Ready to Erect Homes in Queensland

Ready-to-Erect Homes in Queensland – Order one Now!
Brown and Broad “Ready-to-Erect” and Campbell’s “Redicut Homes” contributed to the standardization of home designs throughout Queensland in the period from 1915 to 1945

Builders Brown & Broad Ltd., with their display house at the Brisbane Exhibition, ca. 1926.  John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.  http://onesearch.slq.qld.gov.au/permalink/f/1oppkg1/slq_alma21218145850002061

A house history provides an excellent lens through which to study the social issues of Queensland history, whether the house is in Brisbane or in a regional area.  Undertaking a house history is a rewarding exercise which may provide not only interesting details of the building, but also of the people who lived there and the community that surrounded your house.   On June 18th 2022, at State Library of Queensland, Research Librarians will provide you with an overview of the steps to follow when investigating the history of a house.  

One interesting aspect of Queensland houses was the number that were sold with standard home plans, and in many cases, ready cut lengths of timber, roofing material and other itemized components to make house building cheaper and faster. 

 With timber plentiful and the preferred building material in Queensland after 1900, a new product emerged to fill the need for housing stock – “Ready to Erect” homes provided by timber merchants with all of the pieces already pre-cut and readily available for ordering.  The homes were cheaper than the other options for home building - either working with an established builder or employing an architect. Labour shortages in the building trades was exacerbated by many men fighting abroad and families were in a holding pattern, waiting for the return of loved ones from foreign theatres of war.  The home building market was suffering.  In preparation for the return of soldiers from World War One and the spate of marriages that would inevitably  follow, homes would be needed.  What better way of making them affordable than using the “economies of scale” of modern manufacture to prepare many homes ready for construction. 

Of course, there were various schemes in both Britain and the United States to lessen the housing crises after both wars by using “mill cut houses” or “prefabricated brick or concrete houses”.  The Victorian Government used some “pre-cut” houses for railway workers and also for State housing commission schemes. In Victoria, reports were published in the newspapers on overseas ventures such as in Massilion Ohio, a mill house development where it was reported that the pre-cut houses were in fact of good quality and lasted well.

However, it would appear that “ready to erect” houses (or mill cut houses) were more suitable to the Queensland house than those constructed in other Australian states or climates.  The companies that offered this product in Brisbane were primarily Brown and Broad of Newstead and Campbell Brothers of Creek Street Brisbane.  However, the homes were not only constructed in Brisbane – these homes were railed, in pre-cut pieces, to locations all over the state. The “Ready to Erect” or Redicut system certainly ensured a uniformity of house designs across suburbs and towns in Queensland.  Many character houses in suburbs such as Annerley, Hendra, Camp Hill, and Newmarket were built from the standard plans of these two companies.  The companies saved money by having their own timber reserves and mills and included a rail cartage fee that was reduced due to economies of scale.  The use of machinery, increasingly used in sawmilling in place of hand-cutting , allowed the lengths of timber to be cut quickly and to exact uniform specifications. Part of the appeal of these houses is they could be constructed without skilled labour – so buyers could build the house themselves or employ a local carpenter.  Donald Watson, in his work on the Queensland House (1981) noted “The idea was enormously successful.  Within twenty-five years, Newstead Homes had planned and built over 2,000 “Ready to Erect” buildings.  These included the town of Mt Isa, where most of the houses, offices, stores, banks, staff quarters, hospital and club were supplied and erected.”  

Snippet from the Queensland Time, Wed 12 Dec 1917.

Brown and Broad began the “ready to erect” home building phase, with their products announced in 1915. The motto of the company was “Houses built in half the time.”  However, their catalogues also emphasized reliability and quality, and the fact that their tradesman were all expert in their own trade.  By 1922, the ready to build homes had spread to northern New South Wales, with an indication that this “ready to build” product may be a “Queensland phenomenon.”  There were some other timber companies in Queensland that had also adopted the concept of ready to build homes.

A design from the Brown and Brown “Newstead Homes” catalogue, showing the package specifications down to the number of windowsills and door studs! http://onesearch.slq.qld.gov.au/permalink/f/1oppkg1/slq_alma21298059460002061

Campbell Brothers announced in 1928 that they had begun the fashion for ready cut homes 24 years earlier – in 1904.  However, the earliest advertisement I could find for a Redicut home by this firm was 1906. 
 

Competition was fierce for this market. Both companies used the Royal National Association Show (or the Ekka) in Brisbane as an opportunity to sell to country visitors, with partly built versions of their homes on display at the exhibition every year.  Both Brown and Broad and James Campbell and Sons also provided garages and outbuildings as part of the “ready to build” options.

The homes offered by both companies included small inexpensive cottages through to extensive country homes.  Newstead homes “Moreton” can be found all over Brisbane suburbs as can the Campbell Brothers “Gympie”.  The State Library of Queensland has plan books for the products of each of these companies with prices.

Prices in 1918. Photograph from the Brown and Broad catalogue, John Oxley Library,

Collage of 3 models of Redicut homes. Top and bottom right: Brown and Broad Catalogue, Homestead and Moreton models, respectively. Bottom left: Campbell and Sons Redicut Catalogue, Gympie model.

The Ready to build homes were still being advertised in the early 1940s but by 1945, the lack of skilled labour and building materials bought this phenomenon to an end. Mr Campbell announced his intentions of not progressing with Redicut homes in the  Brisbane newspaper in 1946.

Campbell and Sons announcing end of redicut home business, 1946.

Although devised as a way of using economies of scale and modern machinery to fill a market need, the ready to build housing market also played a role in standardising Queenslander home designs across the state.   Specific home schemes including the Queensland Workers Dwelling Board Scheme, the State Advances Corporation, War Service Homes and the Queensland Housing Commission all published books of plans from which the purchaser could choose a design.  However, the packaged pre-cut home designs of Brown and Broad and Campbell and Sons, ready to be railed or delivered anywhere in the state, was a marketing strategy devised in a war time economy with labour shortages.  Ironically, it was the extreme labour and materials shortage after the next war that saw the demise of the pre-cut home.  

 “Kit homes” or “prefabricated homes” resurfaced in the housing market several decades after World War Two as ideal structures that filled a need for inexpensive abodes on farms and at the beach.  The ready to build homes of World War One and the decades up to World War Two however covered all of the size and quality options, from the most basic cottage to the most commodious homestead, many of which have stood the test of time and are still standing today in both Brisbane suburbs and Queensland country towns.

If you want to find out more about Redicut homes in Queensland, or anything else related to your house’s history, why not join us on the 18th of June for our Extra-ordinary day celebrating State Library’s 120th birthday. You can attend a presentation covering the basics of house history research, or get hands-on with the collection at our House History – solve the mystery! activity.

Christina Ealing-Godbold, 
Research Librarian
State Library of Queensland

 

Further reading

'B & B' Newstead homes : a catalogue of 'Ready-to-erect' homes / Brown & Broad limited
Brown & Broad Limited ; Newstead, Qld. : The Company ; 1918

 

Redicut homes : from the forest to the finished home. / [Compiled for James Campbell & Sons by R. S. Maynard]
R. S. Maynard (Ralph Shields) ; James Campbell & Sons. ; Brisbane : s.n ; 192-]

 

Featuring ten of the latest Newstead homes / Brown & Broad Newstead Homes Ltd.
Brown & Broad Limited. ; Brisbane : Brown & Broad ; 192-?

 

 

Selected Books

The Queensland House : a report into the nature and evolution of significant aspects of domestic architecture in Queensland / Donald Watson.
Donald. Watson ; Brisbane Qld. : Donald Watson ; 1981

 

The Queensland house : history and conservation / Ian Evans & the National Trust of Queensland.
Ian Evans 1940- ; National Trust of Queensland. ; Mullimbimby, N.S.W. : Flannel Flower Press ; 2001 

 

The Queensland house : a roof over our heads / editors Rod Fisher, Brian Crozier
Brian Crozier ; Rod Fisher 1942-2017 ; Queensland Museum ; Brisbane : Queensland Museum ; 1994

 

Dating your house : a guide to establishing the date of construction of your own home / by Donald Watson
Donald Watson 1945- ; National Trust of Queensland ; Brisbane : National Trust of Queensland ; 1978

 

Brisbane house styles 1880 to 1940 : a guide to the affordable house / Judy Gale Rechner
Judy Gale Rechner 1944- ; Brisbane History Group ; Kelvin Grove, Qld : Brisbane History Group ; 1998
 

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