The Excalibur Estate in Catford is a quiet pocket of prefabricated houses built as part of the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act 1944. The houses were intended to only stand for 10 years, but are still robust homes today.
Built on a network of small streets, all named after characters from the Arthurian legend, walking into the estate on a sunny afternoon feels like walking into a Florida suburb. Each house is built on its own plot of land with a front and back garden, and as one of the residents happily pointed out, because the houses are all bungalows, you can see the sky!
I visited the pop-up museum housed within one of the prefabs; it showcases photographs, films of residents’ interviews and prefab memorabilia. The overall impression was of people and a place that appeared quaint, but also portrayed a lifestyle that is enviable in London’s zone 3.
In contrast with Louise Rondel’s derelict Catford Stadium, the prefabs in the estate are anything but skeletons. With the exception of one or two houses, most are well-loved by their occupants. The minimalist exteriors of the houses mean they can be customized and the generous outdoor space is thoroughly utilized and enjoyed. Residents describe the estate as a thriving community with zero crime rates.
Lewisham Council has been proposing demolition of the estate, and part of it now stands empty and has been cordoned off. English Heritage has granted listed status to six houses, but campaigners say that the entire area, including the layout and the streets, are far more important that just a few houses, which arguably could just be moved into a museum.
Should the Excalibur Estate be preserved? And if so, should it continue to be council housing or private? If the buildings are listed, should preservation of their original attributes be prioritized over amenities such as insulation and double-glazing, and extensions to the houses?
The rather bleak-looking fate of the estate raises interesting questions about local democracy vs the top-down power of English Heritage; the politics of housing rights; and how historical significance comes into being and grows and changes over time.
Stefanie Lai is currently a student in the MA World Cities and Urban Life. She has lived in Hong Kong and London, is interested in mobilities, especially cycling and walking in the city, and has recently been experimenting with photography.