By John Walls
Lou Rosenburg, Scotland’s Homes Fit for Heroes: Garden City Influences on the Development of Scottish Working Class Housing, 1900-1939 (Edinburgh: The Word Bank and the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies, 2016)
In the aftermath of World War 1 the British Government established a bold programme for 500,000 houses for the returning veterans. The proposal was driven by poor UK housing conditions, a housing shortage and the uncertainty of the electoral outcome in 1918 (NB 8 million new voters). Unlike earlier legislation emerging in the 19th and early 20th century, the Housing & Town Planning Act 1919 was mandatory on local authorities rather than voluntary – a radical departure.
In Scotland the impact of this programme was profound because the style and layout of housing adopted was influenced by the English Garden City Movement. Working class housing was typically tenemental in form more akin to housing found in Europe. The new housing transformed the compact form of Scotland’s cities, towns and villages. These became surrounded by non-traditional two story suburban development.
Lou Rosenburg’s book Scotland’s Homes Fit for Heroes delightfully captures the history of this dramatic change. He peppers his narrative with insightful, and sometimes, entertaining quotes. For instance, Rosenburg observes that Sir Patrick Geddes, father of British Town Planning, welcomed the garden city style even if meant importing an English form. Geddes is quoted as saying somewhat wryly ‘How can we hope to bring in better housing [to Scotland]?……We must fall back on importing missionaries! Happily these sometime desirable aliens have been lately forthcoming.’ (P111). One trusts that the ‘alien’ reference was seen as ‘locker room banter’ by Scotland’s neighbours!
This book is an easy read and should appeal to a wide audience. The reader will gain a real insight into the transformative influence of Scotland’s Homes Fit for Heroes.
The full version of this book review will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.
Urban Planner (Retired)