Concrete Jungle

Clifford Court, West Smethwick
Clifford Court, West Smethwick

Many thanks to Kate Gordon, who got in touch after last week’s post on the concrete jungle of the West Smethwick estate. She very kindly provided some fantastic photos showing just how the estate got its nickname – doesn’t take a great stretch of imagination does it!

The estate was officially titled Galton Village, or alternatively the West Smethwick Estate. These photos were taken in 1985-6 when consultation was being conducted for re-painting some of the blocks. It was hardly the Broadwater Farm mural – residents ended up with the off-white below, a mint green or a mushroom brown.

West Smethwick estate after re-painting
West Smethwick estate after re-painting
West Smethwick Estate
West Smethwick Estate
Heron Court, West Smethwick Estate
Heron Court, West Smethwick Estate
West Smethwick Estate - not sure if the block in the background is Sandfield Point or Malthouse Point?
West Smethwick Estate – not sure if the block in the background is Sandfield Point or Malthouse Point?

These pictures are pretty amazing really. They depict the tipping point of a political and social moment, just before estates like this began to be either razed to the ground or completely renovated. The heavily modernist architecture was supposed to be the future – the likes of Le Corbusier, Goldfinger or the Smithsons were held up not just as planners but as urban theorists. Perhaps that was the problem: it takes more than architecture to create a community. The pictures stand almost as a relic now – so much work has been done on estates like this now that you’ll be hard pressed to find similarly-grim conditions these days – at least aesthetically.

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50 Replies to “Concrete Jungle”

  1. As grim as they looked, good times were had on the jungle. Nobody was any better or worse than their neighbour, we were all in the same pot. I think the jungle should have been kept, not destroyed. I was gutted when it fell. This estate had a community which was tied together in more ways than just a postcode. Even today when I drive past, I don’t see the new houses, I see what was.

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  2. In disrepair, and litter-strewn, housing developments of this era don’t appeal to most of us now as good places to live. I do wonder whether, if the architects who conceived them had been given sufficient budget and authority for ongoing maintenance and even evolution of the buildings, they might have been able to show a fulfilment of the radical idealism with which they were built. Fashions change, and I predict that we will look back one day with interest and appreciation at “brutalist” architecture as completely redolent of its times. It will be a rarity, after all.

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    1. I agree – a housing solution isn’t a one-off payment to deal with a problem.

      There’s already quite a following for a lot of brutalist architecture – the Trellick Tower in North Kensington (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trellick_Tower) for example is now highly sought after, despite being an hive of villainy in its time. I could cite Park Hill in Sheffield, Preston Bus Station and the Barbican flats too, all listed buildings. Owen Hatherley’s would be a good place to start for that: http://urbantrawl.blogspot.co.uk/

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  3. I spent the first 18 years of my life on the jungle and I miss the community feeling from then I can honestly say I have never had as much fun anywhere else I have lived .
    My family was moved out when they where being demolished modernised the estate now has its own police station I mean yea it was bit rough when I was there but we didn’t need a permanent police presence

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  4. I was brought up on the concrete jungle those were the best days of my life miss then so much it will always b the the concrete jungle to me best days was livin on there

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      1. Best days off my life. Everyone new each other and could walk round at night and know you would be safe. No chance off that now. You just have to make sure your locked behind doors after dark.

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  5. i grew up on the jungle and meet some wanderfull friends which i still see today like jackie my best friend that shouted for me just from her bedroom window lol and my other friends i grew up with and never forget them. them times are my childhood memories that will never leave my life .xxx

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  6. I never lived on the jungle but spent most of my life down there my dad Tony Pembrey and my grandparents lived there mainly at Bute Court but they were moved to Sandpiper Court then Thames Court during the re-mods my dad still lives there 46 years now I don’t think he’ll ever move he calls it “His Jungle” lol but always says he misses the old jungle before it was a community now its just an estate shame really

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    1. i used to live on brown sea court. we moved in when the estate was first built . I remember the Pembreys well.my mum even let one of the sisters, Jackie I think? borrow her wedding dress. I also remember the Kelly family

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  7. My dad lived on Clyde court and still lives on there today my mom worked in the pub when I was little and my uncle as a garage next to the sauna and still going today fixing the land rovers

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  8. We lived in Clifford court & we had great neibours, was a good community. I worked at the Waggon pub & knew nearly everyone off the estate & both blocks of flats great folks all of them

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    1. Hi Mary, we lived at 16 Clifford court i recall, it was my mum dad and two sisters i don’t recall any other Asians then we left in 1989 after 7 years or so, the grass infront then the main road infront and of course my primary school Nine Leasowes, happy days and community that i will never forget, feeling sad thinking about it now.

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  9. I lived in Clyde Court from 1972 until 1981 when we moved to Langley; we had some great friends there and those houses were great. We heard of problems with some but none with ours. My dad Graham was the Littlewoods pools collector and I used to help him on a Friday night. Happy times. It saddens me when I read some of the rubbish that non-residents spout.

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  10. My brother n I was born on brownsea court (21) and my mom had close friends near by and we are all still friends today. later on we moved bk on the jungle on maple court where my 2 sisters was born we really enjoyed the community of the state

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    1. HI Gina, I lived at No. 11 Runnymeade Court and left in 1983 unfortunately my brother Thomas was killed there aged 5. I remember I lived next door to the Wilkes family, we had the Eggington family further down who else lived there?

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      1. Hi Ray (Raymond as I recall).
        Dean Cavanagh, lived at No. 9 from 1972 to 1988.
        I was in the same year at George Betts as Tracy. Still think about Thomas reguraly. Such a horrible day. Also remember my dad (Jock) saving Steven from a beating one evening….

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      2. Hi Dean,

        I remember you and your brother (not his name??) and of course your Dad Jock but who was Steven – was he your brother?
        I remember very fondly us making an igloo in your garden one winter and your Mom giving us ice cream in it – we must have been about 9, 10 and 11?
        I hope all are OK and well – please pass on my best.

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  11. i spent most of my life on this estate life was good when i was a kid everyone knew each other friendships were formed out of a feeling of togetherness i have never felt anywhere else i miss the old jungle the thing they replaced it with is nowhere near as friendly!!!

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  12. But it was a community. The first wave of people worked together. Watched each others kids play. Put together community events like jumble sales, coffee mornings for Avon and Tupperware parties. Even the great parties like the silver jubilee. Those areas you show covered in rubbish were spotless. People took pride in their estate.

    Then the council started moving in the families who were evicted from other places. Problem families with problem kids and it just started going downhill. The ‘good’ families started moving out, worried about the influence on their kids and they were replaced by people who were either evicted from elsewhere or were desperate to get a council house or had no idea of how the estate had started to go downhill. Some courts became no go areas and the good people were afraid to go out. Rubbish was dumped and the council stopped repairing the houses or clearing the rubbish.

    It was a good place to live once.

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  13. I’ve lived on the jungle for 27years(all my life) I remember when they blew up the flats. The jungle is not the same. Most people don’t know their neighbours now although luckily I do. There is still a lot of the original people living there. I used to love the old jungle where as kids you could play out and not have parents worry about you as everyone knew who you were. The old kwik save, the bottom park (as we kids called it with Janet and June running things) and can’t forget the spon croft pub. 🙂

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    1. I lived in Bardsley Court also … i think my house was 3 doors from the end, and we were the only Asian family on that court.

      We were poor but i never felt it.. some great times there …

      Syed

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      1. yes it was number 4. there was a wonderful family that lived further down bardes court and the lady was such an amazing person…. she had a couple of sons and i will never forget her she made such an impression on me…

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  14. We were one of the first families to move into the jungle on Mallard Court and we stayed there for eleven years. My family look at it and say ‘ my good it looks terrible ‘ and reply is always ‘ I wouldn’t have changed it for the world’. As a kid every day was an adventure and the community spirit was something that you rarely find nowadays and I’ve certainly not found it wherever I have lived since. Everyone looked out for each other. Special times.

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  15. I spent the first 6 or 7 years of my life at 5 rowan court between 77 and 83 ish. My parents were John and Karen Hughes, and we lived near the Kelly family….good friends we were the two families, but I remember all the kids being friends which was lovely.

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  16. My family ‘Massey’ lived in both Bute Court and Runnymeade Court. We had great times and very sad times on the ‘Jungle’. Very good and long lasting friendships were formed – everybody knew each other and although we had nothing, most of us were in the same boat.
    We had a house fire in Bute Court and had to be moved to Runnymeade Court – In 1983 my brother Thomas was killed – crushed against the side of the housing block by a car out of control.
    My Mother ‘Avril’ still lived there until her death 11 years ago however her Husband Geoff is still on the revamped Jungle.
    I would love to see more pictures as I don’t have any!!
    I think the experience of the Concrete Jungle has made me the person I am today 🙂

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