The huge growth in population during Queen Victoria’s
reign, which ended in 1901, meant that the housing problems
carried over into the twentieth century. Many people could
not afford the train fare to travel on the new railways so
had to live close to where they worked. Therefore housing
around the city, factories and canals was crowded.
On top of the problem of the slums there was not much land
left in London to build on. So the government of the day gave
the local councils the power to build homes to replace the
old slum houses. To save space they built blocks of flats.
The first council flats were like those in the picture on
the right, they were four or five storeys high and made of
red brick. You got to each front door by walking along the
balconies on the outside of the building.
The councils’ desire to clean up the slums did not stop
there. They also opened laundries and public baths and even
disinfected people’s belongings before they went to
live in their new council homes! People who could afford the
train fares began to move further away and places on the outskirts
of cities called suburbs or suburbia emerged. As there was
more space they lived in houses rather than flats. The style
of houses varied a lot as people in the suburbs tended to
own their own homes.
Although a lot of people in the city centre still had outside
toilets the new houses in the suburbs had indoor bathrooms
and hot and cold water piped to their taps. Some lucky people
even had TV. The BBC broadcast the first public TV service
in 1936 to the London region and by the next year 9,000 sets
had been sold in London, a lot of them prompted by the broadcasting
of George VI’s coronation that year. TV was closed down
in 1939 when the country went to war but by then 20,000 homes
in Britain had a TV.
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