Why a 'modern' 1940s suburban house was a 1930s house
To understand the English 1940s house - ie a typical 'modern' suburban family home in the
1940s - you have to start in the 1930s.
This is because no home-building of any significance took place during the
Second World War or in the years of austerity which followed. So there is no
such thing as a typical newly-built 1940s house. In contrast, though, in the
years just before the Second World War, there was a boom in house-building.
It was on the outskirts of towns and cities and was in a fairly uniform
style which was the current norm. It created what became known as 'suburbs'
or 'suburban housing', ie road upon road of rows of houses which were identical
on any one estate, apart of course from minor titivations made by the occupiers.
So a modern 1940s suburban house
was essentially a 1930s one, adapted to meet the needs of the war with
bomb shelters, windows
against bomb blast, blackout material, etc., all of which are considered
elsewhere on this site. Of course many families were still living in older houses - for example
Victorian terraces and in even earlier accommodation.
Typical row of 1930s-built semi-detached English
suburban houses (Orpington Gardens, N18), photographed in the 1930s and
courtesy of Barry Hooper. Note that the houses are in blocks of two
which are mirror images of each other, with a side entrance in between.
The same houses exist today (2012) but there are no
verges with shrubs; no gas street lamps;
and no iron chains and railings
along the verges and in the front
gardens. (Chains and railings
were removed throughout the country during World War Two to make steel for the war effort.).
There is also no such thing as up-to-date 1940s furnishings because the
shops could not get stock to sell during the war or in the years of
My parents were
married in 1938. Their house in Edgware, at
9 Brook Avenue, was one of the new suburban houses
in the London suburbs, and its furnishings were either bought shortly after
they married or in the
first year of the war when shops still had 1930s stock; or they were hand-me-downs. I
was born in 1939, so my recollections are very much of the house in the
Being built in the late 1930s the house must have been among the most
modern of the 1930s and 1940s, which includes of course the years of World
The style and layout of the 1930s/1940s/1950s house
Essentially all the late 1930s-built suburban houses were in the same general
mirror image houses in one building, each described as semi-detached.
Ground plan of 9 Brook Avenue, Edgware, as it was in the late 1930s and
early 1940s, a fairly typical semi-detached house of the period. Scale is approximate.
Late 1940s or early 1950s plan showing the common addition of a garage in the
back garden, with access was along the shared side entrance.
The front door
opened into a hall from which there were stairs to the upper floor, two
doors to living rooms and at the end of the hall a door to the
the upper floor was a landing, two bedrooms above the two sitting rooms, a
small bedroom above the front part of the hall and a bathroom above the kitchen. Above
the upper floor was a sizeable loft with a floor-space equal to that of the upper
sizes of the rooms varied from one estate to another, and some
houses had chalet-style roofs which meant smaller loft areas and, in some
cases, one less bedroom.
were rounded bays; some were square bays and some had no bay, but all were single glazed in wooden frames and
consisted of several 'door' windows with smaller fanlight windows above.
I don't know how common it was to
have cavity outside walls. The outside walls of our house were
certainly built without a cavity, two bricks thick. So they were not insulated which made the house difficult to heat in winter.
Houses on a few less affluent estates were smaller and in blocks of three
or four, but they were of the same general pattern inside.
The side entrance
A major complaint about these houses was that they shared a side entrance
with the house next door. Children liked to play ball with their friends in their side entrances
which the houses next door found noisy.
After World War Two when cars started coming back on the roads, there was
another annoyance. The side entrances were wide enough to take a car but of
course only half the width belonged to each house. So if one household's car
was left off the road in a side entrance, the other household complained.
In the late 1940s and 1950s, this led to garages being built in back gardens, with the side entrances
being used merely as shared drive-ways. The gardens were small and the
garages did rather dominate. Ours was a cheap asbestos affair which my mother camouflaged with runner beans and then, later when austerity bit less,
with climbing flowering plants.
Home ownership and costs
A feature of these 1930s/1940s houses, compared with their predecessors, the
Victorian terraced houses was
that they were typically owned by the occupants rather than rented. (There must have been exceptions, but this was the rule.)
My grandparents apparently warned my father that he was taking on too
much by going for home ownership. They pointed out that he was tying
himself to some 20 or more years of mortgage repayments and that anything
that went wrong in the house would have to be paid for out of his own
pocket. It did not deter him. Elsewhere on this website are several pages on
household costs - see the cost of a 1930s house
and links from its side menu.
Fortunately the building society in Edgware, and probably all building
societies elsewhere in the country,
suspended requirements for mortgage repayments during the war. This was
crucially important as men away in the forces would not have been able to afford the
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.