This post marks the tenth anniversary of the blog Municipal Dreams. The very first, back in January 2013, discussed the Latchmere Estate built, using its own workforce, by Battersea Metropolitan Borough Council in 1903; Battersea had gained – appropriately for the purposes of this blog – a reputation as the ‘Municipal Mecca’.

Houses on the aptly named Reform Street, Latchmere Estate

Other posts followed on town halls, swimming baths, health centres and schools. These are all part of local government’s inestimable contribution to its population’s wellbeing but increasingly housing took centre-stage; our councils’ greatest endeavour, responsible, in the words of prime minister Theresa May in 2018, for the ‘biggest collective leap in living standards in British history’. (1)

In 1981, around one in three of the population lived in a council home; if you are a part of the early post-war generation, there is a one in two chance that you spent part of your life in a council home. Yet, for all that seismic impact, the story of council housing was a neglected topic. There were good academic studies and there was plenty written by a range of professionals in the housing field. But there was very little that addressed the general reader, even less that gave some of this history back to those who had lived it.

Media commentary was often pejorative and usually rested on ill-informed and negative stereotypes. More often, there was silence – local histories that described the Georgian townhouse but said nothing of neo-Georgian council estates; national histories that apparently believed council housing too humdrum to warrant attention. And yet a mere glance reveals the enormous impact of public housing in villages, towns and cities across the UK and many millions will testify to the practical and emotional significance of a council home to their own lives.  The blog was simply an attempt to put some of this on record.

I think, over this ten-year period, that attitudes have changed and coverage improved. Partly, this may reflect that housing crisis that has emerged since we stopped building council housing at scale in the 1980s whilst, at the same time, losing around two million council homes to Right to Buy. Most of us beyond the fringes of the neoliberal Right now appreciate the vital contribution of social housing to any viable housing market, to any proper fulfilment of that basic human right to shelter.

And once we started appreciating council housing, we could look again at the (shifting) political, architectural and planning ideals that shaped it, not always optimally but always – and this isn’t a mealy-mouthed apologia as the blog has always been clear-eyed about what worked and what went wrong and why – with good intent. It’s an important part of our shared story.

Immodestly, I hope the blog itself played a small part in this revival of sympathetic interest in council housing’s past, present and future.

Over its ten years, the blog has featured some 330 posts which have been viewed in total over 2 million times by more than 1.25 million readers. I’ve tried to range widely geographically across the nations and regions of the UK and with occasional forays into Europe. The Map of the Blog will give you an idea of this geographic coverage as well as links to past posts.

The top three most viewed posts are on Camden’s Alexandra Road Estate (with 46,777 views), the Blackbird Leys Estate in Oxford (31,884) and the Churchill Gardens Estate, Westminster (30,793).

The Cambridge Heath Estate, formerly Lenin House

I’m not going to pick a personal favourite – one of the great things about the blog has been the ability to range so widely – but for sheer colour, I think my post on what was originally known as the Lenin Estate in Bethnal Green takes some beating.

I’m very grateful to the many people, including academics as well as expert local historians, who have contributed guest posts, almost forty in all. I’ve always hoped that the blog would become a kind of journal of record (it is archived by the British Library) and these contributors have helped greatly toward that. I will always welcome new guest posts.

There was no intention to write a book when the blog began – it was literally a labour of love – but the knowledge and expertise acquired from my own research and very much from the research of others has allowed me to publish Municipal Dreams: the Rise and Fall of Council Housing (Verso, 2018) and A History of Council Housing in 100 Estates (RIBA Books, 2022).

Meanwhile, the blog will continue, all being well perhaps even for another ten years. Thank you for your support and interest.


(1) Theresa May, PM speech to the National Housing Federation summit, 19 September 2018. She was almost certainly quoting Chris Matthews from his book Homes and Places: A History of Nottingham’s Council Houses (Nottingham City Homes, 2015)