Streets in the sky 2

Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield: demolition (1992)

Sheffield’s Park Hill development, completed in 1961, has remained popular, though the flats and maisonettes overlooking the city centre are by no means everyone’s idea of an ideal dwelling.

The bigger Hyde Park complex, prominent on a steep bluff above the Don Valley, was inevitably vertiginous and became generally unpopular.  I wonder what the Queen Mother made of the place when she opened it in 1966.

The sanguine hopes that Corbusian decks would provide an adequate replacement for the dirty, rundown streets and backyards of the industrial East End soon faded.  Working Sheffield families were glad at last to have indoor sanitation, space, light and central heating, but not at the price of high winds, isolation and loneliness. 

High-rise housing was a nightmare for families with young children, and as the children grew Hyde Park and Kelvin became bywords for vandalism and crime.   At Hyde Park in particular, furniture and – on occasions – desperate inhabitants came over the balconies:  on one occasion a falling television killed a seven-year-old girl.  At ground-level, hatched areas of tarmac indicated where falling objects were a likelihood, and entry-points to the blocks were eventually given awnings.  Police as a matter of course parked their marked vehicles away from the buildings.

Lionel Esher, in A Broken Wave: the rebuilding of England 1940-1980 (Pelican 1981), describes the context of Womersley’s work:  he concludes, “[In] Hyde Park….Womersley had overreached himself….”  

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner’s condescending assumptions, in The Buildings of England, about what used to be called “slums” eventually gained a bitter irony. 

After years of social problems and misery, the inhabitants of Hyde Park were rehoused in 1990-91 when the World Student Games adventure provided the funding and motivation for a sumptuous upgrading of two of the Hyde Park blocks. 

When the students departed, the two blocks once again housed local people, one block still administered as City Council housing, the other by a housing association. 

The biggest unit, B Block, having been cosmetically redecorated for the Games, was condemned, and its distinctive crusader-castle outline disappeared from its bleak hilltop site in 1992-3, to be replaced by unobtrusive low-density housing. 

A surprising number of Sheffielders expressed regret at its passing.

It’s a pity that Hyde Park, itself such a magnificent piece of townscape, turned out to be unusable.

The story of Park Hill and Hyde Park Flats is featured in Demolished Sheffield, a 112-page full colour A4 publication by Mike Higginbottom. For details please click here.

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