The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson: Moving to new council houses

Landmark: A proud day for the old Dewsbury Corporation when the new tenants moved into the 6000th house to be built in Thornhill on Foxroyd Lane. I believe the new tenants were Alfred Lockwood and  his wife Alice, pictured with the Mayor Councillor Wilkinson, and Councillor Hector Nunns, surrounded by officials of the Dewsbury Corporation and watched by interested youngsters. I feel sure the tall gentleman on the right with a moustache was Mr Grace, the head of the Dewsbury housing department.
Landmark: A proud day for the old Dewsbury Corporation when the new tenants moved into the 6000th house to be built in Thornhill on Foxroyd Lane. I believe the new tenants were Alfred Lockwood and his wife Alice, pictured with the Mayor Councillor Wilkinson, and Councillor Hector Nunns, surrounded by officials of the Dewsbury Corporation and watched by interested youngsters. I feel sure the tall gentleman on the right with a moustache was Mr Grace, the head of the Dewsbury housing department.

Moving people from areas where they had lived all their lives on to huge housing estates on the outskirts of town was a huge upheaval for many in the 1950s and 60s.

Although people were glad to be moving from their old back-to-back houses into spacious new council houses with all mod cons, it was at first a culture shock too far.

Margaret Watson.

Margaret Watson.

Thousands of people were uprooted and instead of the corporation moving them street by street, they moved them house by house.

One family could be moved from Batley Carr to Thornhill while their next door neighbour was moved to Chickenley.

Life-long friends and families were separated and family ties were broken as people were moved from one end of town to the other.

In 1956 there were more council houses in Thornhill than anywhere else in the borough, the first having been built in 1926 on the Castle Mount Estate, and later Overthorpe Avenue and Doubting Road.

The last two estates to be built there were known as the Mountain Estate and the Foxroyd Estate, both adding hundreds more new houses in Thornhill.

These early pioneers of council house living might have loved their new houses but they didn’t like having to get buses to go shopping in Dewsbury or to visit a cinema.

For most, especially those from Westtown, Eastborough, the Flatts, Savile Town, Batley Carr and Springfield, such amenities had been only a few minutes away.

It took many years before such families settled down and loosened their ties with their old communities, which by this time had been completely flattened.

In 1956, on the Mountain Estate, 250 houses, 34 flats, and 18 old people’s bungalows were built, the rent for the houses being £1 5s 0d a week.

One resident, who had been moved to the Mountain Estate, complained he was spending more on shoe leather getting to the shops than he did in the shops themselves.

But he had no complaints about the house. He said: “After living in a one-up-one down, I was more than glad to move into this one.”

Families moving from Ravensthorpe to Thornhill were shocked to receive letters from the education department saying there were no places at the Thornhill School for their children because they were full up

They had to go back to their old school in Ravensthorpe, a distance of five miles, whereas before, their school had been just across the road

Their father said: “It’s wrong that young children have to travel all that way just because the corporation built new estates out here in the country without building new schools at the same time.”

Mrs E Rhodes, who had moved from Mill Road, Batley Carr to Mountain Crescent, said: “Living here in my new home is like living in paradise.”

And Mrs L Stringer, at the age of 87, one of the oldest inhabitants on the Mountain estate, said she had no complaints and was highly delighted with her beautiful new flat.

Her neighbour, Mrs E Shaw, was also well satisfied and felt lucky there were no children in their block, which ensured there was no noise.

Others, however, complained that the gardens had been made open plan and tenants were not allowed to build fences because the planners had wanted the estate to develop into one big natural garden.

Another tenant said it was a ridiculous idea which was doomed to failure because most of the tenants were not keen gardeners.

Other residents said children were continually making a nuisance of themselves because no playgrounds had been provided.

These were strange comments to make by people who had lived in streets where children had played freely on their doorstep.

Some tenants complained they had not been given help towards the cost of decorating their new houses, especially after they had just incurred the cost of buying new furniture.

Many grumbled they couldn’t afford to re-decorate, and had to spend the first few years with the walls coated in a dull grey lime-wash.

Others complained the council had not finished resurfacing the roads or pavements before allowing the tenants to move in.

When it rained the unmade roads became like mud baths and ruined their clothes and shoes.

But by the early 1960s, much of what people were complaining of had been sorted, and the council was proud to announce that their 6,000th new houses had been built in Thornhill, a remarkable achievement.

But there was another part of Thornhill which had existed long before the new houses were built, and here everyone knew each other and there was an established community.

This was “old” Thornhill which had its own churches and pubs and clubs, and even its own social club which had been built in 1948, and is still running today.

Gradually, people settled down in their new homes, and Thornhill became a real home to those thousands who had come from all corners of the town.

These “newcomers” eventually built up their own communities, and when their children married they became true “Thornhillers” who wanted to stay in the village which they now called their own.

If you have memories of your first council house, and would like to share them, please email me, tresham3@gmail.com. I would love to hear about them.