Shoreditch Park Project

Exploring the recent history of a neighbourhood of factory built prefabricated homes, and the design of daily life in east London.

"It was ever so poor, when we was young. Very poor, wasn't it? Our mothers used to come out shopping every single day, because not like today, you can go in and fill your basket, you couldn't do that, your money didn't go to that. That money was every week lotted out each day, It was life."

"...its geographical location is accidentally based on what was dropped from above. It's not where you would put a park ideally..."

Josh: How long have you guys lived in the area?

Sarah: All our lives. I was born in a street down there called Drysdale Street. And that's where I was born down there, and I only live opposite now. I haven't moved far.

Dustin: How, how has the neighbourhood changed over the years?

Lucy: Oh I think it's beyond description, really, innit?

Sarah: It was ever so poor, when we was young. Very poor, wasn't it? Our mothers used to come out shopping every single day, because not like today, you can go in and fill your basket, you couldn't do that, your money didn't go to that. That money was every week lotted out each day, It was life.

Lucy: [laughs]

Sarah: And then of course the war came along and ruined everything.

"The City Of London had its first concentrated aerial bombardment, the first of many which were to continue for the next four and a half years. One third of the City's Square Mile was destroyed, much of it by fire, which raged through the narrow streets and courts which intersected the City."

Josh: Do you have any memories of this park, um, before-?

Perry: I used to play in it when I was a kid, this was a bombed ruin. These were ruins, this wasn't here, this park has only been here, I dunno, twenty years maybe. Before that it was, it was just - there was a road going through the middle and a road going along the side and then there was a wall all the way round it, and you looked over the wall and it was about a ten foot drop to ruins where they pulled all the houses down from the bombings from the war. We used to play int he rubble, build bonfires every year. There was a lot of prefabs made out of asbestos, so they had to pull them down, once they found asbestos

Josh: Oh really, what were the prefabs like?

Perry: They were just like, er, little bungalows, just like, obviously just whacked up quickly after the war for people to stay.

Josh: Do you know anything about Shoredicth Park and the prefab homes that used to be there?

Julian: Erm, I've seen pictures of them, and I was involved with the consultation on how the park might be redeveloped. Its, its geographical location is accidentally based on what was dropped from above. It's not where you would put a park ideally, it's too much on the edge of Hoxton and the Shepherdess Walk area, if you like. And I was very keen that the north-south track of the road should be maintained through the park, as, if you like, as a memory of that time, when prefabs were there.

prefab homes in shoreditch park

"Tell me, what is prefabrication exactly? "

"Well of course a lot of people confuse it with gerry building, but it's very far from the truth,"

"Yes,"

"The only way it differs from a normal house is that the component parts are built in the factory, and sent to the site for erection-"

"I see,"

"Whereas the normal house is usually completely built on the site. Well naturally you can see all the advantages of prefabrication. The factory is already geared for mass production, and able to turn out the parts a lot quicker than those built on the individual sites."

[music]

"Wall sections are insulated even before the sheathing is added. They've devised hundreds of such methods of eliminating waste of time, labour and materials. The company operates like this through most of the year, turning out the components of a whole house every seven minutes."

food ration book

[music]

"Hmm it's very interesting. You know, I'd like to see one of these for myself."

"Well, why not go to the experimental site and see the first of these permanent houses?"

"Ah yes, I'd like to"

"Take your girlfriend too, she may offer some advice"

"It's about all she's offered me. May I?"

"Certainly, go ahead"

"I'd like to put a call through to London please."

[phone rings]

utility chairs

Elisabeth: They appointed different companies to do them, the prefabs here. Er, but all of them had to have the same heart unit, you call it, so the same er fitted kitchen, the kitchen fitted the same way. And the other interesting thing is the, what they call the utility furniture. So it's the same - people had ration tickets, they were rationed for a long time after the war, they had tickets for food and they had tickets for furniture. So you got the same sort of furniture in prefabs - chairs, tables - someone called, the designer was called Gordon Russell, I think, it's called utility furniture. So I found it fascinating, it's very close to a sort of socialism, of communism, you know everybody's got kind of the same level, you know, you've got your tickets, you get the same food, you get the same, um, clothes, you get the same furniture. One very important thing, it created all those little prefabs put together created communities, erm, with young children, so the children played together, the parents, you know, socialised together, they've got similar houses, so they will try to do nice, their garden nice, so the neighbour is going to do the same, and they're going to grow some vegetables, and they're going to make like competition with their garden, get some [??]. So there's all this community thing which I found interesting, not only from the background for people were coming from, but also by the way um estates were designed, the layout of the estate is very interesting as well.

"They were nicknamed castles or palaces for working class people."

Post-war prefabricated house at the Excalibur Estate

First impression you've got, it's cosy, you've got a lot of light. You know, especially in this country where people were used to living in slums really. I heard stories like, there were seven in the same room, and you had outside toilets. And then suddenly they've got this kind of square, rectangle house, very well designed. They were nicknamed castles or palaces for working class people.

Sarah: the prefabs, we would have all liked one. Cos what, they had better amenities. They even had an ironing board that come out the wall to come down to do your ironing on, and then it went back into the wall! And the people that did live em, live in them, when they was going to be taken all away, they all got up, especially over Bethnal Green, they wouldn't move! they boarded it all up, they wouldn't have touch em, because they all had little gardens all round as well. They was all growing little bits of vegetables and flowers - the women was doing the flowers, the men ha

Irene: Yeah, well, our prefabs were the first one - the first lot to go up after the war, because our house got bombed. You didn't have to lock none of your doors or your windows and you could just go out and leave it and you know, all the people were all friendly and everybody knew everybody else, not like these days, I mean half of em. Where I live now in a block of flats, I don't know most of them!

Irene sitting in the park, lived in a prefab

Dustin: Who did you live with?

Irene: Me mum and me dad and me young brother. I remember taking him out in the pushchair to one of the shops in Pitfield Street, used to be all shops along there. And, er, I left him, I got back home and I'd left him outside the shop! [laughs]. My mum said, "Where's Alan?", I said "outside", she said "he's not"! I'd been shopping for her and left him out there. Forgot all about it. He was in the pram [laughs]. I said, you couldn't do that these days, you, somebody would walk off with them, wouldn't they?

"Children are completely safe. There are playgrounds specially for them, and all the courts are traffic free. They can be compared to individual pieces in a vast and highly complex jigsaw puzzle, which, when finished, will eventually make up the complete picture".

tower block

Eddie: To find a bathroom inside was magic. Just put a switch on, and you had hot water, constant hot water It was luxury. I wouldn't swap my prefab for Buckingham Palace, even if they included the Queen.

Josh: So have you seen the neighbourhood change a lot in the last twenty five years?

Julian: I've see - yes. One of the reliefs is that it hasn't changed as much as, erm, Broadway Market or parts of Islington. Because the anchorage of the community with the public housing underpinning it, is very, erm, means you have an unmobile population, which is good for building a community. And so, three generations since the war have grown up here, and you see that's evident in the street. Er, I mean there are 55 languages spoken in the street, so, erm, you know, we have an incoming population of great variety and interest and so on. But thank goodness we haven't become middle class.

"I think it would be a good idea for... homelessness to make prefabs again."

Irene: I think it would be a good idea for people that know a lot of homelessness to make prefabs again. And oh I tell you another thing that, erm, upsets me really - that people that lived in the flats and they was able to buy, you know we was talking about Mrs Thatcher, giving people their rights to buy their own flats, that's broke up communities. So I think it's about, out of my block, there might be five people left that I know - all the rest are strangers. I just wish people would get to know one another a bit more.

rent strike!

Charlotte: What I don't get is how we talk about how expensive London is, but none ever stops to sort of say, it's actually not right that we, everyone charges this much rent. Honestly, I think, like, there needs to be some sort of erm, legal, statutory enforcement on rents, like, it just. I mean, I'm a, I'd be considered a fairly well paid professional, yet I still struggle to pay rent in London. Like how on earth do most people, who earn the national average, survive? You know, how do people who are coming here to work on £6.50, like, where is the sense of needing to help them come into the city, like, it just, nothing's done, people are just left to kind of, eke it out

Josh: Do you guys remember the Shoreditch Park and the prefab homes that used to be -

Sylvia (Mrs Harvey): Yeah I lived in one

Mr Harvey: Yeah she used to live on there!

Josh: Did you!

Sylvia: We moved in there when I was 8. So it goes a long way [laughs]

Mr Harvey H: Yeah, going back a long way [laughs]

S: Oh it was lovely. I loved living in a prefab, I'd have one of those today if I could have one, really would, I loved it, yeah. You had the Gainsborough Studios just up the, as I lived on the third one, coming from New North Road coming down I was in the last one, Gainsborough Studios was halfway down, and when they used to shout so and so is coming today, we'd all go and sit up there, wait for the film stars to come.

Josh: Wow!

Sylvia: Yeah it was good.

Mr Harvey: -Alfred Hitchcock?

Sylvia: James Mason was one of the most rudest ones I knew out of all of them.

Josh: Really?

hoxton street market 1930s

Sylvia: Mmm. You know like, when you're kids, "can we have your autograph?" "ugh, go away" [laughs]

"Loving and hating with deadly passion"

"You don't know what it feels like to be strangled, do you, my lady?"

"You wouldn't!"

[music]

Sarah: I've got to say, we don't go without today. We're better off, money-wise, aren't we?

hoxton street market 1930s

Lucy: Oh yeah, yeah

S: I mean, we go and get our pension every week.

L: But this market used to be pretty full all the week -

S: Oh, every day -

L:- didn't it? with all the different stalls

S: - people came down and got their shopping

hoxton street veggies

L: But there's no, nothing here now other than the couple of supermarkets and that

S: That's right

L: And do you know who I was just thinking of, do you remember Mrs Brown, in -?

S: Yeah

L: She used to have what , they used to call her the rabbit lady

S: Yeah, the rabbits

L: Cos her stall was out every day

S: There was a lot of stalls with food on it. Pigs tails!

L: That's it.

S: And you know what, there used to be a pub, just, just on the c- where the library is, and that's where her stall was, opposite the library there.

L: Yeah

S: And they used to go in and have a Guinness -

L: [laughs]

S: - and you'd be standing outside with a pig's tail in your hand, eating a pig's-

L: Pigs' trotters!

S: And trotters! Pigs trotters!

J: [laughs]

L: The tail [??]

S: And my brother'd come along and say where'd you get that from, and he'd break it off, he'd walk off with the last bit of the tail, you know, whatever it was! [laughs] Well I can't tell you any more, I want to go home and get my vegetables until I overcook my dinner