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Banishing London’s slums: the inter-war cottage estates

J A Yelling

 Between the First and Second World Wars the London County Council (LCC) divided its property into ‘cottage estates’ and ‘block dwellings’. Block dwellings – inner-city apartment blocks – were generally a direct replacement for earlier dwellings which had been demolished for slum clearance or street improvements. Cottage estates were mostly in the suburbs and were a means of providing additional housing, reducing rents and alleviating overcrowding. This paper examines the political background to the LCC housing programme, at both local and national level, and argues that although it was not their primary purpose, the cottage estates nevertheless played a major part in banishing London’s slums.

Two notable features of the LCC cottage estate programme were the very large scale of individual estates and the degree of concentration on a small number of sites. Becontree, by far the largest, had a population of over 100,000 in 1938. LCC records from the 1930s provide important information about the social status and origins of the tenants on the estates. In particular, they indicate that prior to moving, many families had lived in conditions with a higher number of persons per room than had their contemporaries moving to block dwellings; also that they were drawn from the same parts of Inner London as were the block estate tenants. This seems to confirm the importance of the cottage estates in the process of slum clearance.

[Transactions 46 (1995), 167 – 74; abstract by Francis Grew, 2-Oct-97]

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