Oct 302012

Elisabeth Blanchet

The Excalibur Estate in Catford is Britain’s largest surviving post-war prefab estate. The 186 pre-fabricated homes were built by Italian and German prisoners of war in 1945/46 to house returning servicemen and their families, part of larger project which saw 160,000 prefabs – “Palaces for the People” – erected across the UK. Each prefab had two bedrooms around a central core of kitchen (with fridge and cooker), toilet and bathroom; there was running hot water, a boiler, built-in storage, electric lighting and sockets: for many, this was a huge leap in quality of life. Prefabs, with their gardens and more space and privacy than traditional brick terraces, looked more like American homes than British ones. Estates were designed to have a sense of community, with houses sometimes built around a green and connected by footpaths.

The Excalibur remains virtually unchanged. Some residents have added new doors and windows, some have even given their home a mock-Tudor makeover, but the sense of community remains.

Lewisham Council now intends to develop the 12-acre site, replacing the prefabs with 400 new homes. Six prefabs are listed by English Heritage; the other 180 are to be pulled down in five phases. The slideshow here features shots of the Excalibur at Christmas; to see a larger version of any photo, click its thumbnail on the left.

Elisabeth Blanchet has spent 11 years photographing the Catford and other similar estates, and interviewing and filming their inhabitants. A temporary exhibition of photographs, memorabilia and films will be held in an empty prefab at 17 Meliot Road from 8th March to 1st April 2014 – see The Prefab Museum for more details.

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