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The Broadfields Prefab
This material originated in Vectimod No 305 (Spring 2009) Revised with new information January 2012
To most of today's IWMES members ‘the Prefab’; has always been a feature of Broadfields, providing space for storage, work, shelter from bad weather and somewhere to make a cup of tea. But it had a more serious existence as housing before the Society's ownership and looked very different internally before we started to tailor it to our very different needs.
The Broadfields prefab started life in 1945-47 as an Arcon Mark V bungalow. The Arcon was only one of a range of designs built in quantity, most following a standard known as the Portal Bungalow. Methods of construction differed between manufacturers. The only thing the production models all had in common with each other and the Portal model was a standardised unit comprising bath, toilet and kitchen sink, etc., all attached to the dividing wall between these rooms. This piece of pre-assembly much reduced the on-site labour required to put the prefabs up and presumably made the plumbing task a lot easier.
Of the total of 156,623 prefabs built by December 1947, the end of the scheme, the Arcon numbered 38,859, second only to the Aluminium Bungalow built in former aircraft factories to the tune of 54,500. The plan of this was similar to the Arcon but came in four 7ft 6in wide sections (for road transportation) which were put together on a pre-prepared site.
The Arcon bungalow comprised four main rooms plus bathroom and toilet which all (bar the kitchen with its own exterior door) interconnected via the small hall to the front door. It was originally constructed on a brickwork base. Its expected life was fifteen years at most. Shortage of steel for this project meant that the roof trusses had to be made in an innovative way from tubular steel. Cost considerations caused a change from steel furniture to wooden items. These formed some of the dividing walls, some with shared storage space (top half in one room, bottom half in the other). The Broadfields prefab would appear to have had a mixture of wooden and steel fitments and the impression was that the “split level / shared”; pieces were all steel and the rest wooden, very similar in appearance. Some of the cupboards still exist on site, though not in their original places.
The idea of acquiring a Prefab for the Society had first come up in 1970, but it was only in March 1976 that the opportunity arose to get hold of one. It was all ‘last minute’; with an Extraordinary Committee Meeting on site to approve the building and the £10 to purchase it (plus transport costs). By the beginning of April No17 Seaview Road had been dismantled by members and moved to Broadfields to await Planning Permission and base preparation prior to rebuilding. This had been helped by careful numbering of all parts and panels which can be seen in some of the photographs taken by the late Norman Gawler. The project was completed on schedule before the end of March 1977.
Many changes have been made over the years during our ownership. These started with the rebuild, when the end door was moved to its present position from the other end where it was a separate exit for the kitchen. The bathroom/W.C. was “lost” then too probably. The loss of a roof panel meant that a replacement had to be made in GRP. Thus we have an effective lighting panel for the loft. The internal walls (all non-loadbearing) have been removed in stages, mainly by the 1990's. Until that time the entrance was always the “side” door, the old Front Door in the original plan. The built-in furniture has been moved to the sides (or disposed of) to create more space and greater access to cupboards etc. Once opened out the end door became the entrance to the building being closer to the gate. Recently further internal changes have been mooted to improve habitability.
Much major maintenance has been needed since its move to Broadfields. Steel window frames and doors have had to be repaired and welded, the floor panels have had to be renewed or re-layed and then there was always painting, culminating in the recent weatherproofing coat in white, finally obliterating the numbers from the 1977 rebuilding.
Now the Isle of Wight has lost all its Arcon Estates, there would appear to be only three Arcon MkV bungalows left here. The others are still in the Cowes/East Cowes area, one used by a Community Project for those with learning difficulties and the other as a boat shed by local Scouts. At least one estate still exists in Newport, Gwent where all the bungalows seem to have been weather-proofed in white in recent years and look just like ours.
A completely restored Arcon Bungalow is an exhibit at the Avoncroft Museum of Buildings, Bromsgrove, Worcs complete with period-furnished interior.
It has been “our Prefab” now for thirty-six years, more than half its life to date, and though now past the age of retirement it will not be for the scrap heap yet awhile. All the hard graft put in by many members over the years should keep it standing for a few more valuable years, our own special little piece of architectural and sociological history.