Home Library Special Collections and Archives Oral Histories Constructing Post-War Britain

Constructing Post-War Britain

Constructing Post-war Britain was a Leverhulme Trust-funded project which began in August 2010, led by Christine Wall with Linda Clarke and research fellows Charles McGuire and Olivia Muñoz-Rojas. The project was based at the University of Westminster in the Centre for the Study of the Production of the Built Environment (ProBE) – a joint research centre between Westminster Business School and the Faculty of Architecture and Built Environment.

This two-year project collected the stories and memories of building workers who worked on the construction of important examples of post-war architecture and civil engineering:
  • Barbican development
  • M1 motorway
  • Sizewell A Nuclear Power Station
  • The South Bank Arts Centre
  • Stevenage New Town

The built landscape of the British Welfare State, constructed in the three decades after the Second World War, saw new forms of housing, the use of industrialised techniques, the New Towns, schools and hospitals, refineries, power stations, cultural monuments and motorways – all of which contributed to a historically distinct built environment. In each case the site of production was also the site of specific social and industrial relations. This project traced over 50 building workers who had been employed during the 1950s and 1960s, and conducted oral history interviews which have been deposited with Bishopsgate Special Collections and Archives, together with the transcripts of these interviews, photographs of each participant and the accompanying publications produced by the project leaders. 

The oral histories of the men who worked on these sites are key, both as an invaluable record of working life in a harsh industry and for the insights they provide to many under-researched aspects of this period. The interviews reveal the hazards endemic in the industry before Health and Safety legislation, the use of blacklisting and the human cost of this practice on the families of building workers, and the role of the Communist Party in organizing site workers. The men interviewed also speak of the strength of building site camaraderie and mutual support, their commitment to work in the face of very difficult site conditions and, for many, their pride in contributing to the rebuilding of Britain.