Quarry Hill Flats – The Memory of Place

This week we welcome Lou Bentley who has been developing a new website chronicling the history of the Quarry Hill Flats. She is keen to hear your memories of the flats so please contact her through her website if you have something to share.

Quarry Hill Flats, 1967. Copyright Leodis.net

What remains of place after brick and glass, steel and concrete are removed? The Quarry Hill Flats were demolished in 1978, having only housed the folk of Leeds for 40 years. But memories of the estate live on and can be found in various places across the web. Like bus stop chatter, snippets pop up and reignite the energy of the time.

Sadly, I never got to see the Quarry Hill Estate, I was born three years after the last great house came down. But I have long been fascinated with the concept of social housing on a grand scale. They didn’t come much grander than the Quarry Hill Flats, 938 flats covering a site that reached 36 acres. The flats ranged from 1 bedroom to 2,3,4 and even 5 bedroomed apartments.

Quarry Hill Flats (and Leeds Bus Station) c.1939. Copyright Leodis.net

They came at a time when Leeds, like many industrial cities across Europe were struggling to adequately house their working-class populations. For many, the day they moved into the flats was their first experience of an indoor bathroom, a flat per family, clean, tidy and spacious. The site itself was attractive, right in the heart of the City, close to shops and buses.

So why was the scheme so short lived? Some of the features built into the flats were incredibly modern, the French Garchey waste disposal system; down the sink went vegetable peelings, fire ashes, and well, sure you can imagine, often many unsuitable items too. The system was beset with issues and was constantly breaking down. Across the site repair bills were mounting, the concrete slab facia began to crumble, the steelwork below the ground was said to be buckling. Perhaps the reputation of the estate added to its misfortune too. At the heart of the city centre the estate was seen as something as a fortress, a no-go area that outsiders just could not comprehend.

Families were moved out, onto the suburbs, some glad to go, others sad to leave behind the ‘village within the city’.

Corridor within Quarry Hill Flats, March 1938. Copyright Leodis.net

I found some former residents chatting online, sharing their happy times together and it got me thinking about all that experience of place. Many wonderful photographs of Quarry Hill are held at Leodis.net, images of the imposing exterior of Oastler House, children playing together in the playgrounds, the communal laundry, neat and ordered. The scenes transport us to a different time, a world away. But what of the memories; where will they go over time? I started to chat to the people who had lived at Quarry Hill and it became clear that there was a lot of love bound up with the scheme that was designed to improve the lives of Leeds people. With the kind permission of the Hillers who have shared their stories with me and several organisations* who have allowed me to use images, music and podcasts I have collected the memories and can share them now here

The site will grow over time, I hope you can visit and add something of your own.

*With thanks to those who lived at QHF’s: the Hillers, Leeds Libraries Local & Family History team & Leodis.net, West Yorkshire Archive Service, The Civic Trust, Peter Mitchell & RRB Photobooks, Better Songs Productions, Rum Doodle, Leeds City College, the late Tony Baker, Leeds Museums & Galleries, University of Leeds Library, @biroguyleeds @Jimbinary

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