South London prefab estate built by German and Italian PoWs to be given a Grade II listing

They don't exactly qualify as stately homes. The rain patters noisily on asphalt-covered rooftops and the boxy, featureless walls are painted in various shades of pastel.

In one house the polystyrene ceiling tiles are circa 1960, and visibly feeling their age. In another, the garden boasts random displays of plastic flowers that owe more to the local Co-op than to Capability Brown.

But for many of the people who live here, their little post-war prefabs are their castles. And now they are set to be saved for the nation.

General View of the prefabricated homes on the Excalibur Estate in Catford, South London

Saved from demolition: Prefabricated homes on the Excalibur Estate in Catford, South London

After decades of battling the threat of demolition, up to 187 prefabs on an estate in South East London are in line to be given a Grade II listing that will preserve their 62 years of heritage.

Culture minister Margaret Hodge is expected to announce soon that the modest, single storey houses - built by prisoners of war and returning troops after the Second World War - are of special interest and deserve to be safeguarded.

Which isn't bad going for a set of quick-build homes that were designed to last only ten years or so.

The Excalibur estate was named in a competition conducted among original residents, who adopted King Arthur's sword as their emblem and chose knight's names such as Pelinore, Baudwin and Mordred for their roads.

Thus, a large swathe of open pasture in a far from mystical land known as 'Catford'  became home for scores of families - and helped to ease the housing shortage that followed the destruction of the Blitz.

Eddie O'Mahony outside his prefabricated home in Lewisham

Happy resident: Eddie O'Mahony outside his pre-fab home

Now, in a stroke of magic that would doubtless have impressed King Arthur himself, they look poised to remain for years to come.

Edmund 'Eddie' O'Mahony and his wife Ellen were among the first to move in. Mr O'Mahony, a sergeant in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, had just returned from India and Singapore when he was offered the key to one of new homes, made from prefabricated sections and assembled, Ikea-style, on site.

'I'd just spent all that time in tents and Nissen huts and a prefab was the last place I wanted to live,' he told me yesterday.

O'Mahony family

Historic: The O'Mahony's were one of the first families to move into the Excalibur estate, when it looked as it did below

Excalibur Estate

'But when we walked in we fell in love with it. It had a separate indoor toilet and a bathroom with a heated towel rail. I'd been used to queuing at the municipal baths before that so it was complete luxury.

'Then my wife saw the size of the lounge. She turned to me and said: ''Right. Start measuring up for the lino''. From that day on it was our home. We raised our sons here, we had all our memories here, and I still live here. Pulling them down would be outright vandalism - an act of criminality.'

Mr O'Mahony, an 88-year-old widower now and long retired from his job with the Inland Revenue, bought his prefab from Lewisham borough council 17 years ago when the market value was around £65,000. Some are now worth more than £150,000, although most are rented from the council for around £50 to £60 a week.

Jim and Lorraine Blackender

Jim and Lorraine Blackender: Outside their pre-fab home which they have painted 'stick it up the council's nose green'

Tenants get the benefit of council financed repairs and maintenance - and there is currently a waiting list to get on to the estate. Many have installed central heating to replace the single coal fire in the lounge - so inefficient, says Mr O'Mahony, that his children used to pluck icicles from their bedroom ceiling in winter.

The estate was built in 1945 and 1946 by a task force composed mainly of PoWs from Germany, Italy and White Russia.

Legend has it that a year after the Germans left, the shape of a swastika planted in daffodils began to sprout on the local green. Other reminders of the past remain today.

One of the silver-painted plywood boards that forms a wall in Jim and Lorraine Blackender's home, for example,  has 'US Army' stencilled on it.

Jim and Lorraine Blackender

Inside their 'castle': Jim and Lorraine say they love living on the pre-fab estate because it is friendly and crimefree

'We love everything about it,' says Jim, 55, who gave up his job as a building manager after contracting a lung disease. He glances at the flag of St George flying over his flat roof and declares: 'It's our little castle. When you look out from here you just see sky.

'It's not like any other estate I've been on. These are effectively detached bungalows. They have nice gardens and there's a lot of space around them. You never feel closed in.

'They may want to demolish it but we're not going to let them. They'll have to use bailiffs and bulldozers if they want us out.'

Mr Blackender is one of several Excalibur residents who have been researching the estate's history and campaigning to get it listed. (Whether the battalion of garden gnomes on his flat roof will be listed with them is unlikely).

Jim and Lorraine Blackender's kitchen

Homely: The kitchen (above) and bedroom (below) inside the Blackender's pre-fab house

Picture shows Jim and Lorraine Blackender's bedroom

But apart from its heritage - it's said to be the largest surviving prefab community from the 160,000 thrown in the post-war years - Jim says it's simply a nice place to live.

He and his wife have personalised their home by painting the outside walls in a striking shade of aquamarine. Lorraine prefers to describe it as 'stick it up the council's nose green', although that's not what it said on the colour chart.

'Apparently we live in the tenth most violent borough in the country,' she adds. 'But this estate is virtually crime free. Practically everyone knows each other. We all look after each other.

'No-one is scared to go out. We've never been burgled. There's very little graffiti and vandalism. We must be doing something right.'

So why does the council want to flatten it?

Picture shows general view of prefabricated homes in Lewisham, South London

Pre-fabulous places to live: Residents have campaigned to save their homes, which were originally only intended to last ten years or so

Excalibur Estate

'Money', says Pamela Clifton, rubbing her thumb on her outstretched palm, in the internationally recognised sign language for filthy lucre. 'This place is a gold mine for developers.'

Standing beside an embroidery that spells out 'Happiness is home made', she adds: 'I told the mayor when he came round I'd hit him with a frying pan if he tried to get me out. This is my history. This is my life. If they make me move, I don't want to live.'

Mrs Clifton, whose decades-old photos of her late husband Frederick confirm how little the prefabs have changed over the years, moved from a council tower block nearby in 1962 and has lived here happily ever since.

Pamela Clifton outside her prefabricated

Pamela Clifton outside her pre-fab home: 'If they make me move, I don't want to live,' she said

Her daughter Patricia, who lives over the road, got married in the local church, St Mark's. Its 'temporary' tin roof has given such good service that this building, too, is poised to be listed.

Recently the council announced plans to increase the number of homes on the estate by flattening the existing ones and building more than twice as many to replace them.

Without any nod to the Aryan race among the original construction force, they labelled it their 'Masterplan'.

It should be said that not all tenants support the 'save Excalibur' campaign, and locals are due to be balloted on proposals for demolition.

Will King Arthur come to the rescue? Whatever English Heritage has told campaign organisers remains confidential. But Eddie O'Mahony allows himself a smile. 'I think we've got Arthur on our side,' he says. 'I think we'll do him proud.'

St Marks Church at the Excalibur Estate, Catford

Cherished church: St Mark's on the Catford estate is also due to be given listed status