chapter  5
26 Pages

Anger, Affluence and Domesticity

The housing crisis at the end of the Second World War was severe. With two out of every seven houses in Britain damaged (one-fifteenth of them beyond repair) and the construction of new houses having fallen drastically during the war years compared to the levels of the late 1930s, the post-war housing crisis was acute.2 The authors of the 1943 report for Mass Observation, An Enquiry into People’s Homes, noted that ‘within the next ten years several million houses will have to be built, and a very large number of existing houses will have to be redecorated and repaired before they can be considered fit again for peacetime standards of human habitation’.3 The building of ‘prefabs’, using aluminium and asbestos, was an immediate response to this – these lasted long enough, as Peter Clarke notes, ‘for many children to grow to adulthood knowing only a “prefab” as home’ – and a mass housebuilding programme was a central plank of the Conservative government’s time in office between 1951 and 1964.4 Many working-class novels of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s are set in homes in which large and sometimes extended family members live in one house together, with grown-up siblings sharing a bed and newly married couples forced to ‘live-in’ ‘under trying conditions’ with older parents.5 Overcrowding and a shortage of suitable and affordable housing for those starting new families are key elements of the plot in novels of working-class life in the post-war period.