DARTFORD IN THE 1930s
The 1930s were marked at a national level by the scar of economic depression, unemployment and the growing threat of war. The national rate of unemployment never fell below 10%. It was fortunate for Dartford that most leading local firms were able to maintain a reasonable level of employment and Dartford escaped the worst of the depression. Those who suffered unemployment were put to work on public projects including road-building.
By 1936 Dartford's population exceeded 33,000. The town received its borough charter in 1933 and there was an air of optimism that Dartford would thrive in difficult circumstances. High Street business boomed. Perry's 1935 Dartford Directory lists sixteen grocers shops in the town centre, thirteen butchers shops, seven bakers, nine draper's shops and ten public houses in High Street and Spital Street alone. Improvements were made to Dartford Road, Lowfield Street, Overy Street and Hythe Street, and a general programme of slum clearance was begun. A number of old houses in Overy Liberty and St. Saviour's Avenue were demolished.
The building trades had never been so busy. More new houses were being constructed in the 1930s than at any time before. Subsidies were provided from central government to local authorities like Dartford to enable them to build houses, which could then be let at rents below the economic cost. Class distinctions were very obvious in the 1930s housing boom. Helped by the expansion in mortgage business, there was a great growth in the number of private housing developments in and around Dartford. Dartford Council built subsidised working-class housing of a more traditional type. The Council supervised the construction of the Heath Lane Estate.
Those in secure work were better off. Real wages rose as prices fell and families generally got smaller. There was a growth in consumption of a wide variety of products including radios, cars and motor cycles. More people had more to spend on entertainment and leisure than ever before. Dance halls, cinemas and pubs did good business in the Dartford area. Most of Dartford's workers were entitled to one week's paid holiday a year.
There were welfare improvements. The government's social policy provided some income to those whose earnings were interrupted or in cases of redundancy. Unemployed in danger of destitution could apply for a minimum level of means tested benefit from the Public Assistance Committee of the local authority. The dole was too low a sum to allow for the maintenance of minimum nutrition levels.
But there was still no national hospital service. County council controlled and voluntary hospitals in Dartford charged patients fees in accordance with their means. Dartfordians with a regular source of income could pay for private health insurance schemes. The County Hospital at West Hill served as a general hospital available for residents in Dartford and for private patients. The Livingstone Cottage Hospital at East Hill, supported by voluntary contributions, was available for people from the town and surrounding rural districts. The St. John Ambulance Brigade provided a motor ambulance for local use.
The Bow Arrow Isolation Hospital treated infectious diseases, and the London County Council Smallpox Hospital at Joyce Green treated smallpox cases from the metropolis and elsewhere. A Massage and Electrical Clinic was erected in Essex Road in 1932. The Clinic was well equipped for electric and light therapies. Over 60,000 treatments were given in its first five years of operation.
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