As we saw in last week’s post, David Green was appointed consultant architect to Loddon Rural District Council in March 1945. Together with his partner Herbert Tayler, he would enjoy a relationship with the council described by one close observer as ‘a triumph of artistic patronage’. (1) The architectural excellence of the housing commissioned by Loddon and designed by Tayler and Green is widely known but we’ll look too at the wider context in which their joint enterprise flourished.
Before that, however, the housing crisis in Loddon district, as elsewhere in the country, presented more pressing issues. The Council had bid successfully for 30 temporary prefab bungalows in 1944; 20 were built in Loddon itself and 10 in Raveningham. Permanent prefabricated housing was another favoured solution. By 1948, 34 so-called ‘Swedish Houses’ (imported from Sweden and built of timber) and 62 pre-cast concrete Airey Houses had been erected across the district. (2)
Tayler and Green were closely involved with their construction, often presenting a list of defects to the Housing Committee to be corrected before new homes could be signed off. It was unsurprising that by February 1948 their report to the Housing Committee concluded that: (3)
in their opinion non-traditional houses could not yet compete with traditional types as regards cost and finish and that their advice to the Council was to press for more brick and tile houses and not consider erecting any more non-traditional types.
In south Norfolk, decommissioned airbases presented another field of activity. In April 1947, the Council agreed to convert sick quarters and other disused buildings at Seething Airfield to provide 14 temporary dwellings; in the following month it was agreed to adapt six Nissen huts in Raveningham. There were 72 such ‘converted hutments’ by 1949. Meanwhile, rationing and building materials shortages hindered new construction – even lavatory basins were rationed until June 1948. (4)
That a traditional building programme was needed was not in doubt: the Housing Committee’s 1949 annual report detailed 175 sub-standard houses in the district, 71 cases of overcrowding and some 194 households on the waiting list. (5) Belatedly – and belatedly for those of you understandably keen to focus on the work of Tayler and Green – that programme was bearing fruit.
Tayler and Green’s first schemes for the Council were completed in 1948 – in Leman Grove, Loddon, shared with some Swedish Houses, and College Road in Thurlton, an extension of a pre-war scheme. Writing in 1947 as their schemes developed and thinking evolved, the partners asserted the obvious but neglected truism that rural housing should differ from urban. ‘Far too often the ordinary semi-detached urban dwelling is planted down in the countryside with all the consequent disadvantages to the occupier’. In contrast, their schemes resulted from ‘a study of rural requirements’. (6)
A rural worker wears gumboots which ‘have to be taken off in a sheltered position without bringing mud into the house’; ‘he grows a certain amount of his own food’ and requires additional storage space for tools, potatoes, etc.’; ‘he requires to be able to wheel manure through to his garden’; he needs to store wood for fuel; ‘he makes greater use of his bicycle than does the townsman’.
For this reason, Tayler and Green replaced front and back doors with a single side entry which opened off a roofed passage connected to a large outside store: (7)
Thus the sequence of arrival, storing of bicycle, and then going indoors is completed under cover and in privacy … The kitchen without a back door ceases to be a passage for the whole household.
This might have been an architectural innovation rooted in prosaic reality (even down to the concrete floors lifted just three inches to ease the movement of bikes, prams and wheelbarrows) but it became part of the unique aesthetic that the architects brought to their designs.
That was seen more dramatically at their next major scheme, Windmill Green in Ditchingham, the first phase completed in 1949, in the use of terraces; in Tayler’s words, ‘not used in rural districts since the 18th century, with their advantages of economy, warmth and restful appearance in the landscape’. (8) Terraces also served to conceal what Tayler called the ‘rural scruff’ of back gardens from public view.
The thirty houses at Ditchingham, arranged in a horseshoe around a large open green, seemed to Ian Nairn to be ‘an attempt to entrap the whole of East Anglian space in one great gesture’. (9) As Tayler acknowledged, in Norfolk ‘it is the land itself which competes with you, as it always competed with man before architecture existed’. (10)
Beyond this, there was a conscious attempt to capture the picturesque, not in the twee way this term often implies, nor in an ‘in keeping’ archaism. This was modern architecture though Pevsner thought it might be better described as ‘post-modern’. Tayler was clear, however, that they had broken with the austerity of the international modern style. He felt: (10)
people lacked decoration and enjoyment in the look of the houses, so we introduced colours (different for each house), brick patterns, dates. The date of the terrace in raised brickwork was an immediate success. Everybody liked it, people do like decoration.
Colour wash was used in earlier schemes to disguise unattractive Fletton bricks and was later replaced by coloured facing bricks as these became available. Open screens and trellises on walls and fretted bargeboards on gable ends followed.
As their portfolio developed, Tayler and Green emphasised how ‘each site is given a marked individuality and each is immediately recognisably different from the others’. This, as they argued, was ‘in itself, is a step forward for “Council housing”’. Indeed, much of it is no longer council housing and that individuality has been further emphasised by the fact that in Windmill Green, for example, 60 percent have tenants have exercised their Right to Buy.
The first single-storey homes were built at Geldeston in 1949 and bungalows intended primarily for older people became an increasing feature of later schemes. This was significant in rural areas where farm workers often lived in tied housing, provided by their employers during their working lives. By the later 1950s, bungalows formed around 17 percent of council stock by which time the Council owned and managed near 900 homes, around 20 percent of the Rural District’s total.
This reflected a broader demographic change apparent into the 1960s – a declining agricultural workforce, rural depopulation and an ageing population that remained. The great age of rural council housebuilding was over.
The contribution of Tayler and Green to its heyday was widely recognised. The Ministry of Health’s 1949 Housing Manual (in which rural housing featured surprisingly heavily) included no less than four illustrations of their schemes. Early schemes at Woodyard Square, Woodton, and Bergh Apton, completed in 1951, were widely praised, as was Forge Grove, Gillingham, built in the mid-1950s.
In all, Elain Harwood reckons the duo were awarded five Festival of Britain Merit Awards, three awards from Ministry of Health and its post-1951 successor the Ministry of Housing, two Civic Trust awards and a RIBA Bronze Medal. (13)
In 1958, Ian Nairn could already cast an almost valedictory eye on a programme (which would eventually total some 687 homes) that was ‘almost finished’. He concluded that the region was ‘more rural, more Norfolk-like than it was in 1945’ – ‘no other [Rural District] that the writer has been in could say that of itself’. (14)
This was achieved by interpreting the local spirit but doing so:
in purely twentieth-century terms, using twentieth-century industrial organisation, creating five or six standard types of each detail and ringing the changes on them according to the needs of each site … In doing so, they have been faithful to the genius loci in a deeper sense that that implied by a few design clichés.
More recently, the architect Charles Holland commented that the houses: (15)
unremarkable in some ways, still stand as an exemplary way to build sensitively and well in the countryside … It’s quiet and unassuming but in a generous rather than austere or hairshirt way. It convinces you that if you plan things intelligently and with beauty and care you can leave the rest to itself. The houses seem to cater for life rather than prescribe it, which is something that modern architecture finds incredibly difficult to do generally.
The Housing Committee minutes suggest very little of all this. A suggestion by Councillor Fairhead that downstairs toilets be placed outside the main entrance was brushed aside by Green and rejected by the Committee. A suggestion that parlours (a second living room) be provided was opposed by Green as being £80 dearer than their present plans; they would also presumably have mitigated the bright, airy interiors of the south-facing living rooms that were integral to all their designs. In general, the Housing Committee was simply ‘a good client’ as Tayler and Green were magnanimous in agreeing that ‘Loddon Council have undoubtedly been’. (16)
The councillors therefore occupied themselves principally with finance and management. A comprehensive points system was devised to determine allocations; the fact of being an agricultural worker granted 20 points, living with relatives a further 20, and so on in some detail. The Council also applied its discretion in charging agricultural workers reduced rents, typically 2 shillings (10p) less than the 12 to 15 shillings normally charged for its family homes. Agricultural wages were around 40 percent lower than the national average. (17)
Rural realities impinged in other ways too. In 1947, the Committee informed Mr Hazell of no. 3 Council Houses, Woodton, that rearing pigs in his back garden contravened his tenancy agreement. But then they relented; by June 1948, it was agreed that pig-keeping regulations (stipulating sties ‘of brick and concrete construction’) be drawn up. (18)
The term ‘problem families’ was first used in 1943. By 1951, it had made its way to Loddon in uncompromising form when the Medical Officer of Health referred to around 100 families in the district characterised by ‘intractable ineducability [and] instability or infirmity of character of one or both parents’. These, he maintained, expressed themselves in: (19)
persistent neglect of children, in fecklessness, irresponsibility, improvidence in the conduct of life and indiscipline in the home wherein dirt, poverty, squalor are often conspicuous.
New issues of housing management – though articulated in ways not far removed from the nineteenth-century language of the ‘undeserving poor’ – were presenting themselves.
In many ways, Loddon Rural District Council was typical of rural authorities across the country. There were new demands to decently house the rural working class amidst harsh realities of rural life both persistent and evolving. But in Loddon an aspirational authority combined with two architects, in Tayler and Green, uniquely committed to the design of high-quality council homes. Together they bequeathed a legacy of decent, affordable housing which stands not only as a monument to past achievement but to present necessity.
The best illustrated and fullest architectural online guide to Tayler and Green’s work is provided by Matt Wood in his Ruralise blog. The essential text is the Harwood and Powers volume referenced below.
(1) The architect and critic Sherban Cantacuzino quoted in Norman Scarfe, ‘The Impact on a Layman of Tayler and Green’s Exemplary Housing’ in Harwood and Powers (eds), Tayler and Green, Architects 1938-1973: The Spirit of Place in Modern Housing (1998)
(2) Loddon Rural District Council, Housing Committee minutes, ‘Housing Programme’, 26 July 1948
(3) Loddon Rural District Council, Housing Committee minutes, 9 February 1948
(4) On ‘converted hutments’, see Loddon Rural District Council, Housing Committee minutes, 28 April 1947 and 1 May 1947; on materials shortages, see 24 June 1947 and 28 June 1948
(5) Loddon Rural District Council, Housing Committee minutes, 31 May 1949
(6) ‘Rural housing for Loddon RDC, Norfolk; Architects: Tayler & Green’, RIBA Journal, vol. 54, October 1947, pp607-09
(7) ‘Loddon Rural District Council, Norfolk: various schemes; Architects: Tayler & Green’, Architecture & Building News, 29 October 1948, pp358-363
(8) ‘Rural housing at Gillingham for Loddon Rural District Council; Architects: Tayler & Green’; RIBA Journal, January 1959, pp 98-99
(9) Ian Nairn, ‘Rural Housing: Post-War Work by Tayler and Green’, Architectural Review, October 1958
(10) Quoted in Elain Harwood, ‘Post-War Landscape and Public Housing’, Garden History, vol. 28, no. 1, Summer, 2000, pp. 102-116
(11) Quoted in David Gray, ‘Tayler and Green, Architects, 1938-1973’, AA Files, no. 37, Autumn 1998, pp. 65-68
(12) Loddon Rural District Council, Medical Officer of Health Report, 1957
(13) Elain Harwood, ‘Tayler & Green and Loddon Rural District Council’ in Harwood and Powers (eds) Tayler and Green, Architects 1938-1973: The Spirit of Place in Modern Housing (1998)
(14) Ian Nairn, ‘Rural Housing: Post-War Work by Tayler and Green’
(15) Charles Holland, ‘Kitchen Sink Realism’, Fantastic Journal blog, July 11 2012
(16) Loddon Rural District Council, Housing Committee minutes, 14 May 1948 and 17 January 1949. The final quotation is drawn from ‘Rural housing at Gillingham for Loddon Rural District Council; Architects: Tayler & Green’
(17) Loddon Rural District Council, Housing Committee minutes, 29 December 1949 and, rents, 6 August 1947. Wage figures from Alun Howkins, The Death of Rural England: A Social History of the Countryside Since 1900 (2003)
(18) Loddon Rural District Council, Housing Committee minutes, 13 October 1947 and 28 June 1948
(19) Loddon Rural District Council, Medical Officer of Health Report, 1951