London 1978


Washing on balcony, Key House, Lambeth, 1978
14i43: lambeth, vauxhall, council flat, flat, balcony, washing,

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Key House on Bowling Green St, not far from the Oval was where friends we often visited lived in a shared flat. It was one of Lambeth Council's hard to let properties that were advertised and eligible local residents and workers could queue to get, an overnight vigil to be near enough to the front of the queue.
Built around 1930, when both the London County Council and the Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth where building large blocks in the area to provide low cost accommodation for the working class poor. The rent for their 3-bed flat would probably have been around 12 shillings (60p) a week. The flats were built to relatively high standards, providing some of those moving into them when new for the first time with a scullery, bathroom and toilet in their home. The rooms too were rather larger than in many of the 'luxury' flats now being built, and similar flats in this block have sold recently for over 400,000.
Some things were of course not up to modern standards, particularly the single-glazed draughty windows, and central heating was at that time unknown. Living rooms had a coal fire and bedrooms were usually unheated, though they might have had fireplaces. But the flats they were solidly built, with brick walls that provided better insulation than many postwar system built flats.
What let them down over the years was maintenance and the cleaning of the communal areas - the balconies, laundry rooms, stair cases, rubbish chutes and courtyards. The council made some attempt to improve them in the 80s and 90s, fitting doors at the entrance to the stairs, but many residents found these a nuisance and some locks were broken and other doors wedged permanently open in the years until all our friends moved out. If one stair was locked you could usually find another open and walk around on the balcony.
There were still communal laundry rooms, and still a mangle in the one next to our friend's flat, but most people by then had some kind of washing machine in their own flats, but they still hung their washing out along the balconies.
Everything coming into the flats had to come in up the stairs, and there were five floors; fortunately my friends were only on the second but helping to get a piano up the two flights to store in the laundry room left me with painful back for several weeks.