Living in the past: The old housing keeping a roof over our heads

mewsLondon is a modern city with a high proportion of very old housing. The population has climbed to a record level but the supply of new homes has failed to keep pace. In the last decade fewer homes were built than in the 1960s and 70s, when the population was shrinking. The capital is still very reliant on housing from the 19th century.

Nearly a quarter of the homes in London were built before 1900. This is especially true for inner London. The 1930s saw a house-building boom as the population rose to a record level that has only just been surpassed. The data for house building,  going back to 1871, shows the surges in the Victorian and Edwardian periods but neither matches the peaks or the 1930s.

housing stock built

The current housing stock reflects how that building activity was spread across the capital. Inner London was the focus in the early 1900s and before. The 1920s and 30s saw the shift to outer London and the development of the suburbs.

housing stock age

Across the capital there are some vastly contrasting borough stories. 65% of housing in Kensington and Chelsea was built before 1900. In Barking and Dagenham it is just 1%. As the map below, produced by the GLA in the Housing in London report, shows the red areas of 1900s housing are inner city, surrounded by the orange of 1930s development.

housing stock map

The blue areas of recent building show the re-development of docklands areas in Tower Hamlets. 28% of the borough’s housing stock was built in the 21st century, which is the highest proportion in London and the UK.

The Mayor, Boris Johnson, has described the need to build more homes as an “epic challenge”. It’s estimated that more than 40,000 more homes are a year required for the next 20 years to meet demand. The housing stock map of London will need a lot more blue zones on the map to reduce the reliance on the dark red legacy of those Victorian builders.

Source data

See also

Booming population will struggle to find a place to live

More homes packed into built up inner city as growth stalls in outer areas

House price rises fuel affordability crisis for Londoners


The shifting population story of the fall and rise of inner London

terrace rooftops BW

The population is a little over 8.6 million and the city is struggling with a housing shortage. This description may sound familiar to Londoners, but it not only reflects the current reality but the situation in 1939.

London reached its previous peak in population just before the Second World War. The numbers dropped in the post war years and only broke the milestone number of 8.61 million people this year, according to estimates by the GLA.

While the numbers are back to pre-war levels the shape of the city has changed. The foreign-born population has grown from single figures to the 37% of Londoners who were born outside the UK today. Data from the GLA shows how the geography of the city population has changed too.

In 1939 far more people lived in central London – 4.4 million lived in inner boroughs while 4.1 lived in outer ones. The most highly populated areas were Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Lambeth, and can be seen as the darker areas on the map.

1939 population

A new London emerged after the war. Much housing had been destroyed in the Blitz and new house building took off in the outer London suburbs pulling the population from the centre. The effects of that trend are seen today. The population of the inner boroughs is down by 1 million while the outer boroughs have swelled by 24% to 5.1 million. The most highly populated areas in 2015 are Barnet, Croydon and Ealing.

1939 2015

But looking at the annual data in detail shows a more complex pattern of how London has changed since 1939 and continues to evolve.   The population hit its low point in 1988 driven largely by the exodus from central boroughs. The lighter areas on the population change map below show where numbers were falling up to 1988.

1939 change pre 88

But the trend begins to reverse as numbers in the capital rise again. Between 1988 and today the population has risen in every area. Tower Hamlets and Newham have seen the strongest growth but central areas like Southwark and Hackney have witnessed larger rates of increase that outlying areas.

1939 change post 88

As the capital grows to record levels it is shifting once again. The biggest rate of growth in the past 12 months is in the City of London, but the numbers are small. After that it is Tower Hamlets where there has been at a 2.3% rise in residents in a year.  And over the next 25 years the GLA projections show that Tower Hamlets will lead the growth in residents, closely followed by Newham as many head east in search of a home in the capital.

1939 projection



Source data

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