A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46



No. 39, 11th March 1943


A note submitted by Mass Observation, but not sponsored by Home Intelligence.

Of late, Housing has become a prominent subject of discussion amongst all those concerned with postwar reconstruction. What are the homes built after the war going to look like? What sort of homes do the people want? During the last two years, Mass Observation has been making an intensive study of housing problems, collecting facts about people's attitudes to their present homes, and probing their wishes about houses built after the war.

People were visited in their homes in several parts of England in Flats, Garden Cities, Housing Estates and Old Houses, comparative data being collected for each type of home. Asked whether they liked or disliked their home, they answered as follows:

80% on Housing Estates liked their home;
79% in Garden Cities liked their home;
78% in Flats liked their home;
62% in Old Houses liked their home

Definite single factors, influencing people in their attitude to the house or flat in which they live can be traced.

People who have lived in their homes for more than ten years liked them more (74%) than people who had lived in them for less than three years (68%).

People who owned their homes liked them more (76%) than people who rented them (70%).

People possessing bathrooms liked their homes significantly more (81%) than those without (61%)

The Kitchen .

Perhaps the most important single factor influencing people's likes and dislikes of their home was the kitchen. 82% of those who liked their kitchens liked their houses, while only 43% who disliked their kitchens liked their houses.

The kitchen is the most used room in the average working-class home, and the place where the housewife spends most of her waking hours. Yet, it is often the Cinderella of rooms in the home; it is sometimes dark and usually small. Here is a description of a kitchen in a modern block of flats; nearly everyone owning a kitchen of this type liked it, the only complaints coming from a few people who would have liked it a little larger in size:

Each flat is fitted with a very modern kitchenette, containing electric cooker, copper, sink with two draining boards, built-in larders, and built-in cupboards. Water is heated by an efficient stove in the living room.

These kitchens contained almost everything a housewife could want; they were labour-saving and convenient to run, requiring only a minimum amount of cleaning, since all cupboards are built in. Features found in many other, especially older kitchens, and much disliked, were open dressers, small sinks with tiny or no draining boards, dirty stoves and coppers heated by coal. In several instances, kitchens with three or more doors leading into them were found, making the kitchen cold and draughty. Having to store coal in the kitchen constituted a major grumble and was strongly resented. Instances of badly arranged artificial lighting were often met with.

The Bathroom .

Baths, bathrooms and lavatories figure prominently in people's housing wants and criticisms. Even the poorer working-class section of the population today feel that they have a right to a bathroom; the question of a bath has become one of the major social dividing lines. Since the last war, the need for a bath even in the more modest types of home has been recognised, and few homes have been built without a bath in the last twenty years. Architects have tried to solve this problem in various ways. In some houses in Garden Cities, a bath was installed in the kitchen, or more rarely, a bath was put into the third bedroom. In a few houses on Housing Estates, a sliding wall separates the bathroom from the kitchen, but in the majority of houses the bathroom is upstairs, usually combined with the lavatory. Nearly all these arrangements are unpopular; what people want is a bathroom containing the bath and a sink with hot and cold water laid on to both (At present in the majority of working-class homes, the only sink found in the house is situated in the scullery, so that the family has to wash and shave there. This is strongly disliked). But even more disliked is the lavatory-bathroom combination, many asking that these two should be separated, or that there should be a second lavatory in the house preferably downstairs. Having to heat the bathwater in the copper and pumping it upstairs proved also unpopular, and people constantly asked for an efficient hot water stove.

Gardens .

Possession of a garden is a very important focal point in the whole housing set-up. The average Englishman and English-woman dreams of his or her own home and garden . When people are asked whether they would like a garden nearly all answer in the affirmative, though there was less demand for gardens in areas where only some of the houses had them.

Gardenless people gave many different reasons for wanting gardens. They are in order of importance:

Growing vegetables,

Growing flowers,

Growing things generally.

Keeping chickens,


Children to play in,

Drying, washing.

In fact, people who already had gardens put them to the following uses:

Growing vegetables,

Drying washing,

Growing flowers,


The majority of people with gardens took pride in them and kept them well, particularly in Garden Cities where only 9% of neglected gardens were found. In the whole sample, 18% had neglected gardens, often people with children or very old people, who found difficulty in properly cultivating a garden.

Owning and Renting .

At present only a small fraction of the population own their homes; the majority rent them. In this sample, though 24% would have liked to own a house only 7% in fact did so. There was thus a considerable margin of unfulfilled desire to own. A large number of people rented their homes because they either never had the money or opportunity to buy them; in some cases where people lived in Flats or Housing Estates, the home could, in any case, not be bought. A great many people were deterred from owning by the feeling of being tied, once they possessed a house. As some put it, they wanted to be free to retire to the seaside or country, after retiring from work. A few were afraid of the expenses, such as repairs, incurred when owning a house.

On the other hand, a fairly large number of people regretted never having bought a house, many remarking that they might have bought the house in which they lived several times over, had they paid instalments instead of rent. Yet many, though they saw no immediate prospect of owning a home, would like one day to buy their house and settle down.

Privacy .

Another important, but often overlooked factor in the whole housing set-up, is the strong feeling in favour of privacy in the home. Anything interfering with this privacy is deplored. Living in rooms, sharing a house, sharing a porch or gate, (common in Housing Estates), having a garden that is overlooked, are all disliked; once people are in their own homes, they liked to exclude the rest of the world as much as possible. This is what home means to a young, married girl, who for wartime reasons, has not been able to set up a home of her own:

“Home means somewhere that belongs to me. Something that I can call my own. Preferably it should have someone there who shares my life and home and books and wireless set. But primarily it is somewhere where I have the right to refuse others admission. Somewhere that belongs to ME.”

The old phrase that “the Englishman's home is his castle” dies hard. The home means to people the place where they reign, where nothing and nobody is allowed to intrude. They like their home to be part of a larger community, but once inside their home, people want to exclude everything and everyone except their own family.

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