Breaking New Ground: the homes that Laing built

By Historic England

John Laing plc profoundly shaped post-war Britain. This gallery of images from the Historic England Archive shows how the construction firm helped to house a nation that desperately needed new homes following the Second World War.

A terraced house under demolition at Pooles Park, Finsbury Park, Islington, Greater London (1968-02-08) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

Laing builds Britain

The John Laing plc building company helped shape post-war Britain. It built outstanding sites of worship like Coventry Cathedral, some of the country’s first motorways, and buildings which housed pioneering technology such as Berkeley Nuclear Power Station. The firm also made a major contribution to rehousing the nation following the Second World War, using innovative construction techniques to build houses, flats, estates and retirement homes for private developers and local authorities.

An Easiform local authority house at the British Empire Exhibition, Wembley Park, Greater London (1924/1925) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

Easiform

Easiform was a method of in situ precast concrete construction which Laing developed from 1919 onwards. From the 1920s to the 1960s Laing built over 100,000 homes in this way, all over the country.

Easiform houses being built, possibly at Bridgwater, Somerset (1946/1949) by GloverHistoric England

Easiform used metal shuttering to cast concrete cavity walls, layer by layer. Roofs were built using more traditional timber trusses and covering materials.

Watch a short film made by Laing about Easiform.

Easiform housing at Gosport, Hampshire (1949/1950) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

Laing's Easiform system even allowed for bay windows and a variety of exterior finishes.

21-32 Twyford Close, Park North, Swindon (1963-12-06) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

As well as two-storey houses, Easiform was used to construct blocks of maisonettes, like this example in Swindon.

Swindon was designated an 'overspill' town for London and so new estates were built to house workers and families who chose to relocate away from the crowded capital.

Watch Swindon schoolchildren connecting with Laing's Easiform housing in their home town.

Prefabricated housing at 105-115 Northern Road, Pinehurst, Swindon (1950-05) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

BISF

BISF stands for British Iron and Steel Federation. Following the Second World War it worked with the Ministry of Works to create permanent steel framed houses.

A steel-frame house under construction, at an unknown location in England (1946-04-26) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

Laing was one of nine firms contracted to build 30,000 BISF houses in 1946.

A sitting room in a prefabricated show house in Sunderland (1946/1959) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

Unlike some other prefabricated houses that were built during and after the Second World War, BISF houses were designed to have the same lifespan as traditional brick-built homes.

Flats under construction at Heywood, Rochdale (1963-04-17) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

Sectra

‘Sectra’ was a French prefabricated steel formwork design for constructing flats. John Laing & Son Ltd acquired the British rights to it in 1962.

Nurses' quarters at Greenwich Hospital, Greenwich, Greater London (1975) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

These Sectra flats were built to provide accommodation for nurses working at Greenwich Hospital in London.

Children looking towards the Victoria Park Estate, Macclesfield, Cheshire East (1968-04-18) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

Jespersen

In 1963, John Laing and Son Ltd bought the rights to the Danish industrialised building system known as Jespersen (sometimes referred to as Jesperson). Laing built factories in Scotland, Hampshire and Lancashire to produce Jespersen prefabricated parts and precast concrete panels.

Surveying during the construction of prototype flats in Oldham (1964-09-01) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

This Jespersen scheme in Oldham featured in a 1966 film 17,000,000 New Homes By 1999, which was produced by Laing to show the benefits of factory house-building to local authorities.

Construction of the Doddington Estate, Battersea, Wandsworth, Greater London (1969-04-08) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

The Jespersen industrialised, modular system offered a rational, speedy and economic method of building homes for local authorities in need of new housing stock.

Blocks of flats at the Aylesbury Estate, Walworth, Southwark, Greater London (1969-02-14) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

The Jespersen 'homes from the factory' system also meant that fewer skilled workers were needed to construct the flats on the building site.

19-24 Armitage Square, Durrington, Larkhill, Wiltshire (1967-06) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

The flexibility of the Jespersen system allowed for different sizes of developments and a variety of external finishes.

Aneurin Bevan, Minister of Health, at the Patchway Estate, South Gloucestershire (1946-09-07) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

Local authority estates

A housing shortage after the Second World War stimulated the construction of new housing estates to provide affordable accommodation for low income households. Housing was central to the new Labour government's welfare reforms. Aneurin Bevan, the Minister of Health (pictured here), was responsible for the government's housing programme. Laing worked with local authorities across the county to help deliver thousands of new council homes. 

Dignitaries and the tenants of 313 Welcombe Avenue, Park North, Swindon (1960-10-21) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

The completion of new council homes and the handing over of keys to new occupants generated pride and interest. Laing was often on hand to record local dignitaries performing ceremonies.

A group of women looking through the window of a flat at Hareclive Road, Hartcliffe, Bristol (1952-11-30) by John Laing and Son (Holdings) LtdHistoric England

In this Laing photograph a policeman stands on duty as eager locals watch the opening ceremony of a new flat on Bristol's Hartcliffe estate.

The key was presented to the tenant by the Lord Mayor of Bristol. The Chairman of the Housing Committee announced that the new tenant was the 16,689th tenant to be housed or rehoused by the Council following the end of the Second World War.

Easiform housing estate at an unknown location (1946/1951) by William Newark LewisHistoric England

This photograph suggests that this street of semi-detached Easiform houses provides a welcoming, safe environment for families with young children on a Laing-built estate.

Children playing in the playground at Lancashire Hill, Stockport (1970-04-28) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

Using two different industrialised building systems, Laing's Manchester Region built 1,200 homes for the County Borough of Stockport. The Lancashire Hill estate was built on land formerly occupied by streets of terraced houses, courts, yards and works.

Children playing at Pooles Park, Finsbury Park, Islington, Greater London (1970-05-20) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

Pooles Park estate was built by Laing for the London Borough of Islington. It was designed by architects Max Long & Partners in association with Sydney Greenwood. The estate comprised flats and maisonettes in a twelve-storey block, a six-storey block and seven four-storey blocks, built using the 12M Jespersen system.

Children on a climbing frame at the Doddington Estate, Battersea, Wandsworth, Greater London (1971-09-08) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

Emberton, Tardrew & Partners' Doddington Estate in Battersea was built by Laing between 1967 and 1971 for Wandsworth London Borough Council.

The 12M Jespersen system was used to construct five thirteen-storey blocks, one eleven-storey block, five ten-storey blocks and one six-storey block. In all, 944 dwellings were created.

Brookridge House and Barlands House, Standfast Road, Henbury, Bristol (1964/1967) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

Situated in the Bristol suburb of Henbury, Laing built this pair of fifteen-storey blocks for Bristol County Borough Council. Begun in 1963, each block houses eighty-six dwellings.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Lord Mayor of London at the Barbican development, City of London (1972-11-20) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

The Barbican Estate

The Barbican Estate was built on an area of the City of London that suffered heavily from bomb damage during the Second World War. In contrast to the local authority schemes that Laing built for low-income residents, the Barbican was designed as an upmarket residential development.

Dismantling a tower crane during the construction of the Barbican Estate, City of London (1968-01) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

Designed by the architectural practice of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, the Barbican Estate was built in numbered 'Phases', or areas of construction, between 1961 and 1982. Laing was involved in a number of Phases, including the building of Cromwell Tower - a 45-storey block of 114 dwellings.

The living room of show flat on the Barbican Estate, City of London (1968-10-04) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

Laing photographed furnished show flats at the Barbican, including this living room.

The sitting room and office area in a show flat at the Barbican Estate, City of London (1968-10-04) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

Flats at the Barbican Estate were rented at market rates. The development was an attempt to attract City professionals to an area that previously had a low residential population.

A bedroom in show flat 2 at Speed House, Barbican, City of London (1968-10-04) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

As well as attracting members of the judiciary, bankers and politicians, it became home to a number of celebrities, including the writer and broadcaster Clive James, and footballer George Best.

Speed House and Willoughby House, Barbican Estate, City of London (1974) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

The Barbican complex was designed to separate residents and pedestrians from cars. As well as over 2,000 residential flats, the Barbican includes an arts centre, church and schools and water features. It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1982.

An elderly couple outside their bungalow, Wren Drive, Broomhill, Bristol (1990-04-09) by John Laing PLCHistoric England

Homes for the retired and elderly

As well as housing schemes of semi-detached houses for working families and estates of high-rise blocks of flats, Laing built more modest accommodation specifically designed for the retired and for elderly residents.   

Cumberland Court, Cumberland Street, Denton Holme, Carlisle, Cumbria (1976-08-22) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

While appearing to be a development of terraced houses, this scheme of flats was designed for elderly residents, incorporating emergency alerts and a resident warden.

Oak Lodge retirements flats, Cambridge Road, Wanstead, Redbridge, Greater London (1984-12-13) by John Laing PLCHistoric England

This three-storey block of thirty-three warden-assisted flats in Wanstead, London, was built by Laing in 1983-4.

The living room in a flat at Oak Lodge, Cambridge Road, Wanstead, Redbridge, Greater London (1984-12-13) by John Laing PLCHistoric England

This couple pose for the camera in the living room of their warden-assisted flat at Laing's Oak Lodge development in Wanstead, London.

Portrait of Patricia Flanagan at the Aylesbury Estate, Walworth, Southwark, Greater London (1969-07-01) by John Laing and Son LtdHistoric England

Breaking New Ground

Historic England's Breaking New Ground project has digitised 10,000 images, expertly selected from a collection of over 230,000 photographs.

Find our more about Breaking New Ground and the John Laing Collection.

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