A History of Council Housing

Homes built for rent by local authorities are a common feature of the modern Black Country landscape. They’ve been built over more than a century in the area and in 2001 for example they made up one in every four homes.

But despite their contribution to the area and influence on people’s lives, relatively little has been recorded about their history in the Black Country.

We want to try to put that right.
We are very pleased to say that our bid to Heritage Lottery Fund has been successful and we have been awarded £52,500 to support our project ‘Block Capital: A Participative History of High Rise Council Flats since 1960’.

nineblocksThe project, which will run during 2013 & 2014 is supported a number of groups, including tenants’ and residents’ organisations in Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton (details below).  It will train and support volunteer researchers to investigate the history and heritage of tower blocks. It will also create an accessible archive of material relating to their story and the stories of the people whose lives have been connected with them.

We will focus on high-rise flats built (and some demolished too) in the Bilston, Darlaston, Tipton, Wednesbury and Willenhall areas.  For a full list read our press release, or go to our pages ‘High-rise in the Block Capital project’ and ‘The Block Capital archive’.

You can help!
We are looking for people who might give some time to researching the history of the flats in our target area.

blockcapitallogo50_cropVolunteers will receive training in the use of public archives, how to investigate council housing history, and how to record people’s experiences and stories about living in the flats.  We particularly welcome anyone with a personal connection to the story of the flats.  If you are interested please contact Chaz Mason on 01902 552194 or send us a message here.

BCleafletsSee our leaflets here for Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

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HLFHI_BLKOur project is supported by Sandwell Community Information and Partnership Service; Walsall Tenants and Residents Federation; Wolverhampton Federation of Tenants Associations; The Centre for West Midlands History; Wednesbury History Society; Wolverhampton Culture, Arts & Heritage Service

15 responses to “A History of Council Housing

  1. The Black Country had far fewer tower blocks than neighbouring Birmingham, where hundreds were built including 34 at Castle Vale alone. 11 tower blocks were built in Dudley (the pre-1966 borough); 3 at Eve Hill, 2 at Grange Park, 2 at Queen’s Cross and 4 at Netherton, but 2 of the Eve Hill blocks were demolished in 1999 followed by both at Queen’s Cross in 2001. 9 blocks of 10+ storeys were built at Brierley Hill in the 1960s on the Chapel Street estate as well as several blocks of up to 6 storeys. 3 or 4 tower blocks were built in Stourbridge around the town centre and Wollaston. Halesowen built 3 blocks of around 15 storeys at Andrew Road and several smaller blocks in neighbouring Highfield Lane, along with 3 tower blocks on the Tanhouse estate at Cradley, 2 of which were demolished in 1999. There were no blocks of more than 4 or 5 storeys high in Sedgley, Coseley or Kingswinford.

    Far more tower blocks were built in Wolverhampton, most of which still remain 40-55 years after construction. They can be found at Heath Town, Merry Hill and Whitmore Reans. Since 2002, however, the Blakenhall Gardens high rise estate of 5 tower blocks as well as low-rise shops and a pub has gradually been demolished to make way for a new development of housing and shops.

    Walsall had many tower blocks in the town centre but most of these have been demolished since 2004. There were 4 tower blocks in Darlaston but these were demolished; the first pair in 2001 and the second in 2004. 4 tower blocks were built in Willenhall but 2 were demolished in about 2005. Approximately 10 blocks were built in Bloxwich but 3 of them have been demolished in the last decade; 2 in High Street and another in Blakenall Heath.

    12 tower blocks were built in Tipton, the first being Coronation House near the town centre in the late 1950s. This was demolished in 1997. Jellicoe House and Beatty House on the Glebefields estate, built in the mid 1960s, were demolished in 2004. The Bolton Court complex at Ocker Hill was demolished in stages between about 1990 and 2011, the first demolition being of 1 tower block followed by 2 maisonette blocks in 2007 and the final 2 tower blocks last year. Drake House at Upper Church Lane was demolished in 2002 but neighbouring Nelson House still exists. St Martin’s House off Upper Church Lane was demolished in the early 1990s. Apart from Nelson House, the only 3 remaining tower blocks in Tipton are now Heronville House, Paget House and Wyrley House in the Tividale area.

    West Bromwich built dozens of tower blocks, mostly around Glover Street, the Kenrick Estate, and at the Lyng estate. Many have been demolished since the 1990s but a large number remain and have been refurbished to a high standard.

    Two tower blocks were built in Wednesbury town centre in the 1960s and remain today following a recent refurbishment. Carisbroke House on the predominantly 1920s/1930s Friar Park estate was demolished in 2002 however.

    A large number of tower blocks were built in Smethwick but many have been demolished since the 1990s. The tallest tower block in the town was Hamilton House, Cape Hill, which was completed in 1970 but demolished on 18th March 2006 in a controlled explosion.

    The Riddins Mound estate was built at Cradley Heath in the mid 1960s and included the town’s only 3 tower blocks. Addenbrooke Court and Wesley Court still exist nearly 50 years later, but Bridge Court was demolished in 1996.

    3 tower blocks were built at Rowley Regis in the 1960s; St Giles Court, Moorlands Court and Wychbury Court. St Giles Court and Moorlands Court still exist and were refurbished in the mid 2000s but Wychbury Court was demolished in the late 1990s.

    Oldbury’s Brandhall Estate, built in the 1950s and 1960s, had one tower block, Foley House, which was demolished in 2000. Most of the town’s tower blocks were built on the Lion Farm estate during the 1960s, where 9 multi-storey blocks were built but 6 of them were demolished between 1993 and 2000. The 3 remaining blocks are Hackwood House, Harry Price House and Wallace House.

  2. Dudley’s first council houses were built at Kates Hill, in the area bordered by Corporation Road, Highfield Road, Bunns Lane and Watson’s Green Road. The first few houses were completed in 1916 but construction was halted due to the war effort and by 1921 more than 300 houses had been built there. Around the same time, houses were built on smaller developments around Grazebrook Road, Netherton Park, Cradley Road, Woodside, and Blower’s Green. The largest interwar council estate built in Dudley was the Priory Estate, which was built between 1929 and 1939 and took in a lot of land which was previously in Sedgley and as a result the boundaries had to be altered to expand Dudley. The neighbouring Wren’s Nest Estate was built around the same time, as was the Grace Mary Estate at Oakham.

    The borough of Dudley took in Brierley Hill and most of Sedgley and Kingswinford as well as the south of Coseley in 1966, followed by Stourbridge and Halesowen in 1974.

    The oldest council houses in Sedgley are believed to be on the Tudor Estate off Dudley Road, where the first houses were built in 1921 and as recently as 1989 it was reported in local newspapers that some houses on that estate still lacked indoor toilets. The Beacon Estate was built near the town centre in the 1920s, as was Boundary Hill in the village of Lower Gornal.

    Stourbridge built council estates including Gigmill and the Grange Estate in the 1920s and 1930s.

    Halesowen built council houses in the 1920s and 1930s around Olive Hill near Quinton and Alexandra Road to the west of the town centre as well as Long Innage at Cradley.

    Wolverhampton built its first council houses at Green Lane (which later became Birmingham Road) in 1902 and then built further council houses at Park Village in 1908, but its first large development took place between 1919 and 1921 when houses were built at Parkfield Road, Birches Barn and Oxley. Then in the mid to late 1920s more than 2,000 council houses were built on the Low Hill Estate at Bushbury.

  3. Alex, This is a really useful and informative tour of Black Country council housing. I also have a question for you. I am currently doing postgraduate research on post-war Smethwick. As part of this I am interested in mapping what I probably rather casually term ‘overspill’ council housing built by Smethwick in neighbouring areas, mainly Oldbury, from around 1930 to 1966. It reached around 1,000 units in Oldbury by 1945. By 1959 it was 1,600 having included developments like Perry Hill Road and it then culminated in the 1960s Kingsway estate in Brandhall. Apparently some houses in roads like Oldacre and Harvington in Brandhall were Smethwick Corporation built. That is a good distance from Smethwick and it suggests that there was considerable intermingling of Oldbury and Smethwick council housing in Bristnall and Brandhall. I’d like to map it! So if you – or any other reader – know the respective Smethwick and Oldbury builds I would be delighted to use (and acknowledge) your information in my work.

    • I am from west smethwick and houses were built 1930s nearer the high street is older housing but again, warley was mainly farmland as was bearwood. I think bearwood housed mainly skilled workers from smethwick and due to to dirty conditions, pollution and poor air quality few houses were built by canals until later and lung problems probably caused the councils to look for cleaner housing and air away from main centres. But as with west smethwick council housing is fairly blurred between oldbury and smethwick as is relationships, family etc so I refer to oldbury as just the town centre but tat bank londonderry brandhall brustnall etc as these names. I saw a photo of bristnall fields still farmland until 1920s and most of these areas housed a mix of smethwick and oldbury workers and indeed smethwick workers went to oldbury oldbury workers to smethwick, so the border thing around by me is pointless. My mom lived in smethwick but worked near oldbury town centre with her friend from langley and vica versa. I lived in west smethwick but got school uniforms in tat bank, oldbury and swimming in langley green. My mom is from abbey road but just sees herself as warley despite grandad working in steel tubes, smethwick and living in bearwood. Im guessing people moved to where the main work was, but ive just learned there were 27 pubs along spon lane alone so there was so many workers they needed that many. So housing would reflect I guess how many people worked in an area and the smethwick, oldbury and west brom populations grew so much it simply spilled over in all directions but on these hinterlands few people care what council they are in. I shop in all these centre areas, so darthmouth park is a second park home away from west smethwick park and we use facilities in all three towns yet dont in neighbouring birmingham.

  4. I have little knowledge of the Smethwick developments and until now I was unaware that the authority built houses in neighbouring Oldbury before the boroughs were brought together in 1966 by the creation of Warley, which also took in Rowley Regis along with the Tividale area of Tipton and some of Oakham in Dudley.

  5. And I understand that most of houses on the new council estates in Telford new town, built during the 1960s and 1970s, were given to families rehoused from slums in the Black Country and neighbouring Birmingham. There may have been families from the region placed in other new towns, for example Milton Keynes and expanded towns including Redditch and Tamworth.

  6. Perhaps Smethwick was alone in the Black Country with its overspill estates. The reason was land shortage: by 1947 despite Smethwick’s incorporation of part of Oldbury, only 1% of its land area was vacant, with the town being fully built-up.

    • Smethwick I think had a huge population expansion during industrial change so i am guessing they just needed more housing. I have seen a photo of bristnall hall fields which was farmland up until 1920s, I am in west smethwick only 15mins walk away yet is classed as oldbury however I wouldnt see it as oldbury which to me is the town centre, its sort of londonderry/bristnall area. My mom is from abbey road, warley and sees herself as warley but again as with bearwood would have contained all the oldbury and smethwick factory workers even in bearwood which was in smethwick but which wasnt that built up until later due to high populations, but someone said all the skilled smethwick workers lived there. I do recall the centres of oldbury and smethwick were so dirty and health hazards especially near factories it was dangerous to build houses and indeed north smethwick was fairly devoid of houses, lung problems were common. Oldbury town is also more commercial with most factories on the canals, so getting workers in cleaner previous agricultural land was probably a priority. But in reality as I know intermingling of oldbury and smethwick workers has been going on so long nobody notices. So in west smethwick my mom lived there but worked with her friend from langley and both worked in places both in smethwick and oldbury over the years and I regularly shop in oldbury and smethwick proper, even my school uniform was in tat bank a district of oldbury but only a few mins drive away so housing I guess was shared as was most things especially in warley, londonderry and brandhall despite so called borders.

  7. Are you still looking for potential volunteers for this project? I’ve just come across it via a WAVE Art & Heritage magazine and is something I’d be interested in. The initial utopian vision/politics behind many of the projects really does interest me.

  8. Robert – yes, we certainly are. You can either fill in the form (above) or come and see us for a chat in Wolverhampton. We’d be pleased to hear from you

  9. Smethwick was not alone in having an overspill housing estate in that sense as the first such estate could be described as the Wrens Nest and Priory estates in Dudley which were built between 1929 and 1939, with the boundaries being altered in 1926 to allow for Dudley council to build on land which was previously in Sedgley.

  10. Smethwick in a sense has always been a long spread out centre, you could say the high street is the ‘proper’ centre but in reality it spreads all the way to bearwood and its a centre of centres so housing spread either side too, depends on the amount of workers in an area and spreading into the neighbouring farmland although it was all farmland in warley so they worked together for the best solution I guess, but yeah as a baggies support there are plenty of supporters in both tamworth bromsgrove redditch and telford whether this is because people moving to these areas or whether traditionally they always have been I dont know but my nan had family in bromsgrove and earlier relatives were married there so maybe there was connections already

  11. Nans family had connections to bromsgrove prior to mass council housing and movements of people to new towns and estates elsewhere

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