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Page last updated at 14:34 GMT, Tuesday, 28 July 2009 15:34 UK
Prefab houses still going strong
Prefab house in Chelmsford
Ash Tree Close was built to help alleviate the housing shortage in 1948

A cluster of Chelmsford prefab houses designed to last for just 10 years are still standing tall after six decades.

Close to 100 homes were built in and around Beeches Road between 1948 and 1950 to cope with the housing shortage.

Each of the 'BL8' homes are identical in layout, with each semi-detached building mirroring the other and only three in the town are detached.

Made almost entirely of aluminium, the rust-proof structures have more than outlasted their intended purpose.

Each have three bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and bathroom/toilet. Unlike many new-builds, the rooms are very spacious and all the bedrooms are capable of taking a double bed.

They also have a decent sized garden at both the front and rear.

Prebricated house in Chelmsford
All but three of the houses in the development are semi-detached

Old aluminium stock

Various types of short-term prefabricated houses were built in Britain following the cessation of hostilities, some of them using concrete blocks or asbestos.

However, the ones in this part of Chelmsford used aluminium stock that had originally been set aside for the war effort.

"It was a policy of the British government to request aluminium items, so anything made of aluminium that was 'give-able' to them was collected in and sent to the United States," said resident Peter Middleton.

"These items were all smelted down and produced as sheet metal which was sent back to England to produce aeroplanes."

One of the company's that used the aluminium for aeronautical purposes was the Hawker Sidley Group, and after the war they also took on the task of using it for houses.

They were originally intended to last for about 10 years and then be scrapped and for new housing to be built after that in masonry
Peter Middleton, prefab owner

"They gave them instructions and diagrams and created these bungalows in sectional form, in six-foot modules that were hoisted into position and bolted together with nuts and bolts," said Peter.

"However, there were insufficient numbers of people to erect them. But Norway, who were neutral during the war, had lots of men spare and were well-versed in building chalets.

"So men from that country came to England and went around in groups erecting them as fast as they could."

Remarkable durability

Peter and his wife Pamela have lived in their house for over three years, and the property has been associated with his family since the mid-fifties.

Because the houses are not-listed, owners are not restricted, within reason, in what they can do to the buildings and Peter is currently doing a lot of renovation work to bring it up to a more modern standard.

Side of a prefab house
The aluminium was sourced from household items

That said, he believes there are very few down-sides to living in one, compared to a more 'conventional' abode.

"There is a tendency towards being colder, I would imagine, than a masonry house," he said. "But with the double glazing that we've recently installed both insulation and sound-proofing have significantly improved.

"As far as I'm concerned, my wife and I have lived here for three-and-a-bit years and we're very happy here and we don't see any reason to move or want to move."

Despite the short-term nature of the purpose, the houses have shown remarkable durability.

"They were originally intended to last for about 10 years and then be scrapped and for new housing to be built after that in masonry," said Peter.

Prefab chimney
The brick chimneys are the building's only masonry

"But they were inspected and found to be so well-designed and manufactured - given they didn't have any rust problems - that they were told 'just leave them, let them carry on' and here we are in 2009 and still going fine."

The stock of aluminium metal used to build the prefabs was also used to build the original lot of Land Rover vehicles and based on that, Peter believes there is no reason why the houses shouldn't last for another 60 years.

"I don't see why not. There is a quote I can give you from the Land Rover corporation which says that as far as the original Land Rover is concerned - of all the vehicles that they have produced, most of them still exist as a vehicle... because they don't rot," he said.

"So on the logic that they are built with the same materials that Birmingham were allocated - and that aluminium is a self-protecting metal - the only thing you have to do is for aesthetics is paint the thing."




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