Buying Your First House
An Englishman's home is his Castle
Britain, 1970. The nation basking in the sunshine of affluence and security, happy and self-confidence after 25 years
of the post-war boom. For most ordinary families, life in 1970 was quite simply better than it had ever been.
This was a
blessed generation. We had work, we had welfare, on a scale people had never known before. But now, people were looking
for something more. Something solid, something permanent, something that would confirm that they had arrived.
Prospective House Buyers
By the dawn of the 1970s, the affluent society had become a fact of life. Even an ordinary family now had expectations
that their forebears could barely have imagined. And at the heart of all their ambitions, was something we now take for
granted, a home of their own.
We are treated to a glimpse of the Likely Lads when Bob and Thelma were settling into their new flat.
Mod Cons - Not
In the '50s and '60s, many people had still grown up in overcrowded terraces and damp, sodden flats. Many still had
shared bathrooms, or had no indoor bathrooms at all. And so, they were ready to escape the shadow of the past, and leave
behind the soot, smoke and squalor and strike out for pastures new.
These were the Wimpey years, when brand-new estates of neat, little houses blossomed on the suburban fringes of the
nation's cities. And nothing better captured the spirit of change than Britain's new towns.
One of the biggest developments was the expansion of the old city of Peterborough, transformed by a government scheme
to re-house the people of London's slums. For the same rent they were paying in Lambeth, some five pounds a week, inner-city
tenants could move into a brand-new house in Peterborough. And what was more, they were encouraged to think about buying
their houses outright.
For years, people have been told that an Englishman's home was his castle. But for millions of people, it was only in
the 1970s that that dream became a reality.
New towns had decent motorway links, good schools, brand-new supermarkets, even the first indoor shopping centres.
Yes, they weren't terribly grand or picturesque, but they succeeded because they fulfilled the ambitions of hundreds of
thousands of ordinary British families. A steady job, a safer neighbourhood, a neat suburban home, back garden, even central
heating. And for people who had grown up in damp and dilapidated inner cities, places like Peterborough were the future.
For young couples, born after the Second World War, now in their 20s and 30s, here was the chance to not only have their
own space and do their own thing, but to join the swelling ranks of the property-owning middle classes.
Until September 1971, most ordinary housebuyers could only get a mortgage from the local building society. But then, in one
of those tiny little decisions that have incalculable long-term consequences, the Bank of England relaxed its lending rules.
Now, high-street banks were free to compete in the mortgage market and as the Times put it, it was as though the Bank of England
had changed the traffic lights from red to green, and the great property race was on.
But not everyone wanted the fresh air and fresh paint of the new towns. There was another housing make-over going on in
Britain in the early 70s, one that would have an enduring impact on our city life. For young, left-leaning hippyish professionals,
the old slums of inner-city London represented a rare opportunity. Streets were transformed by middle-class couples, driven by
their bohemian ideals and their desire to escape from the shadow of their parents.
The new residents of areas like Islington thought of themselves as pioneers, building a self-consciously progressive
enclave in the heart of the city. They sent their children to the new state primary school just down the street. And
they waxed lyrical about the multi-cultural diversity of their new domains.
But for these high-minded Guardian-reading gentrifiers, there were canny financial motives behind all the liberal gloss.
The irony was that as middle-class couples moved into the area, they drove property prices up and working-class residents out.
And as landlords cashed in by selling to the middle-class newcomers, everyone got rich. Today, we call this gentrification.
And inner-city Britain would never be the same again.
All those overheated dinner party conversation's about property, they started in this first flush of the 1970s.
In 1972 and 73, house prices went up by the biggest margin in history, a staggering 70% in two years. And by 1980, the
average house was worth 10 times its value in 1970. This was a new landscape of shiny kitchens in trim, tidy houses. We
often think that Margaret Thatcher created this, she didn't. It created her. But they were the foundation stones of the
new suburban society, marking the transition from an old, class-based collective culture to the new domesticated, individualistic
one. Eventually, as so often, this housing boom would turn to bust. But in the long run, property had become the central pillar of
the new affluent society.