60 years on: Prefab occupants can't give up their homes

RONNIE ALLAN'S homely living room is filled with family photographs, their frames decorating the walls and mantelpiece, evidence of a happy settled family life lived out in the same house for almost 60 years.

The room's rather low ceiling may add to the cosy atmosphere – but it also hints at the unusual history of the Moredun bungalow.

Next year will mark the anniversary when a freshly-demobbed Ronnie and wife Anne moved into their new two-bedroomed ready to start life in post-war Britain. But the couple's prefabricated house – or prefab as they became known – was never meant to last more than a decade, let alone six.

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It was one of 160,000 such homes which sprang up within the space of four years around Britain in a bid to tackle the desperate shortage of housing in the wake of the Second World War.

Ronnie, an electrician in the RAF who served in France, Belgium and Germany, was exactly the kind of ex-serviceman these emergency homes were designed for. For the Allans, it meant being able to move into their own home, paying 12 and six pence in rent per week, after spending two years on a council housing list and a year living with Anne's mother, Margaret, in a tenement in Portobello.

Ronnie says: "There weren't any problems living with Anne's mother, but it was good to get our own house. It was all on one floor and there were no stairs, and we had a garden. It was a long wait but we were lucky."

And after 60 years – including a drive in the 1990s by the city council to have all the prefabs in the area flattened – it's Ronnie's house which is lucky still to be standing, one of just a handful of remaining post-war prefabs.

The campaign to save the prefabs from the council's demolition plans in the 1990s was lead by Catherine and Alan Sneddon. Ironically the couple's own prefab on Moredun Park Road has since been demolished and they now rent a bungalow from Castle Rock Housing Association on nearby Craigour Avenue, where they have lived for eight years.

It was shortly after they moved in, in 1994, when a demolition order arrived from the council. But the couple, along with many other residents, were determined the area's community spirit wouldn't be lost.

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Catherine, 58, explains: "A group of people in the area got together and formed the Craigour Prefab Action Group and negotiated with the council, and we told them exactly what we wanted – something similar to what we had, with easy access, two bedrooms and on ground floor.

"It was a fight of six years and eventually the options tenants were given was a brand new house with the Castle Rock Housing Association, a council house of their choice and also if you wanted to stay where you were you could stay. Very few council tenants took that offer up because the prefabs were old and the council wouldn't pay to renovate them. They said their lifespan was finished.

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"We did want to stay in the prefab but the ground was all mine shafts and the house wasn't in a good state. The walls and roof were made of metal and the floor was wood. It was like being in a caravan, you used to hear the water hitting off the roof. But like anything else, you got used to these things.

"The noise from the Nicam telly used to bounce off the metal walls. Where we were at the top of the hill the wind was horrendous. When the wind hit sometimes you thought you were getting blown away.

"But you can't run them down though – there was plenty of room and cupboard space in the prefabs."

Many of the prefabs were built using aluminium structure – the metal had been produced in huge quantities because its light weight made it ideal for aircraft construction. When peace came, much of the market disappeared overnight, lowering the price, making it a cheap construction material. But aluminium had its disadvantages.

Alex Farquhar, 72, his wife Isabel, 72, and daughter Dawn, 44, moved into a prefab on Craigour Avenue in 1984 but demolished it around 1994 and replaced it with a bungalow.

He said: "The prefab was nice but it was starting to fall apart at the seams. It was an aluminium shell with no insulation and it needed an awful lot of heating to heat it up and keep it heated."

But those left in prefabs are still big fans.

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Elizabeth, 86, and Jim Wardlaw, 85, moved into their prefab house on Craigour Drive around 1949. "We've been here since they were built," explains Elizabeth. "We thought it was a lovely house.

"We bought the house around the 1960s and have never thought of moving. This was our first house and we were always happy here."

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And Derek Carlin, 60, who lives on Craigour Avenue with his disabled son Derek, 37, says: "I've lived here for 32 years and bought the house 20 years ago. I used to stay in a flat but moved here so my two children would have a place to play. I wanted a garden and we've had a lot of fun in the garden over the years.

"There's lots of room in a prefab and there's nobody above or below you."

And Roy Pratt, 71, went to the extent of buying his prefab house on Craigour Avenue from the council in 1997 – two years after moving in – to prevent the council from demolishing it.

He said: "We fought to keep the prefabs. The council said they would give us 2000 to move. We didn't want to let them beat us so we bought the house."

And of course Ronnie. The Allans – Ronnie's wife died ten years ago – were only the second residents to move into their street in 1949. It was where the younger of the couple's two sons, Norman, 57, was even born – in the back bedroom.

"We had a lot to do the first few years, we were quite busy. It was all new to us and strange. We put in new windows and central heating. We started from scratch when we moved in.

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"It was a novelty at first having your own house and we just got used to the place."

At one point they were offered 18,000 to rent another house but the couple decided to stay put. And in 1987, they bought the house after Mr Allan retired from Scottish Motor Traction. It cost 7000 including lawyer's fees – and since in September this year a prefab house on Craigour Avenue sold for 107,500, it might well have been a good investment.

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For Ronnie, though, it's been the pleasure of living in the area that's counted.

He says: "I've enjoyed living in the prefab. It's a nice neighbourhood."


IN 1949 145 prefabricated houses were built by the council in the Moredun and Craigour areas in the south of Edinburgh to deal with a housing shortage resulting from a lack of house building during the Second World War.

Fifty-seven of these were sold to tenants by the council under the Right to Buy, the last transaction taking place in January 1997.

A council spokeswoman said: "In 1998 Castle Rock took over the site including the council-owned homes that were left and demolished them, and built new homes for affordable rented accommodation."

Residents in the prefabs were given the option of moving into these new homes.

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The spokeswoman added: "The prefabs had a shelf life and it wouldn't have been possible to invest in them to a reasonable standard.

"Because house building came to a standstill during the war, the council had to meet extra demand."