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