IN THE early 20th century, there was a real crisis concerning the poor state of housing in Wallingford. In 1919 Wallingford Council received the following letter from the Medical Officer of Health:

‘I have inspected the worst houses in Wallingford. I am of the opinion that 37 houses are in their present state unfit for habitation: 17 of these are incapable of being rendered fit – short of practically rebuilding the whole structure; 6 are capable of being made fit but it is doubtful whether they are worth the necessary expenditure; the remaining 14 could be made fit for occupation by small families at a heavy cost. In addition there are many more which are barely fit for habitation.’

The properties concerned were within the southern part of the town. Wood Street and Goldsmiths Lane had the most overcrowded and dilapidated cottages. Wood Street in particular had 6 courts – small blocked-off alleys of high-density poor tenements, of which only Old Buildings still exists. St Leonard’s Lane, Croft Road and St John’s Road also had several sub-standard cottages.

Not until the end of the First World War was an effort made to improve the housing situation. This was done by issuing the owners (who were seldom the occupiers) with notices to do essential repairs and improvements and to prevent overcrowding, but ultimately with closure orders. Most of the closing orders were given between 1919 and 1935 to properties in Wood Street and its courts and Goldsmiths Lane.

This would have left many people homeless, but as soon as the World War finished, plans for re-housing were put in place. The Council bought land and allotments from local owners and obtained loans to build what it called ‘Working Class Dwellings’. The first 12 were erected in St John’s Road in 1919, followed in the next decade by the 20 houses of St John’s Terrace, and 26 in Station Road. The 10 houses of Goldsmiths Terrace were built in 1935 on the site of a malthouse and yard, and 8 more in Crispin Place. In 1937 work was started on Coopers Piece for 32 houses on what was to be named Clapcot Way. Then the Second World War intervened, and house building was suspended, but by this time the slums of Wallingford had more or less been cleared.

Rents for the new houses were kept low, but there were rules to obey. No lodgers were to be taken in without the permission of the Mayor and Town Clerk. People were not allowed to wallpaper their rooms. Gardens must be kept neat and at first they were not allowed to build sheds. In 1924 it was reported that certain tenants had installed wireless sets, but the Council decided to take no action on the matter. Improvements were made. It was recommended that gas cookers be substituted for ordinary ranges in the Goldsmith Terrace houses, baths were to be provided in the houses in St John’s Road and approval was given to an application by the tenants of Crispin Place for permission to install electric light.

At last most of the ordinary people of Wallingford had affordable homes which were fit for habitation.