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Women's Housing Association

The availability of housing for single working women became an increasing problem during the late 19th century (see Buildings that Celebrate Working Women).

The crisis was no nearer a solution in the next century but larger numbers of women's organisations began taking a more sophisticated and informed approach.

1 Abbey Road, London W8.  Site of the first housing project by The Lady Workers' Homes Co.Ltd.
1 Abbey Road, London W8. Site of the first housing project by The Lady Workers' Homes Co.Ltd. © Reproduced by permission of Historic England Archive (1885)

The Lady Workers' Homes Co. Ltd with its housing project at 1 Abbey Road, St John's Wood, London NW8 claimed in 1911 that 'The Society is its own architect…' Success was demonstrated in a resident's letter, 'Other flats I have seen seem to be designed by architects who have no idea of the needs of the educated woman of small means, only recognising the artisan's wife…who does all her washing and cooking.'

This refurbishment and extension provided communal facilities of dining-room, drawing-room, entertainment hall, reading-room, lounge, restaurant, bedrooms, central heating, bathrooms, plus 26 self-contained flats, all at modest rents.

The cover of the 1936 Women’s Pioneer Housing leaflet detailing the location of its properties
The cover of the 1936 Women’s Pioneer Housing leaflet detailing the location of its properties © Women’s Pioneer Housing. Source The Women’s Library

The 1930 Housing Act enabled Local Authorities to work with the voluntary housing sector. This sector was dominated by women's organisations and the Act provided a new avenue for increased participation.

The company known as the Women's Pioneer Housing Ltd was run as a Co-operative Society, employing its own woman architect, Gertrude Leverkus (1899-1976) to design each flat. There were four different styles on offer to suit diverse needs and by 1936 it provided 36 developments in London and one in Brighton.

An illustration of the 1936 studio apartment on offer from Women's Pioneer Housing Ltd.
An illustration of the 1936 studio apartment on offer from Women's Pioneer Housing Ltd. © Women’s Pioneer Housing. Source The Women’s Library

Wartime evacuation of civil servants from London to the provinces in 1940 resulted in large numbers surrendering their housing. On their return single women, (there was a marriage bar in the Civil Service), found it almost impossible to rent unfurnished accommodation.

The National Association of Women Civil Servants (NAWCS) had urged the government and local authorities since 1947 to build low cost rentals but shortage of land made single-unit dwellings expensive. NAWCS representatives were impressed by the model Buccleuch House, Clapton Common, London E5 with its 96 flats plus communal facilities for single women, which Hackney Council had built and invited them to visit in 1951.

‘Consider Her Palaces’ was a 1936 study on single women’s housing by Rosamund Tweedy for the campaigning Over Thirty Association
‘Consider Her Palaces’ was a 1936 study on single women’s housing by Rosamund Tweedy © & source TUCLIB

Rural housing

Although urban housing need was greatest, there was still acute shortage in rural areas and groups such as the Women's Village Councils Federation focused on empowering village women to get involved in the housing campaign.

Buccleuch House, Hackney built in 1951 on the site of Buccleuch Terrace imitated a model housing development in Glasgow
Buccleuch House, Hackney built in 1951 on the site of Buccleuch Terrace imitated a model housing development in Glasgow © Cheryl Law (2010). Source Historic England Archive
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Visible in Stone - Housing Association

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • Ground plans of the different flats available, drawn up by architect, Gertrude Leverkus. © Women’s Pioneer Housing. Source The Women’s Library
  • Buccleuch House built by Hackney Council, 1951. © Cheryl Law (2010). Source Historic England.NMR

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