Atholl 1945 Steel Framed House  


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Atholl Steel Houses Ltd

1945-48 Atholl Post War 1600

Atholl Steel Framed House 1945 Variant

The Atholl 1945 system was used in both England and Scotland.

A block of two-storey, four-apartment semi-detached Atholl cottages was built in 1945 by Atholl Steel Houses Limited for the Scottish Special Housing Association at their housing demonstration site at Sighthill, Edinburgh.

It is currently not known if any other semi-detached blocks were built or still exist in Scotland. 

If you are aware of any such buildings, please use the comments section below.

History  Atholl Steel Houses was formed by Sir William Beardmore and the Duke of Atholl in 1924. The company built prefabricated houses from standard steel parts produced at the Beardmore steel plant at Mossend.

Berdmore Steel Plant


1944: In October 1944 Atholl Houses Limited successfully put forward proposals to increase their output to the Interdepartmental Committee on Housing Construction, otherwise known as the Burt Committee who subsequently approved an order for a further 1500 houses which were built in 1947.

Research indicates that it is likely that all of these 1945 Atholl houses were erected as four in one blocks. A pair of semi detached houses would be split into 4 flat type, individual apartments with front and side access to ground and first floor levels respectively.

By early 1948 the supply of steel declined drastically. The Cabinets Central Economic Planning Staff were forced to restrict the use of steel to just one ton per house. The production of steel and steel-framed houses would also cease, and manufacturers of steel rich non-traditional houses were ordered to drastically reduced the steel content of their properties.

All new proposals would require Cabinet Planning Committee consent. Atholl responded to these restrictions by designing an modified version of their design which retained the inner steel frame but instead used 100mm brick and an inner leaf of timber studding finished with plasterboard in place of the original steel sheeting. 

General Description

The construction methods used in the Atholl 1945 steel framed house are essentially very similar to the earlier 1926 version, the details of which can be viewed HERE.

The 1945 version received several upgrades including but not limited to, improvements in architectural design, sound insulation and more efficient thermal insulation. This particular design was also Burt Committee approved.

The main identifying features between the 1920s and 1940s dwellings are shown below:

Construction Element 1926 Version 1945 Version
Vertical joints of external steel cladding Masked with
4 inch wide strips or a 4 inch table flange of the T-stanchion exposed externally
Visible Butt joints
External Corners Exposed angle stanchions Visible Butt joints
Roof Type Hipped Roof Gabled Roof

Identification – In general, the Atholl 1945 house was built as follows:

  • Built as semi-detached houses.
  • Having medium pitch gable roof covered with profiled asbestos cement sheets or concrete tiles.
  • Painted harled [roughcast] flat steel sheets.
  • Visible vertical butt joints overlapping horizontal joints between steel sheets.
  • A flat canopy was fitted above front door.

Variants to the standard model

Foundations and substructure – 1940s four-in-a-block flats version.

Main Structure

Each steel stanchion is supported on a raised stepped plinth founded on a 2ft by 2ft by 8in (or depth to suit ground conditions) concrete pad. Around the perimeter a 12in by 4in concrete strip foundation links the stanchion base pads. A precast concrete block plinth, incorporating a lead dpc, is built off the strip foundation. The solum (oversite) consists of 3 inch ashes with an asphalt finish.

The steel frame consists of stanchions within all the external walls and with horizontal steel beams on the front and rear walls to support the first floor joists. Steel roof trusses complete the framework.

The frame for one half of a block which contains two flats consists of:
– Four stanchions to the gable end, of which the two 4in by 4in rolled steel angle (RSA) corner stanchions are eaves height and the two 4in by 3in RSJ I section intermediate stanchions extend to the roof line;
-Eight eaves height 4in by 4in T intermediate stanchions, four to the front elevation and four to the rear;
-Two single storey 3in by 3in RSJ I section stanchions located 14ft 1O 1/2 inches in from the front stanchion, support a 7in by 4in RSJ spine beam which runs from the separating wall to the gable end wall.

The stanchions have steel base plates resting on a dpc and are bolted to the foundation pads.

The stanchions at the front and rear walls, located at 8ft 6in centres, are tied laterally at the first floor level by 6in by 3in RSAs fixed with cleats between the stanchions which also support the first floor joists. These angles are in turn tied to the spine beam with 3/4 inch diameter steel rods midway between the stanchions.

The spine beam is supported at the gable end wall by a 5 inch by 1 1/2 in RS channel bolted between the I section intermediate stanchions.
On the gable wall at first floor ceiling level, 2 1/2 inch by 2 1/2 inch RS angles provide support for the ceiling joists.
The roof trusses which span between the front elevation and the rear elevation stanchions, each consist of;

  • 2 1/2 inch by 2 1/2 inch by 1/4 inch T section ceiling ties,
  • 3 inch by 2 inch by 1/4 inch angle section rafters and 1 1/2 inch by 1 1/2 inch by 3/16 in and 1 3/4 inch by 1 3/4 inch by 1/4 inch angle section struts.
  • There are no trusses on the gable or separating walls.

External walls

Cladding: The frame is clad on the outside with steel sheets 8ft 6in wide by 3ft high and of 11 gauge steel on the ground floor and of 12 gauge steel on the first floor. The top of each sheet is bent inwards through 90″. The bottom of each sheet is cranked to oversail the sheet below to form a lap joint which is secured by bolting. The sheets are butt jointed vertically and bolted to the face of the outer flange of each stanchion. At base course level on all external walls, a 2in by 2in angle forms a stiffener to which the ends of the steel cladding are bolted.

Lining: 2 inch by 1 inch timber fillets are bolted to the horizontal flange formed at the top of the steel cladding. 1 1/2 inch by 1 1/2 inch vertical framing is nailed to the fillets at 16 inch centres. 3/8 inch in plasterboard lining is nailed to the vertical framing with the thermal insulation being provided by means of a layer of mineral wool 1 inch thick, fixed behind the vertical framing.

The separating wall is of 4 1/2 inch brickwork lined on both sides with mineral wool 1 inch thick and 3/8 inch plasterboard lining on 1 1/4 inch by 7/8 inch timber battens. A vertical strip of asbestos isolates the separating wall from the steel cladding at the external wall junction. The brick wall extends into the roofspace but within this area has no lining or insulation.

The partitions are constructed of 2 1/4 inch by l 1/4 inch timber studs, located at 16 inch centres, with two horizontal rails of similar size. They are lined on both sides with 3/8 inch plasterboard.

Ground floor

The ground floor consists of 7/8 inch tongued and grooved flooring supported on 4 inch by 2 inch joists, at 18 inch centres, and spanning from the front to the rear elevation. The joists are supported on 6 inch by 2 inch timber bearers at the external and sleeper walls.

First floor
The first floor consists of 7/8 inch tongue and groove flooring on 8 inch x 2 inch timber joists at 18 inch centres which span from the front to the rear elevation. The joists are supported at the external walls by RS angles and notched into the spine beam. Glass quilt sound insulation is fixed to the underside of the joists with 2 inch by 3/4 inch timber fillets.


Ground floor ceiling
The ground floor ceiling is of 1/2 inch plasterboard nailed to the underside of the timber fillets.

First floor ceiling
The first floor ceiling is of 3/8 inch plasterboard nailed to the underside of the timber joists.
The 3 inch by 2inch timber joists, located at 18 inch centres, span from the gable-end to the separating wall and are notched into the T section ceiling ties of the roof trusses and into the RS angle at the gable wall.

Roof covering
The roof is clad with concrete tiles on 3/4 inch timber sarking which is supported by timber purlins of 5 inch by 3 inch section at the ridge, 6 inches by 2 inch section at the eaves and four 4 inch by 2 inch timber purlins on each side of the roof. The purlins are bolted to steel angle cleats which are in turn bolted to the angle rafters of the roof trusses.

The chimneys are constructed of brick.

Corrosion protection
All steelwork was cleaned and painted with red lead paint at the factory and touched up on site with similar paint to make good any damage. A paint ‘harling’ (roughcast) coat was applied to the external surface of the steel cladding sheets.

Notes for Surveyors

  • Minor corrosion has stanchions at bases and at entrance to upper dwelling.
  • Extensive corrosion has been observed at the edges and rear faces of the exterior steel sheets.
  • Corrosion of steel fixing bolts has also been found.

Certain deterioration has been identified as being specific to the Atholl steel framed system of construction as shown above.
This is not a comprehensive list of all possible defects and equally, not
all of the above defects will necessarily be present in one property.

The findings above serve to highlight features that should be subjected to close examination as part of an overall inspection procedure.
It is emphasised that if significant corrosion of steelwork has occurred, the extent of deterioration may be masked by the corrosion products. In such cases it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine the condition of the steelwork solely by visual means. 

This limits the effectiveness of purely visual inspection techniques, including the use of optical probes. If corrosion is seen to exist, the component should be exposed to enable the extent of deterioration to be determined by removal of the corroded product.

The observations made here result from the examination of a number of Atholl dwellings on various sites in Scotland and England. Some of the dwellings were found to be in their original condition and others were in the process of being refurbished or had been refurbished.
The extent of deterioration varies considerably from house to house and site to site. In most instances deterioration of the cladding was identified, and in some cases this was severe. However only minor surface corrosion was found to the structural steelwork, and no loss of structural integrity was observed. The extent and significance of the deterioration of steel components can and does vary from dwelling to dwelling.

Atholl 1945 Glasgow Variant

Demonstration Houses at 21 and 23 Sighthill, Neuk

Sponsors           Atholl Steel Houses, Glasgow

Consultant         Sam Bunton, LRIBA

Date Built       : 1946

Type of House: Two storey, four apartment semi-detached cottage.

General Note

The Atholl Steel House Company built a large number of houses in Scotland in the years immediately after the first World War.

A number of Prototype Demonstration Houses were built in 1946 at the Scottish Housing  Demonstration site located at Sighthill Neuk.


The prototype Atholl House which had already begun production in England, received several minor modifications prior to being selected for the production throughout Scotland between 1946 and 1950, as part of the Scottish governments sponsored postwar housing programme .

The Sighthill Demonstration site and the original Atholl House can still be viewed today, although it does appear to have undergone some exterior refurbishment.

Demonstration House Sighthill, Neuk. Edinburgh, Scotland

Brief Structural Details – Demonstration House Sighthill

Load bearing system consists of a structural steel frame of stanchions and beams, suppc, upper floor, roof and steel cladding.

The external steel stanchions are of 4 in. x 4 in. x 3/8 T section on the front and rear walls and 3 in. x 10 lb I section on the gables. All have steel base plates bolted to individual foundations.

The stanchions on the gables are at 7 ft. 4 in. centres approximately, and the front and rear walls at 7 ft. 6 in. centres.

At  the first floor level the stanchions on the front and rear walls are connected by a continuous beam of 6 inch x 3 inch x 5/16 inch L section which also supports the first floor joists. The latter supported at mid span by a 6 inch x 3 inch x 10lb. RSJ which runs between the gable and party wall and intermediately upon the 3 in. x 3 in. I stanchions —two to each house.

Wall beams in the gable are of 5 inch x 2 1/2 inch channel section connected to the stanchions floor level, and also carry the ends of the 6 inch x 3 inch. first floor girder ends.

Outer walls consist of an external cladding of painted steel plates with lapped joints, fixed stanchions and an internal lining of plasterboard fixed to prefabricated timber frames.

A glass wool quilt 1 inch thick is draped in the cavity behind the timber frames.

The cladding is of 10 gauge steel plates up to a height of 5 ft. 6 inches and above that of 12 gauge steel plates. At ground level the plates are lapped over a bevelled precast concrete base course.

The separating wall is of cavity construction formed of two leaves of 3 inch thick clinker concrete blockwork with a 2 inch wide cavity and a plaster finish.

Partitions are of timber framing lined with plasterboard.

The roof is constructed of steel trusses with a covering of ‘Trafford Tile’ asbestos cement sheeting fixed to 4 inch x 2inch timber purlins. The ceiling is of plasterboard fixed to prefabricated timber panels supported by the roof trusses.

The Ground floor is formed of 4 inch x 2 inch timber joists and boarding supported on 6 inch x 2inch timber bearers carried on stub piers of brickwork over a treated solum.

The Upper floor is formed of 7 inch x 2 inch timber joists and boarding with a plasterboard ceiling fixed to timber branders.

The Chimney is of brickwork with a render finish.

Plans of the house and constructional details are shown below.

Additional Atholl House information provided by West Dumbarton Council

Houses built by Atholl Steel Houses were erected at White Street, Clydebank, in 1927. The four-in-a-block flats were part of an order placed by Clydebank Borough Council for 100 such houses in the Whitecrook area.

Each flat consisted of a living room, two bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom. Doors at the front of the house gave access to the ground floor flats, with side doors leading to the upper flats. Heavy steel sections were securely bolted to concrete foundation blocks. Horizontal angle irons were attached to carry the ends of the floor and ceiling joists. Floors, ceilings and roofs were of traditional construction.

Do you own or live in an Atholl House?

If  you do, then please share your thoughts and experience in the comments section below.

We would particularly like to hear your views regarding this property type.


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