A paradise, what an idea! Defending the English council estate

Waites, Ian (2013) A paradise, what an idea! Defending the English council estate. In: Unofficial Histories, 15-16 June 2013, Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


This paper highlights my research on the Middlefield Lane council estate in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, which was completed in 1965. The estate was the product of post-World War Two local and central government policy to provide new housing for working-class families, and of progressive, modernist, ideas in architecture and planning. ‘Progress’, however, has not been kind to council estates like Middlefield, which has been subject to a process of planned neglect, driven by disinvestment and decreasing support for the social democratic ideals of the welfare state. Strident critiques of the design and planning of the council estate from both media and academic sources have also underpinned a routinely negative view of these places to the point where they are routinely and stereotypically viewed as outdated, rundown and almost worthless. In contrast, this paper will celebrate the council estate. Through the examination of a number of overlooked physical details of the Middlefield Lane estate as it was originally planned and developed, the paper will call into question some of the criticisms that have been made of estates like this. By mixing architectural history, social history and, in particular, first-hand memories of the estate, the paper will show that it was a carefully planned environment with a rich and meaningful history and meaning of its own. In the final analysis, it will be argued that the estate was a model of the progressive optimism of the post-war decades, and that the deeper study of these estates can counteract the prevailing view that they are emblematic of a social democratic experiment that was, and still is, set up to fail.

Keywords:Council Estates, Town planning, Social Memory
Subjects:K Architecture, Building and Planning > K421 Urban Planning
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V214 English History
L Social studies > L722 Urban Geography
K Architecture, Building and Planning > K450 Housing
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Art & Design
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ID Code:12630
Deposited On:04 Dec 2013 17:11

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