Self build houses

Cyril Green
Photos by Zoe Woods

“About 40 years ago I had a council property so I joined the self build scheme. They were all prefabs on Heath Hill Avenue so we had to knock down all the prefabs and build the bungalows. There are 24 bungalows on one side self built and 24 bungalows self built on the other side.

It was a good day’s work; it was hard work. We all worked together. We started digging the footings and then the groundwork and worked down the whole side of the road. We wanted to move people in as soon as possible. When you have these schemes you borrow a lot of money so you want to get people in quickly, so we decided we needed outside help. We said ‘Tonight the roofs would be pitched’, then the woodwork, then we called in the tilers and then when you went to work the next day you would find three or four bungalows completed. When you’ve got the roofs on you see then you can work inside when it rains, that’s the whole thing, you were not wasting time, time is money.

We built those bungalows, 24 bungalows in 18 months. We did work hard.”

Comments about this page

  • I wonder where George Hayes fits in here? He was a self employed builder/bricklayer and was one of the participating men who helped to ‘self-build’ those bungalows! Bet Hayes, aged 86, still lives in one of them but husband George died quite a few years ago.  They were industrious people in those days. None of yer TV couch types full of complaints and doing little about it. You can count that as a compliment to yourself, Cyril. Things got done and yobs were unheard of.  Unfortunately, I know that Bet has no computer to read these comments but nevertheless, it is good to record such events from the past which show the endeavour and cohesion existing between neighbours and friends. Also, I wonder what she would be saying about this matter today.  Never again, it seems, will we see such effort and enterprise between ordinary people embarked upon. Indeed, do those of today even have the muscle (I won’t use the normal word of today) to accomplish in such a way?  Good luck to those remaining ones who have enjoyed the result of their industry over the years and may they do so for some years yet to come.

    By Ron Spicer (18/06/2008)
  • I first got to know George (mentioned above) when he followed his brother Ernie Hayes in joining my dad, Jack Spicer, on rabbitting excursions before WWII. Ernie went elsewhere but George continued with the association, enjoying the fruits of rabbit hunting with nets made by dad Jack. Long nets positioned across the whole of one side of the burrows in case a rabbit escaped from a bolt hole, and small nets specially made with a double pegging arrangement to ensure capture. Due to the turmoil of the time and the total lack of housing, which incidentally prompted a system of squatting by some. George and his wife Bet lived with us for a time but eventually they were allocated number 61 Norwich Drive at Bevendean. Being a bricklayer/builder George was always speaking of building his own place and his constant mentioning of so doing soon grew into a probability. In the meantime, I had moved to Eastbourne with similar idea but he succeeded where I failed! Bet still lives at Heathill Avenue and the bungalow looks as good as ever. What an achievement in such hard times by those industrious people! Each bungalow built in just over three weeks.

    By Ron Spicer (02/07/2008)
  • I am Peter Bishop and I was a self builder at Bevendean working along side Cyril Green. I was an apprentist carpenter and was only 20 years old. A lot of hours and hard work went into the scheme but it was all worth while. It still holds lots of good memories for me.

    By Peter Bishop (25/05/2010)
  • By the way Cyril, it was 50 years ago that we built 24 bungalows in our spare time. Where are all the others now?

    By Peter Bishop (25/05/2010)
  • Actually, I spent most of my early childhood in number 7 Heathhill Avenue – a prefab made of asbestos, and a back garden to die for -namely the downs (sledges in winter and cardboard in the summer) and the “rabbit holes”.  Life was wonderful. Later when the prefabs came down, Heather Lodge was erected on the site of my old home. Ironic as years later, my wife and I became owners of a residential care home. Wonderful days indeed 

    By Peter May (17/12/2013)
  • I too spent some of my childhood days in the prefabs. l think l remember you Peter – I think you had a younger sister. I lived with my Mother and sister in the top of the next block.

    By Brian Howard (02/03/2014)
  • I grew up in Heathhill Ave and have fantastic childhood memories of this time in the ’60s and ’70s, as did everyone who was also lucky enough to live on this estate at that time. It was a young estate and there were big families and always someone to play out with: Maynards; Reeves; Rathbones; Hawkins; Fords; Turners; Ides; Sudbury; Smiths; Winders; Slades and so many more. Street games that were played by all, the football pitch and surrounding bushes that we built camps in, the bonfires on the fields that were serious competitions in November and would be guarded against attack or theft, such happy times. And not forgetting the best school ever, Mr Webb was the headmaster we all wanted to impress and more importantly Mr Maskell – that man wasn’t paid enough for the precious memories he’s given me and many others which you discover during conversations. Remember the old couple who had the chemist? And what about that old man that lived in a (run down) house in the horses’ field? Hope this entry has made a few people smile.

    By Maria Flavin nee Hawkins (08/05/2014)
  • I lived in number 81 Heathhill Avenue with my mum and dad and sister and brother. My dad worked at Brighton Sheet metal works. When we moved from our prefab it was a very sad day. I loved that prefab. I watched them start knocking them down. I have been trying to find anyone who lived there when I did which was about from 1953 to 1960. My father’s name was George Harris and my mother was Kitty Harris. I went to Bevendean School infants, my first Teacher was Miss Parks, and then to the juniors. The only teacher I remember was Mrs Maskell and Headmaster Mr Webb. Anyone remember us?

    By Paul-John Harris (20/07/2015)
  • There are plenty of self-builds going on these days, not least on the Isle of Dogs in the ’80s. Lots of individuals build houses if they have the cash and know-how. It is an expanding trend, and can be lucrative as well as satisfying to families that can’t get on the property ladder with property prices being so high.

    By Stefan Bremner-Morris (22/07/2015)
  • Have a little search for the Bevendean History group, they have some pictures of the prefabs and have an excellent book available.

    By Ken Valder (22/07/2015)
  • It brings back loads of memories of the self-build days. Does anyone remember my dad Len Feast, he was the local policeman who set up the self-build scheme? I remember all the young families turning up wanting to be accepted for the opportunity to have a self-build bungalow. We lived in the police house in Auckland Drive. They were such exciting times.

    By Beverley Webster (15/12/2016)
  • I also lived in the prefabs with my mum and dad Joan and Jim and brother Mike and sister pat, and our dog Sally. We lived next to the Hummells.

    By Roger Heath (01/03/2018)
  • I remember the prefabs and the self build scheme. My dad Alf Lakin was a carpenter and was one of the participating men who helped to ‘self-build’ those bungalows. We lived at 66 Hornby Road, myself and brother John from 1950 for 20 years+, my parents for much longer. The front door that dad made, from plywood, is still in place at the house and the roofs that he built are of course. I remembered names on this page, and whom I was at school with are Brian Howard, Peter May, and Beverley Feast ( her father Len, was a police sergeant and a man to be respected).

    By Allan Lakin (08/04/2018)

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