Footage from Screen Archive South East
This slick promotional film offers fascinating insight into the birth of modern suburban living in Britain. Responding to a shortage of city homes in the early 1930s, companies like Davis Estates Ltd instigated the greatest expansion of housing the country had ever seen.
1. Welcome to the bustling City of London in 1935.
2. “If all places of business and residence were as attractive as this corner of the Temple”, our narrator muses, “the city worker need not seek escape from town.”
3. But alas, “few can choose to live so peacefully in the heart of the city. The modern world moves quickly, speed rules in every walk of life, and no one escapes the craze for speed.”
4. Happily, there’s an easy way to avoid burnout. “Nowadays it is a simple matter to live in the atmosphere of the country, yet within a few minutes of town. A visit to one of the Davis show houses at Charing Cross and Victoria proves both illuminating and instructive.”
5. Our narrator’s take on urban living is amusingly bleak. “Victorian architects of no particular school had no idealistic nonsense in their makeup. They built dwelling places, but certainly not homes.”
6. “People pay rent to live here”, he continues, his voice positively dripping with contempt.
7. In stark contrast, the new Davis estates occupy the loveliest parts of outer London and the home counties, offering plenty of green space and fresh air, in addition to great transport links.
8. A little insight now into how a Davis home is constructed.
9. “It takes strong men to tackle the job. Beginners would be wise to leave it to ex-sailors.”
10. It’s genuinely remarkable to watch this worker scramble up a ladder while balancing a sizeable stack of roof tiles on his head.
11. And here’s an example of the finished article. Our narrator is very keen to emphasise the spacious windows, inviting in sun and air.
12. The Davis Jubilee house, which was introduced at the Ideal Homes Exhibition of 1935. It was viewed by 175,000 people, and subsequently erected on most Davis estates. Let’s take a look at some of its exciting finishing touches.
13. “Here’s an unusual feature – a kitchen sink made of stainless steel, which will not corrode, and is very easy to keep clean, and further, it gives china a better chance if you drop it.”
14. “In the bathroom, walls are luxuriously tiled in an attractive shade of cream.”
15. “This portable electric fire with chromium plated finish… can easily be taken from the drawing room, carried upstairs, and placed in the fireplace of the first bedroom. Such things as these turn a mere house into a home of convenience and comfort.”
16. Now it’s time for a tour of some of the delightful amenities within easy reach of Davis estates. Here’s Broomfield Park in Southgate, on a particularly idyllic summer day.
17. “Over all, the spire of Harrow, a lasting monument to Englishmen throughout the world.”
18. The narrator addresses the camera directly for a final sales pitch. “Do you realise that usually for less than your present expenditure on rent, you could be buying your own home? Now choose your district. Visit the estate which meets your needs and select your plot. Davis Estates will look after the rest for you.”
The film and stills on this page are taken from Britain on Film, a digital archive of UK places that mean the world to you. 10,000 film and TV titles from 1895 to now will be digitised and can be watched for free on BFI Player.
Britain on Film is funded by the National Lottery funding and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
Screen Archive South East is a public sector moving image archive serving the South East of England. The archive’s collections of magic lantern slides, films, videos and associated materials capture the many varied aspects of life, work and creativity from the early days of screen history to the present day and serve as a rich and invaluable historical resource.