In 1954 I passed the eleven plus exam, a bundle of tests which, according to Tory MP David Davis “rescued a generation of underprivileged children”. Even at this tender age we all in our last year at Fryent Junior understood the what was going on, and many feared the consequences of failure. I can’t remember much about the tests themselves, and I was surprised that I passed, as I suspect did my parents.
I know my Mum and Dad were pleased, especially as I had missed best part of a year’s schooling when I nearly lost my eyesight when I was eight. I learned later that for Dad, Grammar School entrance was a pretty big deal as he had always resented having been denied the opportunity himself in favour of one of his three brothers.
I remember the impact of my attainment on my Dad’s meagre wage packet, which immediately arose from the need to kit me out with an expensive uniform, only obtainable from a posh tailors shop in Golders Green which enjoyed a monopoly supplier arrangement with Kingsbury County Grammar, the school in London NW9 which the local education authority had selected for me. Continue reading →
My earliest memory is really an image in my head. It could only have been seen by me – the mental equivalent of a point-of-view shot in a film. I see the world through some kind of netting. Two faces appear and the netting is pulled aside. The faces of two young girls appear, one blonde, the other brunette. That’s it – just a brief flashback, but I am convinced I have not made it up or been told about it. What is odd is that I must have been no more than two years old.
I think I once mentioned this to my mother, who probably thought it was just another of my silly fantasies, but when I later learned about the circumstances of my infancy, I became convinced that the faces belonged to my cousins Pamela and Barbara. My Auntie Joan, the only person whom I have trusted to tell the truth about those difficult times, confirmed this theory years later.
So the UK government has rediscovered prefabs! Well done – better late than never I guess. Anyone who had the privilege of growing up on one of Churchill’s post war prefab estates and has lived long enough to tell the tale could have told our leaders at any time since the sixties that prefabs have the potential to transform our endemic housing problem and even help banish enforced homelessness.
Perhaps the government has been influenced not so much by the opinions of the diminishing number of people who, like me, experienced prefab life in post-war Britain, but by more recent and newsworthy examples of successful prefabricated housing interventions elsewhere, in response to chronic housing problems and international emergencies such as the 2011 Tsunami. For instance, since the only home to remain standing in one devastated Japanese village was a prefab made in the Philippines, business has apparently been booming:
I wrote this article for the Cottage Museum in Woodhall Spa, where an exhibition about prefab life opened this week. I now know that the thousands of prefabricated houses which sprang up after the second world war were Churchill’s response to the housing shortage caused by that war, but all I knew at the time was that something exciting was afoot.
Until 1947, when I was four, we were a family of four living with two of my mum’s half-sisters and their families in a rented house in Stonebridge Park, near Wembley. It seems we qualified to be rehoused on a prefab estate being constructed under Churchill’s scheme, probably because of the overcrowding and the fact that my dad was a returning serviceman.
Memories are elusive, and it’s difficult to disentangle genuine recollections from received accounts, mainly from my parents and other relatives. However, I am fairly certain that an image I have always had in my head of jumping in and out of frozen ruts in a muddy field must have been something to do either with visiting the site of our new home before it was constructed, or perhaps later, after we had moved in. This fits with the records of the terrible winter of 1947. Continue reading →