Sunday, 30 September 2012


Tomorrow evening I'm going to talk about my work at Nottingham Trent University, for a group of architects, planners, historians, students and others who are associated with a project called 'Failed Architecture', and who are researching the history and current state of the Willoughby Street flats at Lenton, Nottingham, in a five-day workshop from the 1st until the 5th of October (see

Nottingham’s Labour-controlled city council predictably considers the Lenton flats to be 'obsolete and outdated', but this workshop will hopefully "try to answer questions such as as why these flats have to go, why some people resist the redevelopment plans, and especially, how it came to all this."

The flats, designed by the city's first architect, David Jenkin, and completed around 1967, can be seen above in a photo from the October 1 1969 edition of The Architects' Journal in an image that is infused with the usual carefully landscaped hope for the future (complete with a 'station wagon' in the corner - why don't they make 'station wagons' anymore?). Adrian Jones, in a piece on Nottingham within his always rational and uniformly excellent website, Jones the Planner, rightly refers to the Lenton flats as being greener than any new 'starter home' private development (see 

Adrian is spot on - the Willoughby Street flats were landscaped like a mini Alton East. But this counts for little to a neo-Blairite 'what can we do, these are hard times' council who are determined that this estate is to be demolished and - as far as I can tell - without any prospect of any new replacement 'social housing' being built there - shame and shame again. 

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


Along with the privet hedge, pebbledash has been construed as being somehow parochial, suburban, middle-class. The presence of both on the Middlefield Lane estate can be viewed as an example of how the architects and planners of the post-war years supposedly tried to infuse a little bit of middle-class gentility into the lives of those who were rehoused on estates such as this one. As anyone who has read some of the posts on this blog will know, that's not an argument I have much time for. I suppose that might have been what the planners wanted to do, but for us at the time, the house, the estate, its situation, and its fabric, were all wholly, literally, new to us - any class connotations, imposed, implicit, or otherwise did not signify - in the mid-1960s, it was always just about newness, and modernity.

In any case, for me back then, privets and pebbledash were purely, childishly, tactile and sensual things. When I think of the pebbledash that adorned the front facade of our house, I recall small shards of white, yellow, orange and grey-blue flint, embedded in soft concrete. I need to find out how it was applied - sprayed on somehow I guess - and I don't know if it was easy to put on, but it was certainly easy to pick off, and just as easy for my Mum to know that I was doing it. As I prised a piece off, it would make a little soft click and a thud that she would always hear, no matter where she was or what she was doing, and she would always come out and tell me to go away and do something else.

Pleasant childhood memories conventionally seem to be cast in warm amber sunshine. I always recall the pebbledash glinting in the sun as it shone high above me and onto the south-facing front of the house. Some bright and very warm early September sunshine was beating down onto the estate when I was there last week. Most of the houses there have been refurbished by ACIS, the social housing group responsible for the estate. 

All windows have been double-glazed now, in uPvc frames that keep the same window arrangements and proportions as the original ones. The pebbledash has largely gone, covered by brick cladding as you can see above on this house which is three doors along from my old abode, and the old, original concrete curved canopies that once sheltered  the front doors have been replaced by others like the one seen here or - worse - horrible frilly, pedimented ones wholly out of keeping with the time when these houses were originally conceived. There was never any high-Modernist intent with these houses. With a few notable exceptions that I must write about soon - the majority of the houses on the estate were designed and built by George Wimpey and Co in a fairly straightforward traditional style that the company was particularly known for replicating in vast numbers across the country at this time. I do like to think however that these houses were defined a little by a certain post-war-modern simplicity which has been lost to some extent now, both physically and conceptually.

But not quite so. Wandering around last week, I found that one or two more original examples actually still remain, with their pebbledashed fronts and their concrete canopies (though sadly sheltering some recent and very grim, indefinite days-of-yore-style uPvc doors) such as this one here, on Middlefield Lane itself:

And this one, on Heapham Road:

Echoes then, of how this estate used to look, left untouched now at least by childish, fidgety, destructive hands. On this hot day however, some other parts of the estate seemed in poor shape. A lot of houses (such as the brick-clad one above) were empty. Many of the South Parade flats had been shuttered up since I was last here in July, and looked as if they might be demolished any day now:

'Next door' to my old house - 38 Dunstall Walk - was also boarded up. This was home once I remember, back in the early 70s, to a middle-aged couple who were both staunch Salvation Army members, and to whom I was always sent to dutifully buy a copy of the junior version of the War Cry just as I was beginning to want 'Sounds' and the NME instead:

Now ...

... and then.