The ‘Swinging Sixties’ effect on housebuilding

Re-building Bolton in the post-war years

To celebrate 100 years of social housing, we’ve been telling the Bolton housebuilding story across the decades. In this edition, we turn our attention to the 1960s – or the Swinging Sixties as the decade has come to be known.

The 1960s was a period of rapid social change. With National Service abolished, teenagers were finally given the freedom to do what they wanted. With that freedom came a cultural shift, and the music of the 60s – coming from bands like The Beatles, The Who and The Rolling Stones – reflected a change in the identity and ideologies of young people.

In Bolton, families had more money to spend on leisure activities and holidays. With more factory jobs available, many bought cars, televisions and time-saving household appliances. For the first time, virtually all homes had electricity.

In 1960 the average house price in Britain was £2,530 and a loaf of bread cost 5p.

While more people had extra money in their pockets, a good percentage of the population were still living in poverty. The 1966 BBC television play, Cathy Come Home, told the story of a young family’s struggle with homelessness. The gritty documentary-style drama shocked the nation and brought housing into the public psyche and onto the political agenda. It led to the creation of Shelter as well as a number of independent housing associations.

A clipping from Bolton News about ‘Homes for the space age’

Space age housebuilding

During the 60s private and council housebuilding hit a peak of just over 400,000 a year. In Bolton, around 3,500 social housing properties were built.

New styles of architecture were emerging, including high-rise buildings and the use of concrete and steel.

Bolton looked to Scandinavia for modern methods of design and construction. Bolton council built what the Bolton News referred to as ‘Homes for the Space Age’ in Breightmet – at what is now the Eastfield estate.

Bolton Council also toyed with the idea of working with famous architect, Richard Seifert, to modernise the town centre. The Swiss-born architect was responsible for many of London’s tallest buildings, including the Centre Point Tower in Camden and the buildings around Euston Station. Unfortunately, his futuristic vision for Bolton didn’t go ahead and all that remains is the artist’s impression.

Better quality homes

In 1961, The Parker Morris Committee wrote an influential report on public housing standards. The committee recognised that whilst housing needed to be affordable, quality living was just as important. It set a range of standards for housebuilders to follow such as room size, minimum toilet and plumbing standards, kitchen space, temperature control and ventilation.

The report was initially a set of recommendations, but in 1967 the standards became mandatory. By 1980, spending on public housebuilding had soared. As a result, the government removed the mandatory clause.

School Hill regeneration

During the 60s, Bolton Council embarked on its biggest regeneration yet. In School Hill, the slums were cleared to make way for high-rise flats.

In particular, Skagen Court with its 239 flats was heralded as a blueprint for future housing. It followed the on-trend Scandinavian style, with spacious rooms and large picture windows that looked out onto a central grassy area. By the 1990s, it had structural problems and a leaky roof, and was demolished in 2004.

Several other high-rise blocks were built in the area during the 60s, which have since been demolished.

The School Hill regeneration taking shape

Skagen Court was designed in a Scandinavian style with spacious rooms and big windows

Crosby House and Golborne House were built as part of the School Hill regeneration

Development of the Thornbank estate

Across town, an area around Deane Road known historically at the Old Pocket, was also pinpointed for slum clearance. This was to become the new Thornbank estate with three 11-storey tower blocks – Rogerstead, Fernstead and Blackshaw House. Alongside these blocks, 114 houses and bungalows for older people were built.

Thornbank remains a thriving community today and an external refurbishment of the tower blocks was completed by Bolton at Home in 2019.

Original drawings of the Thornbank estate

A newspaper clipping about the clearing of slums in the Old Pocket

A scheme worthy of an award

In 1962, Bolton Council announced that it was taking a new approach to corporation housing for older people. Greenway on the Hall i’ th’ Wood estate would be more about design than cost. The newly-appointed borough architect said the scheme for Greenway would be revolutionary as it would provide modern, attractive, good-quality living for older people. Built in 1965, it was nominated for an award in the Ministry of Housing’s Good Design Awards. Unfortunately, there are no records to show whether it won or not.

This development, and others like it, paved the way for a different approach to housing design. The belief was that well-designed places were more important to public health than lower cost, high density housing.

A model showing Greenway on the Hall i’ th’ Wood estate

An artist’s impression of Greenway shows a more modern approach to housing design

Town centre plans by famous architect, Richard Seifert, didn’t get the green light.

It’s often said that if the 50s were in black and white then the 60s were in technicolour. In many ways, it was a decade of exploration – space travel and experimental fashion, music and art defined the 60s. It was also a progressive decade for housebuilding. New methods of design and construction were tested and homes were developed on a large scale. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s more homes were built than at any other time in British history.

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