Housing and Labour: A pilot oral history of post-war council house building in England and Scotland

This ongoing project aims to prepare the groundwork for a major exploration of the role of Direct Labour Organisations (DLOs) or local authority building departments in post-war social house building. The researchers on the project are Dr. Christine Wall (PI), Professor Linda Clarke (Co-Applicant) and Dr. Melahat Sahin-Dikmen (Research Fellow).

Building on existing partnerships with the Bishopsgate Institute and The Scottish Oral History Centre, the project will continue to develop the innovative, interdisciplinary methods introduced in previous ProBE projects. This project is timely in coinciding with the re-emergence of social house building by both councils and housing associations, including in London, Manchester and Liverpool, providing historical insights to address the housing crisis and directly employ and train construction workers. The project will conclude with a workshop of expert participants, Housebuilding and Labour, to be held in July 2017.

An important part of the project is the travelling exhibition, Constructing Post-war Britain: Building workers stories 1950-70. This exhibition and the accompanying sound archive present a selection of extracts from building workers’ accounts of working on The Barbican, M1 Motorway, Sizewell A Nuclear Power Station, South Bank Arts Centre and Stevenage New Town, and highlight their invaluable contribution to the creation of the British post-war built environment. These accounts were recorded as part of a two-year University of Westminster research project, entitled ‘Constructing post-war Britain: Building workers’ stories, 1950-1970’, which was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and completed between 2010-2012. The researchers on the project were Christine Wall, Linda Clarke, Charlie McGuire and Olivia Muñoz Rojas. The complete recordings are archived and publicly accessible in the Bishopsgate Institute, London.

Following the completion of the study, a portable exhibition consisting of seven roll-up banners were designed to provide an overview of the research and give a flavour of the rich descriptions of building workers’ experiences of working on each site. Two retro-telephones accompany the banners, enabling visitors to listen to extracts from interviews, listed by theme, building project and interviewee name. The exhibition was displayed, for the first time, at a symposium on ‘Architecture and Building Labour: Afterword or Prologue’, on 15 July 2016, at the University of Westminster.

Details of the 2017 exhibition programme are below. The programme is open and flexible and continues to develop with the addition of further exhibition sites throughout the year.

Constructing Post-War Britain: Building Workers’ Stories 1950-1970

Exhibition programme 2017

Date Place
4-6 April 2017 International Labour Process Conference, Sheffield
7-8 April 2017 4th Annual Conference of the Construction History Society, Cambridge
3 June 2017 Oral Labour History Day, University of Westminster
28-30 June 2017  BUIRA Annual Conference, Portsmouth
13 July 2017 Direct Labour Past and Present workshop, University of Westminster
14-15 Sept 2017 Oral History Society Conference, Leeds
4-6 Sept 2017 ARCOM Conference, Cambridge

If you would like further information or are interested in borrowing the exhibition, please contact Professor Linda Clarke [email protected] or Dr Christine Wall [email protected].


Image of buildings in a grey hue