Montrose House and Primrose House: Partington’s short lived twin towers, on opposite sides of Ashton Road
Throughout the United Kingdom, local authorities were given incentives to build taller tower blocks for slum clearance schemes. As well as heights, there were incentives to adopt experimental building systems. For example: Sectra, Bison, and Jespersen. As well as speeding up the slum clearance schemes, a lot of builders made a packet.
Whereas the story of non-standard construction schemes is enough for a future blog post, the County Borough of Oldham had one answer on their doorstep. T. Partington and Son. As well as building the Oldham we know and love, they built a fair number of municipal housing schemes. Mainly in Oldham and surrounding area. A short 409 bus ride away (two to three stops), were two distinctive tower blocks, by the same people.
Both tower blocks had 13 floors which, given their short stint, tempted fate. There was 52 dwellings in each tower block with vertical access via lifts and stairs in its central core. There was lifts every three floors and deck access to ‘streets in the sky’, servicing both maisonettes and flats. The maisonettes were split level and some parts of the decks had stairs down to a lower deck. This is detailed in Paul Barnett’s image from the late 1980s.
Both schemes were approved between 1963 and 1964. They were (in present-day parlance) the ‘marquee’ project of a wider scheme. Both Crete Street and Primrose Bank tower blocks were flanked with low rise deck access flats and high density terraced housing.
The Crete Street development was the first to be approved. Before its completion in the mid-1960s, the site had post-war prefabs. Before then, it was spare land surrounded by terraced houses on Meldrum Street, Falmouth Street, Crete Street and – the enigmatically named – Estate Street.
Crete Street’s 1963 development had a Scottish theme. The thirteen storey tower block was known as Montrose House. Other street names used for its surrounding low rise homes included Moray Walk, Atholl Court, and Inverness Court.
Approved in 1964, the Primrose Bank scheme was dominated by Primrose House, the twin of Montrose House a short 9 bus away. The housing scheme was of higher density than Crete Street with a mix of low rise deck access maisonettes and terraced housing. Beside communal areas, each deck access maisonette had access to a communal rubbish chute.
Some of the street names were inspired by parts of Derbyshire. Hence Ashbourne Square and Buxton Place. The main access road, besides Primrose Bank, was Tweed Close. There was also a community centre. The impending upgrade of Ashton Road (towards Oldham Way) necessitated a higher density scheme.
What happened next?
The two tower blocks, despite appearing to be a cut above the usual Bison or Reema system built job didn’t catch on. As well as the oft-reported issues of antisocial behaviour and heating, there was one major flaw they had. Access for emergency vehicles. Whereas Montrose House had the benefit of a road to the forecourt, access to Primrose House was less straightforward. The ambulance’s trolley would have had to be carted via Ashbourne Square.
First to go of the tower blocks was Montrose House. This was demolished in the late 1980s. In its place are red brick housing association properties. The mix of semi-detached houses and bungalows are a contrast to the 13 storey deck access flats. Some of the low rise housing from the 1960s development remains.
Following suit in the early 1990s was Primrose House. The deck access maisonettes and flats remained intact till 2012. In its place is new housing. Again of the low rise variety, though the first regeneration attempt was far from simplistic. The first developers, Devco, pulled out of the contract in 2013 with none of their 12 homes being sold. Later in 2015, Keepmoat Homes agreed to sell them, as private homes.
It forms part of Oldham Council’s Gateways to Oldham Private Finance Initiative project. What is all the more symbolic is Primrose Bank’s development is geared towards homeowners rather than social housing. For the previous forty-five years, part of the borough’s comprehensive portfolio of municipal housing. None of which we shall the like of ever again.
Before I go…
Did you live on any of the two housing estates? What was life like on Primrose Bank or Crete Street in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s? Feel free to comment on your experiences. Just to jog a few memories, I shall point you towards Paul Thorpe’s album of Montrose House and Oldham pictures. All of these were taken in 1974 on black and white film with a Zenit E SLR camera (believe me, if one of them landed on your toe, you would know about it).
S.V., 20 March 2017.