In November 1918, the Prime Minister David Lloyd George stated that Britain should build 'homes fit for heroes'. Parliament decided to make local councils responsible for providing new housing.
In 1919 Leicester City Corporation had 1,455 people needing a house and began building houses on the Coleman Road Estate in North Evington and the Tailby Estate in West Humberstone. By October 1924, 746 houses had been built on these estates.
In 1924 building started on the Park Estate, now known as the Saffron Lane Estate. 1,000 houses made from concrete were built on the estate and 500 were built on the Braunstone Estate. They were called 'Boot' houses after the building company Henry Boot which built many council houses across the country. The concrete Boot houses were quicker to build than standard brick houses. They weren't cheaper to build to than standard houses, costing £465 per house compared to £395 for a brick house, but needed less skilled labour. There was a severe shortage of skilled labour to build the new council houses. During this time, it was estimated that only 140 construction workers out of a total of 4500 in the city were building council houses.
In 1925 the Corporation brought the 1,200-acre Braunstone Estate. The plan was to build 1,200 houses on the site. The estate was carefully planned in the Garden Suburb style; where there were wide streets with trees, open spaces and grass verges. The houses had gardens and were very light; bungalows were provided for elderly people.
One of the early estates to be built was Braunstone. Seen here is Meadwell Road
The £299 Council House
In 1922 Leicester based architect Arthur Wakerley designed the £299 house as a response to the housing shortage after the First World War. Wakerley's innovative design of sharing services between two semi-detached houses including, chimney stacks, roof ridges, water and gas pipes, meant that the cost of construction was only £299 as compared to £433 for standard houses.
Examples of Wakerley's innovative houses can be found all over the City. There is a particularly good example on Linton Street where the houses externally remain little changed and are Grade 2 listed buildings.
A £299 Wakerley designed house on Linton Street. These are in original condition
During the 1930s large areas of 'slum housing' were demolished in the City Centre particularly around the St Margaret's area. In 1936 building started on the North Braunstone estate. Many people were re-located to the estate from St Margaret's parish.
People who moved onto the North Braunstone estate had to have their furniture and bedding fumigated. Before they moved into their new house the City Corporation would take away their furniture and spray it with prussic acid which left a bitter almond smell. The furniture was fumigated to stop the spread of infection although the practice created a stigma of 'problem families'. These families were thought by other people on the estate to be bringing in dirt and disease.
A shared yard in Eaton Square which was off Upper Brown Street, c.1950
The 'Prefab' Houses
After the Second World War the demand for council housing increased dramatically. 10,000 homes were needed for ex-soldiers and their families. A quick solution was the building of temporary pre-fabricated (prefabs) houses. In 1946 the Corporation began erecting the prefabs. They were referred to as 'Little wooden huts' and 'Civvy Nissans' were erected on the Hinckley Road, Aikman Avenue, New Parks Estate, Ambassador Road (Evington) and Hughenden Drive (Aylestone). A total of 570, two bedroom, prefabs were built and were predicted to last for 10 years.
The prefabs were very popular with tenants. In an article in the Leicester Mercury a tenant from New Parks said "it has all the amenities you could want. Indeed, the bungalows are well designed with two bedrooms, a living room, a large kitchen and a separate bathroom and lavatory".
By 1970 the high cost of maintaining the prefabs led the Corporation to lead a programme of demolishing the houses. They had exceeded their predicted lifespan by nearly 15 years. Tenants were sad to leave these practical and well-loved properties.
The Right to Buy
In the Housing Act 1980 council tenant's in England and Wales were given the legal right to purchase their council house if they had been a council tenant for 3 or more years. The scheme offered a discount on the market value of the house. The discount started at 33% (for 3 years tenancy) and went up to a maximum of 50%. Right to Buy applicants were able to apply for mortgages to buy their houses. 9 out 10 Right to Buy purchases were funded with mortgages. By 1987 more than 1,000,000 council houses across the UK had been brought by their tenants.
The Right to Buy scheme still exists in England (it has been abolished in Wales and Scotland). Council tenants of 3 years or more standing can apply to purchase their houses.
Demolition of Boot houses in Braunstone, 1987
Demolition of the Boot Houses
The concrete 'Boot' houses on the Saffron Lane and Braunstone Estates in the early years of their construction developed issues with damp but lasted many years; however, by the 1980s the houses were showing signs of serious structural problems. This was caused by corrosion of the metal reinforcements in the concrete frames and deterioration of the materials that were used to bind the concrete.
In 1983 the Council took the decision to replace the Boot houses. The policy for replacement was 'one down, one up'. So as one Boot house was demolished a new house would be built in its place. By June 1989 500 Boot houses had been demolished and replaced. In June 1997 the remaining 972 Boot houses were demolished.
Council Housing Today
Today, there are 20,303 council houses across the City. In 2019 phase 1 begins to build 29 new council homes in the Evington, Humberstone & Hamilton, Abbey and Thurncroft wards. The council is also working on phase 2 plans to build over 370 council houses units by 2023.