Volume 9 - Kenton Hamlet and District

R S Brown, 1979

page 40, 41, 42


In the Introduction on page 5 of this volume a brief explanation was given as to the reasons for the huge suburban expansion which occurred in such areas as Kenton, viz - a larger force of white collar workers in employment, improved salaries, extension of the railway system and so on.  These are themes upon which we have deliberated on previous occasions in this series but as Kenton is such a typical example of population explosion - where not much more than half a century ago a mere handful of country families lived we propose to proceed in somewhat greater depth to reveal the real, underlying causes which brought about this enormous social upheaval it was almost entirely of financial origin.

After the end of the first world war, men were demobilised from the armed forces only to find when they returned home that there was a serious shortage of unskilled employment, due to the low output of the staple industries for the overseas market.  This in turn was because of a post-war, worldwide depression which continued and worsened throughout the 1920's and into the early 'thirties: by 1932 the dole queue had risen from 1.3 million to over 3 million.

London was however, fortunate in that it escaped the worst effects of the depression.  Suburban expansion began in a small way from about 1923 and by l929 the annual erection of houses in Greater London had reached 34,000 with Harrow, Wembley and Hendon attracting the largest share of residential expansion.  In the country generally private builders were unable to achieve a similar result due to the high cost of materials, inflated interest rates and a low level of investment.  (In the late 1970's a dangerous parallel to this situation is being repeated).

From about 1926 the cost of building began to decline and - following a temporary reversal in 1929/30, building societies began to make tempting loan offers in an effort to encourage house-buying.  By 1932 interest rates had dropped to a more reasonable level and the government added encouragement to home-buying with cheap-money policies and the provision of capital for new projects - all of which had a beneficial effect upon wage levels.  Conditions were now ripe for an improvement in residential investment which increased by 30% during 1932/33.

The economic position continued to improve into 1934 with an increase in bank deposits which enabled more loans to be offered for housing development.

A labour force from the provinces - and from Ireland - was now pouring into London where work was plentiful while the railways were busily extending lines and building new stations in the swiftly growing suburbs.

In the ten years prior to the beginning of the second world war a staggering three-quarters of a million houses had been built in the Greater London area - 80% by private enterprise.  Nearly a million and a half people moved into the suburbs between the wars.

Many thousands of Londoners had been reared in antiquated, gas-lit terraced houses and hordes of them joined the rush to the suburbs to buy the lower grade, semi-detached properties which speculative builders were offering.  Kenton had its share of this end of the market.

Despite the fact that numerous building firms of good reputation entered the market - including Costain, Crouch, Davis, Laing, Nash, New Ideal Homesteads, Taylor-Woodrow, Wates and Wimpey - a definite constructional pattern developed.  To start with most popular houses were priced below a thousand pounds (mainly in the 550-850 bracket) but some builders who concentrated on expensive units quickly went bankrupt.

Dozens of smaller builders joined in the bonanza but their system was to sub-contract the internal work to self-employed craftsmen (such as electricians, plumbers, plasterers, carpenters and decorators) after bricklayers had erected the shells of buildings.  Nine inch brick walls were standard until builders like Costain and Laing introduced competitively priced houses with eleven inch cavity walls.

The old Edwardian terraced houses presented a distinct fire hazard with their wooden partition walls but new by-laws prevented such arrangements between the wars and inexpensive bricks or coke breeze blocks were used for non-load bearing walls.  A ventilated air-space beneath floors was another new requirement under local by-laws: the latter were largely constructed of imported pine but block or parquet floors were often used in houses nearer the 1,000 level.

Cheap wood was often used on roofs, without boarding or felting material beneath the tiles to effect economies; but Wimpey and Laings made close boarded roofs a feature of their sales campaigns.  Bay windows were frequently installed with wood or steel frames and sometimes leaded lights but the rooms behind them were often small with low ceilings.  Tiled or partly-tiled bathrooms and kitchens were always supplied but water was heated by a back boiler behind the living room fireplace or an anthracite stove in the kitchen.  The two largest bedrooms invariably had fireplaces but electric wall fires became an added economy in the later 1930's.  The 3rd bedroom was of box-room dimensions.  Kitchen fittings included a cabinet, larder and sink cupboard but washing machines and refrigerators were entirely absent from the utilities.

The greatest modern conveniences for many new house-holders were the fitted bath and flushing toilet - unheard of luxuries for people who had spent their earlier lives in ancient properties using tin baths on the kitchen mat and non-flushing toilet facilities in a wooden hut at the bottom of an unkempt patch of ground.

A small entrance hall was another advantage for residents whose front door had previously opened directly into the 'parlour'.  Gardens were another innovation in suburbia, replacing the drab yards of some town properties.  Garage space was not yet absolutely essential and many 'semi's' had shared side entrances.

Gone was any provision for servants quarters: domestic help had already become very difficult to find in the 1930's: young girls preferred to work in factories, shops or offices.  Thus the term, 'labour saving' became an important catch-phrase to the housewife.  It has not generally expected at this time that the wife should also been gainfully employed; vacancies for married women were in fact somewhat limited.

Bus services on new building estates were infrequent or non-existent and small shopping centres supplementing the main town complex became a necessary nature of isolated suburban communities.  The essential trades were usually catered for including the butcher, baker, grocer, greengrocer, dairy man and newsagent.  Nowadays such parades often include an estate agent, launderette, off-license, electrical supplier, chemist and sub-post office.

In 1979 the modest suburban dwellings about which we have written on the previous page can, in north west London, command an asking price in the range of 25,000 to 35,000.

Inflation - or insanity......

Readers' Letters

Following are a few brief extracts from the many letters of appreciation received following the publication of each volume in this series:

"I look forward to reading volume 8 and reminiscing with my wife...
R. Kidd, Maidstone, Kent.

"Congratulations on producing yet another volume which I have read with much interest."
R.D.Curry, Hove, East Sussex.

"Thank you for the Edgware history ...I found it most fascinating..."
H. Ward, Stanmore, Middlesex.

"I hope to take a walk with your Edgware book as a companion when the weather improves."
Miss J. Rudkin, Harrow, Middlesex.

"I am delighted that you have kept my name on your mailing list....'.
S.E. Vincett, Bexhill on Sea, Sussex E.

"Thank you for number 8 - magnificent as ever.  Quite new ground for me and I look forward to exploring with its aid when Spring comes."
J.S. Golland, Pinner, Middlesex.

"The volumes have made very interesting reading; brings back memories and I only wish they were present moments instead of past ones."
Mrs G.F. Butterfield, Isle of Wight.

"I thought volume 8 was excellent and I hope that it enjoys wide support."
G.E. Newson, Eastbourne, Sussex.

''We get a lot of pleasure in reading about Harrow where we lived for so many years."
R.J. Matthews, Bognor Regis, Sussex W.

"I read volume 8 with great interest and we are particularly looking forward to the next volume on Kenton....'
J.M. Smith, Stratford-upon Avon, Warws.