Downham Estate: Its Origins and Early History

by Alistair Black


Even by the standards of the house-building boom of the immediate post-Second World War decades, the construction by the London County Council (LCC) of the Downham estate in South-East London between the wars was a remarkable achievement. Although the fabric and appearance of the estate has changed considerably since then, the observer of today is struck by the same sense of scale and shared vernacular style that planners, builders and early residents must have felt when the estate sprang up, in a relatively short span of years, from a pristine 'green field' site in the 1920s.

The Downham estate, like others built at the time, was developed to help alleviate a severe housing shortage in London, especially in the capital's inner-city districts. This shortage was in evidence before 1914 and was made much worse by the virtual cessation of house-building during the First World War.

However, it would be wrong to assume that the estate was planned and constructed simply as a numerical solution to the problem of overcrowding. It was also conceived as a living space which would provide citizens with a quality of life beyond the wildest dreams of those who had experienced the slums and sub-standard housing of Victorian and Edwardian London.