In Dudley House there appear to be bedroom windows in the roof, as if the top flats were rnaisonettes with attic bedrooms. In fact, the roof was a laundry, with large butler sinks for hand-washing of clothes and drying lines inside the roof space. The windows were louvres to allow the free passage of air to dry the washing. Many industrial dwellings, such as Portman Buildings (now demolished) or those in Crawford Street.1 had flat roofs with railings, clothes posts and washing lines. In Dudley House this laundry area was roofed in. The floor is made of concrete and asphalted, with a raised threshold and a surrounding rim. If a tap overflowed, several of inches of water could swill around in the sunken floor and be drained away, without penetrating to the flats below.

In the 1970s a girl's arm was badly injured elsewhere in a spin dryer, in a similar laundry. She had not been supervised and the London County Council had to admit liability in court. The Authority realised that it could not provide adequate supervision in the dozens of laundries in its many properties. The cost of supervision, if divided equally among all tenants would have been £1.50 a week each, or if charged only to those tenants using the facilities, it would have been £3.50. Reluctantly, the laundries were closed. It caused some distress at the time as the tenants had either to wash clothes in their own small flats, go to the expense of using launderettes, or buying their own washing machines.

Today, when washing machines and launderettes are accepted as the norm, the use of communal wash-houses has largely passed.

Dudley House was built under the 1930s Slum Clearance Acts. After a Housing Survey which shocked the country, Parliament passed a series of Acts which began to tackle the problem. Areas of condemned housing were demolished and new buildings erected. This is a story on its own and was far from completed when the World War II broke out. There were far more houses declared unfit than were rebuilt. Houses in Daventry Street, for example, were condemned in 1926, but not rebuilt for lack of money and will. They would later be caught up in another, completely unexpected building blight, described on pages 185-201. By 1940 however, the problem became urgent Bomb Repair. Then any shelter was better than none. Slum Clearance and the upgrading of estates had to wait.


North Wharf Road terraces, photographed in 1957

These were the conditions of the Dudley House flats from the start and were taken as normal in that polluted time. It was not until the 1960s that the Clean Air Acts would change the atmosphere and start to reduce the death toll from chest diseases.


Footnote

  1. See the Portman Buildings memories of Prebendary Arthur Royall and the autobiography of Margherita Rabuffl.

 

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Updated July 5, 2011