BISF Historical Documents Series 16th & 14th June 1944

BISF Historical Documents Series 16th & 14th June 1944 1

In this series of posts we take a look at a selection of historical documents outlining the development and construction of the British Iron & Steel Federation, Steel Framed House.

We currently hold thousands of archive items that have each been photographed and in some cases converted to text form for easier searching. This conversion method is an on-going process that will take several months to complete however we hope that you will find these never before published documents to be as fascinating as we have found them to be.

British Iron and Steel Federation.


June 16th 1944
Dear Sir,
The next Meeting of the above Committee will be held at Steel House on Wednesday, June 28th. The Committee will meet at 9.30 a.m. at Steel House when transport will be provided to Northolt to enable members to see the Prototypes of the type ‘A’ and type ‘B design. Members will return to Steel House and the business of the Meeting will commence approximately at 11.30a.m,
The Agenda of the Meeting will follow. In the meantime I have pleasure in enclosing, for your information-, a copy of the Progress Report submitted to the Main Housing Committee at its Meeting on Wednesday, June 14’th.

Yours faithfully, J Stevenson


Actual position as at Wednesday 14th June.
(a)Type A’ House. Complete except for finishings.
(b)Type ‘B’ House, Framework previously erected at Accles & Pollocks’, and subsequently erected at Norbury and completely clad, Erection commenced at Northolt on Tuesday 13th June, and the house Is to be completed and ready for Inspection within the first fortnight In July,

(c)Substitution House, The Consulting Engineer has two qualified assist ant s working upon the various steel components with particular attention to roofs, floors and stairs.

(d)Type ‘A’ House. This house will incorporate all the improvements suggested by the experimental Type ‘A house and will be designed to compete with constructions con­forming with the standards of subsidised housing. Freed from the Ministry of Works plan restrictions, it will be developed to give the greatest measure of standardisation for the main components; The Architect and Consulting Engineer in collaboration, commenced this work on Monday 12th Juno; an additional fully qualified architectural assistant has been employed.

(e)Type C House, Action on Type C’ has been delayed owing to the necessity to concentrate all staff and manufacturing effort on the completion of the ‘A’ and ‘B prototypes to meet the-Ministry of Works’ requirements as to time.
The original sample panels demonstrated that the fabrication of such units was satisfactory. This largely pre­fabricated system presents considerable difficulty in obtaining a desirable minimum of aesthetic appearance, and for two storey constructions represents a pioneering effort. Examination of the structural problem and the aesthetic aspect are under way.

No estimate for the completion can be given.
The staff at present engaged on this work consists of –
The Architect. 3 Senior Assistants, 2 Junior  (All fully qualified Architects)
The Consulting Engineer
4 Assistants (Designers) 2 Engineering Assistants (Detailers)
Mr. D, J, Davies and Mr, V, G, Baker are retained on the staff of the British Steelwork Association on behalf of the Federation,
Mr, Davies is responsible for the co-ordination of the work and for progressing.
Mr, Baker is acting as Clerk of Works at Northolt.

The Builder and Quantity Surveyor carry out their respective duties, the latter also assisting the Architect in the ordering of the traditional building materials and fittings and equipment.

3. Review of the Work
The two houses Types ‘A’ and ‘B erected at Northolt are more than prototype of single constructions. They are largely experimental in their various treatments to gain experience in the most economical and. effective cladding, flooring -lining and roofing materials. In fact, the alternative constructions employed represent not two but numerous houses.

The best possible combination in regard to these new systems of construction will evolve from the erections now completed or under way. As this type of experimental work is new to architects, engineers, component manufacturers and builders, and even the steel industry itself, many unexpected difficulties have had to be overcome. The normal functions of Architect and Consulting Engineer do not obtain since the new technique is predominantly an engineering one and no very clear demarcation of respective responsibilities could be drawn. This has led to certain lack of direction with consequent mistakes which had to be rectified. Practically every steel component introduced into the two houses has required a great deal of original thought design and very frequent consultations with manufacturers and suppliers .

In the house types ‘A’ and ‘B’, steel components have been introduced on the supposition that on mass production, they would be competitive, or that they would provide an alternative method of completing building work in the absence of timber and other Imported raw materials.
Though the dates for completion of these two houses have not come up to the Builder’s schedule, it was only by the most extensive work and total disregard for normal working hours that the present stage of completion has been achieved.

4. The problem of the Builder.
Messrs. Wates Ltd. have fulfilled their obligations and when due allowance is made for the chronic difficulties to be met with in labour and transport supply under present-day condition the progress has been satisfactory. The site labour performance on the Federation’s houses at Norbury is, however, much behind that of the Ministry of Works specially trained gangs on their own traditional houses. Messrs. Wates quite rightly explained the discrepancy as largely due to the fact that after an interval of 5 years, their workmen have to get accustomed to house building again, and moreover, that the construction has* involved new methods, requiring a new labour technique.

The performances of the A and B houses should be Judged from the standpoint of new and experimental types and even the Builders, with their vast experience In speculative house building were not able to plan in advance the best sequence of erection, and have themselves gained a lot of experience at Northolt.

So far as collaboration goes, Messrs. Wates have confined themselves to the terms of their contract but obviously have not- under the present agreement, given the full benefit of their accumulated experience as successful speculative builders in low cost housing methods. Useful guidance on the use of traditional materials In the Type ‘A’ house which would have been helpful, has been wanting, but this may have been due to the fact that the Builders were given completed designs to work to. On the other hand, When they have been invited to submit their comments, they have not taken any pronounced steps in making alternative sugges­tions.

It is considered, however, that for the present, this position must be accepted, since the investigations now being undertaken are primarily experimental In the use of all steel products, When the possibilities have been fully explored and the steel units finally determined which have every chance of success by mass production methods, a closer liaison with the Builders may be found to be desirable to secure their collaboration as well as their services.

5. Experience gained on Prototypes – House Type ‘A’.
With the completion of the main structure, it is possible to report upon the experience gained on the Type ‘A’ house.

The one component which has come up to full expectations and good performance is the structural framework and steel roof construction, for which there was a background of fabricating and erecting experience which merely required to be tuned into building needs. But even here, the design was found to be slightly more robust than necessary and the difficulties which were anticipated In the erection of so light a structure did not materialise.

The main difficulties which have been experienced were in the steel sheet cladding, steel window sub frame fixtures, and in the flashings to doors and windows. These were all time delaying factors which led to heavy erection costs and many more site hours than were necessary. They were due to various factors; many of the components were “hand-made” and revealed inaccuracies, the sheet cladding required a particular sequence and technique of fixing, inexperience In the design of flashings and the nesting together of windows, sub frames and sheets at the junctions gave rise to delays and high fixing costs., A new type of sheeting bolt revealed unexpected weakness and “had to be re-designed by the makers for satisfactory future work.

The catalogue of “teething troubles” has been indeed an impressive one, but the main point Is that none of the difficulties met with and subsequently overcome influence the basic soundness of the conception as a house type Indeed, the experience gained has already been translated into modifications and improvements on the drawing board for house type ‘A.1’.

Some components turned out better than expected, such as the stairs which are quite silent In use, but others, such as the expanded metal plastered “ceiling proved too expensive and time consuming for low cost housing.

The erection of the main carcase, comprising the steel structure with its floors, ceiling joists, roof and roof sheeting and side cladding, was completed in about 10 days but thereafter, as this building uses traditional finishing materials, the speed factor dropped by the Inability to get at the work without over­crowding. In fact, in an endeavour to save site hours, the original time programme had to be extended, but in spite of this, the site hours for bricklaying and plastering are greater In Type ‘A’ than in the Ministry houses, for which Mr. Carter has particul­arly efficient gangs and many houses under construction to which his gangs can be shifted to occupy their time most efficiently. This advantage would also accrue to steel where, instead of one experimental house, a series was under construction.

House Type ‘B’.
Following a shop erection at Accles & Pollocks and subsequent strengthening of the frame, this structure was erected at Norbury and clad with the external sheets, windows and doors and window sub frames. Here again, unexpected difficulties were experienced with the fixing of the weatherboard steel cladding, due partly to the inaccuracies of manufacture and also to the technique of fixing, and in part, to the employment in the first instance of rather heavy-handed sheeters.

It had been decided to leave the drilling of all fixing holes for the weatherboard sheets on the site, but the experience gained suggests that all holes should be shop drilled. This applies also to the dovetail sheeting which forms the bottom course of the external walls.

Delivery of the internal linings, which are composed of a plaster board-fibre board combination was somewhat behind schedule but the prefabrication of these items on their timber frames was pressed ahead by the employment of many additional carpenters to enable erection of the house to be commenced at Northolt on the 13th June.

The target date which has been laid down for erection, is for completion in 22 days and as this construction is of a more prefabricated nature than Type ‘A’ the site hours for traditional labour required are expected to be correspondingly less.

House Type ‘C.
Though the first attempts to produce a steel panel construction looked attractive, the Architect is not satisfied that the solution reached, however satisfactory for a temporary house, is good enough for permanent dwellings.

His main criticism was the lack of flexibility which he said led to a hut type of architecture in the treatment of the windows, and in consequence, the design work has been concentrated on overcoming this initial disadvantage, and it looks as though a satisfactory solution will emerge.
After this, the manufacturing possibilities will have to be attended to and in particular, the internal wall finishes of a standard construction.
This work is now in hand, but due to its somewhat unusual and difficult nature, the Architect is unable to say when the drawings will be sufficiently advanced to be considered by the Technical Sub-Committee.

House Type ‘A.l’.
Drawings “A” to “A6” represent the improvements and modifications to the original Type ‘A’ house.
These are all incorporated in the new Type ‘A.1’.