In 1952 Swindon embarked upon an ambitious programme of expansion. One of the objectives was to encourage London based industries to relocate and thereby revitalise a town too dependent on a declining railway industry.
As central government made an attempt to tackle the chronic housing shortage in the post war capital, country towns were given incentives to develop and expand. But Swindon had first to address a few pressing housing problems of its own.
A memorandum from the Medical Officer of Health to the Town Clerk dated September 11, 1951 confirmed that Swindon had '138 sub-standard dwelling houses.' Some were considered to be 'in such a condition as to be a potential danger to life and limb, or to the health of the occupants'.
The state of Swindon' housing was already causing concern in the 1930s. Wilfred Moss with his wife and daughter lived in a bungalow at Lower Walcot Farm, described as having four small rooms with timber partitions, two of which had insufficient light and ventilation. There was no water supply and the corrugated iron roof let in rain.
The family was eventually rehoused and the building threatened with demolition however W.G. Partridge, dairy farmer and Goddard estate tenant said he would 'probably use it for a cattle food store.'
But it was not only the private landlords who needed to get their house in order. In 1947 eight Corporation owned properties in Byron Street racked up a long list of defects. Structural work such as attention to brickwork and roof repairs, along with the replacement of joists and floorboards, ill fitting windows with broken glass and defective ceiling plaster came in at an estimated £962 (more than £27,000 today) and this would only raise the accommodation to 'reasonably fit for human habitation.'
One tenant, fed up with trying to get results from her landlord, took her complaints to the Right Honourable T. Reid, Labour MP for Swindon in 1949.
Built around 1900 the houses in Beatrice Street were obviously in need of some renovation and Mrs Stevens living at number 129 described her house as being 'not damp but wet from top to bottom.'
'I pay 19/6 (97p about £85 today) per week for this place yet I can get nothing done. I am turning to you as my last hope,' she wrote. Her daughter lived with her and was shortly expecting a baby. 'I do not know what to do about bringing a new born baby here,' Mrs Stevens said.
The complaint was referred back to Swindon's Medical Officer of Health. The District Sanitary Inspector, who had previously been unable to gain access to the property, made an inspection and sent the owner a notice of essential repairs.
In June 1945 the local housing waiting list stood at 1,100. By 1947 the figure had risen to 3,685.
In 1951 construction work began on 200 acres at Stratton Cross Roads, When completed in mid 1955 the Penhill estate comprised 1,500 homes as work began on three neighbourhoods in the Walcot area. Park North, Park South and Walcot were completed in the early 1960s, each comprising between 1,500 - 1,950 new homes.
Photographs taken during another town regeneration scheme - 1957 Byron Street 1957 Commercial Road and 1964 Farnsby Street see these and others on www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/