During the Second World War huge numbers of houses were destroyed by enemy action and as early as 1944, Winston Churchill announced an EFM (Emergency Factory Made) housing programme.
In 1945 the new prime minister Clement Atlee began implementing the scheme and within six years some one million new ‘prefabs’ as they came to be known had been built – and I lived in one as a child.
In Bideford, even though there had been no bomb damage there was a huge unmet demand for good housing and so some 50 were built at Bowden Green and named the Grenville estate.
The rapidly assembled, prefabricated houses were simple but perfectly acceptable constructions and, unusually for the time, were ‘all electric’ with luxurious touches like fridges being available.
The first was opened in April 1946 by the Mayor WH Chubb, who was accompanied by councillors and some of the first tenants. All this was reported in the Gazette along with some photographs as shown here.
The buildings were only designed for a 10-year life span but residents grew to love them so much they didn’t want to leave and it wasn’t until July 1964 that the town council decided to demolish them.
This move immediately led to protests from the prefab dwellers – as shown in the attached cutting from the Gazette.
The tenants lost the battle, however, and their houses were removed and replaced by three-storey blocks of flats – which in their time have now been demolished and replaced by new accommodation!
A similar story was repeated in Barnstaple, which also got an estate of prefabs between Ashleigh and Oakleigh Roads which were much loved by their residents – with the last one only being demolished in 1990. Nothing ever stands still but one has to wonder if the concept of ‘prefabs’ should be revisited to help tackle the nation’s current housing shortage?