Women in social housing

4 women outside 1930s style flats.

Last month our Open House programme ended with an all-female panel talking about the pioneering women who created much of the social housing in Somers Town today.

The panel chaired by Elizabeth Darling, a collaboration with the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain (SAHGB) held the event in Basil Jellicoe Community Hall, an apt location as the location of work done by Irene Barclay, Evelyn Perry.

Irene Barclay

To start, our panelists gave us their perspective on the role women have played and continue to play in shaping social housing, led by Elizabeth Darling, chair of the SAHGB.

Carrie De Silva was well-equipped to give us an overview of the career of Irene Barclay, having written her entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. As the first woman to qualify as a chartered surveyor after the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, Irene was a true pioneer, who dedicated decades of her career to improving housing conditions in Somers Town through the St Pancras Housing Improvement Society.

Women as residents

Rosamund West brought her expertise in public sculpture to the table, explored how Gilbert Bayes’ ceramic finials on washing posts linked art to the everyday domestic lives of women residents.

Bonnie Emmett took us out of Somers Town and into Makepeace Mansions, Highgate, an affordable housing scheme for single working women in interwar London, with surprising parallels in Somers Town and in housing schemes today.

Our chair, Elizabeth, then opened the floor for a lively and insightful discussion that touched on the role of ‘landladies’, the importance of shared domestic spaces and childcare to women living in St Pancras Housing estates, the community and consideration experienced by residents and, of course, the housing crisis today.

A blue plaque for Irene

English Heritage representative Rebecca Preston announced that, after a long campaign, Irene Barclay will receive a blue plaque in Somers Town. When we have a date for its installation, we hope everyone will join us in commemorating Irene’s remarkable work in our area.

A huge thank you to SAHGB and our panellists, and to the audience for their contributions.

Read more about Irene here

For those who missed it we will be posting the audio from the event here soon – watch this space!

By Katie Devlin

I am a local resident and interested in history!