The Story of Ossett’s First Council Houses.

Our speaker on 2nd March was David Scriven who gave us a talk on ‘Homes Fit for Heroes:The Story of Ossett’s First Council Houses.’
David started by telling us how the government’s bold vision to provide decent housing, following on from the
Housing Act in 1919, was prompted by the poor state of much of the country’s housing and the fear of unrest,
perhaps even revolution if they failed to reward demobilised servicemen for their war time sacrifices.
The talk then focused in on Ossett which had a population of just over 14,000 in 1911 and where all the
town’s houses were privately owned, most of them being occupied by tenants. He then gave us an idea of what the housing was like
and how the borough’s sanitary inspector claimed housing in the town was exceptionally good, apart from the prevalence of outside privies which he felt
were repulsive and unsanitary.
David then went on to tell us about the architect Raymond Unwin’s designs for a housing estate for Rowntrees at New Earswick; higher standard than
usual, curved roads, cul-de-sacs and greens. These ideas would be later incorporated into post-war council housing development.
We were told that house building during the First World War had almost stopped and this led to a housing crisis which the government could not ignore.
A committee chaired by Sir John Tudor Walters published a report in November 1918, which set out minimum standards for public housing including
the need for dwellings to have three bedrooms. The next problem was how to fund the scheme where rent levels would be
low and whether the money would come from local authority rates or central government taxes; the government decided to subsidise public housing
building by local authorities. The council met the £46,000 cost of Ossett’s Manor Road and Northfield Avenue developments by borrowing and
introducing housing bonds. Through this, £30,790 had been raised towards the cost by Christmas 1920. The progress was slow, due in part to a shortage
of skilled labour and building materials.
The larger than usual council houses were built along the lines of the garden city and garden suburbs; not laid out in a straight line, being set alternately
forwards and backwards. All houses had front and back gardens, corners of the roads featured semi-detached houses at an angle and Wilson Avenue was
a cul-de-sac as part of the Manor Road development. David told us about the different models for the houses and the
commensurate rents which would be charged and how these were higher than the usual rents for Ossett’s existing houses. There were worries that the
houses would be too expensive for workers to rent but looking at the 1921 census, David could tell us that the occupations of the first tenants of the
properties in Wilson Avenue ranged from teacher to labourer and from inland revenue clerk to coal miner. Nine out of thirteen men were manual workers.
David ended his talk by telling us that the houses built for Ossett Corporation remained a testament to the vision of another age; today, more council houses
are being sold or demolished than built.

Report by Lorraine Simpson mem 1486

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