BISF House Construction Types

BISF House construction types are often referred to as types A, A1,B and type C which can cause confusion among BISF owners and housing market professionals alike. Most BISF houses across the country are variations of the mass-produced Type A1 house, so why do we hear references to other construction types?

We take a look at the lesser known construction types and see what part they played in BISF Construction history.

The post war 1940’s Government needed to build thousands of new houses quickly and efficiently and prefabricated and part pre-fabricated houses topped the agenda due to crippling material and labour shortages. The Government invited architects and designers to submit new designs for houses and attracted over 1400 entries. Architect, Sir Frederick Gibberd and Engineer, Donovan Lee put forward their prototype designs for a British Iron and Steel Federation sponsored House. Thousands of designs were reviewed and rejected but the BISF house and several other concepts impressed the housing review team.

In 1944 an experimental demonstration site was created in Edward Road, Northolt where a number of these new designs were to be constructed and reviewed. Gibberd and Lee produced three different prototypes on the site, each containing two semi-detached dwellings. These were BISF Types A, B and C and only two of each type were ever built and can still be seen in Edward Road Northolt today.

BISF HOUSE PROTOTYPE TYPE A. TOTAL PRODUCTION NUMBER 2.

The BISF Type A  house above appears very similar to the more common Type A1 house that went into mass production across the country. The most obvious visual difference is the appearance of a bathroom window along side the standard landing window at the side elevation.

BISF HOUSE PROTOTYPE TYPE B. TOTAL PRODUCTION NUMBER 2.

The BISF Type B above, is fitted with much wider bedroom windows to the first floor and a wider but shallower window to the ground floor compared to a typical Type A1 house. It also has an added bathroom window to the side elevation.

BISF HOUSE PROTOTYPE TYPE C. TOTAL PRODUCTION NUMBER 2

On first inspection the BISF Type C house above looks very similar to the Type A house but on closer examination you will see that the large front windows are actually constructed from two separate units. There is a central support column in place which prevents the installation of a larger one-piece unit. This property also has a bathroom window to the side elevation. Note also that there is no visible brick chimney stack, the flue is constructed from a cast iron and supported by the buildings frame.

MODERN BATHROOM VIEW OF PROTOTYPE BISF WINDOW OPENING

All of the original prototypes benefitted from the addition of a second bathroom window.

BISF HOUSE PRODUCTION TYPE A1 HOUSE

The most commonly produced BISF production house was the Type A1 seen above. These houses were constructed using widely differing materials across the country. Room layouts have been changed as have fireplace locations and construction types with some being of brick and others incorporating a cast iron flue. Side exit doors and windows to the properties vary as does the construction design and material type of any associated outbuildings.

BISF PRODUCTION TERRACED HOUSES

Perhaps the most surprising production build of the British Iron and Steel Federation was the BISF Terraced house.

These houses are far less common than the standard A1 produced house. The internal rolled steel frames used in construction were ideal for terraced builds as the frames could be bolted together to form one long run of properties containing any number of dwellings. This method offered considerable savings in materials as each block required only two end elevation walls and cladding panels to complete the build.

In summary BISF Types A, B and C were only ever built as experimental concept designs and never mass produced.
Often mortgage lenders and insurers list these house types but in reality only two of each of these properties have ever existed. The listing these more obscure house types may be of benefit to the residents of Edward Road Northolt but has little relevance to the BISF housing market itself. This only further demonstrates a considerable lack of knowledge and understanding with this much loved Non-Traditional house.

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  1. Thats really interesting – I had read about the different types but didnt know what the differences were.

  2. Hi all,

    I took a few measurements of my BISF house earlier and put together a bit of a floor plan to show how it is laid out.

    1. Cracking set of pland Denton and fascinating too.

      Like Ed says there are many differencies in the layout of your house. This is surprising since it's also in the West Midlands Like Mine.

      As you found some original doors in the loft would it be safe to assume that the sliding doors in your house are all newer additions and not original fittings?

      1. Hi Marc,

        The closest BISF houses I know of that appear to be the same configuration as yours are on Billingsley Road:

        http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=Billingsley+Road ,…

        <iframe src=” https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!4v1522368146011!6m8!1m7!1sHgKkZjyUXtoIgeX6R67ezw!2m2!1d52.47034293871139!2d-1.789936576391314!3f186.89957022204436!4f-5.412915066204775!5f0.7820865974627469″ width=”600″ height=”450″ frameborder=”0″ style=”border:0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

        That’s exactly one mile away by road from the brick chimney BISF’s in central Sheldon:

        <a href=” http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?saddr=Horrell+Road,+Sheldon&daddr=Billingsley+Road,+Sheldon,+Birmingham&hl=en&ll=52.467096,-1.78766&spn=0.007961,0.01929&sll=52.46758,-1.783819&sspn=0.007961,0.01929&geocode=FfGHIAMdTL3k_ymTLpOEcLpwSDHlWU1LAl–bAhttp://maps.google.co.uk/maps?saddr=Horrell+Road,…

        The interesting thing about the BISF houses around Billingsley is they are dotted about, and in between older houses. The brick chimney BISF houses in central Sheldon cover a large area where there are no older, traditional houses.

        Here’s an example of a BISF house in between older houses:

        <a href=” http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?saddr=Horrell+Road,+Sheldon&daddr=Billingsley+Road,+Sheldon,+Birmingham&hl=en&ll=52.472233,-1.791673&spn=0.00796,0.01929&sll=52.46758,-1.783819&sspn=0.007961,0.01929&geocode=FfGHIAMdTL3k_ymTLpOEcLpwSDHlWU1LAl–bAhttp://maps.google.co.uk/maps?saddr=Horrell+Road,…

  3. Those are really good plans Denton, what did you do them with?

    It's quite different from mine in a lot of ways. The position of the door into the lounge from the hall is different – mine is near the front opposite the bottom of the stairs. The kitchen and dining room are swapped over (maybe not original?) and the door between the two is in the middle not at the one side like yours. Where you've got a window in your dining room is my back door and my fireplace is on the wall between the lounge and dining room (kitchen in your case).

    Upstairs there are no cupboards between the bathroom and back bedroom and that space is part of the bedroom. The hallway is smaller because the doors to bedrooms 1 and 2 line up with the wall between the bathroom and cupboards in your house. Also, the bathroom door is in the middle of the wall, ie not directly facing the top of the stairs. Between bedrooms 1 and 2 there are three built in cupboards, two opening into bedroom 1 and one into bedroom 2 and a boxed-in chimney flue.

  4. You're not the only one with a sliding door – I have one too in bedroom 3.

    Annoyingly the previous owners kept the junk doors that look as though they came from the original broom cupboard or larder, along with carpet tiles and other useless stuff up in the loft, but got rid of the doors they took out. So I've got three original doors upstairs – bathroom, bedroom 1 and bedroom 2 – and none downstairs. From the hall into the kitchen is a really nasty, flimsy door with broken plastic panes.a

    1. Here's a photo:

      Just wondering if you have the same type of staircase too, as it looks original, similar in style to the Royal Festival Hall (a bit more modest in size though).

      1. Hi Ed,

        Yes my staircase is exactly the same as that, right down to the colours. My staircase has a matching handrail on the other side though, perhaps yours had one once and it has been removed?

        The lower part of the cupboard looks the same as mine, and from your earlier description it sounds identical. I don't have the upper part that I can see on yours, although a wooden panel has been screwed to the side. I plan to replace the entire section with a more modern sliding wardrobe, but I'll get some pictures and precise measurements before doing that.

        The swapped kitchen and dining areas are original – all the party wall chimneyed BISF houses around Sheldon are like that.

        Do all the ceilings in your house have those polystyrene tiles attached to them?

        Nice sliding door, by the way :). Was that there when you moved in?

        1. Hi Denton,

          the handrail is actually still in the loft – I’m not sure how they got it up there considering how long it is! I think the previous owners had a stairlift, so they took it out to have that put in.

          The white gloss paint is actually flaking off the wooden panels of the staircase in one place and you can see the wood is polished underneath (probably why the paint isn’t sticking!) so I plan to strip it off and repolish the wood and paint the metalwork black for a more midcentury look.

          That folding/sliding door was there when I moved in, it’s a pity the original door has gone but I think I’d rather have a totally different sliding door than a normal door that doesn’t match the other three on the hall… I’ll just pretend to be Japanese 😉

          Fortunately only the hallway upstairs and downstairs have the ceiling tiles.

  5. This is a really interesting post Marc – I'm impressed with the information you manage to dig out. I had assumed that the A, B and C referred to production types too, such as the difference between the 'English/Welsh' type with the cast iron chimney flue in the centre of the house and the 'Scottish' one with the brick chimneys on the party wall.

    I found a book called The Prefabricated Home, by Colin Davies, which has some interesting information, and it seems the prototype houses were quite different in construction from the later production models. It's interesting that architects at the time criticised the BISF house and similar types as they felt they were too traditional, but with hindsight it's probably what made them a success while the precast concrete panel systems they favoured turned out to be unpopular.

    Here's an extract:

    "A number of systems were approved, of which the most successful was the steel-framed house promoted by the British Iron and Steel Federation (BISF). Like the Dorlonco house, the BISF house was assembled from a mixture of prefabricated and site-built elements in a variety of materials. The rolled steel structural frame was rational enough, but the internal lining was of site-built concrete blockwork and the outer walls were of brickwork up to first-floor level only. The upper storey was clad in profiled steel sheets. Yet another technology was introduced for the first floor deck: 50 mm (2 in) of in situ concrete on expanded metal lath. This description applies to the prototype built at the government’s Northolt demonstration site and techniques may have been modified in later production models, but it remained a curious concoction, a ‘traditional’ house made from completely non-traditional elements, except the brickwork, which was non-load-bearing. Nevertheless, about 30,000 BISF houses were built between 1946 and 1951."
    ….

    "Can these cottage-style post-war houses be described as ‘architecture’? Were there any architects involved in their production? Yes, there were. For example, Frederick Gibbered, later to become famous as the planner of Harlow New Town and the designer of Liverpool Roman Catholic Cathedral, was responsible for the ‘architectural treatment’ of the Type B BISF House. Many progressive architects, including F.R.S. Yorke, Hugh Casson and Grey Wornum, supported prefabrication in principle. But there was a feeling among them that in the long run the traditional cottage style would not do. D. Dex Harrison, an architect who compiled a comprehensive survey of prefabrication for the Ministry of Works in 1945, wrote this about post-First World War houses such as the Weir and Dorlonco:"

    'No attempt had been made to evolve designs which suited, and took advantage of, the new structural concepts. So utterly bankrupt was the movement in this respect that the new constructions were laboriously worked to the same niggling plans which were in common use for brick houses at the time.'