A previous post looked at some films related to housing, and this post focuses on historical documentary type films that help us to understand what has happened in the past in addressing poor housing conditions, in particular area clearance and redevelopment programmes. This is a complex subject, involving not only physical housing conditions and management, but also what the process of clearance means for communities. Whilst some area redevelopment (and regeneration) schemes have been successful and have greatly enhanced people’s lives in so many ways, it would also be true to say that others have not and that some communities never recovered from what was a very top down process, with little regard paid to those affected.

There are a range of places to find historical films, including the Wellcome Collection and the London Metropolitan Archive. At Wellcome, this one is really inspiring and demonstrates the highly progressive approach: Some Activities of the Bermondsey Borough Council (1931), including the Health Centre as well as its Gardens and Beautification Department. London’s Screen Archives are also good, such as for Somewhere Decent to Live (1967) and Living at Thamesmead (1973).

The social documentary Housing Problems (1935) is not currently available as open access, but details and some short clips are available via the BFI. This excellent 12 minute film shows housing urban housing conditions endured by the working classes as well as the then forthcoming modernist flats at Kensal House (see link below) and Quarry Hill at Leeds. Kensal House is still occupied, but Quarry Hill is now demolished. There is more information on these in my book Housing and Hope: the influence of the interwar years in England (2016).

Another key place to search is the British Film Industry archive and in particular these collections:

It is also worth searching local archives, such as this one for Sheffield. Also look for some of these gems of housing history, including during WW2.

And finally, I have also literally just been made aware of this film, which I am including here because of the backdrop of an area clearance and redevelopment programme in 1974. The 14 stars Jack Wild heading up a young family of 14 children when his mother died, based on a true story.


Additional recommendations (December 2020), with many thanks to housing friends and colleagues as follows:

BBC’s The Secret History of Our Streets  – thanks to @Rosamund_Lil

Children on Trial (1946) – for scenes of post-was Liverpool – thanks to @Mikeashworth12

Liverpool’s new flats (1935) – thanks to @MunicipalDreams

Homes for Workers 1939 film on Liverpool slum clearance and social housing boom – thanks to @MunicipalDreams

The Costs of Regeneration: a film for everyone – thanks to @9thfloor

Single Aspect: For list of list of documentaries about housing and the welfare state  thanks to @urban_formation

Films for teaching Planning Theory: A resource list of suggestions collated by Andy Inch – thanks to @justspace7

Thanks to @inkydec for the following list:

A World of My Own: Emanuel Shinwell  (Peterlee at 14.53)

Park Hill Housing Project (see also Park Hill film below under Note and other blog)

Half a Lifetime (Quarry Hill) (see also Housing Problems 1935 film above)

New Towns for Old

Thanks to @rentrebel for the following list:

YouTube: Inquiry. The Great British Housing Disaster (Adam Curtis, 1984)

Equal by Design

The New Jerusalem: A Home of Your Own thanks to @NorfolkWastrel

Added May 2021

Robin Hood Gardens: a brief history thanks to @joegilbertt

(I will continue to add to the list as more are recommended/shared).



The following short films are included here for now as what was happening interwar and immediately post WW2 (see also Housing and Hope), but will form the subject of a later post on modernist inspired housing:

Le Corbusier – and the houses of the future

Isokon flats, Lawn Lane (1934)

Kensal House (1937) (see also Peckham Pioneers in earlier post)

Park Hill, Sheffield (1961)