The Stockton Test – Alliance Street 1953
In the years following the Second World War there was an ever increasing demand for decent housing across the country.
It was estimated at that time that as many as 8 million houses in Britain had been built before 1914. Most of these houses were well-built and structurally sound but fell far below what was considered to be acceptable standards for basic sanitation and heating. Many were without bathrooms or had no satisfactory means of heating water. There was considerable concern felt among the building trades, and the Ironfounders in particular, about how this problem could be addressed without an expensive and lengthy program of demolishing what were solid houses and replacing them with new. For this reason, the Allied Ironfounders Ltd decided to undertake what became known as the ‘Stockton Test’.
The plan was to renovate a number of Victorian dwellings to see what could be achieved and at what cost. Stockton was chosen as the site for the test as it was regarded as a typical Northern industrial town with many of the substandard houses the project was aimed at.
Four single storey terraced dwellings in Alliance Street, on the outskirts of Stockton, were acquired by the Allied Ironfounders. These houses, numbers 38, 40, 42 and 44, comprised of a parlour at the front with a passage leading to a kitchen/living room at the rear and a small off-shoot scullery containing a gas-cooker, a draining board and a sink with a cold tap (the only water supply in the house). Each property had a yard at the rear with a coal store and an outside toilet, with the inevitable galvanised bath hanging on the outside wall of the house. All of the houses were occupied by tenants paying 9 shillings (45p) a week – about £8.50p today. Before any work commenced a Local Authority inspection of the properties determined that it would cost a total £208 just to bring all four properties up to the standard required under Section 9 of the Housing Act, although this did not include the provision of a bathroom or hot water supply.
The bathroom was a major part of the development. It was determined that the only practical way to provide a bathroom was to build an extension onto the back of each property into the yard space previously occupied by the scullery, coal store and outside toilet. This new extension allowed for a larger scullery with a ventilated food cupboard and a new sink and drainer with hot and cold running water. The new bathroom and toilet was added beyond this and the coal store was relocated to the bottom of the yard.
The contract for the work was awarded to a small local building firm with a reputation for reliable, high quality workmanship. The estimate for the work came to £350 per house, although this did not cover the cost of changes to the water supply and drainage which required upgrading to meet the needs of the development.
The workforce, including plumbers, bricklayers, joiners and labourers, moved on site on the 19th March 1953 and the first house was ready for inspection by 10th April 1953, just 23 days after work began – this date was a happy coincidence with the opening of the two-thousandth house to be built by Stockton Corporation since the end of WWII. The other properties were completed in sequence and the last of the workmen left the site a few days later.
The eyes of the nation were on Stockton. The outcome of the Stockton Test was eagerly awaited by Local Authorities up and down the land. The Ironfounders commissioned a film which was made available to all Local Authorities to demonstrate what could be achieved. The film was shown to members of the House of Commons and also appeared in a BBC television programme broadcast on July 1st 1954.
It was generally agreed that the Stockton Test clearly demonstrated that it was possible to extend the life of a vast amount of the nation’s housing stock, and while not as attractive as the new council housing being built on the out-of-town estates, a lot of tenants said they would prefer to have their houses renovated and stay in their communities rather than to move to the new estates.
The cost of renovation for each of the properties worked out at an average of £349.17.3d. The government of the day were keen to encourage landlords and owner -occupiers to submit schemes for improvements to properties to their local authorities who were permitted, but not obliged, to subsidise these schemes by up to 50% of the cost. In the event , very few grants were made available as very few applications were submitted. There were a number of reasons for this, not least that landlords were reluctant to spend a lot of money on the improvements to their properties as they were limited to how much they could increase their rents, and many Labour councils were reluctant to give money from the public purse to private property owners although some Tory councils made no grants available at all.
As a footnote to this story it can be recorded that Alliance Street finally fell to the bulldozers in 2012.