Rhagor - Opening our national collections

Aluminium Palaces - life in a prefab

A prefab was acquired to display at St Fagans: National History Museum in 2000. The Museum then appealed to the public for information about living in a prefab. We received over 40 letters containing priceless first-hand information. One of the best recorded Mrs Ann Owens' reaction when she first moved into her prefab in Cefn-Coed-y-Cymmer, near Merthyr Tydfil, in April 1947:

[image: Living Room]

Living Room

[image: Kitchen]


[image: Children's bedroom]

Children's bedroom

"The prefabs looked strange to us, they were grey in colour and neat and fresh, if unusual ... We entered the front door that was painted green, as also were the windows and back door, we found the interior was cream and green right through, very much to our taste.

We were in a narrow hall with a cupboard for coats etc. on the right. On the left a toilet, an indoor toilet. What luxury! Then a bathroom with a hand basin and airing cupboard. We were delighted, this was much more than we had expected. To our right were the two bedrooms, with wall wardrobes and cupboards, splendid! The living room was next, a large room with more cupboards and drawers. The fireplace was to our left... This heated the water, we were going to have hot water on tap. It was incredible and with two small children, it was almost too good to be true.

The kitchen was still to come, it had everything, my husband by this time was speechless with happiness. I went along the green units opening cupboards and drawers, a boiler for washing clothes, an electric cooker and most remarkable of all a fridge. We couldn't believe our good fortune... All I had to get was a table under the window, net curtains and floor covering... We had taken a tape measure with us so that we could measure the windows for curtains and the floors for coverings, then we had to decide how to spend our coupons.

We had to cover the floorboards and bought linoleum for each room. The curtains I was able to make. My mother had given me her Singer treadle sewing machine. We had also made a woollen hearth rug during the previous winter. When the floors were covered and the curtains up we felt we had a home, we bought what we had coupons for in the way of furniture and moved in. We were thrilled and exited at having our first home, with what we thought every modern convenience.

We had bought a Rexene three piece suite, it was brown and I was able to put material, orange, green and beige ... striped to cover the cushions and make curtains to match.

We were fortunate in having a complete bedroom suite and I was able to buy a wicker chair and a carpet mat. I had to buy a bed for my son and as our coupons were exhausted, the manager of the shop where we had bought our furniture had one made for us out of an old mahogany table, it was splendid.

My daughter's cot, made by my husband, had sides we could remove and she had a little bed. There was a small coffer, I had when I was 21, between the beds and a carpet mat.

We had linoleum in each room. Rust and cream in the kitchen, autumn leaves in the living room, green and cream in the large bedroom and blue in the children's bedroom."

Using the information from this letter and many others, we were able to furnish the prefab at St Fagans as it would have been in 1950.

Article Date: 19 February 2007


Amgueddfa Cymru on 15 February 2013, 15:49

Dear Gill,
Thank you so much for sharing this information. Its really interesting that you are were one of the people in that photograph! We will update our records with this information. A lot of our feedback from people who lived in prefabs is that it was a very happy time for them.

Diolch, thanks you
Graham Davies, Online Curator, Amgueddfa Cymru

gill samuel on 15 February 2013, 15:04

i lived in a prefab in llandinam crescent for 12 years, i am in fact one of the children in the party photograph 1 was 11, i hated moving away but we needed more space, living in the prefb was the happiest time of my life

Dear Terry on 9 December 2010, 09:48 (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff)

Dear Terry - Thank you for this fascinating account of growing up in a prefab. It is important to hear of experiences such as this and we have added your submission to our archive records.
Graham Davies, Curator, Rhagor.

Terry Cummings on 9 December 2010, 09:25

I moved into our pre-fab in 1947 with my parents in Clock Face, St. Helens. My Dad had only recently been demobbed as being in the RAF in Burma and India he was one of last released. Before that my Mum and me stayed with my Grandma and Grandpa in a two up two down terraced house in St. Helens that was rather overcrowded as my Aunts Lillian and Ruth and Uncle Tommy also were at home.

My first memory of our pre-fab was standing between my Dad's knees in the cab of the lorry borrowed from his work carrying the furniture contributed from various members of the family - people pulled together in those days and the space, the space!!!! To a child of the terraced streets of an industrial town with endless back to back terraced houses to have front and rear gardens and a shed divided for coal storage - no more coal under the stairs and play space paradise. I remember my Mum was in tears and I did not know why as I sped from room to room and claimed my bedroom. Eventually I had two brothers and we still had plenty of space.

Hot water, we had hot water - no more cold water washes or the tin bath in front of the fire with complete lack of privacy. But the biggest change was suddenly seeing my Grandpa and all my uncles at least once week walking up the path with rolled towels under their arm and a bag of coal in the other. This was in the days before every coal mine had pit head baths and a hot soak was a luxury for them. Often if they were particularly dirty in the week they would drop in. "Our Ada" (my Mum) made sure there was always hot water available in the evenings, even in summer for this.

We were one of the first families to move in and as I walked to school across the estate it was daily growing as the trucks rolled up. That Christmas I asked Father Christmas for a "Pre-fab Lorry" and a crane. Guess it was a bad year for cranes but he did leave me a "Pre fab Lorry" with a detachable low loader trailer with a jack and removable wheels.

In addition to sheltering me and keeping me warm my fond memories of that pre-fab, now sadly demolished was of an extremely happy childhood.

Tom Godfrey on 11 January 2010, 09:28

We still live in American Prefab, most of which is original, ie windows, doors, floor, and the bath is also original as can be seen in a Pathe News clip of the construction of the American Prefab, I notice in Greg Stevensons "Palace for the People" he was of the opinion that none had survived. Mine does. Yours Tom Godfrey.

Greg Stevenson on 3 November 2008, 12:14

Good article and nicely illustrated - exactly what the museum should be doing, and does well.

If you are interested in prefabs ...I did a small Batsford book called 'Palaces for the People' in 2003 (sadly now out of print) but it has many many photos of Welsh prefabs and would be available from libraries.
Greg Stevenson

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