Roffey and Cubitt Houses – A Largely Pictorial History

The Greenwood Housing Act of 1930 encouraged the large-scale clearance of slums and poor quality housing. Its full title:

An Act to make further and better provision with respect to the clearance or improvement of unhealthy areas, the repair or demolition of insanitary houses and the housing of persons of the working classes; to amend the Housing Act, 1925, the Housing, etc., Act, 1923, the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1924, and the other enactments relating to housing subsidies; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid.

One important feature of this act was that housing subsidies were calculated on the number of people rehoused not the number of properties demolished or built. Poplar Borough Council and the London County Council – like other administrative organisations throughout the country – maximised their subsidies by building blocks of flats. On the Isle of Dogs this led to the construction of – amongst others – Hammond House, Dunbar House, the Westferry Estate in Cahir Street and the Millwall Estate near Kingsbridge.

All these flats were built on land which had been cleared of slums or factories. Two other  blocks of flats, however, were built on land which had never previously been developed: Roffey House and Cubitt House, built in 1933 on land around Judkin Street, nestled between the Millwall Dock boundary fence and East Ferry Road.

Judkin Street area in 1916. Roffey Street was built at the same time as Roffey House later.

Survey of London:

[They were] typical examples of the Borough Council’s 1930s ‘modern’ style … Each block contained 24 flats (12 two-bedroom and 12 three-bedroom dwellings). They were of four storeys, the external walls were in red brick with the top storey rendered, and the floor levels were delineated by concrete horizontal bands. Almost continuous concrete balconies with solid balustrades ran along one elevation, interrupted by two brick staircase towers with strong verticals.

Surnames of some of the earliest residents, according to 1939 Electoral Register:

One of these residents, Lydia Ellen Jane Laing, aged 45, at No. 12, was killed on 10th May 1941 (one of London’s worst nights of bombing during WWII) when Roffey House was seriously damaged.

Roffey House after clearance of rubble and sections damaged beyond repair. Photo taken by William Whiffin on behalf of Poplar Borough Council.

Roffey House after clearance of rubble and sections damaged beyond repair. Photo taken by William Whiffin on behalf of Poplar Borough Council.

Late 1940s. Roffey House after repairs. Photo: Poplar Borough Council

Late 1940s. Roffey House after repairs. Photo: Poplar Borough Council

The following post-War aerial image gives a good idea of the extent of the damage to the area. Virtually all pre-War terraced housing has either been cleared or is derelict, and the area was characterised by a large number of prefabs.

Late 1940s. Roffey House was, like Cubitt House, built with a pitched-roof. However, post-War shortages of building materials meant it was repaired with a flat roof.

Cubitt House in 1953. Photo: Island History Trust

1950s. Looking from Roffey House towards Cubitt House. Photo: Island History Trust

1963

Cubitt House in the 1970s. Photo: Island History Trust

Outside Roffey House in the 1970s. Photo: Island History Trust

1970s

In the early 1980s, Roffey House and Cubitt House were closed, scheduled for demolition. A handful of residents remained after others had been rehoused, while other flats were squatted.

The almost empty buildings were for a short while popular as the location for a couple of TV programmes – The Prospects and The Bill – and one of the flats was occupied by members of the heavy metal band, Iron Maiden, who used the building as a backdrop in one of their videos. A couple of screenshots follow, but at end of this article are links to videos on YouTube where you can see these and other scenes filled on the Island.

The Bill

Iron Maiden video

The Bill

Prospects

Prospects

Not much later, in circa 1988, the flats were boarded up once and for all, and the buildings demolished.

Cubitt House

Cubitt House

Roffey House. Photo: Ken Lynn

The site of Roffey and Cubitt Houses in 2019

ON FILM…..

 

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11 Responses to Roffey and Cubitt Houses – A Largely Pictorial History

  1. Excellent information and research, very interesting indeed as a northerner with a working class mining background I can relate to the rehousing of my Mum when she was very small, also from a slum area.

  2. Bill Wiseman says:

    Brilliant. I had family in Hickin St just make out their back garden.

  3. Heather Thomas says:

    Thanks for an interesting article again. I really have a good picture of the surroundings of Judkin St from the 1916 map and the later aerial photos.
    Are there any existing examples of the type of housing in Judkin St on the island?
    Thanks again,
    Heather Thomas

  4. Kavin Robert says:

    I remember seeing them. In 1985
    They looked very dilapidated. The 2 blocks stood opposite each other. There was one called Mapel that stood between them. On the other side was Rugless and Ash House. Castella Square was nearby.My friend who lived at similar place at Tiller Road knew some who lived at Rugless. Yes the blocks were demolished in the late 1980s.
    In 1991 the site was redeveloped. I remember seeing the plant in action. I thought was another office block going up. But from the DLR I often saw the roof tops of these 2 blocks.

  5. Kavin Robert says:

    Today only a few of these blocks survive on the Isle of Dogs. My friend lived at Tiller Road during the mid 1970s and early 1980s. The one he lived at was demolished sometime after. One day I met him and some friends in 2015.
    We talked about the place.
    And I remember him saying, “You asked me? what were those 2 blocks called by Cubitt and Roffey House….?” And I remember him saying to Me, “Kav, That’s Rugless and Ash House”

  6. Kavin Robert says:

    For some strange reason.
    The balconies and the Upper section of these 2 blocks were painted white.
    The courtyards they had were quite large.. Later I would learn that Castileia Square was right near them.

  7. Pingback: A History of North Cubitt Town | Isle of Dogs – Past Life, Past Lives

  8. John Stuart says:

    My Grandad Valentine Stuart was the first resident of 27 Cubitt House, and was one of the last to leave Cubitt House prior to the demolition of the building. I have vivid memories of visiting and staying with him and his first wife Emily and his second wife Florence. A tough but gentle man.

  9. John A Stuart says:

    Just to add to yesterday’s comment, My sister Janet, and I were born in 27 Cubitt House, Janet in 1954 and myself in 1955. We lived there for several years with our Mum Mabel Stuart, and our Dad, Arthur Stuart. Great Parents, and fortunately both still alive as I write these notes.

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