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    Rented worlds: bedsits, boarding houses and multiple occupancy homes in postwar London, 1945-1963

    Cartwright, Alistair Mathew (2020) Rented worlds: bedsits, boarding houses and multiple occupancy homes in postwar London, 1945-1963. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    This thesis explores the history of a series of overlooked yet thoroughly commonplace domestic spaces, through an interdisciplinary approach combining visual culture and archival research. Having once housed the overwhelming majority of people in Britain, private rented accommodation entered a period of decline that accelerated after the Second World War. Yet so large was the nineteenth century inheritance embodied by the private landlord that such dwellings still housed more than any other tenure category well into the 1950s. The way people experienced these changes varied greatly. Factors of race, class and gender were refracted through the geography of the city, as the concentration within London of surviving ‘residues’ of private renting magnified their social significance. Often referred to simply as ‘rented rooms’, such housing encompassed a variety of different types, from working-class lodging houses and multiple occupancy homes, to middle-class boarding houses and residential hotels. Together they provided the setting for a whole host of ‘social problems’, including issues of public safety and the need to overcome the Victorian legacy of ‘squalor’; the disassembling effects upon families and communities of ‘social disorganisation’; the dubitable standing of the rentier class during a period of national reconstruction; and fears over ghettoization and the challenges that Commonwealth immigration posed to Britain’s cultural identity. A declining private rental sector formed the connecting matrix for these distinctive postwar problems. The regulatory endeavours of the welfare state sought to penetrate these spaces precisely because of their seeming obscurity. At the same time, the ruinous state of London’s rented worlds sheltered forms of life that would not have been possible elsewhere, while also promising opportunities to property speculators. Three chosen themes, centred on fire safety, loneliness and landlordism, shed light on how these issues were contested from multiple angles by municipal government, social investigators, developers, and tenants themselves. The thesis argues that the centrality of the housing question to the development of the postwar welfare state – insofar as this went beyond the reconstruction of the built environment to encompass the regulation of domestic life – took its bearings in significant part from the overlooked spaces of London’s ‘rented rooms’. State regulation ran up against questions of ownership and urban capital, as the Conservative vision of a ‘property owning democracy’ sought to unpick the legacy of rent control, while the same period witnessed the rise of gentrification amidst Labour policies that curtailed the rights of property. Grasping how the changing status of property meshes with the politics of domestic and urban space opens up a rich field of materials – including popular films, architectural exhibits, cartoons, maps, valuation lists and testimonies from rent tribunals – that can deepen our understanding of the postwar period.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Additional Information: Appendices included.
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 03 Sep 2021 12:38
    Last Modified: 01 Nov 2023 14:32


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