In 1952 the winning goal in the FA Cup Final was scored by a Chilean, George Robledo. Newcastle United beat Arsenal 1-0.
There’s a bit of a fuss on this weekend. But 60 years ago, when Queen Liz II was ascending the throne, not only did Newcastle win the cup but my family was busy moving into a new council house in Newcastle. It was a ‘Bevan House’, built to the standards demanded by Aneurin Bevan when he was Minister of Health (and Housing) in the Attlee Government. Space and amenity standards were excellent and the estate was a great place to grow up. (For those that know the city, it was near the Kenton Bar – which has just been demolished – on the fringes of Cowgate.) The average council rent in 1952 was 18s per week – equivalent to around £25 today.
Faced with huge bomb damage and the pre-war legacy of slums throughout the country – and the not inconsiderable challenge of creating the socialist health service at the same time – Bevan found the energy and commitment to start the transformation of the nation’s housing. His vision remains inspirational. By 1948, despite huge shortages of materials and equipment, the rate of housebuilding had grown from next to nothing to over 227,000. Not only did he build houses: he insisted on high standard homes and was the first, and most eloquent, advocate of mixed communities. In 1945, on becoming Minister, he said: ‘it is essential for the full life of the citizen to see the living tapestry of a mixed community’, which he defined as one in which ‘the doctor, the grocer, the butcher and the farm labourer all live in one street.’
In the General Elections of 1950 and 1951 Labour and the Tories competed on promises to build more homes, both private sector and council: GDP has increased by more than 9000% since, but we can’t build anything like the number all Parties were committed to then.
Harold Macmillan, who became the Tory Housing Minister in 1951, initially increased public housebuilding subsidies and went on to complete 300,000 homes in 1954. His error was to cut the cost and standard of each home being built, leading on to the era of cheap mass-produced housing that was anathema to Bevan. After 1956 the Tories reverted to their old ways, cutting subsidies again and focusing council housebuilding narrowly on slum clearance.
1952 was also the year the new Tory Government adopted its policy of creating a ‘Property Owning Democracy’ – a phrase that has been repeated once or twice since. See the very interesting Cabinet Paper here. According to research by HSBC, buying a house today is 86 times more expensive than it was then, rising from a national average of £1891 in 1952 to £162,722 now, well above the rate of general inflation.
1952 also saw what is believed to be Britain’s worst housing-related environmental disaster. Thick smog in London caused between 4,000 and 12,000 fatalities in just 4 days. Public transport stopped during the worst ‘pea souper’, caused by a cold snap and a surge in domestic coal burning during windless conditions. It led to the 1956 Clean Air Act.
And also in 1952
- Britain had 14 million homes – compared to 27 million now.
- Nelson Mandela was arrested.
- Zebra cossings with blinking orange beacons were introduced.
- Emile Zatopek won 3 Olympic Golds, including the Marathon, at the Helsinki Games.
- 36 people died after flash floods in Lynmouth, Devon following 9 inches of rain in a day.
- Over 100 people died in a train crash at Harrow and Wealdstone station.
- Tea rationing was ended.
And did I mention – Newcastle won the FA Cup for the second year running, beating Arsenal.