Do You Remember Hunslet Grange Housing Estate?

This week we hear from Louise Dwyer and Gill Crawshaw, MA students at the Leeds Arts University. Louise and Gill are researching the history and legacy of the Hunslet Grange estate (aka Leek Street flats) and are searching for former residents with memories of that housing. Read on to find out more and details of how you can contribute to this fascinating project…

c1983. View shows Pottery Vale, part of the Hunslet Grange development, also known as Leek Street Flats. The 2,500 flats built in 1968 were arranged in blocks of six or seven storeys, with overhead walkways connecting the blocks. The exteriors were covered in pale grey pebbledashed concrete. Initially the flats were popular but soon problems with damp and condensation began to develop and the heating systems proved inadequate, so that by the 1980s tenants were calling for the flats to be demolished; this duly happened in 1983, shortly after the photo was taken. Copyright: Ray Dickinson (taken from Leeds Library and Information Service, www.leodis.net)

Our current research focuses on Hunslet Grange, a large council housing estate which was
built exactly fifty years ago. The estate is remembered by many from different perspectives, positive and negative. We aimed to record and present some of those perspectives and link them to contemporary social issues, particularly public housing, community building and social isolation.

The documentation that ignited this interesting social history investigation, to build a picture of housing and its changes for people then and perhaps now, still resounds in our society. A short film viewed at the Yorkshire Film Archive, Community Builder (1968), aimed at the construction industry, shows community life in Hunslet before and after the new estate was built. It depicts life on the cusp of change from centuries-old lifestyle in back-to-back housing to a modern and comfortable new complex ( which is how Hunslet Grange was proposed).

23rd June 1946, Two houses on Leak Terrace, number 20 is on the left, 18 on the right. Part of the notorious Hunslet Grange flats would be erected in this area after demolition of the old streets. The Hunslet Grange flats were built in the late 1960s, early 70s and within twenty years demolished. A major problem was damp and high cost of heating for tenants trying to combat the damp. Copyright: West Yorkshire Archive Service (available on www.leodis.net)

Hunslet Grange, also known as Leek Street flats, was built to replace a large area of terraced housing in south Leeds. The local authority and construction company hailed the development as innovative and modern, as it used new building methods and materials. Certainly, many residents moved from overcrowded terraced houses with shared outside toilets, to brand new flats with mod cons. They soon discovered, however, many serious faults resulting from the prefabricated structure: draught, cold and damp, combined with an electric heating system that was prohibitively expensive for the majority of tenants. After a lengthy campaign by Hunslet Grange tenants for a solution that would improve their living conditions, the flats were demolished in 1983.

We have carried out further research, including in the Local and Family History library, the University of Leeds, the West Yorkshire Archives and online. This has resulted in discovering more archive material, particularly photographs and accounts of living in Hunslet Grange, in publications and online.

Following on from this, we carried out primary research at Holbeck Elderly Aid’s Memory Cafe, using the film and photographs to spark discussion about housing, communities, then and today. One of the members had lived in a succession of flats at Hunslet Grange (“the Leekies”). Her memories of happy times on the estate among a supportive and close-knit community contrast sharply with the poor reputation of the estate, as well as with others’ experiences of isolation living in high rise accommodation.

There are many similarities with our society today: the social changes that are indications of changing lifestyles; cuts to public services; erosion in our family networks and communities.
Some of these things have not changed and people are under a serious strain at times to find suitable homes, which can lead to isolation, homelessness or deprivation of different sorts for all age groups.

So: we would like to collect further memories, stories and documentation from people living or connected to the Hunslet Grange flats, or other similar housing estates around Leeds.The material will be collated into a small exhibition planned for display at Leeds Arts University, added to this  blog for those interested in local housing and social issues; or who simply want to read the memories and stories that we discover.

Please contact the Local and Family History department on 0113 37 86982 or via localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk for more details or to register your interest in contributing to Louise and Gill’s project (your contact details will be taken and passed to the researchers.)

One Comment Add yours

  1. A reader of this article got in touch with us in September 2019 to provide his own memories of the Hunslet Grange Estate – those memories are reproduced here, as they may be of interest to other readers and researchers:

    “I was housed at the Flats during the University of Leeds academic year 1974-75 while doing a year study abroad from the University of California. One or two wings of the flats had been set aside for housing for students from the U. and I–a Yank from California– was placed in a flat with an Englishman, a Scot, an Iranian and an Irish Jew, so we were a little United Nations. I think our wing was for male students and some distance away in another wing there were female students from the University, so we were hoofing it over there from time to time to see the girls.

    We had to ride the bus from the flats into downtown Leeds and then take another bus to the university. The English fellow in our flat had a “mini”, so sometimes we would catch a ride with him if our schedules coincided.

    The place was grey and ‘block-ish’ and not constructed with a lot of quality. However, it was fine for a bunch of fellows our age. I remember some people at the U. thought it would be scary to live there, but I didn’t encounter any personal threats as I hiked from the bus stop to the stairwell (I believe my flat was on the third floor of our wing.).

    The view out our window was of a factory where the whistle would blow and the workers would file in and out in their grey clothing. I remembered that scene as something that looked like I imagined Engels and Marx had in mind as they wrote a century earlier.
    There was a little grocery store and a butcher shop on the ground floor, not too far away from our stairwell where we would buy our “nosh”. A typical meal was boiled chicken, “chips” which we fried in a pan full of lard that we kept adding to and never changed the whole year, and canned peas. Occasionally we treated ourselves to “black pudding”, a blood sausage I had never encountered until arriving in Leeds. I liked it!

    A typical night we would study until about 9:00 p.m. and then amble over to one of the nearby pubs for a pint or two. On the weekends, it might be more than two…

    The local residents were pleasant enough to me, a Yank, who at first struggled to understand the Yorkshire accent, but after some weeks it all clicked, and I enjoyed hearing the shop girls finish a sentence or question with “luv” as in “Here you go, luv.”

    I was studying in Leeds with a focus on British government and politics. My year in Leeds was a fairly momentous one politically: there was the second of two general elections in 1974 in which Labor led by Harold Wilson won a narrow majority. The Birmingham pub bombings roiled the country along with pillarbox bombs. In 1975, there was a national referendum vote on maintaining UK membership in the “Common Market” which passed by a 2-1 majority (how matters have shifted..).

    One’s 21st year of life is probably always memorable, but I know my life in the U.K. in Leeds was one of the most significant of my years. I’m grateful to the many people, at the U. and the locals I met while living in “the flats”, for the fine time I had.”

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