BISF Permanent Houses - Not Temporary Prefabs
During the Blitz of World War II, over 250,000 homes were destroyed in Great Britain and over 43,000 people lost their lives at the hands of the German Luftwaffe.
At the end of the War Britain faced a huge housing shortage of monumental proportions. Hundreds of thousands of houses across the country had been laid to waste by heavy bombing and thousands more had suffered severe structural damage and were unfit for occupancy.
A huge house rebuilding programme began in 1945 with the aim of building 750,000 new homes across England and Wales primarily to house the homeless and the many thousands of soldiers returning home from overseas fighting. The birth rate had also risen rapidly and many thousands still lived in squalid slums that needed to be cleared if a health crisis was to be avoided.
Skilled labour and traditional building materials were incredibly scarce which forced the Government to look toward alternative methods of construction using wide range of non-traditional building materials. The aim was to build houses quickly and cheaply using the minimal amount of skilled workers. Steel, amongst many other materials was just one of the selected options. Factories that once produced bombs, aircraft and munitions for the war effort, could quite easily be adapted to manufacture a variety of temporary bungalows under the newly formed Emergency housing act. These houses were built in a similar way to how static caravans are built today but without wheels or a chassis. Each individual factory home was manufactured in two halves which when joined together, formed a complete dwelling.
These structures were literally loaded onto the backs of lorries before being driven to their intended destination. A small team of semi skilled workers then fully assembled the structures on top of basic foundations, before connecting the required services. Despite being designed to only last 10 years or so, many of these so called ‘Prefab’ bungalows still exist today.
The term Prefab, literally mens Prefabricated (or Pre Made) and this is exactly how these bungalows were constructed. All the required components were pre-manufactured/ Pre-Fabricated rather like the individual pieces of one large puzzle.
The B.I.S.F House on the other hand was constructed in a slightly different way. The steel frame and basic components of the house had to be pre-manufactured in order to replicate exact copies of the thousands that were to be built Nationwide. The original Architect, Sir Frederick Gibberd and his engineer Donovan Lee, purposely designed the house to accommodate a wide range different internal and external building materials which could be applied during site construction. Internally, walls and ceilings could be fitted out with sheets of drywall, fibreboard or even hardboard and examples of these variable materials are still evident to this day. Many houses in the West Midlands still retain the original hardboard walls and fibreboard ceiling panels to this day, although the latter matter is now considered to be a fire hazard.
Externally, the majority of the BISF Houses were constructed using rendered lathe to the lower elevation and pressed steel panels to the upper
Externally twalls were designed to accommodate render on lathe or even complete brick skins
The only part of the BISF house that was designed to be standard across the board, was the rigid steel frame of the building. Everything else could effectively be constructed using a wide range of materials depending upon availability. Internal walls were boarded with drywall, fibreboard or lightweight hardboard
The original Architect who designed the B.I.S>
The majority of temporary houses were built as a result of the Emergency Housing act which was under great pressure to f
Sections of houses were made in factories and were reassembled on building sites. These houses were quick to erect and provided good facilities such as bathrooms and gardens. These houses were meant to be a temporary solution to the problem of housing shortages but many remained after 40 years.
The New Towns Act 1946
New towns were introduced to deal with the problem of overcrowded city centres. 14 new towns were planned in the 1940s and another 14 built in the 1960s. New towns contained a variety of house types. Shops, schools and leisure facilities were within easy reach. New towns were built in Scotland at Cumbernauld, Glenrothes, Livingston, East Kilbride and Irvine.
The devastation caused a severe housing shortage with thousands
BISF Steel Framed Houses were built as part of the Post WWII rebuilding program replace thousands of homes that had been damaged or destroyed during the war.
During the War years, hundreds of thousands of British homes were destroyed due to Hitler’s relentless bombing campaign
Many other Temporary Houses were also built during this time including the factory made Prefabricated or ‘Prefab’ Bungalow that was often clad in steel panels similar in design to those used to clad the upper story of BISF Houses.
The BISF house was highly favoured due to the speed in which it could be constructed and the need for fewer skilled tradesmen to do so. Firm backing by the British Iron & Steel Federation ensured a regular supply of steel, essential for use in the construction process. The use of preformed steel sheets in the design of the BISF house gave it a distinct appearance very similar to the Temporary Prefabs that were built in large numbers across the country.
This similarity caused many people to wrongly believe that a BISF was a prefab by way of construction and design.
The BISF House is not a Prefabricated house. It is a Steel Framed Non-Traditional House incorporating a number of prefabricated materials during stages of construction. The Steel frame was manufactured off site just as an RSJ (Steel Girder) is today. Unlike true Prefabs the BISF house was constructed piece by piece on site.
Each BISF house cost the local council £1307 and this was not including the cost of slab foundation that also needed to be built on site. Amazingly by todays standards the comparable cost would be over £45,000.00! A typical standard construction house at the time cost just £1,170 almost £150 less than a BISF house. As the nationwide build took hold these costs increased significantly due to production and delivery issues.
Today a typical BISF house has the same expected lifespan as a standard traditional built property providing that it has been maintained.
In 1987 the BRE Building Research Establishment published the following report:
BR113 Steel framed and steel-clad houses: inspection and assessment.
The report gave guidance on the inspection and condition assessment of steel framed housing, which was based following on site investigations of a number of systems. The Building Research Establishment team concluded that
“The vast majority of steel framed dwellings have given levels of performance not very different from many traditionally built dwellings of the same period and, provided the right repairs are carried out there is no reason why steel framed and steel-clad dwellings and cast iron dwellings should not give good performance into the foreseeable future, and certainly on a par with the life conventionally assumed for rehabilitated dwellings built-in conventional construction.
Another great post Marc.
The £1307 is presumably per dwelling rather than per unit (the combined cost of 2x dwellings, ‘semi-detached’) are you able to confirm that?
These houses are definitely not temporary, lifting a floor board almost an inch thick puts a late 80’s detached house & local 30’s semi to shame. I’m astounded by the quality of work & materials used throughout my BISF house.
I’ll post a few pics of the lower part of some of my stanchions some time soon, I don’t anticipate a problem with them :D.
Presumably any metal degradation could be cured with an angle grinder and oxy acetylene welding kit (trying not to warp the frame)?
I was always told they were only built to last for ten years and I always thought this was true untill now.
It’s information like this that makes this site great for finding really good reliable information.
Now I make sure that i correct everyone who throws the 10 year life span at me and it is so satisfying to see their faces :0)
Thanks to everyone on this site, you all do a great job and create some amazing posts!
Hi folks – first time poster – i’m a local historian for the South Oxhey area. Tis was a large estate built by the LCC in Herts just after the war and a sizeable proportion of homes built were BISF – one area of the estate – predominantly comprised of BISF houses was known as tintown! Another style built were made pf precast concrete panels assembled on a concrete slab on site. They were flat roofed and had a tin chimney stack projecting through the roof protected by no more that what appeared to be a couple of paving slabs on end – bridged by a third! Any ideas what type of houses these would have been?
The warmest of welcomes to our community!
We are always looking out for historical information relating to BISF Houses and other builds too.
I have a couple of similar images deep in my research archives somewhere that might be a match. I’ll have a root around and see what I can find.
I’ve had a quick look in one of my manual but I don’t think I have managed to find the flat roof house youre talking about so far but I’ll post some of these for you to see just in case.
Are none of the originals still standing?
Thanks for the reply. I recently photographed one of the last untouched BISF houses on the Oxhey estate – the late occupier had lived there since new in 1948. I spoke with the builders renovating the house and they let me into the stripped out house to take some pics – fascinating stuff. All of three flat roofed ORLIT homes were demolished in the 1980’s A total of 502 BISF houses were built on the estate.
Thank you for sharing a great set of images.
That’s an excellent shot of the stripped down fireplace and full support frame. I expect that will be of great benefit to other users planning on undertaking a removal.
It’s good to see the standard party wall fully exposed too.
I initially set up the site so that our users could contribute and share images such as these for the benefit of everyone and your post is a perfect example of this happening.
I too try to drop in when I see builders working on a house. It’s amazing what you can see and what you can pick by a quick 5 minute drop in.
Thanks again for the great share!
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