Above: Prefab at 238 Lordship Lane, East Dulwich.
Notice that the title is ‘Prefab (singular) in Lordship Lane’. The very reason for writing the article is because there is now only one left in Lordship Lane. The lane is quite long. As you travel northwards from the crossroads with Barry Road, the road slopes quite steeply until the junction with Townley Road. There used to be prefabs on both sides of the hill but, as time has passed, one side of the road has lost all of them and the Dulwich side of the road is now down to its last survivor.
After the Second World War there were many gaps in the houses of streets in London where German bombs had fallen and left a gap of one or more buildings. The Government of the day decided that, as a temporary measure, pre-fabricated single-storey houses (known as ‘Prefabs’) should be assembled on as many pieces of land as possible.
They were not only placed beside streets. Locations like the edge of Blackheath and the edge of Hilly Fields, an open space in Brockley, were also commandeered and a row of prefabs were erected there also. Because the buildings were only one storey, they were relatively easy to assemble and they provided much needed accommodation for homeless families after the War. The prefabs were built to last for about 10 years but many of them have lasted for much longer than that. They were put up during 1946 and 1947 and many of them are still being lived in today which means that they are coming up for their 70th year!
The public readily took to them. Many people had never had a proper bathroom in their house before. The prefabs also has an ‘inside’ toilet which was also a novelty for some. For many people they had been used to an ‘outside’ toilet in a shed in the garden or at least in an out-house. The prefab, although compact, was seen as great luxury – with its fitted kitchen, a sitting room and two bedrooms. Never has such a basic utility design been so appreciated and so loved. There are a few families that were moved into prefabs in the late 1940s that are still living there today – not because ether have to but because they really want to stay there as long as possible.
I have never been into a prefab and never even known anyone who has lived in one. However, it is not hard to find stories of those who have lived in prefabs and they all seem to say the same thing. They all seem more than happy to be living in them.
I fear that the prefab in Lordship Lane will soon be removed. The site on the left is already being redeveloped and replaced by a brick-built house. It was this last fact that triggered this article and I decided I wanted to take a picture of the last prefab in Lordship before it was consigned to history.