The Notoriously “Restored” Chalkhill Estate

The architect’s vision of contented tenants living in harmony

Built in the Borough of Brent, Northwest London, and located in the Wembley Park area, Chalkhill was developed as a ‘Metroland’ estate since 1921. Between 1966 and 1970, based on the design of Park Hill in Sheffield, about 1900 houses and flats were developed, designed to provide homes for 1,400 families.

Buddings Circle and Wellsprings Crescent, where I once found a red purse lying in the curb and went with my father to hand it into the police station, consisted of low rise two-storey developments. The main housing, 30 five-storey blocks, were built using the ‘Bison’ system of pre-cast concrete panels, ensuring fast and precise construction.

Chalkhill Estate, with its unappealing concrete exterior, boasted dwellings, with spacious rooms, along corridors. Each accommodation had a ducted heating system and ‘state-of-the art’ electric utilising. There were no dustbins as every kitchen was fitted with a novel waste disposal unit called a ‘Garchey’, in its sink that chewed up all the rubbish. My mother found this a godsend, though the noise scared me, and the unit sometimes figured in my nightmares.

Arranged in crab-claw configurations, the blocks connected by ‘walkways in the sky’ named Goldbeaters Walk, Greenrigg Walk, Redcliffe Walk and Bluebird Walk and had decks running their length, designed for hand-pulled milk floats that could make door to door deliveries, via service lifts.

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Walk Way in the sky (image from en.Wikipedia.org
before_120x177
mppnet.co.uk

As well as providing good living conditions, Chalkhill Estate also contained a row of local shops, a medical centre, car parking and a tenants meeting room. Open space was developed, providing a number recreational facilities for children and the elderly. There were seating areas with flower beds, climbing frames and other such things at almost every corner. My mother once scared me as I came down a big slide. I watched the fear etch her face because she thought I was going to fall off. I never attempted to climb one for a lot of years after.

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brent.gov.uk

Adjacent to the shops was a paddling pool and sand-pit – both were popular in the summer as a meeting point for parents and children. When playing there, I was always guaranteed an ice-lolly.

When completed in 1970, Chalkhill was described (in the “Sunday Telegraph”) as ‘one of the finest municipal housing estates in Britain’. They offered homes for 1,100 families, but initially around half of these laid empty. Many remained vacant for long periods because rents at £6 for one bedroom and £11 for a five bedroom were beyond the means of many would be tenants. With a big shortage of council accommodation, controversy struck.

chalkhill_estate
en.wikipedia.com

With the intention of filling the flats, Brent Council offered homes for rent to private tenants. Included were families where the parents had come to England from the West Indies to work for London Transport or as nurses in the hospital or families of Asian origin escaping from discrimination against them in East African countries following their independence. Passports had to be produced and references provided to prove they were of good character, with sufficient income to pay the rent, along with people from the council’s housing waiting list and those from overcrowded Victorian tenement flats, without bathrooms – one of which I lived in with my parents and was the reason we came to reside at Chalkhill, when I was eighteen months old in the early summer of 1970. The estate became a mixed community, which felt like one big family for many living there.

IMG_20140331_0004_NEW
Happy Days

As families moved to Chalkhill, it was essential to build a new school for their children. The Chalk Hill Infant School was taking pupils by the end of 1970. Shortage of funds meant that the junior school did not open until 1972. When finally completed, the 250 pupil Chalkhill Primary School, where I became a pupil, was the first in the country to be built on an open plan system.

During the mid-1970s the drafty ‘walkways in the sky’ rapidly became suitable escape routes for criminals. Chalkhill Estate was earning a reputation as a crime hotspot attracting any number of unsavory characters from neighboring areas, the two high-rise car parks an ideal hiding place for stolen cars and shady drug-deals. A constant stink of urine filled the air coming from the lifts when they were operational. My family was one of the lucky ones who lived on the ground floor of Greenrigg walk. We rarely needed to use the lift. Milkmen who delivered all types of provisions to the residents’ doorsteps, restricted their operations due to the high number of robberies. On numerous occasions, football hooligans would visit the estate after matches at the nearby Wembley Stadium, vandalising property and buildings and attacking local residents.

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20thCenturylondon.org.uk

The sand-pit became dangerous due to the large quantity of broken glass; the paddling pool, a lonely circle of empty destruction. Local shops were frequently robbed.

The flower beds and seating areas were destroyed no sooner than they were repaired. One by one, the privilege of using these facilities was gradually lost, some removed due to poor maintenance and vandalism, others replaced by different facilities only to become vandalised once again. When my father returned home from work, sometimes in the dark, he would walk with a stick, even though he was perfectly fit. He also carried a sock full of change, which he used whilst driving his London Taxi. It provided a good cosh due to the fear of walking through the estate, until he was safe behind our front-door. Thankfully, he never had to use it.

In August of 1976, during a heat-wave, the hottest recorded UK summer, my parents moved us, including the addition of my two siblings, to Hainault in Essex. My last memory of Chalkhill, the night before diverging, was of being drawn to a noise in an upstairs window of our family flat. As I peeped out, bottles came hurtling, some filled with fire, lighting the night-sky. Saved only by the strong double glazing, my mother came into the room and guided me away. If I close my eyes tight, I can still picture the motley crew, too many to count, their faces contorted in revulsion.

During the years that followed, due to concerns about the conditions on the estate including poor quality and notoriety, the initiative of closing walkways and installing door entry systems could not prevent the decision of the demolition and remediation stages of the final 450 house scheme.

They demolished 1900 houses and flats and Chalkhill Estate was refurbished early 2000. Over the years, I have returned to Wembley several times to watch concerts, including Michael Jackson and Bon Jovi, at Wembley Stadium though I’ve never revisited Chalkhill Estate. The stadium was demolished in 2003. And rebuilt in 2007.

FA CUP FINAL
The old Wembley Stadium (i.huffpost.com)
wembley
New Wembley Stadium (sportzwiki.com)

Sadly the restored Chalkhill has been given the nickname ‘Crack Hill’.

800-wembley-stadium-from-chalkhill-estate-in-london
The new Chalkhill Estate with a view of the rebuilt Wembley Stadium (arpadlukacs.com)

From the late 200s, the local youths in the area began to refer to their gang as the ‘Crack Hill Mob’ – ‘The Chalk Hill Boys’ and ‘The Blue Gang’

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2raw4tv.com

The dream was ‘A road to the sky. Whole communities would move to the area; it would be care free.’

IMAGINE

CHALK HILL
IMAGINE (brent.gov.uk)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Author: dsf68

At 48 years old I have had my fair share of drama. The Twists & Turns of Life are what makes me. I have a son who will turn a quarter of a Century this year which technically speaking is crazy as he was born before the Milenium. My passion is for writing and photography which are on equal par. I love to read true stories and relax with my assortment of Adult Colouring in books. In the near future I will be starting my own creativity project and look forward to embracing it after my move into a new home on Wednesday. Next to the sea. If all goes to plan a new chapter begins. I can feel the new spring moon rising x

10 thoughts on “The Notoriously “Restored” Chalkhill Estate”

  1. Hello, I loved to read your post. I lived in Chalkhill estate in 1990 in the Redcliffe Walk.I was a daughter of a rich family, I was 20, said goodbye to my family, I wanted to explore another world, I wanted to move to London, so I lived there with musicians ( one of them became famous ) Tania Evans from Culture Beat.
    She went out with the same boy than I did before her:)
    I remember black guys walking with knifes, lift that smelled like old urine.
    It was not what you would call a “safe place” for a 20 year old girl.
    I now saw, that these old buildings do not exist anymore, that there has been someone murdered, that now they call it Crackhill…I thought that with new buildings, the drugs would disappear….apparently not…
    Well…memories, memories, I never returned since 1991.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Diane for taking the time to read my post. I feel so excited to hear your account of memories living in the Redcliffe Walk during 1990. I am about to google Tania Evans. Thank you for your comment. It means a lot.

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  2. Your story of Chalhill sounds very familiar to me and I dare say to many others as well.I lived on Greenrig Walk and remember having to look up and down the walkway before leaving my flat to see if there was anything to worry about before leaving.I will never forget the urine stench from the lifts and stairwells and how people vandalized everything that would have made the complex more attractive and comfortable to live in.

    I lived there from the mid 80″s until the mid 90″s.I remember the last day so well.I went over to the office to leave my flat keys and encountered a drug deal going down on the stairwell.

    So glad to get out of that place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Brian for taking the time to read. I am so glad I took the time to write this piece because of the response it is having. Reading about your time, comments from others and their account of living in Chalkhill is comforting. Much appreciated.

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  3. wembley park
    because now I now how low standards are in this Borough it leaves much to be desired and I can’t see myself ever feeling proud or happy and content to live in such a Borough in which neither council or tenants and residents care.
    In fact I say that living in this part of Brent north is conducive to depression.
    But I am glad you shared your experience of living on the former estate
    because it gives me the opportunity to share my experience of living there and also of living on the new estate.
    Regeneration is merely a word used by the authorities to give the impression that they want to improve a bad situation.
    In my opinion this estate which took the place of the former estate needs to be demolished and rebuilt to a much higher standard.
    But I know that pigs will fly before that would ever happen.
    And so for me the future looks quite frankly bleak and depressing and I find myself just dreaming of what life could be like if only the council made sure that housing in Brent were built to a high standard and that the tenants and residents do their part to take care of it and treat it as they would something that is of value.
    Clearly the people on this estate don’t value where they live.
    So sad.

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    1. Thank you shyn43 for such a passionate response. My parents moved us to Essex in 1976 and my childhood days changed drastically. shyn43 I would love to read a blog by you. I can feel your frustration and you are articulate to beyond. Tha

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  4. The failure of the original Chalk hill estate and the inevitable failure of the one which replaced it is what in my opinion, inspires songs such as ‘imagine’.
    It is the consistent failure of the authorities in terms of housing and more
    which leads to the disillusionment from which lyrics are formed
    which reflect the wholesale failure of life in the hands of authority figures that really don’t care about the feelings of the average person in the street.
    It’s all about pleasing themselves and doing what they want
    even their ideas don’t tally with the people at the bottom of the ladder.
    That is what happens, when the people at the top are selfish, incompetent and too proud to face up to the reality that their ideas don’t work.
    Chalk hill failed, and the new one is in the sense following the same path
    simply cause the complacency and don’t care attitude is the norm within local and central government
    And when they stop caring, the unavoidable problems will come in abundance and they are clear to see just about everywhere in Wembley park.
    Then again, the don’t care attitude and neglect tends to be more prevalent and noticeable in the (for want of a phase) the ‘poorer parts’
    i.e. chalk hill road, stonebridge, Harlesden, willesden, Kilburn, cricklewood etc.
    The leafier and wealthier parts are inevitably, deliberately and literally set apart,
    and they tend to be cleaner.
    whereas the poorer parts are inevitably poor quality, neglected, run down, litter strewn with walls covered with graffiti and the quality of the air is polluted because of the vast amount of cars and the cramped roads which are also in a poor state of repair and so when there are road works, the traffic slows down and the air quality becomes worse.
    Its such a sad situation in Brent.
    And now the council has decided to introduce a higher charge for visitors permits
    and that has inevitably caused outcries from one place to another
    because who wants to pay more money just to be able to park their car?
    This new charge will inevitably lead to people trying to find ways to avoid paying which will lead to what has happened since the council introduced the so called ‘green tax’ in which people with gardens have to pay for garden soil to be disposed of.
    And for those who object to paying, they end up dumping in on street corners etc.
    Ive have witnessed it many times, and when I have notified the council they tended to be very laid back despite the billboards which are attached to lampposts and tree trunks, stating that fly tipping is an offense.
    It’s ridiculous.
    I wonder how long this will continue?
    I truly feel sorry for the residents and tenants of Brent because they are suffering because of the incompetence and neglect of both local and central government.
    They have made a mess of social housing, and they are just wreaking havoc all over the place and in the mean time they keep piling on the pressure which inevitably comes with a hefty price tag.
    A couple of years ago, a survey was carried out to find out how people in London Boroughs feel
    and I wasn’t surprised to find out that Brent was included in a list of Boroughs in which many people feel depressed.
    I am unashamed to say that I am one of those people who feel increasingly depressed as the years go by and I see this Borough going downhill while the council vainly tries to inspire hope and confidence.
    Brent could and should be better, but it won’t be because the will to make it better simply doesn’t exist.
    And central government isn’t willing to provide the money to improve the Infrastructure.
    This is such a sad and depressing situation.
    I wish I could say that things are nice and clean and most people are happy in My part of Brent
    but I would be lying if I said that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If anything,it is the residents who neglected and abused the social housing in Chalkhill.The council spent vast sums of public money on the estate and the residents just vandalized everything that was done to make the estate more habitable.

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