Social Housing in Post-war Manchester: Change and Continuity

Peter Shapely

SONY DSCSchool of History, Welsh History and Archaeology, Bangor University


From the end of the First World War to 1979, municipal housing promised to sweep away the old slums and to replace the exploitive slum landlord with a public body to be trusted. At different periods throughout most of the twentieth century, progressive policies attempted to provide new homes that would meet general needs on a series of new estates, and to sweep away and redevelop Slumland.

The local authority faced a series of problems. Legislation, the economy and resources, the land-trap and the scale of the housing crisis faced by the council provided a number of complex challenges. On one level, their efforts can be applauded. Slums were cleared and Manchester managed to curtail the high rise horror that proved a disaster for other cities. Yet, on another level, in the end municipal housing policies re-created the same problems which they had inherited. They built estates, cleared entire areas and, in central areas, redeveloped old communities. In doing so, they used new modern designs and building techniques. However, many of these were not only wasteful, unattractive, badly designed and deeply unpopular but they reinforced social segregation. The buildings changed but the social problems and cultural perceptions remained. Although economic problems and changes underpinned the process, housing policy did nothing to challenge the social divide. Rather, it combined with the social and economic issues to reinforce resident isolation through association and negative stereotypes.

This paper will consider public housing policy across the post-war period. It will look at the problems faced by the local authority, their attempts to frame the building programme as an extension of civic pride and the reality which soon unfolded as the ‘inner city’ replaced ‘Slumland.’

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Peter Shapely is modern and contemporary British urban historian.
Previous research has focused on voluntary charities, urban power
relations, policy creation and implementation and local governance.


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