Doctor Dunn and the Post WW1 Housing Crisis

Robert Ayton Dunn (26 March 1867 – 1941) Lic.R. Coll. Phys. Lond. 1890; Mem R Coll. Surg. Eng. 1890; MB Bac. Surg.1894; MD 1897 was born in Stevenage. He qualified as a doctor in 1890 and, like his father, he was a general practitioner in Stevenage until becoming the Medical Officer of Health for East Herts & Essex Borders probably sometime in 1901. He married Eleanor Rutherford who hailed from Scarborough, in May of that year at either Holy Trinity or St. Leonard’s Church in Bengeo. By 1911 they were living at The Grove in and in 1939 after Robert had retired at 15 Bengeo Street.  They do not seem to have had any children.  Robert died in 1941 aged 74.

Below is part of  Robert’s, Medical Officer of Health’s Annual Report for 1919

“Although the influenza epidemic seems largely to have abated in 1919, we have seen a growing number of malaria, dysentery and even smallpox cases, all contracted by soldiers returning from countries where they were exposed to these diseases. There has also been an increase in diphtheria cases. The introduction of food rationing in 1918 has helped to ease the problems of scarcity and there is also now a flu vaccine available.

However I and my colleagues across Hertfordshire feel extremely strongly that the current housing crisis, and that is the right word for it, can only continue to have a highly detrimental effect on the health of the general population, and not least on that of returning soldiers who are already debilitated and suffering from the effects of a long war.

For more than a year it has been impossible to alleviate conditions by moving people from condemned, overcrowded and unfit houses because there has been no alternative accommodation. Our housing has been neglected throughout the war, because of shortages of labour, money and materials. In my area alone (population in 1911 67,148) 1200 new homes are needed to replace those which are unfit, or seriously substandard, and to meet identified need. Councils have to find funds, acquire land, employ architects and have their plans and costs approved by the Ministry of Health. Only then can building begin. The Ministry is not always helpful. Objecting to the estimate of £1000 per cottage in one area, they proposed that some essential items should be jettisoned. These included baths, sinks, drains, not to mention chimneypots. To these suggestions I uttered a strong protest. As we move into 1920, despite valiant efforts on the part of many councils, and most have sites available and plans approved, many have yet to start building. Only Buntingford has made a start, with work started on 40 homes. The target here is 65.”

This page was added on 01/04/2021.

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