This year is the 100th anniversary of the Addison Act. This Housing Act enabled local authorities to build social housing, and along with subsequent Acts, informed policy for the housing sector nationwide. An exhibition will be launched at Archives+, Manchester Central Library on 19 December 2019. Newly digitised interviews from the Manchester Studies oral history collection document the impact on people moving out of Manchester city centre.
Residents describe how they came to live in Wythenshawe:
Following the end of the First World War there were huge demands for both employment and housing from returning service personnel. In an attempt to address the need for ‘homes fit for heroes’ Parliament passed the Housing Act in 1919. This Act aimed to provide government subsidies to finance the construction of half a million homes in a three year period. However, due to the decline in the economy throughout the 1920s only 213,000 homes were actually built.
The Housing Act was more commonly known as the Addison Act, after its author, Dr. Christopher Addison. A medical doctor, he entered Parliament in 1910 and contributed to the National Insurance Bill the following year. After the First World War, where he worked at the Ministry of Munitions, he returned to focus on health and social welfare. Addison introduced a Bill to create a new Ministry of Health in 1919; becoming the first Minister later that year.
Despite the fact that less than half of the stated homes were actually built, the Housing Act made local authorities responsible for developing new housing and rented accommodation in their area. In order to provide this housing for working class communities, grants were awarded to local authorities by a further Housing Act in 1924. Another Housing Act in 1930 paved the way for slum clearances with residents to be rehoused out of insanitary buildings and into newly built properties.
Wythenshawe Estate Plan, M14/1/22 Papers of Lady Shena Simon of Wythenshawe (1883-1972); Manchester Libraries, Archives and Information
It is around this time, the 1920s and 1930s, that a number of interviewees from the Manchester Studies Oral History unit share their experiences. In a series of Housing interviews conducted in the early 1970s participants recollect how their homes changed over time. From childhood homes which were usually two up two down, to obtaining their first home when married, often with a low rent or shared with family, and finally to securing a new council house for their own growing families.
As I have been cataloguing this run of interviews I am repeatedly hearing the same story of the difficulties of finding quality accommodation, often with the same comments, such as “…there was no housing…” and “…it was all we could afford.” As the interviews continue the narrative changes; I am hearing about how people’s lives have changed for the better due to wider access to quality social housing.
The majority of these interviews relate to the Wythenshawe area in south Manchester. In the 1920s this predominantly rural area was subject to a massive building programme to provide a ‘garden city’ style estate away from the city centre and more industrialised areas.
Interviewees are often referred to as pioneers for moving away from the city centre to a more rural area. There was also the view that this was remote and too far away. However, some families had good reason for this.
For others, the distance had an impact on their commute to work.
Another common anecdote I hear is about the gardens at the back of these new houses. For almost all residents this was their first garden and many took the opportunity to learn how to grow their own vegetables.
The houses were built first, with amenities for the community later on, including shops, schools and club.
I am looking forward to listening to more interviews about the history and development of different areas of Greater Manchester over the next few weeks.
To find out more about the Manchester Studies collection please visit The Manchester Studies oral history collection.
You can find out more about the national Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project at the British Library’s website. Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Vicki Caren, Cataloguing Manager, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage North West Hub, based in Archives+, Manchester Central Library.