A Little History of House Building in Britain

A Little History of House Building in Britain

Early Britons constructed monuments to the gods, the heavens, the dead, and who knows what else, but houses were a temporary affair, even as the agricultural developers built settlements, the houses were built from wood and mud.

The Romans brought with them building skills unknown in these islands, and built with stone bonded together with cement. These formed a highly durable build, but when they called it a day four hundred years later and went back to Italy, concrete went with them, and was not invented in Britain until the nineteenth century.

As medieval towns grew in stature and substance, mortar helped bond flint, chalk or stone work. In London and the south-east, the nearest available building stone was rag-stone quarried in Kent.

This hard stone became the most wide spread building stone in the south east, noted for its strength and durability, to which the stone structure of the Tower of London is an example.

In the early middle-ages, buildings of substance such as castles and cathedrals received the benefit of draughtsmen, architects, masons and state of the art building technology.

Humble house building with stone, for the most part proved too costly and time consuming, and sourcing from a heavily wooded countryside, timber frame building became the norm.

The Elizabethan and Tudor ages made timber frame building a mainstay of house construction, with large sections of load-bearing timber frames, infilled and weather proofed with wattle and daub.

Flemish influence from intense trading, brought brick building to the fore at the start of the seventeenth century, but it was the industrial revolution that brought about the biggest house building surge, as the growing industrial centres drew labour in from the countryside.

As the process for making bricks became more mechanised and the swinging Government tax on them was lifted, from around 1850, housebuilding boomed, and by the First World War, over five million homes were built.

By the end of the Second World War however, many of the Victorian terraced house were considered slums, and their clearance and the push to replace bomb damaged properties led to a house building boom.

The fifties and sixties saw houses being built at a rate 300,000 to 400,000 per year, and today, with modern building techniques, factory built prefabs and timber framing, the industry struggles, in the face of a chronic shortage, to build less than half of this amount of new homes.