Municipal Housing in 1936
1936 saw the first large-scale change to the North Wharf Road area for nearly a hundred years. Most of the old houses in North Wharf Road, with their smoking chimneys, persisted until 1980 when Sarah Siddons School was built. However, one section of houses was demolished under the Slum Clearance Acts of the 1930s and the five-storey Dudley House was built.
Dudley House is typical of Council flats of the period. Solidly built, with rear access balconies, Crittal metal window frames in the 1936 style and a steep roof with dormer windows. It was an immense improvement on the crumbling and insanitary houses it replaced.
People at this time were not used to high buildings and expected to live in ones that looked like ordinary houses. Dudley House is 'house shaped' but much larger. There is also a physical reason for this height. The flats were built to be heated by coal. The coalman could be expected to carry sacks of coal up to the fifth floor but certainly not higher. High buildings were possible at this time but they were not cheap. Nor are they today. New York is built on solid granite rock, while other people have to pay for their foundations.
There was a further, economic reason for restricting the height. Allowing higher buildings would have so increased the value of the land that it would have made it impossible to build municipal housing at affordable rents. Only the rich could have afforded the rents which would have been demanded. In 1936 building height was controlled by regulations which permitted only six storeys. When Senate House was built in Malet Street, WC1, the upper floors of the tower had to be used for storing chairs.