In last week’s post, we looked at the evolution of council housing in Stroud up to 1936. In that year, the Urban District Council (UDC) was expanded to include outlying suburbs previously administered by Stroud Rural District Council (RDC). In the process, the Council inherited some fine 1919 Housing Act schemes along Foxmoor Road (Cainscross) and Dudridge Road (Rodborough) built by the RDC.
At the same time, the ‘new’ council developed its housing programme with an expansion of its earlier Summer Street scheme and, back over to the west, a new estate at Paganhill. Providing an unexpectedly grand entrance to the estate is Britain’s first anti-slavery monument – an arch built in 1834 as a gateway to the Georgian mansion of Farmhill Park by its new owner, Henry Wyatt, a wealthy local businessman and active member of the Stroud Anti-Slavery Society. The house was demolished in the early 1930s but the arch was retained, restored by the Council in the early 1960s and, at the turn of this century, by the Stroud Preservation Trust. The housing, designed by the Council’s Engineer and Surveyor, FS Cutler, is more modestly of its time.
This building spurt brought the total of council houses within the district to 515 by 1937 (98 parlour houses, built in the expansive early post-war period, and 417 non-parlour). For a time, the ‘Council were of the opinion that no more Council houses were required in addition to those provided for the residents of overcrowded dwellings’ but in the following year the Medical Officer of Health noted ‘there is still considerable demand for Council houses, a large number of people living two families per house’. (1)
The outbreak of war scuppered plans for new building but increased housing demand. Twelve hundred people were evacuated from Birmingham to the town in the first week of the conflict and, at peak, the town’s population increased by 9000. Ironically, though Stroud suffered very lightly from enemy action, the two fatalities of a bombing raid in June 1941 were both evacuees; eleven houses were destroyed or seriously damaged. (2)
At war’s end, a combination of wartime neglect and post-war aspiration put housing on the top of the political agenda in Stroud as elsewhere in the country. But, in a period of genuine austerity with a balance of payments crisis looming, opportunities to build were severely constrained. In December 1948, the Regional Building Committee of the Ministry of Works allocated 69 houses to Stroud for building the following year. It’s evidence of the priority given by Nye Bevan, Minister of Health and Housing and the Labour government more broadly to working-class housing, that no more than nine of these were permitted to be built by private enterprise. (3)
Nevertheless, circumstances remained difficult: (4)
The Council have extensive plans for the erection of houses suitable for letting to the working classes and sites have been prepared at Ebley, Cashes Green and the Bisley Old Road. The need for more accommodation to provide for those living in overcrowded and insanitary conditions, and for the ordinary needs of residents and persons marrying and desiring to start married life in a house of their own is urgent, but unfortunately progress has been slow and it would appear that it will be sometime yet before even a start can be made in dealing with the considerable number of unfit houses and cottages in the area, which should be demolished.
Non-traditional construction was embraced once more in the hope that it might provide a quick and relatively cost-effective solution to the immediate housing crisis. Temporary prefab bungalows, intended to last ten years, part of the £150 million national government programme, were erected in Sunnyhill in Cashes Green and at the top end of Langtoft Road at the far west of the town. The latter were demolished in the mid-1960s. At Sunnyhill, all but one (presumably acquired by its tenants under Right to Buy) appears to have been replaced by a brick-built bungalow on the same footprint.
Permanent prefabricated houses in various patented forms of Pre-Cast Reinforced Concrete construction (Woolaway, Reema, and Unity) were built around Old Bisley Road and on Hillcrest Road, Cashes Green. All three types were declared defective in the 1984 Housing Defects Act and those that remain in council ownership have been rebuilt or thoroughly renovated in more recent years.
By the later 1940s and into the 1950s, building continued apace with major new estates constructed to the west of the town around Devereaux Road and Orchard Road in Ebley and Hillcrest Road, Cashes Green.
Having largely dealt with the immediate housing crisis, Stroud (and the country) turned to the question of slum clearance. In the mid-1950s, 374 houses in the district were declared unfit in a return to Whitehall. Hill Street (now the bottom end of Parliament Street) was declared a clearance area in 1956 and, further up, a cluster of housing around Bisley Old Road, Middle Hill and Summer Street the following year. The compulsory purchase of older properties and the rehousing of their residents across the district caused some local controversy. (5)
At the top of a typically steep hill in Paganhill, in a scheme approved in 1959 designed by TG Askew, the Council’s Engineer and Surveyor, the Council made a rare nod to a local vernacular found more commonly in neighbouring villages with housing in Byron Road and Keats Gardens of Cotswold stone.
Again, reflecting national trends as public housing looked increasingly to support an ageing population, Stroud also built what it called its first Group Dwelling Scheme, designed to provide assisted accommodation for elderly people, in Cashes Green. More specialist housing for the elderly would follow as council housing continued to expand in the 1960s. That the need remained pressing was demonstrated by a survey (presumably of the town’s poorer housing) in 1970 that showed 28 percent of 1067 houses surveyed lacked a bath, 30 percent a ‘satisfactory’ inside toilet. (6)
The shift towards high-rise construction that occurred nationally from the late 1950s had little impact on Stroud. A proposal to build an eleven-storey block on the Parliament Street clearance site was supported by council officers and encouraged by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government but was resisted by councillors. Instead, Stroud moved modestly into the multi-storey era with some larger three-storey blocks along Mathews Way, Paganhill, in a mixed development estate conforming well to contemporary desires to provide variety in appearance and a range of housing to suit varied needs.
The Nouncells Cross scheme of the early 1970s, designed by Cheltenham architect IM Williams, that belatedly filled some of the clearance area declared in 1957 along Bisley Old Road, was more dramatic, switching between three and five storeys in a striking hillside setting. The wider scheme also contained 29 houses and 25 bungalows and a communal hall for elderly residents.
By 1974, Stroud Urban District Council owned and managed around 2500 homes, housing around a third of the local population. In the major reform of local government occurring that year a new ‘Stroud’ emerged in the form of a Stroud District Council comprising the former urban district councils of Stroud and Nailsworth and the rural district council of Dursley, and parts of Gloucester, Thornbury and Sodbury rural districts.
From a peak of around 9000 council homes in all, the virtual halt on council housebuilding and the impact of Right to Buy reduced the Council’s housing stock to 6500 in the mid-1990s, a drop of about 40 percent. In March 2022, the total was reported as 5029 with over 500 further homes lost to Right to Buy in the preceding twenty years. (7) Despite a careful pruning of waiting lists, in March 2022, there were 2976 applicants on the current housing register.
A great deal more has changed in the social housing landscape since 1979, including large-scale stock transfers of housing from local government to housing associations. In Gloucestershire, Stroud District Council describes itself as the only local authority to have retained ownership and management of its housing. And it, like other councils, is trying to build more. Twenty new energy efficient homes were opened in Nailsworth last year; the District Council is ‘looking to build more and importantly work with social housing providers and community land trusts to enable them to provide homes too’. (8)
Changing times and far more limited ambitions (or possibilities) but the need for decent, genuinely affordable social rented housing remains as pressing as ever.
My especial thanks to Chas Townley whose earlier research has provided much of the detail for this post and who read, corrected and added very helpfully to a first draft of this post. My thanks also to Pauline Stevens and the Stroud Local History Society for providing additional information and resources.
(1) Reports of the Medical Officer of Health, Stroud Urban District Council, 1937 and 1938
(2) PR Symonds, ‘Area Eight’ in the War against Hitlerism, Being an Account of the Civil Defence Services and ARP In Stroud and Nailsworth’, featured on the Radical Stroud website.
(3) ’75 New Houses for Stroud Next Year’, Gloucester Citizen, 2 December 1948
(4) Report of the Medical Officer of Health, Stroud Urban District Council, 1946
(5) Report of the Medical Officer of Health, Stroud Urban District Council, 1970
(6) Report of the Medical Officer of Health, Stroud Urban District Council, 1970
(7) Figures from Wickham, 80 Years of Housing in Stroud District and What Do They Know, List of Council Housing Addresses, Freedom of Information request (2019)
(8) Mattie Ross, Housing chair, Stroud District Council, ‘Plans to Build More Council Houses across Stroud District’, Stroud News and Journal, 3 July 2022