BISF Historical Documents Series Progress Report 9th Feb 1944

BISF Historical Documents Series Progress Report 9th Feb 1944 1

In this series of posts we take a look at a selection of historical documents outlining the development and construction of the British Iron & Steel Federation, Steel Framed House.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



MEETING ON WEDNESDAY, 9th FEBRUARY. 1944 Agenda Item No. 2.


The following statement is intended to set out with the utmost brevity the progress made on housing to date. It omits all reference to work carried out up to the end of December, since by that time the programme laid down and approved by the Housing Committee was fully up to schedule.

On the 16th December Lord Portal invited the Federation to participate in the building of exhibition steel houses under the auspices of the Ministry of Works. As speed was essential, only the preparatory work carried out by the Federation enabled it to accept the invitation. It will be realised that by making speedy and whole-hearted response to the Ministry’s invitation to colla­borate, the original programme envisaged by the Housing Committee has inevitably been deflected.

Exhibition Houses

16th December, 1943. At the first formal meeting of representatives of the Federation with Lord Portal and his staff, which was held on the 16th December, the exhibition scheme was outlined and an invita­tion extended to the Federation to erect one pair of steel-clad houses. Lord Portal’s attention was drawn to the three alternative con­structions designed by the Federation and the Minister thereupon agreed to provide sites for three pairs of houses, subject to approval of the construction by his advisers. It was also pointed out to Lord Portal that various alternatives to timber had been designed in steel for use in normal conventional buildings, and the Minister agreed to erect a further pair of houses in which these units, if Judged to be suitable, could be incorporated.

The Federation was also informed at this meeting that the floor areas for those houses would be limited to 850 sq, ft. The Federation designs were based on 900 sq. ft. as recommended by the Ministry of Health which, only a short time previously, had been the Government authority on planning. In consequence the Federation designs would require to be adapted to suit the new requirements, but the Ministry’s plan on the reduced floor area was not available. It was agreed that the plan should be sent to the Federation as soon as possible and that the Ministry officials concerned should examine in detail the designs developed by the Federation, together with the steel alternatives to conventional timber.

23rd December, 1943. This meeting was not held until 23rd December, when the Ministry’s plan was first shown to the Federation. A copy was not available for the Architect until the following day, 24th December and it has since been revised. At the meeting, the Federation designs and all the detailed information requested were made available to the Ministry officials, The Federation Consulting Engineer and the Architect were in attendance and full explanations on all questions were given.

The plan of the Ministry was regarded as not being satisfactory from the Federation’s view-point, and the Architect suggested that as steel used in house construction was a new material its success­ful application required a certain freedom in planning’ and, subject to cost considerations, should not be expected to conform to a plan which had been evolved on the basis of the use of other materials. A somewhat reluctant consent was given to the proposal that an alternative plan should be prepared by the Federation to meet the major requirements of the Ministry and to suit the characteristics of steel construction. The representatives of the Ministry on this occasion were Mr. Mole and Mr. Kenyon.

29th December. 1943. On the 29th December, Mr. Kavanagh and Mr. Stevenson, at the invitation of Sir Hugh Beaver,


(BISF Editors Note- Sir Hugh Beaver was Director General and Controller General of the Ministry of Works from 1940–1945. He was an engineer, industrialist, and founder of the Guinness Book of Records. In 1946, he became a managing director of Arthur Guinness, Son and Co Ltd and stayed there until he retired in 1960.)  attended an informal meeting at the Ministry to discuss the Federation’s participation in this scheme. Sir Hugh Beaver said that Mr. Mole had reported somewhat unfavourably on the preparedness of the Federation. This was unexpected, although the date for the erection of the three houses was in advance of the date envisaged by the Post-War Housing Technical Sub-Committee of the Federation for the proto-types to the original designs. It was suggested that the Federation should concentrate on the two frame type designs using hot rolled and cold formed sections, leaving the panel construction to be erected at the same site at a future date when a further series of houses would be built by the Ministry.

With regard to the pair of houses incorporating steel units in place of timber construction, Sir Hugh was rather discouraging and indicated clearly that such alternatives would be assessed on a strict price parity basis. He said that timber must not be assumed to be in short supply and both the Ministry’s Costing Department and the Building Research Station would examine the Federation’s proposals in a critical manner. It was evident that no account would be taken of other factors arising from the use of timber such as its influence on shipping, the trade balance and the higher maintenance in low cost housing owing to bug- infestation. In short, the advantages of and the possibilities for the application of steel in housing were played down in a spirit of friendly discouragement.

30th December. 1945. On the following day, 30th December, Mr, Spencer summers attended a meeting with Lord Portal and informed him that the Architect had now received the Ministry’s plan and that his suggestions would be available to the Ministry by the 10th January. It would be necessary, he said, for those designs to be examined by the Federation for approval prior to this submission.

4th January. 1944. Mr. Summers then called a special joint meeting of the Housing Committee and Housing Technical Sub- Committee for January 4th, at which the Architect exhibited and explained his plans and his perspective. These were approved, subject to alteration on a suggestion by Lord Dudley that a utility room should be incorporated in the plan. Lord Dudley based his suggestion on the extensive evidence which had been collected by the Ministry of Health on the requirements as expressed by local authorities throughout the country. The Architect agreed with Lord Dudley but indicated that he had had to evolve a plan to suit the strict requirements of the Ministry. In view of Lord Dudley’s recommendation he agreed to amend his plan within the time limit for submission to the Ministry.

10th January.1944. The Federation plans were submitted as promised by Monday the 10th January, and following representations made to the Architect by a Ministry official further alterations were made in the plans. The utility room was cancelled and the floor area reduced to 850 sq, ft. The Architect had planned on approximately 880 sq, ft. which, he maintained, involved no increase in the cost over the 850 sq, ft. standard.

17th January, 1944. The Architect re-submitted his plans amended accordingly a few days later on Monday 17th January, Subsequent enquiry gained the Information that the plans and perspectives would be examined by a panel of Architects on Friday, 28th January.

28th January, 1944. At the meeting of the panel of Architects a tentative agreement was reached on the Federation plans but as one of the three principal Architects was absent through illness it was thought advisable to communicate with him in order to secure his concurrence. At the time of writing the matter is still in the hands of the Ministry but early agreement is expected.