Homes for Welsh Workers” gives details of no less than 65 neighbourhoods and schemes providing homes for Welsh workers, some large and well known, some very small and previously scarcely heard of. It is important to draw attention to what was achieved in Wales, the personalities, architects, planners, philanthropic employers who worked towards improving housing conditions and supply, to understand how a shared goal and collaboration resulted in great housing achievements. Visiting the communities detailed can give very different views. Some have been submerged by subsequent developments whilst others remain original and perfect. Morris Castle is a gaunt ruin, Pontywaun a spectacular Arts and Crafts settlement, Fferm Goch land settlement houses round a green. All contribute to a picture of Welsh historical social housing, a legacy we can be proud of.
Find out more
- “Homes for Welsh Workers” by Stephen Kay was published by
325 Press in October 2014 and can be ordered from http://dreadnoughtbooks.co.uk/ for £10.
ISBN no. 9780956316011