What: The 1956 Annual Report tells us more:
[...] the decision was taken in 1954 to embark on a gigantic programme for the construction of large Resettlement Estates of seven-storey blocks as the only practicable means of solving the squatter problem, and so releasing the land urgently needed for the houses, factories, schools, hospitals and other essential requirements of a rapidly expanding community.
The photo shows one of these seven-storey blocks. They were the latest in several government responses to the squatter problem. The 1956 report again:
Before 1954 the only form of resettlement offered to squatters was the allocation of sites in resettlement areas which consisted of terraced hillsides unsuitable for multi-storey buildings.
[In early 1954] temporary two-storey accommodation for 36,000 persons [was built as the initial response to the Shek Kip Mei fire].
By 1956 the hillside resettlement areas were still being developed "to the maximum extent possible", but the 7-storey blocks had become the government's preferred housing solution, as these figures from the 1955 & 1956 reports show:
|Population||1 Jan 55||1 Jan 56||31 Dec 56|
|One-storey buildings in Hillside Cottage Areas||57,000||67,968||72,843|
|2-storey temporary buildings||35,000||36,312||30,147|
|6- and 7-storey permanent buildings||19,000||48,803||102,901|
Who: The blocks were built to resettle residents of the squatter areas. Squatter huts can still be seen on the hillside in the background of the photo:
Which floor they'd live on depended on whether or not they'd run a shop in the squatter area. The 1955 Annual Report:
During the year it was also decided that settlers who had previously operated shops in squatter areas should be given the opportunity of renting ground-floor rooms for combined business and domestic purposes at a higher rental. Many have availed themselves of this opportunity. A rent of $100 a month is charged for a ground-floor room, 25 ft by 9 ft 6 ins (double the normal size).
Here's a typical ground-floor store, with barrels of rice out in front:
But most people would live on one of the upper floors:
The 1955 report again:
The blocks in the multi-storey estates vary in size and are in the shape of the letter H, the cross-bar of which accommodates lavatories, washing spaces and bathing cubicles, while the two wings [we're looking at a wing in the photo above] each contain anything from 56 to 128 rooms on each floor, each room measuring 12 ft 6 ins by 9ft 6 ins. The total number of rooms in an average block is between 500 and 600. The rent per room was provisionally fixed at $10 in 1954 [...].
Each room was 119 sq ft. By comparison, a typical double mattress (4'6" x 6'3") is 28 sq ft. You could lay four of those down on the floor have just enough room left to open the door.
Another figure mentioned in the 1955 reports is 35 sq ft, the legal minimum living space per adult at the time. So in theory the room could house three adults. When my wife was growing up, her family lived in one of these rooms. They were two parents and seven children!
Where: The 1956 report notes that:
The Education Department has also recently agreed that the penthouses on these roof-tops may be used for school purposes, and it is hoped that the present figure of three schools will soon be considerably increased.
From the writing on the side of the two 'penthouses', it looks as though these are already in use as schools.
Here's the writing on the closest one:
Does anyone recognise the location, or the name of the school?
When: The location and / or school should help give a date for this photo. Another possible clue is the car. Does anyone recognise the model, or even the licence plate (number 3866)?
I'll guess 1958 as the date - some time after 1956, when schools were started, but not too long after they began building these. Does anyone know when the last 7-storey block was finished?
Comments & corrections welcome!
- All facts and figures come from the 'Housing' chapter of the Government's Annual reports for 1955 and 1956.