Not that many writers have buildings named after them, and even fewer then suffer the indignity of the dedicated building being demolished within three and a half decades of its completion (though twenty-seven years after Greenwood’s death at least). For that period (between 1964 and 2001), Walter Greenwood Court was a monument (or anti-monument) to Greenwood’s account of life in Hanky Park, and in itself an example of the very different kind of housing which it was thought should replace it – a strand of post-war thinking about city-planning made concrete. As the building’s demolition in the second year of the twenty-first century suggests, its success as a response to long-term poor housing in many parts of Salford was not for all time, and indeed it was regarded and experienced in a range of ways over the thirty-seven years it was lived in by Salford citizens.
Walter Greenwood Court was one of three ‘high-rises’ built in Salford in the early nineteen-sixties as part of a very long awaited redevelopment to replace housing in the slum area often known as Hanky Park, which had been repeatedly judged inadequate by social commentators and housing inspectors from at least as far back as the nineteen thirties. (1) The other two high rises were Eddie Colman Court and John Lester Court. Eddie Colman (1936-1958) was born in Ordsall, Salford, and played football for Manchester United from 1952 until his dreadfully premature death in the Munich Air disaster on 6 February 1958. John Lester seems less well-remembered, but I think he must have been the John Lester who was Mayor of Salford in 1955-6 (see https://www.salford.gov.uk/your-council/ceremonial-mayor-of-salford/civic-history/previous-mayors/). Both Eddie Colman and John Lester Court still stand, and are now in use as privately-owned accommodation for students at the University of Salford.
As early as 1954, the Manchester Evening News headlined an article, ‘ “Skyscrapers” to Go Up Soon?’ (16/11/1954, p.5), though in fact the detail of the report explained that Salford Housing Committee was in dispute with the Ministry of Housing about the dimensions of each unit in the blocks (the Ministry wanted less generous provision, but a Committee spokesman told the paper that ‘it was against our policy to reduce standards’). By 1958, the Manchester Guardian could confidently announce in its headline: ’15-Storey Flats for Salford – a New Hanky Park’ (30 August 1958, p.10). In 1958 the same paper published a letter which shows that progress was being made on the Ellor Street site, and that at least one Manchester citizen approved of the mainly high-rise redevelopment policy being adopted in Salford, which they contrasted with the mainly low-rise policy in Manchester:
Rehouse Upwards – Not Outwards!
The Ellor Street area of Salford is being redeveloped with tall flats – interspersed with lower buildings to give a proper balance – with the result that nearly as many people as are a present living there will be provided with new homes. Why cannot Manchester follow this example? … Salford have already realised that their recent overspill policy has left them with a seriously reduced population containing too high a proportion of old people, and future plans envisage the rehousing of as many families as possible within the city boundary (8/9/1958, p.4, W.S. Roe, 31 Ellesmire Rd, Eccles).
The month before the paper had published a short item about families from Ellor Street living in houses due for demolition who strongly wished to be rehoused in the same area:
People in the Ellor Street area of Pendleton – Hanky Park in Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole – have insisted on staying in Salford when three-hundred houses are demolished. So many have refused to go to Little Hulton [a low-rise ‘overspill housing development a considerable distance away] . . . that the city is to build 15-storey flats in the area, it was announced today. (30/8/1958, p.8).
And shortly before that the Manchester Guardian reported on a legal appeal by a handful of Ellor Street householders who felt even more strongly and wanted to make the case that their houses were fit for continued habitation. Again, the link to Greenwood and Love on the Dole featured strongly in the article:
Love on Dole Street Visited
After a public enquiry at Salford yesterday, a Ministry of Housing Inspector visited the little street on which Walter Greenwood, the Salford-born novelist, based his book Love on the Dole.
Earlier . . . the Inspector heard an appeal by thirteen objectors against a compulsory purchase order by the city council affecting 329 houses, two public-houses, three shops and three other buildings in the Ellor Street No.1 area, which in his book Greenwood named ‘Hankey Park’. . .
Dr J.L. Burn, the city medical officer of health said that all the houses in the area were unfit for habitation and there was serious overcrowding. The houses were at least a hundred years old and everywhere there was visible evidence of decay; in only eighteen was there provision for hot water [and] the most unhealthy feature was dampness (June 26 1958, p.26).
After due consideration, the Inquiry clearly ruled against the objections and supported the view of Dr Burns.
Though not all reports about the redevelopment made reference to Greenwood or Love on the Dole, the two were repeatedly linked, appropriately forming a strong nexus between Greenwood’s work, pre-war slums and poverty, and post-war housing development, and thus about the trajectory of British social life (though one notes that people were still living in what seem poor conditions in Ellor Street thirteen years after 1945 – and did so for six more years or so while it awaited demolition). Salford Corporation even marked the association between author and place by presenting Greenwood with the no-longer needed ‘sixty-year old wooden name-plate from Hankinson Street, Pendleton, which gave its name to Hanky Park … the street is being demolished under a slum clearance scheme’ (The Guardian, 10 March 1960, p.18). The cast of a production of Love on the Dole in Crewe in 1975 made a kind of pilgrimage to Hanky Park / the Ellor Street redevelopment as part of their research into the origins of Greenwood’s play, seeing the place as a focus for a shared national history:
Research for ‘Love on the Dole’
The Crewe Theatre Company, who are now presenting Love On The Dole devoted a great deal of time in researching the piece. As well as talking to Crewe people who had first-hand experience of the Depression they have made trips to Salford and in particular Hanky Park. the rows of mean streets where the story was set.
Hanky Park is gone now. Hankinson Street which gave Its name to the area is now Hankinson Way, a concrete and glass shopping precinct in the middle of a vast high-rise development scheme. The people are still there, however, and the company recorded many of them talking about the old days to help learn the accents. They heard people’s reminiscences about Love On The Dole and its author Walter Greenwood who was known to many of them as ‘a bit of a romantic’. In Crewe, the story of Love On The Dole should have as much significance as anywhere else. Those of us who did not live through the depression of the 30s will have heard tales from our parents who did. In some places every other man was out of work (Nantwich Chronicle, 30 October 1975, p. 8).
In 1983 an article by Louis Herren in the Illustrated London News about redevelopment across Britain between the thirties and the post-war period saw the Salford work as a long-term success:
If Cobbett and Orwell could have come with me [on a tour of Britain’s once poorest cities] . . . they would have been astonished by Hanky Park in Salford, one of the more distressed cities in the north-west. This was the terrible slum which Walter Greenwood wrote about in Love on the Dole, but it is now a well-planned housing estate with a good shopping-centre, pubs and a balanced mix of high-rise and conventional housing ( ‘Louis Herren’s Rides’, 1 May 1983, p.36).
Insider views were more mixed and while starting off positively, became less so over time as interviews quoted on the Municipal Dreams blog-site suggest:
We would have preferred a house, but now we find that we really like living in these flats, I think that they are lovely and the rents are fair (Dorothy Huckle, 1964?)
All my friends moved to Ellor Street, which was all high-rise 70s flats and a new shopping precinct built all out of concrete. It was rotten, horrible; like a concrete wasteland. And that was when it opened (Peter Hook, 1970s?) (2)
A fine BBC North documentary, Close Up North: Love on the Dole was filmed in and around Walter Greenwood Court, during the early nineteen-nineties. By that time, the tower-block was in temporary use as a hostel for homeless young people, and the documentary implicitly and movingly compared their contemporary poverty with that of those living in Hanky Park in the nineteen-thirties (directed by Lyn Webster Wilde, Halcyon Productions, broadcast 1 December 1994; a copy is held in the Salford University Archives Walter Greenwood Collection, WGC/7/18/3). The documentary probably contains some of the few and last filmed images of both the interior and exterior of Walter Greenwood Court.
There are a few comments made by Greenwood himself about the high-rises which replaced the streets and dreadful housing he grew up in. In his last and unpublished novel, It Takes All Sorts, there is a relatively neutral but not exactly enthusiastic description of Manchester and Salford as they undergo development, linked to the viewpoint of the character Minnie, but sounding more like a narrator’s voice:
Mid-twentieth century town-planning had razed great tracts of slumdom leaving no-man’s lands on whose windy deserts could be seen in completed, preliminary and advanced stages of building the multi-storied flats and the motor ways, some elevated, which would make up the face of tomorrow’s city. (3)
A few other responses from him showing a similar ambivalence are recorded in his 1973 Kersal Flats interview. Parts of this are filmed in front of Walter Greenwood Court, and though Greenwood makes no reference to the building named after him, he does make clear that while he thinks Hanky Park had very inadequate homes, and that the welfare state had greatly improved the quality of working-class life, he thinks that there has nevertheless been a loss of community in the new Salford and links this to the new high-rises. (4) In short, while Greenwood fully saw the utter inadequacy of housing in Hanky Park and was glad to see it go, he had some doubts about the high-rise replacements, and perhaps some strictly limited nostalgia about the urban environment he grew up in.
Note 1. See for example quotations from observers in the nineteen-thirties and a housing inspector in the nineteen-forties on John Boughton’s excellent Municipal Dreams blog on the Ellor Street development ( 8 October 2016): https://municipaldreams.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/ellor-street-redevelopment-salford/ . See the next blog on the same site for further discussion of responses to the new housing: https://municipaldreams.wordpress.com/2016/11/15/salford_of_the_space_age/ .
Note 2. The first quotation is from http://salfordonline.com/1330-50-years-ago-space-age-salford-high-rise-dream-comes-true.html, and is cited on https://municipaldreams.wordpress.com/2016/11/15/salford_of_the_space_age/ . The second quotation comes from this blog-site as well, but its original source is not clear.
Note 3. The Walter Greenwood Collection in the University of Salford Archives has a number of manuscript and typescript drafts of this novel, which Greenwood was working on from the late nineteen-sixties until at least 1970. The first mention of the project on contemporary Manchester was in an interview with the Aberdeen Press and Journal (27 October, 1967, p.10). The drafts of the novel differ mainly in terms of very numerous handwritten additions or alterations (more or less on every page) and in several supplementary typed chapters inserted. This quotation comes from WGP1/28/1, identified on the Archive hard-binding as ‘ It Takes All Sorts, E Carbon Copy’, Chapter 2, p.7.