Home-Finding in the 1930s

Fragments: The Manchester and Salford edition of The Homefinder, Number 34, March 1938; guide to the 8th Daily Dispatch ‘Brighter Home Exhibition‘, March – April 1933; Manchester Old and New, September 1933

In the Britain of the 1930s there evolved an almost perfect match between the socially aspiring sectors of society seeking a way out of claustrophobic and insanitary working-class housing and those seeking a profit from the housing market: builders, land owners, architects, surveyors, estate agents, mortgage brokers, building societies and insurance companies. Joining them in hope were retailers, wholesalers, interior decorators, electrical and heating engineers, plumbers, glaziers, furniture dealers and others offering goods or services likely to attract the relatively well-heeled residents in properties valued from £500 upwards.

Altrincham, A small Semi-detached House of modern type, situated conveniently near to Navigation Road Station and within a few minutes of the bus route. It is offered at a very reasonable figure and represents a very attractive purchase.

 

The Homefinder was one of the several means by which new housing was brought to the attention of the public. The Manchester and Salford edition was typically put together by an estate agent, in this case, C. Stuart Murray Ltd., with offices in Hollins Chambers in Bridge Street, Manchester, and The Downs in Altrincham, Cheshire. It was essentially their advertising instrument for the sale or renting of supposedly ‘attractive…well-built…spacious…’ detached and semi-detached property in ‘delightfully quiet and private situation’ on the suburban fringes of Manchester, at prices ranging from £500 to £3,000.

These were mostly individually designed houses built by established and well-capitalized companies. Even more prolific were houses, ‘in convenient positions’, complete with gardens, garages and ‘modern labour-saving devices’, constructed on uniform plans as ‘estates’ by ‘speculative’ builders, in anticipation of buyers who, with the help of cheap and readily accessible mortgages and low deposits, could afford prices of £750 or more.

 

From around 1931 such estates became an increasingly common feature of inner suburban Manchester. Many of them appear in the September 1933 edition of Manchester Old and New, a booklet which, while purporting to be an account of Manchester’s progress in terms of sanitation and disease control, and offering ‘useful knowledge on health and home’, is more obviously an advertisement for houses on the ‘clean and healthy’ new estates of the speculative builder. The ‘Path to Healthy and Happy Homes’ was to buy or rent a house on one of these estates, on which ‘there was room to breathe’.

 

…there was no “breathing space.” People lived couped up in squalid homes, with few or no open spaces; the value of fresh air was never known; the sunlight never penetrated these homes of olden days; these homes with few, or, in most cases, closed-up windows. What small wonder, then, that disease spread as it did…

The modern house was rather more than a happy home. It was a symptom (and a conspicuous advertisement) of social advance, appearing regularly in family albums as soon as it was acquired. It was an instrument of cultural change: the vehicle which led families into the version of modernity evolving in the Britain of the 1930s. The house itself had been built to a modern design. The ‘labour saving devices’ – everything from electric washing machines and refrigerators to lawn-mowers and toasters – were typically the first direct encounter of their owners with modern technology. And those owners were being pressed by advertisers on all sides, by the growing number of magazines addressed to householders, as well as by considerable peer pressure, to use their homes as receptacles for the variegated artifacts of the 1930s version of modernity.

The Daily Dispatch claimed of its ‘Brighter Homes Exhibition’, held in Manchester’s Civic Hall in 1933, that ‘the ideals of countless home-makers are here found transformed into reality.’ Over a hundred stands offered a wide range of household goods, ‘ideal’, ‘perfect’, ‘convenient’, popular’, ‘hygienic’, ‘comfortable’, ‘modern’, ‘moderately priced’ and, for the most part, ‘comprehensively guaranteed’ and available on ‘pay-as-you-use terms’:

‘Goblin Wizard’ and ‘Goblin Triumph’ vacuum cleaners; ‘Anglo-Italian Artistic’ lamps and statuettes; ‘the clever little’ Bunty switch lever, which made it possible to turn off the lights whilst lying in bed; washing machines which cleaned clothes ‘quickly, effectively but gently’; ‘garden rooms’ which could be used ‘for such varying purposes as a study, nursery, playroom, bedroom; greenhouses ‘simple to erect…which can be used for any general purpose’; that ‘remarkable British invention’, the burglar-proof bolt, ‘tested and approved by Scotland Yard; the Colorless Firelighter, ‘no smoke, no smell, no dirt, no trouble, tested and approved by good housekeeping’; the Clarocit window cleaner, ‘recognized throughout the World’; the Electorlux Minor, the ‘lowest-priced, self contained, automatic refrigerator ever offered’, the Eastwork kitchen cabinet with a ‘pull-out porcelain table’ and a ‘roller shuttle front like an office desk’; the ‘Midynet’ home dry cleaner, which could clean a dance frock for a cost of sixpence’; Fryer’s furniture, of excellent taste in design and moderate cost’; pianos made from foreign and Imperial woods; lamps ‘100% British pioneers of the electrical industry’; the Hoover electric cleaner, ‘in use in 3,000,000 homes’; ‘the Hun-Tranco easy chair, stuffed with pure hair’; ‘live tropical and foreign fish aquariums, suitable for house decoration’; Swan Cabinet Company’s ‘goods that are good all through: no junk’ cocktail cabinet complete with shakers, juice extractors and cherry sticks’; and a variety of decorative ‘novelties’ which included models and pictures of dogs, tea-sets ‘made by famous potteries’, bird baths, garden hammocks, ‘Rose Temples’, ‘artistic fireplaces’, ‘anti-splash tea strainers’, and Wade miniatures.

All in all, a fair summary of modernity in its domestic guise.

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