You’ll find more on the Pendleton Estate at the current exhibition at the People’s History Museum in Manchester which showcases the work and archives of long-term residents John Aitken and Jane Brake of the Institute of Urban Dreaming.
We left the people of Ellor Street last week facing the brave new world of comprehensive redevelopment in the early sixties with mixed feelings. One reporter noted ‘a sense of uneasiness around…in many cases hidden by a joke or a resolution to face the new life’. (1) Six years later, the scheme (with its ‘tree-lined open spaces, a community centre and a health centre all segregated from traffic’) well underway, another reporter – or perhaps the same one – described the residents’ embrace of their new surroundings. He described the new Pendleton as ‘A Salford of the Space Age’. ‘Small wonder’, he continued: (2)
that many Ellor Street folk have fought shy of moving to overspill areas or other parts of the City, and have waited eagerly for the chance of being rehoused here – if they leave their present homes.
Given the visionary idealism of the Report on the Plan which outlined the principles of the redevelopment scheme and the optimism which surrounded it both in Salford Borough Council and the local press, perhaps these hopes were understandable.
It’s true that some of the rehoused residents had wanted houses rather than high-rise flats but the amenities of their new homes soon won them over:
We really wanted a house but these new flats are so nice and well-designed that I would not change for a house. I like the underfloor heating, the nice living room, and bright bedrooms, we used to pay 16 shillings a week rent and now it is 44 shillings and 10 pence and well worth it.
This was the era – a brief one, in fact – in which high-rise took off. A few years earlier, back in 1956, only 6 per cent of homes nationally had been provided in flats of over five storeys. Ten years later, as the new Pendleton took shape, that proportion had risen to (and peaked at) 26 per cent. Avoiding the obloquy that hindsight has visited on such high-rise construction, there seemed, at the time, many compelling reasons for this shift.
The mass slum clearances of the period and the apparent requirement to build replacement housing at density in inner-city areas, compounded by new restrictions on greenfield construction and dislike of sprawling suburban estates, provided one causal bundle. Salford, like many other inner-city authorities, also resented losing population and rateable income to beyond-border overspill.
There were less tangible but equally potent ideological currents too – a new concern for urbanism and a sense that high-rise represented the future, modernity in a new Britain sloughing off the obsolescence which seemingly characterised so much of its housing and townscapes. The Report on the Plan claimed that the scheme represented ‘an unparalleled opportunity for Salford to think today what other cities would think tomorrow’. In the end, the judgments of tomorrow would be far less positive but that’s to jump ahead. The Ellor Street redevelopment almost uniquely captures many of the hopes and ambitions of the period.
The original plans had been devised within Salford, a council, according to Glendinning and Muthesius, ‘dominated by its formidable City Engineer, G Alexander McWilliam, and by its equally entrenched direct labour organisation’. Three 15-storey slab blocks – Walter Greenwood, Eddie Colman and John Lester Courts, designed in-house – had already been started. (3)
These and Salford’s earlier high-rise efforts – such as the Truscon flats in Kersal Moor – were judged drab and uninspiring by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government but it had little local power in this era of jealous municipalism. Salford, however, wasn’t one of the big beasts of local government and here the Ministry – playing cannily on the Borough’s fears of loss of status – secured some influence.
Salford agreed, at the Ministry’s suggestion, to the appointment of former LCC Chief Architect and Robert Matthew and former LCC Senior Planner Percy Johnson-Marshall as architect-planners for the entire scheme. The Architectural Research Unit of Edinburgh University, where both were now based, were to be executive architects for significant elements of it. The Ministry, for its part and against the preferences of the Edinburgh team responsible for detailed design, insisted on five 17-storey point blocks and prefabricated construction as central government sought to boost new methods of industrialised building – another contemporary manifestation of self-conscious modernity and seen as a necessary means of completing the rehousing revolution of the time. (4)
In housing terms and in sheer numbers, this was a success. Salford completions increased from 30 in 1962 to 1468 in 1966; into the early seventies it built more housing per capita than any other English city, even Birmingham undergoing its own high-rise revolution. (5) The civic centre – a much vaunted element of the original planning – didn’t materialise and the shopping centre never took off as any kind of regional hub.
On this occasion, there don’t seem to have been any particular problems arising from system-building but there were early criticisms of the housing. Peter Hook (‘Hooky’ of Joy Division and New Order) was no fan: (6)
All my friends moved to Ellor Street, which was all high-rise 70’s flats and a new shopping precinct all built out of concrete. It was rotten, horrible; like a concrete wasteland. And that was when it opened.
Nigel Pivaro (back in the day Terry Duckworth in Coronation Street – set in Salford, of course; now a respected journalist) speaks for many in decrying what was lost: (7)
the demise of the traditional street, the corner shop and small local pub…In short, a whole way of life ceased to exist and the way Salfordians interacted with their neighbours and the world around them changed dramatically.
‘Old institutions…were simply never properly replaced,’ he concluded; ‘what has replaced the old order is not only bland and characterless but actually has never been put back at all’.
In this, he echoed the bleak reportage of an ITN news story on Salford high-rise, broadcast in 1988: (8)
Society has broken down in some of Salford’s tower blocks. Civic squalor has become a breeding ground for crime. Muggings, burglaries and firebombs are a brutal fact of daily life. Here thousands live in fear of losing their property, even their lives.
One tower block, it was claimed, had suffered twenty arson attacks in a single year.
The judgment between the competing narratives – bright-eyed modernity and its early welcome and the dislocation and loss it is subsequently held to have caused – seems pretty clear but there’s really no simple ‘truth’ here. There are issues of timing and perspective. There is nostalgia both for the old and the old ‘new’. It seems to me that the romanticisation of the slums should be criticised just as much as we now attack the naivety (or worse) of planners. And there are unexplored counterfactuals and neglected contexts. Could slum clearance and redevelopment have been done differently, better? Very likely but we can’t re-write the wider history which has devastated our traditional working-class communities since the 1960s.
In 2007, Pendleton was rated the twelfth most deprived area in the country. Some 41 per cent of its 18 to 24 year olds lacked any educational qualification (compared to the national average of 29 per cent); 48 per cent of adults were economically active (nationally, the figure stood at 63 per cent). (9)
In 2011, when riots broke out around the Salford Precinct (intended as the great show-piece of the Ellor Street redevelopment), the area was described as the third worst area in the country for child poverty, and the seventh for unemployment. In the high-end stores of central Manchester, people: (10)
made off with £2,000 guitars, plasma TVs, and designer clothes from Liam Gallagher’s Pretty Green boutique, in the neglected Salford Precinct they were taking tins of food from Lidl and second-hand televisions from Cash Converters.
‘People who have got nothing wanted to show that they have nothing,’ said one of those involved. Behind this lay something both more diffuse – a resentment of local gentrification and the marginalisation it highlighted – and hostility towards the police as its enforcers. The riots were, according to one study, a ‘response, albeit lacking in a formal political articulation, to perceived injustices that relate to poverty, exclusion and oppressive policing’. David Cameron and others condemned them as ‘criminality, pure and simple’. (11)
Alice Coleman argued that there was no excuse for such behaviour – after all, there had been no riots in the poverty-stricken interwar period so graphically portrayed by Walter Greenwood in Salford – though Love on the Dole portrays a brutal police attack on a peaceful protest of the unemployed against the new Means Test. But perhaps people brought up in a post-war period which undertook to despatch such poverty, in an era of rampant consumerism (for some) of which the Salford Precinct had once been both symbol and promise, had higher expectations and a sharper sense of grievance.
At any rate, the time was ripe for new regeneration initiatives. These, however, would reflect very changed times. We’ll examine them in next week’s post.
(1) Salford City Reporter, 3 April 1959 quoted in Kynaston, Modernity Britain, p289
(2) Salford City Reporter, April 1965, quoted in Tony Flynn, ‘50 years ago: ‘Space-age’ Salford high-rise dream comes true’, 8 April, 2015. The following quotation is drawn from the same source.
(3) Miles Glendinning and Stefan Muthesius, Tower Block – Modern Public Housing in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland (1994)
(4) Soledad Garcia Ferrari, Miles Glendinning, Paul Jenkins and Jessica Taylor ‘Putting the User First? A Pioneering Scottish Experiment in architectural research’, Architectural Heritage, Volume 19, Issue 1
(5) Figures from Glendinning and Muthesius, Tower Block and EW Cooney, ‘High Flats in Local Authority Housing in England and Wales since 1945’, in Anthony Sutcliffe, Multi-Storey Living. The British Working-Class Experience (1974)
(6) Quoted in Pendleton Together, An Ideal for Living
(7) Nigel Pivaro, ‘Salford Street Loss’, Salford Star, 14 May 2010
(8) ITN, Salford Flats (1988)
(9) Cited in Luc Vrolijks and Maarten Königs, Urban Futures for Pendleton, linking city branding to urban regeneration, 43rd ISOCARP Congress 2007
(10) Helen Clifton and Eric Allison, ‘Manchester and Salford: a tale of two riots’, The Guardian, 6 December 2011
(11) Bob Jeffery and Waqas Tufail, ‘“The riots were where the police were”: Deconstructing the Pendleton Riot’, Sheffield Hallam University Research Archive