Hey you lot – I owe you all, and the wonderful people at Distinctly Black Country an apology – for far too long I have neglected to share the excellent work been done by locals and professional historians alike into recording the remarkable histories of high-rise and system built housing across the Black Country.
I originally placed an appeal here for help with this remarkable an unique project way back in 2013, over a year ago. Since then, folk have been beavering away recording lost histories, good an bad, from as far apart as Brownhills, Brierley Hill and Smethwick.
This is why I adore Distinctly Black Country and hold them is such high esteem – few stuffy historians would think the 60s housing boom and the urbanism it gave rise to worthy of serious study – but these people do. And because they do, their approach is gentle, fun and informal – which always gives rise to the best history.
Local wildlife champion Chaz Mason – wild man of the marsh – has been working hard on this project. The man is a star. Please blog again, Chaz, you are sorely missed. But thanks for your hard work on High Rise Histories and Block Capital. It’s exemplary.
The reason I’m pushing this now is that some recordings have now gone live with other materials relating to the project, and I really think readers should check them out.
In the meantime, If you have any memories of high rise or maisonette living in Brownhills, please do comment here. It’s a sadly ignored bit of our collective culture, and I’m so glad it’s being addressed at last.
One of the things I’m really loving is that Distinctly Black Country are encouraging others to do some brilliant and thought provoking work. The superlative Up the Oss Road blog has a stunning post on the end-times of the Smethwick West estate, a truly grim place which I knew well. Do check it out.
Please do comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.
Online stories plot the rise and fall of tower blocks
Released: Friday 12 September, 2014
A history project focussing on the Black Country’s high-rise council flats has started to tell the stories of the people who lived in them or worked on them.
With their first-hand accounts now available to listen to for free, local people have shared their experiences in their own words through a selection of oral history recordings.
The recordings are part of an archive relating to the Black Country’s tower blocks and they can be heard here.
They have been produced by Block Capital, a Heritage Lottery-funded project which is investigating the history of 1960s high-rise in the region. Block Capital is hosted by the distinctly black country network, a heritage group based at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.
Councillor Elias Mattu, Wolverhampton City Council’s Cabinet Member for Leisure and Communities, said: ‘This is a fascinating piece of social history which charts the rise and fall of tower blocks across the Black Country and will be of interest to anyone who wants to find out how their community has developed over the years.’
All the oral history recordings have all been produced by volunteers and they will be added to during 2014, creating a record of dozens of face-to-face interviews with tenants, former tenants, council employees and others.
The interviews collected so far cover experience of living in tower blocks from the 1960s to the present day, and they have preserved for posterity what it was like to move into the towers when they were first built.
Kevin Aston, one of the interviewees, moved into the new Bolton Court flats in Tipton as a child. He said: ‘I was so chuffed about it that I went to school the one day, and I think I brought three of my school teachers home to show them the flats – much to my mum’s surprise.’
They also record the deterioration and eventual demolition of some of the 276 blocks, which some say started in the 1970s or 1980s. They include Lion Farm in Oldbury, which were captured by the renowned photographer Rob Clayton prior to demolition and recorded at the project site.
While there are plenty who are happy to have seen them go, others say the notorious reputation of some tower blocks was not deserved. All these different points of view can be heard via the distinctly black country website.
The website hosts a wide range of archive material for web users to browse, but project leaders are still on the lookout for other people who would be willing to be interviewed about their experience.
Paul Quigley, Project Researcher, said: ‘Many of the tower blocks have been pulled down, but it’s important that we don’t lose first hand experiences of what it’s been like to live in them – through good times and bad.’
Anyone interested in contributing to the project should visit the website here or discuss the project with Chaz Mason on 01902 552040.