The foolish man built his house upon the marsh…
If you visited Rochdale in the mid to late 1970s and had an interest in modernist and brutalist architecture, you were in for a treat. As well as its soon to be demolished bus station, you could place its brown clad shopping centre. You knew you entered the Lancashire town after seeing the Seven Sisters tower blocks in Spotland.
Just off the A627(M) was another housing estate. One where the then Housing Minister Richard Crossman hoped to see residents punting on the Rochdale Canal nearby.
The Ashfield Valley estate was completed in 1969. 1,014 dwelling blocks were built by Cruden, to the tune of £3.1 million (£48.9 million in 2013 prices). It comprised of twenty-six mid-rise blocks of maisonettes and flats, with access to street level via stairs and lifts, horizontal street decks. Each of the 26 blocks were named in alphabetical order.
Construction began three years earlier using the Skarne prefabricated building system. The Scandinavian Skarne building system was also used in the Killingworth estate and in the Whitfield housing scheme on the outskirts of Dundee.
The Sinking Feeling
It was claimed that Ashfield Valley was built too quickly and too cheaply. Crossman’s statement about people going about their business along the Rochdale Canal was probably closer to the truth than some would have thought. Within ten years, Ashfield Valley’s flats were sinking. Prior to reclamation work, the site was originally marshland. That led to the estate’s loss of popularity. Where there was originally a mix of tenants, those who were able to move out left.
Then, disaster struck. January 1987 saw the cracking of frozen water pipes, which led to the flooding of 15 out of 26 blocks.
By then, the flats and maisonettes on Ashfield Valley were difficult to let. It was perceived by its residents as a dumping ground. Therefore the chances of gaining credit accounts and viable job prospects were virtually nil. It also lacked one essential ingredient of any viable housing estate: decent community facilities. A laundrette lasted just eighteen months. From the start, the only facility on the estate was its general store.
In its twilight years, squatters moved in to the estate’s mostly vacant dwellings. Like the twilight years of the Hulme Crescents, there was some sort of counterculture with punk bands. By 1990, its fate was sealed with demolition starting at the end of that year. In the end, thanks to council cutbacks, demolition work was a slow process. Three of the smallest blocks were retained and refurbished. Blocks J, K and L became Stoneyvale Court.
Today, the site of Ashfield Valley comprises of something anathema to the counterculture of the late 1980s. In its place is a small retail park including a B&Q Warehouse, ODEON multiplex cinema and a drive thru McDonalds. This included a new spine road known as Sandbrook Way. New offices were built, one of which was the Cooperative Retail Services’ headquarters prior to the CWS/CRS merger. Another, now the home of Zen Internet.
Ashfield Estate in Film
Ashfield Estate was the subject of two documentaries which featured on ITV. One focused on its drugs problem entitled Heroin: The Local Connection, which was an episode of Thames Television’s documentary series TV Eye.
The most thorough one, filmed in 1990 by Granada Television is Hardcore Valley which took the point of view from its residents. Its demolition also inspired a one-off film set to the poetry of Simon Armitage, entitled Xanadu (BBC Two, 1991).
Thanks to the wonders of YouTube we have in full, Hardcore Valley:
Before I go…
Did you live on the Ashfield Valley estate? Feel free to comment on your experiences.
S.V., 14 November 2013.