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3 April 2014

Visit the Prefab Museum

For the past month or so has felt like everyone has been telling your author to visit the Excalibur Estate in Catford, and after prompts by IanVisits, Diamond Geezer and Londonist's Matt, last Thursday the opportunity finally arose to cycle down and find out what it was all about. Originally built in the 1940s as a temporary solution to house Londoners bombed out during the Blitz, the boxy prefabricated houses of the Excalibur Estate were constructed on parkland by German and Italian prisoners of war, with each unit designed to last for just ten to fifteen years. However, the prefabs are still standing nearly 70 years later and now Lewisham Council has decided the time has finally come to demolish them, and has begun doing so.

Some residents have understandably come to love their little Palaces and are quite angry at this decision, with the backing of the Twentieth Century Society and English Heritage, and whilst six prefabs have been listed, the rest are not long for this world, and residents are being moved elsewhere. As a result, one of the prefabs scheduled for demolition has been turned into a temporary museum, 'Prefabs - Palaces for the People', masterminded by Elisabeth Blanchet and originally due to run only until last Saturday but now extended until the end of May. It features photography, video and work by various contributors telling the story of prefabs around the country, with particular focus on the Excalibur Estate.

It's quite emotive stuff, and whilst it's not hard to see why the rationalists at the Lewisham Borough want to make more intensive use of these liberal grassy plots and rid themselves of this expensive-to-maintain housing, these are homes, and it's very welcome that the museum contributors have worked so hard to present us with an idea of what they mean to their residents, allowing visitors to follow their unsuccessful battle to save their homes, especially via some poignant films which feature local residents and former prefab-dweller (Baron) Neil Kinnock.

The Museum is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and now is the time to visit before its home is demolished forever. For full details, see https://www.facebook.com/PalacesForThePeople

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