This week, we lost another historic building to a fire in Walsall. I covered the event here. on my 365daysofbiking Tumblr and one of the side effects on YouTube. The Stymaster lamented it, as did the Hippo. Today, there’s a report in the Express and Star that it wasn’t arson, but the report is so scant, I’m a bit at a loss with it. If it’s not arson, it’s certainly convenient to developers who’d rather not be troubled with old buildings here in Walsall and a Council that bends over backwards to acquiesce to their every whim.
I’m aware that there are differing views on this – regular reader and Brownhills Blog contributor Andy Dennis this week put up a spirited defence of the the modern progression, which I salute and admire him for. I have to say, however, that Andy’s position is one that scares me. Yeah, buildings being derelict – like the hugely important Shannons Mill was or the BOAC building – are an eyesore. It is, however, up to civic leaders to fight for, rather than abandon to chance, the preservation of our heritage. Many towns and cities in the UK have made virtues of their past historical architecture – Bristol, Liverpool, Salford, Cheltenham – so why can’t we? Old buildings are difficult, but they are our collective identity. Without them, we’re a pattern engineered town full of strip-malls, tin superstore sheds and identikit flats thrown up with timber frame and cheap brick.
The civic response in Walsall has always been to give up, give in and celebrate the tawdry new commercial dream. Modern architecture in Walsall is on a continued fail cycle started in the sixties. Lack of vision gave us the Overstrand to destroy the view of the church, Townend Square to carve up the south of the town centre obliterating a lovely old hotel, and the Saddlers Centre instead of a gorgeous Victorian station. The new college and Tesco are aberrations thrown up on the cheap by a brazen, grasping company not held to any social account, the Asda on Church Hill proving that we learned nothing from the debacle that was the Overstrand three decades before. Every decade we now seem to be locked into the cycle of dealing with the bad decisions of two decades before. As the Overstrand comes down, we await the next edifice with a mixture of world-weary derision and trepidation. The only decent modern building in Walsall of recent note is possibly the Art Gallery, mainly because the council were largely kept at arms length where they couldn’t wreck it.
Today, then, in pictures from the past, I’m sharing some urban exploration pictures of the Jabez Cliff works – some taken only a short time before it’s death – to hopefully illuminate the plight of our heritage here in Walsall. This was a noble, well-built headquarters, abandoned and left to dwellers, junkies and vandals. This is our communal history in it’s death throws. I pay tribute to the photographers who braved this place to record it. Please click through to their galleries on Flickr.
I personally find it sickening.