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Towards a prouder Preston – post war disaster?

Posted on - 6th February, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Avenham, History, Housing, Preston News
The now demolished Brunswick Street flats Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The now demolished Brunswick Street flats Pic: Preston Digital Archive

During the immediate post-war period, thousands of houses were demolished in Preston. By the 1960s tower blocks dominated the landscape. Unfortunately, they rapidly became damp and unpopular. Some lasted for less than 40 years before being demolished. 

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Unlike the more unfortunate cities, Preston was not remodelled by the Luftwaffe; that was left to the council.

The town centre was blitzed and a new ring road was built. This dual carriageway has taken traffic off Fishergate but it is not exactly attractive.

Towards a prouder Preston was the name of the plan produced by Preston Council, in 1946. 32,000 of the town’s houses were built before 1890. Consequently one sixth of them were deemed unfit and would have to be demolished. A massive house building programme ensued with large swathes of the town being ‘redeveloped’. 

A soldier’s return

Prefab houses, Yewtree Avenue, Preston Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Prefab houses, Yewtree Avenue, Preston Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Demobbed soldiers had shoddy prefab houses to look forward to. Some of them were used well into the 1960s. Above, new build housing can be seen under construction behind the prefabs. Preston resembled a bomb site through much of the 1950s and 1960s.

The map below shows the new post war housing areas.

Map showing new post war housing areas Pic: LCC
Map showing new post war housing areas Pic: LCC

Preston’s house clearances in the 1950s 

One of the first areas to be cleared, in 1955, was around the not-aptly named Pleasant Street and Brunswick Street, in Avenham. 209 houses were compulsorily purchased and communities began to be be demolished.

Map of the Avenham area in the 1930s Pic: LCC
Map of the Avenham area in the 1930s Pic: LCC

Rows and rows of terraced houses succumbed to the bulldozer.

Pleasant Street Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Pleasant Street Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The Avenham area today Pic: Google
The Avenham area today Pic: Google

Today, some of the Avehnam flats are still in use, others did not survive.

Demolishing the old Town Hall, another mistake?

1947 Town Hall fire Pic: Preston Digital Archive
1947 Town Hall fire Pic: Preston Digital Archive

In 1947 Preston’s much loved Victorian Town Hall burned to the ground. A petition was started to restore the building which reached 8,000 signatures. However, things dragged on and the building was eventually demolished in 1962. Importantly, this was the era when extensive redevelopment was taking place and anything Victorian was deemed passé.

Crystal House Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The unloved Crystal House, voted the ugliest building in Preston Pic: Preston Digital Archive

However the new Crystal House built on the site produced much scorn. The building was difficult to let and led to a reduction in the land value! It has been voted Preston’s ugliest building. Another disaster involved the building being re-clad in combustible material in 2010. Consequently, this  now needs to be replaced.

Brave new world? Planning in reverse

By the early 21st century housing policy had reversed with tower blocks being demolished in favour of renovated older housing. Many of the tower blocks in Preston bit the dust.

As early as 1978, Ronald Atkins, Labour MP said:

“We suffer from changing fashions in planning. In the 1950s and early 1960s planning opinion favoured high-rise flats as the answer to problems of land scarcity in town centres. These blocks today are almost universally condemned by the same planners.” 

The collapse of Ronan Point in 1968 highlighted how some of the tower blocks were just thrown up with little thought for structural integrity. In fact a gas explosion had blown out a flat, which led to the collapse of the entire corner of the new building.



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