WHAT do many people in Cowdenbeath have in common with former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, and popular actors Barbara Windsor and Michael Caine? The answer - they all lived in prefabs at one time!

Cowdenbeath local historian, David Allan, this week looks at the post war period when prefabs were a key part of the Town Council's housing stock.

He said: "Indeed, there is now some talk about bringing prefabs back, and why not? "Most of those who lived in them loved the experience – they were usually a step up from the dreadful housing folks had been used to in those days – People’s Palaces some folks called the prefabs - a spacious house with all mod cons and a garden of your own, what was not to like?

"Neil Kinnock recalls, ‘It was like moving to Beverley Hills. People used to come just to look at it’. "When I myself was born we lived in a Co-op house, in Foulford Street, with a living room, bedroom and scullery and that was it. No bath and the outside toilet was at the bottom of the garden and shared with the neighbours. In 1960 though we moved into 7 Milne Crescent, one of the prefabs erected by Cowdenbeath Town Council in 1946/47 after the War.

"In 1944, Prime Minister Winston Churchill took the initiative as it was clear there would be a large housing shortage after the war and a lack of men and materials to build houses. An Act was passed whereby the Government committed to building 500,000 prefabricated houses within five years of the War ending. These were expected to have a useful life of 10 years.

"Every prefab had a service unit which was a prefabricated kitchen that backed onto a bathroom, pre-built in a factory. Thus all the water pipes, waste pipes and electrics were kept together and were simple to install. There was a coal fire but there were such unimagined luxuries as an immersion heater, an indoor toilet, a separate bathroom with heated towel rail, a built in oven and a fridge – something very few people had back then.

"There was lots of cupboard space in the rooms and a fold down table in many of the kitchens. They were erected on the spot in next to no time and were pre-decorated in magnolia, with gloss-green on all additional wood, including the door trimmings and skirting boards. They were located in the middle of a spacious garden ground and Anderson Shelters were deployed as coal cellars.

"The humble prefab was much loved by its occupants. There are a few pockets of them in existence still in the UK and occupants steadfastly unwilling to move from them – decanted as they called it when you left the prefabs. "The expectation was that they would be just a short term stopgap but they proved much more durable. Our prefab in Milne Crescent was knocked down in 1968 and thus had a lifetime of about 22 years – some, as aforementioned, though are still going strong some 70 years since they were erected. I can still remember revisiting our prefab the day after we moved away and the sadness I felt then - it was all gone – dematerialised just as if it was Dr Who’s Tardis. The Council had them demolished and removed within 24 hours".

David recalled: "There were downsides; many will recall those cold winter days when ice formed on the inside of the windows and some prefabs had had asbestos used in their construction. There were several different types of prefab including both the Arcon and Seco types which gave their names to Cowdenbeath streets.

"In 1944, Scotland was allocated 33,000 temporary house in the post war plan. Glasgow would have 2,500, Edinburgh 4,000 whilst Cowdenbeath’s initial allocation was to be 125.

"Clydebank, so devastated by the Blitz, was allocated 950. In some places, German and Italian Prisoners of War were used to erect the prefabs. Eventually 32,176 prefabs were erected in Scotland between 1945 and 1948. In 1953, the Courier noted that the towns in its circulation area had the following numbers of prefabs - Dundee 1,550, Perth 350, Arbroath 150, Cupar 40, Kirkcaldy 444, Blairgowrie 25, Auchterarder 15, Pitlochry 25, Brechin, 55, Forfar 37, Dunfermline 200, Lochgelly 131 and Cowdenbeath 235.

"Cowdenbeath’s prefabs were located in (as far as I can recall): Rosebank, Seco Place, Milne Crescent, Rowan Terrace, Barclay Street, Rae Street, Meadowfield, Park Road, Blackburn Drive, Hillview, Harvey Street, Arcon Place, Drylie Street, James Street and Moss-side Road".

The prefabs brought with them some folklore, said David: "There are a couple of odd tales as well of the prefab days in Cowdenbeath.

"In 1953, there was a newspaper story regarding, ‘Mystery fires in Fife pre-fab’. 'Firemen and a policeman held an all-night vigil in a prefab occupied by Mr and Mrs Grant and their three children in Park Road. There had been an initial outbreak of fire and thereafter Mr Grant reported that smoke had been coming from the roof on eight further occasions. He managed to extinguish most of the outbreaks but twice had to call out the fire brigade. Mrs Grant appealed for the Council to give them another house as she was at her wits end and unable to sleep'.

"There were 750 people already on the waiting list for houses. In Cowdenbeath there had been 500 wartime marriages but only 14 couples got a house.

"Again in 1953, there was the horse that ending up in the living room of the prefab at 4 Rowan Terrace, occupied by a Mrs Meldrum. She was sitting in her chair when she heard noises from the garden. Next thing there was a crash and she closed her eyes. She opened them and lo and behold a horse was there.

"It was a runaway store horse which had been pulling the Co-op bread van. 22 year-old driver Randolph Hardie’s horse had been startled by a motorbike starting up and it bolted. It charged down the brae from Moss-side School but failed to take the bend.

"It jumped over the garden fence and then crashed into the house going straight through the wall and coming to a standstill a few feet from where Mrs Meldrum was sitting by the fire.

"Well-known poet and author, John Burnside, also recalls moving to live in a prefab in Blackburn Drive when he was aged 3 – ‘In the spring of 1958, my family moved from a rat-haunted tenement on King Street to one of the last remaining prefabs in Cowdenbeath. It was a move up, in most ways; the prefabs had been built as temporary wartime accommodation but, to my child’s mind at least, the cold and the damp, the putty-tainted pools of condensation on winter mornings and the airless heat of August afternoons were minor concerns compared with the pleasure of living on our own garden plot, in what was, essentially, a detached house, just yards from a stand of high beech trees where tawny owls hunted through the night, their to-and-fro cries so close it seemed they were right there with us, in the tiny bedroom I shared with my sister, Margaret'."