In the Block Capital project, we’re looking at a number of specific tower blocks in the Black Country, in Bilston, Willenhall, Darlaston, Wednesbury and Tipton. But these number just 20 of the 276 blocks that were built by the various local authorities in the region. I now find myself looking out at tower blocks all the time, that previously resonated very little with me.
Stourbridge Urban District Council was one of the Urban District Councils to build fewer blocks, in fact only the three: Firmstone Court on Wollaston High Street, and Kennedy and Baylie Courts on Green Street. I walk past these last two regularly, situated as they are on my way out of town, right on the ring road. Of course, it wasn’t always so. The site was E. Baylie & Co. Chain Works, right up to 1961 when the company was moved to Netherton some years after a take-over by the famous Noah Hingley & Sons (manufacturers of the Titanic anchor and chains, amongst other things).
The two blocks were built by the UDC between 1963 and 1965 – so are very nearly 50 years old – and are 14 storeys and 39.6 metres high. The timing might also explain the names: Baylie is obvious, but given this last week’s commemoration of the assassination of JFK, perhaps Kennedy is named for the president, killed just as building got underway.
At the time of building they were accessed off Green Street for Kennedy Court (South West of the site) and from Hemplands Road and New Street for Baylie Court. This was soon to change as the ring road was blasted through the warren of smaller streets on the western side of Stourbridge town centre in 1969. By the map of the 1970s, things look very different indeed, with the tower blocks matched by a multistorey car park on the opposite side of the ring road (itself recently blasted out of the way in the name of progress, or Tesco, however you wish).
And that’s pretty how much how they stand today, with the town centre generally built on the same lines as this aerial view from 1976. Baylie Court featured in the news earlier this year due to a fatal fire; Kennedy Court in a Guardian article about Clegg-mania that now looks desperately outdated.
It’s going to be pretty much great fun having a proper dig into the tower blocks of the Black Country. They’re iconic yet so often ignored; a futuristic solution that, like the article, appear hopelessly out of date.