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Distributed for University of London Press

Before Grenfell

Fire, Safety and Deregulation in Twentieth-Century Britain

An account of the systemic failures that led to the Grenfell tower fire.

The 2017 Grenfell tower fire in London was a “slow disaster,” the product of a long accumulation of faults and errors that resulted from erroneous assumptions and organizational and governmental decision-making. This book offers a critical perspective on the systematic failures that lead to one of the greatest tragedies in Britain in our time.
Before Grenfell is a poignant and timely analysis of risk, fire, and safety in postwar Britain. Tracing the evolution of state housing policy in relation to multistory housing since the mid-1950s, the book adds to a burgeoning history of the British experience of fire and safety in high-rises and investigates a latent housing crisis in contemporary Britain against a backdrop of increasingly deregulated urban building development. Drawing on public inquiries, newspaper accounts, and oral histories, Shane Ewen details other avoidable disasters, including the Ronan Point tower block explosion in 1968, the Summerland leisure center fire in 1972, and the Bradford City Football Club fire in 1985. The book closes with a powerful chapter on the fire safety campaigners, including survivor groups, who are seeking justice for the victims of fire disasters. Before Grenfell aims to exert pressure on policy-makers to act on the lessons of fatal disasters in order to both prevent future casualties and establish a legacy for those who lost their lives.

112 pages | 6 1/4 x 9 1/4

IHR Shorts

Architecture: History of Architecture

History: British and Irish History

Sociology: Urban and Rural Sociology

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Table of Contents

Introduction. Before Grenfell: Deregulation, ’Organised State Abandonment’ and ’Thinking With History’

1. From Bye-Laws to Building Regulations: Recasting Building Control in Britain Since the Nineteenth Century

2. The Value of Fire Precautions in Britain Since the 1970s

3. The Mixed Economy of ’Scientific Governance’ in Twentieth-Century Britain

4. The Path of Least Intervention in the ’Great Unswept Corner of English Housing Policy’: Mass-Fatality Fires in Houses in Multiple Occupation in the 1980s and 1990s


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