PARK HILL HOUSING PROJECT (c.1962) film no: 3315
Park Hill was Sheffield City Council’s first redevelopment scheme after the War. Work began on the site in April 1957, and it was formally opened by Hugh Gaitskell on 16th June, 1961. The film shows the Park Hill Flats in Sheffield shortly after the completion of their construction as well as the first stage in the development of Hyde Park Flats.
The film begins with views of Park Hill Flats and the landscaped hillside, taken from across the SheafValley. These are followed by a smoke-blackened Midland Railway Station with the flats on the hill behind.
There are views of the flats from many different angles and also details such as steps and ramps, walkways, balconies and the access decks. South Street and Duke Street appear in some of the views. The flats often appear to be deserted but there are a few residents, and some of the local children can be seen playing. Some are playing cricket against a wall.
Other children are playing on a climbing frame in one of the playgrounds. On one of the access decks, some of the residents are seen at the doors to their flats. Outside the Scottish Queen public house, a barrel is being lowered into the cellar and there is also a view of the Parkway public house. There are more general and detailed views of the flats.
A view up Duke Street leads to The Pavement where the local shopping centre was located. The shops shown include the interior of the Sheffield & Ecclesall Co-operative Society where shoppers can be seen at the checkout, the interior of a café/bakers and other shop fronts. There are more people around the shops, including groups of teenagers.
The film then moves to the Hyde Park development and a view along Hyde Park Terrace from the Salvation Army building on the corner of Bernard Street and Duke Street. There are various views of the housing on Hyde Park Terrace and Hyde Park Walk.
Park Hill was Sheffield City Council’s first redevelopment scheme after the war. The design was based on the deck-access principle – ‘streets in the sky’ – and took advantage of the sloping site to maintain a constant roof level while the building changed from four storeys to thirteen at the lower end. Work began on the site in April 1957 and the first dwellings were handed over on 4 November 1959. The project was completed by the end of 1960 and it was formally opened by Hugh Gaitskell on 16 June 1961.
Hyde Park was the second phase in the redevelopment of the Park Hill area and occupied the higher site to the east of Bernard Street. Stage one of the development consisted of the two terraces of flats and maisonettes parallel to Bernard Street shown in this film. They were completed in January 1962. The whole scheme was officially opened by The Queen Mother in June 1966.
Provenance: Sheffield City Council's Department of Design and Building Services, 17 March 1988.
This is one of several films made about the Park Hill Estate in Sheffield held with the YFA. There are also films made of the Stone Laying Ceremony for the new estate in 1960, and of the slum area before the re-development in the 1950s made by Sheffield Public (later Environmental) Health Department. Part of these last set of films, Environmental Health Part- Park Hill Slums 1-5, is also on YFA Online, and forms an interesting companion to this one. This film, Park Hill Housing Project, came from Sheffield City Council's Department of Design and Building Services.
In the official document The Park Hill Redevelopment Scheme, published by the Housing Development Committee in June 1961, there are many photos of the finished scheme made by J. Coulthard of Sheffield Photo Finishers. As these were also filmmakers – they made Books in Hand (1956), also on YFA Online – it may well be that they also made this film; perhaps as an accompaniment to this document.
Whoever the filmmaker was, he or she clearly had a flair for making films. As a purely visual display, the film provides an almost comprehensive picture of the Estate and its inhabitants, missing only is a look inside of the individual flats themselves. The first part has a striking aesthetic quality, with its extraordinary shots of the buildings taken from a largevariety of vantage points and angles; whilst the second part vividly captures aspects of the everyday life of the new residents, young and old.
Work began on the Park Hill Project in April 1957 and the first dwellings were handed over on 4th November 1959. The project was completed by the end of 1960 and it was formally opened by Hugh Gaitskell on 16 June 1961, housing over 3,500 people. Hyde Park was the second phase in the redevelopment of the Park Hill area and occupied the higher site to the east of Bernard Street. Stage one of the development consisted of the two terraces of flats and maisonettes parallel to Bernard Street, shown in this film. They were completed in January 1962. The whole scheme was officially opened by The Queen Mother in June 1966.
When the project was finished Park Hill became the first completed post-war slum clearance scheme of an entire community in Britain. Some claim that it was the most ambitious inner-city development of its time. Although already completed by the time the Parker Morris Report came out, Homes for Today and Tomorrow, in the same year of 1961, the flats still conform to the space standards that Parker set out – although these standards were less than those achieved in the late 1940s.
The local architects who designed Park Hill, Lewis Womersley, Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn – who soon after designed the nearby Hyde Park flats – recognised there was a strong sense of local community and in the design of Park Hill tried to preserve this community spirit. Where possible neighbours were re-housed alongside each other in the new complex, retaining old street names, with each flat opening out onto a 10 foot wide deck. This provided access for milk floats and communal areas, enhancing the image of "streets in the sky". In the film the ramps can be seen which were used to retain a stronger connection to the ground. The flats had enough facilities to be almost self-contained, including the Garchey system of waste disposal that also provided heating. The whole complex had its own school, shops and doctors’ surgery.
The architects wanted to combat the perceived empty spaces, isolation and lack of street life that modern design brought about – which is perhaps ironic given that they were subsequently criticised for producing just this. It is interesting to view the film in the light of this attempt to replicate street life. The plans for the project go to some length to reproduce this: in the document The Park Hill Redevelopment Scheme it states, ‘The problem facing anyone designing a high density project as Park Hill is to avoid creating a vast inhuman building block’. It goes on to say, ‘It must be left to others – particularly the occupants – to judge to what extent it has been successful in solving this social problem.’ Coincidently, 1962 was the year that Willmot and Young published their classic study Family and Kinship in East London, which documented the breakup of traditional working class communities.
The architects, Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith, were influenced by Alison and Peter Smithson, pioneers of ‘Brutalism’ (Alison was herself born in Sheffield). They were also influenced by the modernist Swiss architect and designer Le Corbusier and his ideas on social housing – although the Smithson’s were also in opposition to Le Corbusier in some respects. Le Corbusier’s ideas were exemplified with the Unité d'Habitation in Marseille, completed just two years before in 1952. Although how far Park Hill manages to emulate this, and incorporate principles of communal housing, remains a contested issue. However, it is not that dissimilar to the flats at Edward Street, developed in the 1930s, and influenced by the Dutch architect William Dudok. These flats won several architectural awards.
Park Hill was just one of several large scale modern housing developments in Sheffield at this time: others included Kelvin, Woodside, Broomhall and Upperthorpe. Their inspiration was the leader of Sheffield City Council Architect’s department, Lewis Womersley, who sent the entire council leadership on a tour of European multi-storey housing projects in 1954, resulting in a Report published the same year (see References). Lewis Womersley was a visionary, stating on a BBC programme on Sheffield at the time: “The moment I set foot in Sheffield . . . I climbed on the roof of the library and looked at the skyline and saw that it was a very, very exciting city.”
Another Sheffield Corporation publication Ten Years of Housing in Sheffield, published the year this film was made in 1962, likens these projects, mostly hill top developments, to ‘Italian hill towns’. It should be noted also that between 1956 and 1967 flats in high-rise (above three storeys) buildings attracted additional central government subsidy.
Although the Park Hill Estate has been praised by its residents during its first decade, it developed many problems, not least vandalism and muggings. The poverty and deprivation it housed helped it to be voted into the top 12 for Channel 4’s Demolition programme. The four pubs on the Estate had a terrible reputation. The links between housing design and social various malaise have been examined by Alice Coleman – see References.
Some time after the last remaining tenants had left, the Estate was listed as a Grade II protected building in 1988 – the largest listed building in Europe. In this it joined Sheffield University Library and Arts Tower. Some have argued (see Amanda Baillieu and Owen Hatherley in References) that English Heritage and brutalism do not go well together. In fact English Heritage was established in 1983, in part at least, as a bulwark against what was seen as the excesses of modern architecture. The Hyde Park flats, which were not listed, were refurbished just before they were used as accommodation for the World Student Games held in Sheffield in 1991.
The Council commissioned Urban Splash in 2004 to carry out a programme of redevelopment, to take place in five phases. In conjunction with the Housing Association Parkway, a subsidiary of Manchester Methodist Housing Group, the new development will be divided into three equal parts: social rented, market sale and commercial space. It will also include a brand new doctors’ surgery and nursery facilities and retail and leisure facilities with open spaces. Working with the architects Studio Egret West, Hawkins Brown and Grant Associates, and looking to spend £30m, Urban Splash have an ambitious plan to make the area as exciting as it was originally meant to be.
Completion is due in 2017, but at the time of writing (July 2009) there seems to be a serious shortfall of money. The Park Hill Estate was featured in a programme on English Heritage – aired in May 2009 – where some of the difficulties were brought to light. The future of Park Hill continues to be a very controversial issue, with many in Sheffield believing it to be both a waste of money and an eyesore (see the threads on Sheffield Forum, 28 days Later and Sheffield History – References). For a excellent article on the estate, with good recent photos, see David Sillitoe's The utopian estate that's been left to die (The Guardian, 05.03.2014).
(Special thanks to Doug Hindmarch, Sheffield Local Studies Librarian)
Multi Storey Housing in Some European Countries: Report of the City of Sheffield Housing Deputation, Sheffield Corporation Architects Department, Sheffield Corporation, 1955.
The Park Hill Redevelopment Scheme, published by the City of Sheffield Housing Development Committee on 16th June 1961.
Ten Years of Housing in Sheffield, Sheffield Corporation Architects Department, Sheffield Corporation, 1962.
Geoffrey Moorhouse, Britain in the Sixties: the other England, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1964.
Alice Coleman, Utopia on Trial: Vision And Reality In Planned Housing, 2nd edition, Hilary Shipman, London, 1990.
Reyner Banham, The New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic?, London, 1954.
Clyde Binfield et al (eds), The History of the City of Sheffield, Vols. 2&3, Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.
David Sillitoe, The utopian estate that's been left to die The Guardian, 05.03.2014.
Owen Hatherley, ‘Penthouse and pavement’, The Guardian, Saturday 2 May 2009
Amanda Baillieu, ‘Park Hill’s troubled transformation’, Building Design:
Sheffield Late 20th Century Municipal Suburbs:
A useful look at the ideas behind the Park Hill estate
Good description and recent photos.
This also has some great photos of Park Hill.
For an entertaining view of life in the flats
Bacon, C.W., ‘Streets-in-the-sky: the rise and fall of the modern architectural urban utopia’, 1983, B1e
Ph.D., Sheffield, 32-5073
Lees, Andrew, 1975, ‘An essay about Park Hill and the gaps between Utopia-Time-Reality’, Bib Id, 1577191, Thesis (M.Arch.) - University of Sheffield, School of Architecture, 2002.
This film is an extract. To access the complete film please contact the Yorkshire Film Archive