Palaces for the people

Elisabeth Blanchet
photographs & text



After the second world war, 150 000 prefabricated homes were built in the most airstriked towns in the UK. Focussed on homeless families with young children, these “palaces for the people” (as they were called at the time) were synonymous not only with comfort and luxury but also freedom. The war led thousands of young couples to live with their in-laws or to rent a room in a boarding house.
Having one’s “home sweet home” was the dream of a generation. All working-class people, the prefabs’ residents shared the same age and the same choice of entertainment.
In the prefabs estates, a strong community spirit could be found, emphasised by the post-war atmosphere: everything was to be rebuilt.
Thought to be a temporary solution to the housing crisis, the prefabricated houses were supposed to last only ten years. But sixty years later, hundreds of these are still lived in.
From South London to Newport (Wales) via the suburbs of Birmingham, I met some of the last residents. And everywhere I heard the same story: “for no reason any of us would ever leave his prefab”.


However, the word “prefab” can sound negative to the man in the street: temporary, waiting for something better. But all the prefabs residents I met told me they already had the best: a small house whose concept was faraway from the traditional red bricks houses. The prefab is detached, rooms are bright and comfortable, with no staircase and is surrounded by a large garden.
The prefabs residents have been struggling for years to save their bungalows from destruction. Prefabs are local authorities regular targets: the prices of lands are getting higher and higher and renting a prefab to an elderly tenant does not seem to be lucrative enough. Time and money will win over these old prefabs and their aging residents eventually.
Going from prefab to prefab, I met amazing and touching people. I mostly found aged people settled in their bungalow for decades. Their past is displayed through their home. I wished to tell a little bit of their story before none of these is left.

Elisabeth Blanchet
January 2003


© Elisabeth Blanchet
Hollywood in the heart of Catford, South London. Among the 180 prefabs built after WWII,
the 153 remaining are well worth a visit.

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  Elisabeth Blanchet

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