Snapshot: How working class people made history in the 1930s rent strikes

Exorbitant rents, run-down and cramped houses, and greedy landlords.

It’s a picture that may be familiar to many renters in the UK in 2023, but nearly a century ago, working-class Londoners decided they wouldn’t take it lying down.

The East End had a reputation for poverty, overcrowding and violence in the 1930s. Housing stock was poor as the population grew more quickly than accommodation.

Homes were badly maintained, overrun with sewer rats and other vermin – while children contracted sores and other skin conditions due to the filthy conditions

Rent controls – limits on the amounts landlords could charge – had been introduced in 1915 to deal with the excessive increase in rents due to the wartime housing crisis.

However, they had been gradually reversed throughout the 1920s and 1930s, and by 1938 large numbers of houses had no rent control at all. Fed up with paying huge amounts for appalling slum conditions, tenants joined together and to fight for better rights.

These pictures from the Daily Herald archives show how ordinary working people took on the rich and powerful during the rent strikes of the 1930s.

The fights were long and bitter, but successful.

Landlords of the East End eventually caved into tenants’ demands by reducing rents and making repairs. Many others soon followed suit, wishing to avoid similarly violent conflicts.

The rent strikes of the late 1930s were a landmark in the history of working-class Britain.


Welcome to Snapshot,’s picture-led series bringing you the most powerful images and stories of the moment.

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