Reasons for Designation
The prefabs on Persant Road in the Excalibur Estate are designated for listing for the following principal reasons:
* special interest as part of the largest surviving post-war prefab estate in England, a unique example of prefab estate planning on a large scale;
* their location in one of the most heavily-bombed boroughs in the capital compounds this historic significance;
* the Uni-Seco prefabs are also of great architectural interest as structures built using the innovative system of prefabrication which display modernist influences in their wrap-around corner windows and appearance of flat roofs.
779/0/10138 PERSANT ROAD
16-MAR-09 Excalibur Estate, Nos 1-7 (ODD), No 25
and No 39
Six Uni-Seco prefabricated houses, 1945-6, with minor late C20 alterations.
MATERIALS: The Uni-Seco system comprises a resin-bonded plywood or light timber frame clad in flat asbestos cement sheeting with a wood wool core. Loose timber tongue strips were inserted at vertical joints between units and subsequently filled with mastic and covered with asbestos cement. Internal walls are of the same construction, with ceilings of plaster board nailed to roof beams.
EXTERIORS: The single storey buildings have a barely perceptibly pitched roof and a chimney and are based on 4' by 3'6" grid pattern in footprint. The windows are standard steel casements in timber frames and, of the two to the frontage; one is wrapped around the corner of the building. This, combined with the perception of a flat roof, lends the prefabs a distinctly modernist appearance which differs from the pre-WWII trend for neo-Georgian social housing. The prefabs are a mixture of Mark 2 and Mark 3 types. Nos 1-7 (odd) are Mark 2 type prefabs and each has a side entrance; Nos 25 and 39 are Mark 3 types and have a central entrance with a small canopy.
All of the prefabs appear to have new front doors, but aside from this are largely as built.
INTERIORS: In the Mark 2 prefabs the bathroom and kitchen are positioned back to back in a small space towards the rear of the house, in the Mark 3 prefabs they are situated to the right of the hall and there are two bedrooms to the left. Some of the prefabs are known to have surviving fitted cupboards and shelving, although no interiors were inspected.
HISTORY: The Excalibur Estate, which comprises 187 houses and a prefab church, St Mark's, Baudwin Road, was built between 1945 and 1946 on land formerly intended as an open space amenity for the adjacent Downham Estate, a London County Council initiative begun in 1924. Residents recall that the prefab estate was constructed by Italian and German prisoners of war. The size of the estate is not surprising given its geographical position: by November 1940, 1,647 homes had been destroyed in the London Borough of Lewisham, in which the Excalibur Estate is situated, a total exceeded by only two other areas, Stepney and Lambeth; Lewisham also suffered when rocket bombs began to fall in June 1944 and was the second-most bombarded borough for V1s, the third for V2s. The new estate was named Excalibur in a continuation of the theme of the Downham Estate in which the roads were named after the Knights of the Round Table; the roads on the Excalibur Estate were named after Baudwin, Mordred, Pelinore, Ector, Wentland, Meliot and Persant.
The virtual cessation of house building during WWII, bomb damage, and dramatic population growth resulted in an enormous housing shortage leading to the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act of 1944 which authorised the Government to spend up to £150 million on temporary houses. An exhibition was held at the Tate Gallery in May 1944 displaying the Ministry of Works prototype, known as the 'Churchill House' or 'Portal's Palace' (after Lord Portal, the Minister of Works), and three other prototypes by private manufacturers, the Arcon, Uni-Seco and Tarran bungalows.
The bungalows were delivered as flat kits to be assembled on site, save for the kitchen/bathroom unit which was ready assembled. In total, 156,623 bungalows were built between 1945 and 1949; in 1975 around 10,000 were still standing but many more have been demolished since. In London, only 300 of the 10,000 originals survived in 1991, the majority on the Excalibur Estate which is the largest surviving estate of prefabs in England. Prefabs had something of a regional distribution, with Uni-Secos (produced by the Selection Engineering Company Ltd.), predominantly being erected in London and the South East. The Uni-Seco was the third most common type of prefab built as part of the Temporary Housing Programme and approximately 29,000 units were erected nationally. The former abundance of the Uni-Seco heightens their historic significance: these are the types of structure that a large number of those re-housed after WWII would have inhabited. The Excalibur Estate contains some of the best-preserved Uni-Secos in the country.
Prefabs were largely popular with their new inhabitants, boasting modern conveniences such as fitted kitchens with refrigerators, a compact plan and a number of built-in shelves and cupboards for storage; they were detached dwellings on large plots offering spacious gardens and a 'country cottage' ideal to former residents of tenements and terraces.
SOURCES: G Stevenson, Palaces for the People/Prefabs in Post-war Britain (2003)
Reports by E. Harwood and A Saint in English Heritage Architectural Investigation files
The LCC Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The prefabs on Persant Road in the Excalibur Estate are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
. special interest as part of the largest surviving post-war prefab estate in England, a unique example of prefab estate planning on a large scale;
. their location in one of the most heavily-bombed boroughs in the capital which compounds this historic significance;
. the Uni-Seco prefabs are also of special architectural interest as structures built using the innovative system of prefabrication which display modernist influences in their wrap-around corner windows and appearance of flat roofs;
. these prefabs are within the least-altered portion of the important Excalibur Estate, on a road where the consistency of survival is good.