Sunday, 17 July 2016

50 Years

The Middlefield Lane estate was finally completed on 27 November 1965, when the community centre on North Parade was officially opened. Sadly, and perhaps fatally for the estate in future years, the centre was never really intended for the whole community. It was to be primarily used instead by what the Gainsborough Evening News, on Tuesday 30 November, referred to as 'the old folk', who lived in the adjacent ground floor flats. This early 70s photograph shows the community centre as it was back then, situated at the end of the block of flats:

In its typically genteel but equally blunt style of provincial reporting, the Evening News went on to state that the centre had an ‘L-Shaped sitting room', which was ‘tastefully furnished with easy chairs in grey and green leather cloth', that could nevertheless be ‘easily sponged’.

So what happened on the estate after then, 50 years ago? Throughout 1966, the Evening News gives Middlefield just four mentions, the first being on 4 January when it was reported that a library book service was to be introduced to the ‘new’ community centre, where a selection of books would be available to borrow on Wednesday afternoons in the communal lounge.

A week later, it was reported that the last of the six shops on the Precinct had been let as a ‘sales shop of ladies and children’s wear’. As someone who hung around the Precinct almost on a daily basis, I don’t especially remember that shop at all, but then at five years old I might not have been taking much notice – although I seem to think it might have been in the unit that later became the ‘Washeteria’:

The biggest news of the year as far as the estate was concerned came in May, when a bedroom fire was reported on Priory Close: ‘The first ever fire in one of the houses on Gainsborough’s new uphill estate’ stated the Evening News, as if it cheerfully expected many more to come. And finally, on 7 June, ‘concern’ had been expressed to the Gainsborough Urban District Council Housing Committee about the dangers of planting new trees on the estate too close to the houses (a year previously, in May 1965, the Finance Committee had approved a spend of £510 to Crowders of Horncastle to supply, plant and stake 340 trees on the estate). The architects of the estate, Fisher, Hollingsworth and Partners, were consulted and they responded with their usual single-minded determination to maintain the aesthetic purity of the environment they’d designed, stating that any removal of trees would ‘upset the balance and layout of the estate’. As a consequence, ‘no action was taken’, and the trees remain as an important facet of the estate today:

And that was it for 1966, and for the Middlefield Lane estate 50 years ago. On 8 November however, the Evening News reported that a ceremony celebrating the completion of the nearby Pasture Road development of 500 new council houses had taken place. The postwar, local authority housing boom was pressing on, at a scale both unprecedented in Gainsborough back then, and completely unimaginable anywhere today. Pointedly, the Evening News article set out to ‘meet the housewives of Newtown’, with their centrally heated homes, each complete with a ‘sun porch’. This, it seemed, was the new 'Newtown'. In the ‘White Heat’ of the 1960s, and within just two years of it being completed, Middlefield's moment of modernity had already been eclipsed; it was already of the past.    

(Archive photos courtesy of Paul Kemp)