The Coming of the New Town 2

Sutton Hill

The selection of the first site for housing development had to be restricted to land within the catchment area of the existing Cuckoo Oak sewage works. The site chosen was to the South East of Madeley in the vicinity of Sutton Hill Farm on land predominantly used for agriculture, with a certain amount of dereliction and few residential properties.

The photo shows the view from Sutton Hill towards Great Hay Farm just before building work commenced in 1996. (Click the photo to enlarge it).

As you can see, despite the claims of the development corporation that one of their main aims was the reclamation of derelict industrial land, the entire Sutton Hill Estate was built on prime arable and grazing land. The Sutton Hill estate was planned as a separate development from Madeley. It was intended to house a new population of 6,462 people, which with the population of the Wenlock Borough estates at Cuckoo Oak and Hills Lane would create a community of 8,362 people. Shops, schools, social and recreational facilities were included to form a basic community structure.

The layout of the estate was to be on the Radburn principle, segregating pedestrians and vehicles with underpasses at the junction of roads and main walkways. Groups of buildings were arranged in a series of cul-de-sacs within a ‘superblock’ which was encircled by a main perimeter road. There were no through roads and residents could walk everywhere. The estate was also to be linked to existing communities by walkways. The area to be developed was crossed by several rights of way and these footpaths had to be diverted. The same principles were later applied to the design of Woodside and Brookside estates as well.

Government decreed that Sutton Hill should be built as rapidly and as cheaply as possible. The original Radburn principle had been for detached houses but at Sutton Hill the higher-density public housing (with terraces of houses) had shorter access roads which did not reach all the houses and the garages were sometimes 50 metres from the houses. A cheap and rapid industrialised building process was chosen – a timber-framed design with external wall faces in weather-boarding, brick and tile, described at the time as ‘rationalised traditional’.

Another view from Sutton Hill (below), this time towards Madeley. Work has just commenced on grading the site prior to building work.’From the churchyard I could see them building new houses up Sutton Hill. I though they looked funny, kind of blue and white. Well, we didn’t have blue and white around here’. Fred Owen – The Madeley Book.

‘I grew up in Hadley. It used to be a popular thing on a Sunday afternoon to come down to the Madeley area to see the new housing, we had never seen anything like it. They were popularly described as pigeon coops’. Rob Breeze – The Madeley Book.

It was said that there was not enough variety in the housing and that they were too close together although they were very nice inside. In fact there were eleven types of housing ranging from one bedroomed flats to five varieties of three bedroomed houses. (Dawley Observer 7 August 1968)

In July 1967 an article entitled ‘Settling in at Sutton Hill’ was published in the Dawley Observer. (Dawley Observer 5 July 1967) ‘Once and for all let’s try and quieten the unnecessary talk about the difficulties, unsuitability and nastiness of Sutton Hill. The majority of grumbles and complaints come from local people who know very little about the target of their complaints. Most of them have been no nearer than the main road let alone living in the houses. We have been here for about seven weeks now and after the initial chaos of moving into a new house with its muddy floors and paint splashed windows, we are perfectly happy ”To critics I say ‘Live here and know what it’s all about. I put up with living in the barracks as the houses have been called and as yet I have not seen any of the rows fall over as was predicted by a critic.

If you don’t like them, don’t pull them to pieces without knowing a thing about them. Be honest that they are modern and futuristic in a rather old fashioned and outdated area. Or could it be that they don’t like the idea of new people – someone infiltrating and coming into their dozy little world?’

‘The first work of site preparation began in 1965, the pastoral centre was blessed in June 1966 by a visit from the Archbishop of Canterbury (see picture, below), and the first house was ready and just about occupied by the time of a visit by the Queen on 17 March 1967. The first baby of parents living on the new estate was born on 25 April 1967 (Dawley Observer 26 April 1967)

There was now the problem of encouraging newcomers to settle in the New Town.

‘The original thing, which was pie in the sky, was that there was a great sociological blueprint for it. Sutton Hill was going to be an ideal community. They were originally very selective in the lettings, they wanted to have a complete cross-section of people, manual workers, doctors, lawyers. But that broke down, the lawyers and the doctors did not come. People were interviewed at length in the early days. But it was a complete non-starter and they soon dropped it’. Rob Breeze – The Madeley Book.

When questioned by a BBC interviewer, Mr. Willetts, the housing manager for the Development Corporation, said that people were chosen for a new estate house by being nominated by employers, currently by the established industries in and near the New Town, and that people were moving in fair numbers. (Dawley Observer October 1968)

Another tactic was to bring coachloads of families to Sutton Hill to see the New Town facilities for themselves

Others told a different story as to how they found themselves living in Sutton Hill.

‘A bus conductor gave my husband this card which told him about Telford, he filled it in and posted it and then completely forgot to tell me about it. Not long after that, we had a letter from the Telford Development Corporation and Mr. Nicholls, I think his name was, came to see us and offered us a three-bed roomed house if we could furnish it’. Margaret Craig – The Madeley Book.

And there were real worries that the houses at Sutton Hill were not being occupied by those for whom they were intended – the Birmingham overspill – but by people from other parts of the county. (Dawley Observer 6 March 1968). In fact newcomers came from many parts of the UK and the globe to find work and get away from domestic troubles. Sutton Hill welcomed the Irish and the Ugandans alike.

‘Everyone was in the same boat, everyone together, all the kids got on’. Linda Doolan – The Madeley Book.
Official statistics were maintained throughout the last years of the 1960’s to analyse the place of origin of the new families. For instance in the six months from March to September 1968, 245 families moved into Sutton Hill – 19 (7.8%) from elsewhere in the New Town area, 48 (19.6%) from elsewhere in Shropshire, 100 (40.8%) from Birmingham and its conurbations and 78 (31.8%) from elsewhere in the UK.

For the newcomers there were very practical problems:

The estates confused me to be honest. I was used to streets. In fact, I went out one day and I had to ask someone where the shops were so I could find my way home’..’ The view from my sitting room was the flats opposite bedroom’. Sarah Musgrave – The Madeley Book.

Other new residents remarked on the strangeness of the lack of traffic and that walking around Sutton Hill was like trying to find your way out of a maze. (Dawley Observer 27 March 1968).

Some newcomers regarded themselves as pioneers and rose to meet the challenge of the changed life style. For others it led to New Town Blues which the Development Corporation tried to rectify by enhancing the role of the community centres and placing social workers on the estates. As early as February 1968 the residents at Sutton Hill formed the Sutton Hill Residents Advisory Committee through which problems on the estate could be presented to the Development Corporation and to help start a social life on the estate. (Dawley Observer 14 February 1968).

Throughout 1968 the development of the centre of Sutton Hill moved on quickly.

The first two shops – a chemists and a newsagents – were opened at Sutton Hill centre in March 1968. By then 335 houses had been completed and dwellings were being handed over at a rate of seven to fourteen per week. (Dawley Observer 6 March 1968). It had been planned that the commercial centre would begin just about when the 300th family moved in – much earlier than in other new towns. (Dawley Observer, 26 February 1969).

In May of that year Dawley New Town’s first public house was officially opened – the Red Admiral – in the shopping precinct at Sutton Hill, designed especially to blend in with the rest of the development. (Dawley Observer 29 May 1968). The infant school was also opened in this month.

In July the local centre was officially opened by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham. By this time the centre comprised a community centre, a child health centre, a library and the pastoral centre. In the community centre there was an assembly hall, coffee bar, kitchens and various committee and general meeting rooms. (Dawley Observer 3 July 1968). All within safe walking distance from the houses. The grouped dwellings for the elderly were sited within 3-400 yards from the shops. (Dawley Observer, 26 February 1969).

During the autumn of 1968, Sutton Hill was featured on BBC Radio’s Woman’s Hour. Several women were interviewed about life in the New Town and they gave an overall rosy picture of friendly neighbours, increasing social activities and the only emotional problems being associated with settling the pet cats. (Dawley Observer October 1968).