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One hundred years ago, the first workers' rental dwellings were erected in Petone's Patrick street. In so doing, King Dick Seddon's Liberal government notched up another 'world first' alongside votes for women and our wage-regulating system. In the western world at least, this was the first administration to build state houses expressly for rent to workers.

The Liberals were determined that workers dwellings would not be slums in the making and standards of design and materials were of high quality,- and therefore expensive. The 20 houses in Patrick street were aimed at the 'deserving poor', earning 3 pounds or less a week but at a rental of 12 shillings a week, hard-pressed workers were scarcely better off than in private accommodation.

Inside lavatories, wallpaper, and many embellishments brought forth criticism of lavishness. But it was Seddon's death in June 1906 rather than any excesses, which saw the scheme falter and it was to be another 30 years before state housing became a reality. In the company of conservation architect Ian Bowman, Spectrum's Jack Perkins visits these unique dwellings.