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Page last updated at 13:02 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 14:02 UK
Park Hill Flats renovation



Lifts at Park Hill
The outdated lifts had a red mosaic surround

More people than ever are living alone, and modern life is making us lonely - according to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation. But Park Hill flats behind Sheffield station were built as a flagship complex of community living. We take a look back at five decades of their history.

Britain's biggest Grade II* listed building Park Hill flats have been called a crumbling eyesore, streets in the sky and the most ambitious inner city development of their time.

Park Hill is the area from Park Square roundabout, up Duke Street and on the hill behind Sheffield station.

Cholera, typhus, no sewerage system, one standpipe per hundred people… the Park area of Sheffield had the worst slums in Sheffield in the 19th century.

Slums

The area consisted of old quarries, waste ground, steep alleyways and back-to-back terraces around courtyards, but 19th century public health acts called for Britain's slums to be cleared.

Slum clearance resumed was paused during World War Two and restarted afterwards. Park Hill was the first successful slum clearance scheme of an entire community in Britain after the war.

Construction of Park Hill flats, 1957-61
The flats were built between 1957 and 1961

A drastic alternative was needed to re-house the large population of a close-knit community, so in 1945 by architects Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith began to design new flats to fit the bill.

Community spirit

Construction started in 1957 and when the flats were completed in 1961 they were hailed as the most ambitious inner city development of their time.

Their ultra-modern design was inspired by French architect Le Corbusier's Unite d'habitation - similar 'streets in the sky' in Marseille.

To maintain the strong sense of community, neighbours were re-homed next door to each other, old street names were re-used (Gilbert Row, Long Henry Now, Norfolk Row and so on) and cobbles from the terraced streets were used to surround the flats and pave the pathways down the hill to Sheffield station and tramlines.

Gilbert Row, Park Hill
The street names from the old slums were re-used

Ten foot wide decks wide enough for milk floats to deliver door-to-door run all the way around the flats, and in warm weather people sat out and chatted in the communal areas.

See photos of the building and the people who lived there by clicking on the links below.

The flats also employed an early example of recyclable energy when they were built back in the 1960s. A district heating system was installed whereby almost all rubbish could be put down a chute in the sink for it to be mashed up and converted to electricity in the bowels of the flats!

Butcher, baker and candlestick maker

The original Park Hill development consisted of nearly 1000 flats as well as four pubs, plenty of shops (butcher, baker, bookie, laundrette, upholsterer, hardware shop, wallpaper shop, off licence, newsagent, fish & chip shop, gents & ladies hairdresser) as well as a nursery, primary school, community centre, garages, doctor's surgery, pharmacy and dentist's.

The Parkway Tavern
The Parkway Tavern was one of Park Hill's four pubs

Built on one of Sheffield's seven hills, the flats were designed so that the roof line remains level despite the steeply sloping site. At the highest point of Park Hill (by Talbot Street), the flats are four stories high - but at the bottom north end by Park Square roundabout, they're pretty high-rise at 13 stories.

A team of 12 caretakers employed by the council lived on-site until 2003, on-call 24 hours a day to look after the building, pick up litter, collect rubbish, mend, fix, mow and more.

'Like being in heaven'

Lots of people loved living in Park Hill; "it's like being in heaven" said one early resident, while another said, "people look at us up here and think we live in a slum. They don't realise that I live in a penthouse looking out over the city."

And Park Hill certainly has amazing views. You can see everything from Bramall Lane and Abbeydale Rd mosque to the Arts Tower and the Hallamshire Hospital, to the ski village. And beyond all that, the Peak District and Derbyshire Hills.

Or a bit hellish?

But by the 1980s Park Hill had become dilapidated and was no longer a popular place to live. Poor noise insulation, badly lit walkways and plenty of passages and alleys made perfect getaways for muggers.

Park Hill walkway
Badly lit walkways made perfect getaways for muggers

Horror stories abounded: tales of drugs and muggings galore and even sniper-style air-gun shootings of children in their primary school playground.

But residents and caretakers, in particular Grenville Squires, believe that Park Hill had bad press and that many of the things it was accused of were actually stories from other notorious Sheffield estates like Hyde Park and Kelvin.

"It was an easy scapegoat", said Grenville. "People can see it from town and so attribute all that bad stuff to Park Hill."

Grenville's 'grand old lady'

To Grenville, Park Hill is a grand old lady who has "come on hard times. She just wants to wash her face and put on a new frock, and she'll be out there!"

He affectionately calls the place his mistress: "She's the only lady that's called me from the marital bed at two in the morning and made demands," he says.

Famed for his poetry, tv and radio appearances, and recently immortalised in a portrait by Urban Splash's resident artist Gary Hindley, Grenville lived on the estate as a resident caretaker for 22 years and brought up his family there.

He retired as caretaker in January 2010 after 28 years service, and has many anecdotes - including saving the life of a resident who had collapsed against the inside of his front door and catching an escaped parakeet by climbing through the toilet window of a vacant flat.

Now settled in Manor Park, Grenville will not be saying goodbye completely to the Park Hill he loves.

"I'll come down and see the old girl because she's a lovely old lass. I think the community spirit will come back because of the way the flats are built, with the decked access. Sheffield people will talk to someone at a bus stop who they've never seen before in their life."

Demolition v resurrection

The flats were Grade II* listed in 1998 so they cannot be demolished. Development company Urban Splash won the contract to return the estate to its former glory over the next few years. They say they wouldn't want it to be knocked down even if it could be:

Caretaker Grenville Squires
Grenville Squires lived and worked on the estate for 26 years

"What would we put in its place? We accept that Park Hill has its flaws but we believe, warts and all, it's better than a lot of the mediocrity that is defining our cities.

"And it's actually cheaper to keep Park Hill and refurbish it than if we built it new, by a good margin. If you demolished Park Hill you'd have enough landfill to fill four football stadia.

"Besides, getting rid of it is not a 'sustainable' solution, when it can be saved, repaired and made good again. All it needs is to be loved."

Read more about the estate's future and see pictures of the redevelopment by clicking on the links below.

What are your experiences and memories of Park Hill? Are you looking forward to its future or do you think it should have been knocked down?

What do you think of the new ideas for Park Hill? What are your memories of the flats in the past? Will the new Park Hill be a nicer place to be?



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Eddy, Sheffield

The Park Hill Flats complex is like any other community in the following terms: 'a community is only as good as the people who live there'. There were a lot of 'wrong un's' living there recently. Prostitution was a particularly lucid activity within the confines of a 'mugger's paradise'. I did not want to visit more than the once. I had to go during the course of my work. The flats are an 'eye-sore' on the landscape and illustrate the failure of 'socialist' housing policies of the past. Pull them down and re-build the area with 'low rent' and 'low eye line' individual social housing.

Derrick Robinson

I hate flats of any kind. I would pay to be able to press the button to blow them up and see them replaced with a proper community and well-built, low rise houses with gardens.

Yvonne Bland
It was before it opened that I went into some of the flats with a group of Rangers (Girl Guides). One of our members worked in the housing dept. at the the Town Hall so she sorted it. We as older teenagers were most impressed. Later my husband to be helped start a Scout Group there. The lads were a great bunch.

diane crosland
i was actually born on park hill flats and went to the nursery and school there, it was a fantastic place to live and i only have good memories, it was a community everyone knew each other, i went on to have a flat there myself when i had children and spent a further 3 yrs which also were great, i wish there was something like that again now but sadly the way the world is now i can not see that ever happening no matter how hard they try to improve park hill, those days are long gone sadly

judy harpe [nee wilson]
we lived there when they opened it was a great place to live. I think they should now be demolished, you cannot bring back the good old days. I lived on norwich row and went to norfolk school. I Used to play on the corridors on my roller skates. All the kids were happy and even the oldies were not too grumpy. We never got wet when our mums made us go to the shops.MY friend kath priestley and I still meet up every week, what a great life we had.

maggie clewes
I was born at 179 long henry row, in may 1961, a month later the flats were officially opened by Hugh Gaitskill on the 18th june, though i was too young to remember i did have my photograph taken with him , my mum and a couple of neighbours are also in the photo, i spent many happy times as well as some sad times on the flats, my grandparents, aunties, uncles, 1st cousins and even 2nd aunties and cousins also lived on the flats, i know it's a clique but there was a real community spirit but only those that lived on there in the 60's/70's can really appreciate that.

Richard Fletcher
I was born onto Hyde Park Flats but moved down the hill shortly after. We lived at 327 Norwich Row and I went to Grace Owen (Ms Wiesha) then Park Hill Infants then the Juniors (Mr Vause, Mr Wilson, Mr Woodhead (deputy head Mr Lyons). Left there in 1982ish to catch the 95 up to Norfolk Comp. Where are you all Linda Carnell, Shaun Bainbridge, Donna Maltby, Darren Finney, Marsha White, Lee Brooke, Jason Jeffcock, Wayne Green, Steven Matthews, to name but a few. I left the flats for good for University in 1991, and have lived all over the UK ever since, but I cannot think of a better place to have spent my childhood. My parents tired of the flats mid-80s and we moved up to Arbourthone (behind the Challenge at Elm Tree) but could not settle so they did an exchange with sister and we moved back to 125 Hague Row.

Martin Mccullagh
I have many fond memories of life on the Park Hill flats. My family moved there to live on Long Henry Row when i was eight years old. In no time at all we fell in love with the place. Every body seemed to get on with their neighbours and there was a strong bond between families and the friends i made there i regarded as friends for life. I attended the junior school and in later years i drank in the many pubs in the area. I can still remember lining up outside Thomson's chip shop on Duke street on a Saturday morning waiting my turn to buy a portion of the best fish and chips in the city. There were a lot of characters living on the flats all those years ago. I lived there from 1965 till 1981. I can remember the pikelet man trawling the flats at the weekends with his rusty old bike. In those days it was commonplace for families to have five or six kids and at the time everyone's dad seemed to work in the steel industry. my mum would do her weekly shop on the ( pavement) shopping complex and visit such outlets as Crazy Cuts and Simmonites. I also remember getting my sweets from Walkers shop and Mr. Wades. A group of us would play footie and cricket on the greens around the flats and to be honest we kept out of trouble. Sadly times change. My last visit to the flats was ten years ago. as i parked my car near the Link pub, i thought i was visiting modern day Beirut. There were burnt out cars, rubbish, Boarded up pubs and shops graffiti and a nasty smell about the area. None of the lifts were working and i made my visit a brief one. It does seem a shame that the good memories of the place that i had were dashed on that visit. Perhaps a general overhaul of the place is needed. It would be a shame to see the site knocked down and rob the area of what was once a great place to live in.

Beverley Flude
I grew up on Park Hill Flats i was 2 when we moved there my mom, sister & brother. It was a lovely place when it was first built everybody knew each other & looked out for each other too, many friendships where formed & we still have friends we made on there way back in the early days. Shame they were left to run down & all the old families moved away but still many fond memories.

sheena gallagher (nee grant, norwich row)
i lived there most of my life, No one who didn't live there, can say anything bad about it at all, we all stuck together and looked after each other, and felt safe, we all lived in a clean environmental area, i'm happy i grew up there, many friends, were, bev porter, shaz vains, michele talbot, and family, mandy reaid, shaun fog, peck, andy clues, dave messium, and my best mate tracey grimshaw, and my wonderful husband , who i did not meet on park hill, but spent many fun times in it xxxx

Adam Kell
I was on the tram and a very snotty woman with a London accent said" Why don't they just knock them down they are a terrible eyesore i mean no one likes them" i had to restrain myself from shouting at her i think that the park hill flats should be restored. My dad works there sometimes as he is a electrician. He says it would be lovely to get them back to there former glory.

Hannah Gibbins
I found some wonderful pictures the other day of my family in the 60's on the Park Hill, including my Grandad Albert in his Park Hill football club kit, and my nan Stella out in Blackpool with the women from a Parkway trip. My Grandad was from the old Park estate which was cleared to make the flats. There are old school photos too of my Mum Vicky and my Aunty Lisa, and loads of others. It will be lovely to see the new generation of people living as a close community in a fab building, that has so much potential.

Martin Hickson
I moved on to Park Hill just before Xmas 1959 with my father, mother, brother and 1 sister. 2 more sisters joined us in the mid sixties. Park Hill at that time until the late 70's was a marvellous place to live. Under-floor central heating and "Garchey" waste disposal, it was very modern compared to where we lived before, in rooms with outside toilet and shared bathroom. I even remember film companies coming to Park Hill from all over Europe to film the flats and our way of life. I featured in some where they showed kids at play. Everybody seemed to work and lived with both parents in those days and it was a thriving community. There was neighbourliness and respect for each other. Sadly Flats became "unfashionable" and I think the decline of the flats followed the decline in Sheffield's industries, suddenly there was less money and more unemployed people living there. I think the council must have contributed to the flats decline by putting problem people on it instead of spreading round the council housing stock. Kids ran amok and vandalism was rife. Nevertheless my mother was very sad to leave the flats last year. Due to the current situation. Luckily she is still in the area. She loved the town location. I have very fond memories of our life there. It was a great place to live in the sixties and early seventies. The link pub under the Hardy family was a superb pub, lunchtime buffets attracted wealthy customers, such as "The Retford Millionaire" and professional footballers were regular customers as well it was quite common to find a Rolls Royce parked outside. Happy Days. to see it decline in the last few years broke my heart.

David Bentley
I believe the Park Hill designers/ developers probably think the moon is made of cheese, that the world is flat and that Rex Harrison did actually talk to the animals! Skate parks and bowling greens alongside each other? Wake up you loonies! I suspect you will also have Ken Dodd walking the corridors with his tickling stick, singing Happiness? Society and the spirit of the community no longer exists as it did in the 60's. Sad but true. The attitude of they have it- I want it- so I'll take is prevalent amongst a high proportion of the criminal element that once occupied the flats ( and the rest of Sheffield)ruining the lives of many good souls from that community. A regime determined to incinerate the goodness of the city, and people who live by the rules. Exacerbated by drugs & fuelled by the proceeds of crime they attempt to rule by fear and live for free. For those that wish to help these poor , misunderstood creatures by providing freebies, and integration into society so they may replicate those that live as we expect- I say this. Pass me a cracker, I am going to eat the moon.

Thomas, Australia
I always found the sight of these flats set against the hill side (and the Kelvin and Hyde Park flats) amazing. I was saddened to see the Kelvin and most of the Hyde Park gone. I fully support the heritage listing of the Park Hill flats - they are a sign of Sheffield's progressive approach to housing and an admirable attempt to recreate communities away from the slums. With appropriate investment these blocks can be a real asset and something Sheffield can be proud of.

Sean Edwards
I am from Liverpool and I beg you people of Sheffield to tear them down. Whether or not the technology was good in post war Britain, it remains the single, ugliest building in this country. I feel sorry for the people who come to Sheffield as tourists, and that eyesore is the first they see.

Kevan Smith
I was actually born and brought up on Bard Street Flats but a lot my friends who I played with as a youngster well into my early teens lived on Park Hill. I also used to help the Express Dairies Milkman Roger Inglis. Great place, great people and lots of great memories!!!

Paul Griffin, Denmark
Although I didn't live on the flats, my sister and I both went to the school, and of course we both had lots of friends from the school. To this day I still believe that both the schools on the site gave me a quality education, and the teachers seemed genuinely interested in their work. The flats were based on a complex called L'unite d'habitation in Marseilles, which have been a huge success. So attitude towards the flats could have largely have brought about their demise. What many people don't realise is that there is a huge system of pipes under the flats, which the kids use to call t'ducks, which I didn't figure until recently was actually the DUCTS. Also went to the Scouts in the community centre, around 1978-80. Great fun. Was great to see the flats again on the Arctic Monkeys video for When the Sun Goes Down... all very nostalgic. I remember well the laundrette on the flats too, my mum use to take me, my sister and a pram full of dirty washing there before we got our own washing machine. Great fish and chip shop on The Pavement too.




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