No promised land for our war heroes

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“Homes Fit for Heroes” was a famous post-Great War slogan; but men returning exhausted by the conflict did not find the promised homes. There was a shortage of decent housing before and after WWI and many poor families were living in appalling conditions. The history of local authority provided homes began as early as 1889, with the Local Government Act, but the most important measure was the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919. The first houses to be built in Hastings under this scheme were at Barley Lane, All Saints Crescent and Silverhill. They were attractive and well-designed; they had coal fires with back boilers to provide hot water. Houses constructed in the 1920s/30s at Red Lake, Halton, the Bembrook area and Hollington were in the style that came to epitomise council houses nationwide. Locally, the greatest number of these were built at Hollington, which was at that time still mainly rural. In 1924 a so-called garden city was planned; 86 houses in pairs, each to have a large plot of garden front and rear. Included in the scheme was a children’s play area and open spaces with trees and seating. In 1931Mayor Omerod laid the foundation stone for the 500th council house to be built in the town since 1920. At the ceremony it was announced that the council had approved a five year plan for 108 houses to be built on the Hollington site and construction was already underway, giving work to the local unemployed. The economic rent for the houses would be eighteen shilling and sixpence but there but there would be a 50 per cent subsidy for the poorest families. Before WWII less conventional homes were built at Fellows Road. These were experimental prefabricated structures made of steel, which gave the area its nick-name - Tin Town. These properties were not popular, tenants complaining that they were hot in summer and cold in winter. After WWII council house building began again in Lewis Road, Bristol Road and Rock Lane, a few of these were known as Apprentice Houses, as they were built under a government funded scheme to encourage apprentices to the trade. Hastings was also allocated 80 of the post-WWII prefabricated houses. By the end of October 1947 the aluminium “prefabs” were being erected in Coventry Road at the rate of one per hour. These temporary bungalows, incorporating such luxuries as fridges and solid fuel stoves, had a predicted lifespan of 5 to 10 years but stood on the site for 15, by which time the cast iron sewage pipes had rotted away and water was running through holes in the ground. Work throughout the summer of 1947 on the general building of houses in Hastings had been delayed by union disputes. At that time there were 1,864 families on the Hastings and St Leonards housing waiting list. As a stop-gap many local families shared accommodation with other homeless in requisitioned buildings, living in the faded splendour of once-gracious Victorian villas. Further Reading: Hastings Bygones published by Hastings Local History Group, Social Housing in Hastings by Mary Roberts. Available, price £5.00 from the History House Courthouse Street Old Town.