Prefab Days

Prefab Days – A community Remembers
More Prefab Days – Belle Vale Remembers
Published by the Belle Vale Prefab Project

Reviewed by Jeremy Hawthorn

These two small paperbacks document the experience of living in the 'prefab' estate of Belle Vale.

At the end of the Second World War there was urgent pressure for improved housing. A Government Temporary Housing Programme commissioned several types of 'prefabricated houses', built mostly in aircraft factories (there's swords into ploughshares for you) and capable of being put up in less than a week. Over 150,000 were put up in all, 3,500 of them in Liverpool.

The largest group of 1159 aluminium houses was put up on farmland along Childwall Valley Road and named the Belle Vale estate. They were all identical two bedroom houses with back sheds and small gardens and arranged in small avenues. This sounds very organised but there was no grand plan. The city architect didn't like the aluminium house design and anyway the houses were only supposed to last ten to fifteen years at most. There were no shops as part of this development.

The first tenants moved in in late 1946. The books don't say how people got their tenancies: you don't see any black faces in the photographs, but there was a full mix of Catholic and Protestant which was significant for Liverpool at that time. Many tenants were ex-services who had mobility problems and needed bungalows. All the houses were two-bedroom, which meant that almost all tenants were families with children. Yet there was no local school for the first three years until Joseph Williams Primary was built.

Despite – or because of – official indifference, a community spirit quickly developed. Surveys had established that people wanted houses with gardens. These houses, with their bathrooms and kitchen fittings were a great improvement on what people had had before. The surrounding fields and railway line were perfect for children to explore. A Labour club was built by residents in their spare time. Slowly but surely shops and more schools were created. The Catholic church also moved in, with Our Lady of the Assumption built on a site purchased with the proceeds of a successful gambling flutter.

The books are largely made up of the memories of former residents, collected over the last four years. Without exception they say how happy they were in the prefabs. You might expect an idealised picture: it was all a long time ago, contributors were of course all children at the time and there will have been some post-war euphoria as well in the early years. But the numerous photographs tell the same story and many people also say how sad they were when they were forced to move to the high-rise gulags of the late 1960s.

The houses were holding up fine but the City Council had other plans for the area. First came the Lee Park estate nextdoor. Then came the eleven-storey flats of the Childwall Valley estate. Resistance grew to the threat of the bulldozer. A collective demand to be rehoused together was refused. Instead, one by one families were 'offered' alternative housing on the big new 1960s estates and the community was slowly dispersed.

The second book (the better of the two, by the way) reproduces a blistering article from the Liverpool Weekly News in August 1968. At this time the prefabs were being abandoned and the new estate and proudly-named Belle Vale District Centre were being planned. The author – unnamed and so far untraced – had lived in the prefabs for almost twenty years and was incensed at the Council's demolition plans. The article makes compelling reading and invites comparison with the present-day clearances of Liverpool areas such as Edge Lane and the Welsh Streets.

In short, these books preserve an important pocket of local history. Those who laboured to compile them have done well.

For more material, including many more photographs, visit

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Sorry Comments Closed

Comment left by John Boye on 6th October, 2011 at 10:21
Nice review. Only one small niggle - the reference to there being 'no black faces' in the prefab estate. There were very few black faces, even in Liverpool, just after the war. Tenants came from all over - most in our street were from the Woolton / Garston area - and I don't recall any from central liverpool whose homes had been destroyed in the war. For most, it was indeed their first home. So, in short, the demographic landscape was quite different in 1940's Liverpool. I don't recall any Chinese tenants either - and I had a Chinese uncle! Best Wishes. John Boye

Comment left by Mike Meredith on 7th October, 2011 at 1:21
I agree with John Boye a very nice review.So here's my story.I will cover some of the points mentioned in the review as I go along I was born in the prefabs at 152 Cloverdale road on the 7 November 1949 at 3 a.m. in the morning.My mother was a catholic and my father was a protestant and I had the most wonderful childhood you could ever wish for.My father came back from the war in 1945 and lived in Garston and my mother was from Woolton and they moved in to the prefabs in 1948.I spent my first twelve years of life in the prefabs and cant remember seeing any black or chinese faces.I do know that some of the people in our avenue did come from the town centre.Both of my parents have past on God Bless them but I do remember a story my mother told regarding Oue Lady of the Assumption church and you do mention it in your review.The church was built by the Archdioces and the first priest was Father HICKSON who liked a bet on the horses.It transpied that Father HICKSON won a considerable amount of money and with some of the proceeds purchased some land in Hedgefeild rd, a short ditance away and built Our Ladys Junior school.I have this information from a very good authority.You mentioned in your review regarding tenancies, again my mother told me that she had to visit our local doctor, Doctor ELLENBOGAN on a minor health issue and was asked by the doctor if she was interested in moving to one of the new prefabs and rest is history. She was living in woolton at the time. Anyway enough,I would like to finish by saying that the prefab community and its people have made me what i am today. A well rounded indivdual who would not change a single day of my childhood.Everybody was in the 'same boat' and people had time for each other.Thank you for the memories prefab people and god bless you all where ever you may be. cheers and best wishes, Mike Meredith

Comment left by Lou Catterall on 6th July, 2012 at 21:12
Hi withref to the previous comments re black/Chinese I lived at 200 Cloverdale for many years my mum (bless her) was half caste Phillipine and I was proud and still am to be that, and to put the record straight my now wife Paulette,s dad had the chippie in Bridgefield who by the way was Vietnamese

Comment left by Brian Caulfield on 31st May, 2014 at 0:37
My family and I lived in a prefab at 6 Epworth Street Liverpool 6. There were lots of different races of people living and working close by. I had a black mate who told me his grandad was an African chief.I also had a chinese mate named Stanley Leeung whose family owned the Hong Kong cafe in Prescot Street I delivered newspapers as a 10 year old for Tommy Lee who ran the newspaper stall corner of London Road/Moss Street.I loved the area,and I loved living in a prefab.

Comment left by andy s on 11th September, 2014 at 5:20
does anyone remember the pinball table in groppies café childwall.? andy s

Comment left by Brenda Howard (nee Hughes) on 27th November, 2014 at 21:36
I spent my youth in a prefab opposite Sheil Park.It was quite a big estate stretching from Boalar St.down to Derby St.I moved in there when I was 4 until 12 when we were moved to Kirkby. By then Mother had 4 children in that prefab, the back bedroom took a double and 1 single bed and we seemed happy enough

Comment left by Ray Smyth on 26th February, 2015 at 14:24
Hello Louis Catterall,Just found loads of Belle Vale stuff on the laptop,and your name came up,Fond memories, Regards,Ray Smyth.