From slums to suburbs: Britain’s council house revolution

A century ago, the government triggered a massive housebuilding programme aimed at freeing Britons from the scourges of rats, damp, poor sanitation… and Bolshevism. Historian Eugene Byrne chronicles Britain’s council house revolution

Families in a London slum, c1900

In the middle of the Sea Mills estate on the edge of Bristol there is an open green space generally known as Sea Mills Square, though it is actually a semi-circle. It was here, on 4 June 1919, that Dr Christopher Addison, president of the Local Government Board and the architect of the 1919 Housing and Town Planning Act, formally inaugurated Bristol’s council house building scheme. A large crowd looked on.

Cutting the first sod, Dr Addison said he could not imagine a more glorious location for housing than Sea Mills, a greenfield site close to the upmarket suburbs of Sneyd Park and Stoke Bishop. Addison proclaimed himself happy that the famous and ancient city of Bristol was now at the forefront of the nation’s great postwar drive to create new homes. Around the square, tidy red-brick houses, which are still there today, would be built in the coming years.

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