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24 Newton Road, Twerton, Bath: a prefab case study

Between 1946 and 1948, around 600 prefabs were built in Bath. The prefab we have chosen for our case study was an 'AIROH Aluminium Byngalow'. (AIROH was an acronym for 'Aircraft Industries Research Organisation in Housing'.)

The four residents of the prefab in Newton Road were 'Jack' and 'Susie' Morgan and their two sons. The eldest son was born in Bristol shortly before the start of the Bristol Blitz. When the Blitz ended the family moved twelve miles east to Bath and arrived just in time for the start of the Blitz there.

The Prefab Files'Jack' or Joffre Morgan was born in Pentwyn in South Wales. His father was in the British Army during the First World War. (This explains why he was named after General Joffre, the French Chief of Staff.) 'Jack' Morgan attended the same elementary school as Roy Jenkins. Jenkins became Home Secretary in 1965 and Chancellor of Oxford University in 1987. (As 'Jack' Morgan spent some time working in a car factory in Oxford, both of these graduates of Pentwyn Elementary School can in a sense be said to have 'made it to Oxford.') At the age of fourteen 'Jack' Morgan started work as a coal miner. During the prefab years he worked as a furnace bricklayer for the Rotterdam-based company 'Ferro Enamels'.

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'Susie' Morgan was born in Koblenz, Germany. Her father fought on the Eastern Front during the First World War. (If he had been sent to the Western Front there would have been a chance of his meeting his daughter's future father-in-law!) The German Army he fought for in the First World War would murder many of his own relatives during the Second World War.

Not long after the end of the Bath Blitz 'Susie' Morgan contracted polio. Despite this she was an active housewife during the prefab years. After taking an evening course in shorthand and typewriting, 'Susie' worked for a time as a secretary.

Like other residents of prefab estates this family was untypical in its own special ways.

Postcards From The Continent

Postcard | The Prefab FilesThe mantelpiece in the sitting-room (some people called it the living-room) of prefab number twenty-four was lined with postcards. One would be leant against a wine jug engraved with the words Albergo Ristorante 'Continental' Bassano Grappo. The jug had been given to 'Jack' Morgan after a spell of furnace bricklaying in Italy.

The prefab's wage-earner also sent postcards from France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Finland, Yugoslavia, Portugal and Romania. When you looked at these pictures of charming city squares and idyllic villages it was hard to believe that, just a few years before the cards had been sent, this same Continent was being drenched in the blood of slaughter. Written in blue biro on the reverse side of the postcards...

Hanging above the mantelpiece in the sitting-room was a painting called The Chinese Girl. (It is sometimes called The Green Lady). It was by the Russian painter Vladimir Tretchikoff. Some people described it as 'The Mona Lisa of the British Working Class'. The Chinese Girl seemed to take everything in - the laughter in the prefab, the hopes, the forebodings, and the apprehensions. There was a sense of it having some kind of inkling of what the future held in store. (Que sera sera!) Reproductions of The Chinese Girl first went on sale in 1952, and 'Jack' Morgan was one of the first people in Bath to buy one. The aesthetic qualities of this painting were a subject of fierce debate in Bath public houses at this
time.