Saturday, January 4, 2014

Peter Scott's "The Making of the Modern British Home"

Peter Scott is Professor of International Business History at the University of Reading's Henley Business School. He has written extensively on the history of household consumption, retailing, consumer marketing, housing, and consumer durables during the 1920s and 1930s. His last book, Triumph of the South: A Regional Economic History of Britain During the Early Twentieth Century, was awarded the Wadsworth Prize for the best book in British business history published during 2007.

Scott applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Making of the Modern British Home: The Suburban Semi and Family Life between the Wars, and reported the following:
The Making of the Modern British Home charts the rise of mass suburbanisation in Britain over the two decades following World War One. A new housing format, the `Tudor Walters’ or `universal’ home, was promoted as an affordable, low-density, high-quality solution to the housing shortage. Both municipalities and private speculative developers employed this model - a three bedroom semi-detached house with bathroom, modern utilities, and generous gardens.

Such houses were hugely popular, offering a quantum leap in amenities for the four million or so families who moved from urban districts to the suburbs between the wars. However, the social and economic impacts were greatest for those working-class families that migrated from inner-urban areas of high-density housing to the new suburbs. These typically experienced major shifts in behaviour, marking the transition from `traditional’ working-class lifestyles, based around the local community, to `modern’ households, focused on the home, family, long-term socio-economic advancement and `keeping up with the Jones’s’.

The Making of the Modern British Home provides a `commodity biography’ of the interwar suburban semi, covering its antecedents, planning, development, marketing, and especially, the life experiences and behavioural changes of the people who moved there. Page 99 is the second page of Chapter 3, `Marketing Occupation to the Masses’. This chapter outlines the spectacular success of building societies (mutual organisations, similar to U.S. savings and loan associations), and of the building industry, in selling the idea of owner-occupation via mortgage to a mass public. Prior to World War One almost all British houses were rented and there was no great social kudos associated with owner-occupation. Meanwhile a strong working and lower middle-class aversion to mortgage debt - “a millstone round your neck” - restricted home-ownership. By marketing the purchase of new suburban housing on mortgage as being aspirational, affordable, simple, and, moreover, the gateway to a better life for purchasers and their children, building societies and builders persuaded many families to make this transition. Meanwhile they collaborated to make houses much more affordable by offering 95 per cent, 25 year, mortgages for the first time, using a system whereby the building society held back a proportion of the house purchase money from the builder until part of the mortgage had been paid off. These strategies produced Britain’s first home-ownership boom, its highest ever annual rates of private house-building, and the establishment of owner-occupation as the desirable tenure for British families.
Learn more about The Making of the Modern British Home at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue