Quarryhill flats will remain in the memory of many Leeds folk as will their unseemly demise. Leeds had it’s share of squalor and slum housing after the World War in the 1920’s.
Rev Charles Jenkinson a friend of the ‘Red Vicar’ Conrad Noel stood as a labour candidate for Leeds Council. After election he produce a paper on slum clearance that ultimately led to the building of the Quarry Hill Flats. The Director of Housing R A Livett and Rev Jenkinson visited France and Vienna in 1934 to inspect municipal tenement complexes (workers flats) including the massive Karl Marx Hof. Then building at Quarry Hill commenced based on a plan for 5000 flats.
They were built on a quick, structural system of pre-cast ferro-concrete cladding, mounted on steel frames. They needed less skilled labour and post war this was seen as a positive aspect of the development. By 1941 the flats provided accommodation for 3,280 people.
- The development housed shops, apartments, laundries and a range of communal facilities.
- Only 40% of the area was built on the balance was for roads and communal space.
- Old communities from those displaced by demolition were not all keen to live in the new ‘tenements’
- Lifts and and a chute based waste disposal system were included although the later was a bit of a failure.
- Many flats were filled with none local residents including overseas visitors.
- Oral history in Leeds has a series of commentaries and personal histories that are evocative of the era. link
1. ‘……York Road to get the bus into town and, of course, everywhere you walked, the flats were just there on the skyline; massive, often looking a bit austere. I always remember them as being off white and grey, and our parents telling us that… that inside the flats was full of nasty people…’
Quarry Hill Problems
- The second World War interrupted the development.
- Public policy was not clearly implemented or failed. Support for tenants was poor or none existant
- The new build techniques were very expensive to maintain and repair.
- Rusting below ground was a serious threat and the buildings life expectancy had been dramatically over estimated.
- Black spots, vandalism and intimidation developed within the estate. The site was ghettoised.
- The lifts worked but the revolutionary waste disposal system was an expensive failure.
- Despite the working class public spirit and demands for action the council failed to tackle and solve the issues.
What Happened Next
- In 1972 four options were put to council none included full renovation and retention.
- The flats were demolished between 1975 and 1978. see picture above
- Karl Marx Hof has been refurbished and maintained. It is still the longest residential building at 0.68 of a mile long.
3. Oral History of Quarry Hill
4. ‘Memento Mori – The Flats at Quarry Hill Leeds’ by Peter Mitchell