Park Hill and Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield, March 1988
A photographic exhibition of the last residents at Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield 1988.
Park Hill flats was the largest social housing estates of its type in Europe, built on one of Sheffield’s seven hills. The development was divided into two distinct areas: they were the low rise Park Hill flats and the high rise tower blocks called Hyde Park. My project was concerned with photographing the last residents of Hyde Park, a development that had dominated Sheffield’s skyline for over thirty years.
Influenced by new modernist architectural theories, architects Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith began design work in 1953 on the Park Hill development. Inspired by the ‘brutalist’ style and philosophy of French architect Le Corbusier. Construction started in 1957, Park Hill was completed in 1961 and Hyde Park in 1966.
This scheme was considered revolutionary at the time, as access to the flats was made through walkways or decks that were open to the elements, yet wide enough to allow small electric vehicles such as milk floats to service the flats. Both estates were highly praised at the time in the belief that community life could be maintained by following ‘street’ principles.The term ‘streets in the sky’ was the style of architecture derived from these wide open decks.
‘Streets in the sky’ was an attempt to develop new social housing architecture, however, after being initially popular and successful, it was marred by inadequate maintenance, the decaying fabric of the building, the allocation of flats to unsuitable tenants, poor noise insulation and security.
By the mid 1980’s Sheffield City Council considered Hyde Park flats to be a failed experiment in social housing and was now unviable. The last community to live in Hyde Park flats was in 1988, it was vacated during 1989-90, some flats were refurbished to provide accommodation for the World Student Games in 1991, finally, the flats were demolished between 1992-3. The Park Hill estate is currently undergoing refurbishment and was granted Grade II* in 1998, making it the largest listed building in Europe.
Despite the neglected condition of the building and increasing anti-social behaviour at that time, I found a close community reluctant to be broken up and dispersed throughout other council housing estates in Sheffield. I did not meet a single resident who wanted to be rehoused, despite the current condition of the flats. They considered Hyde Park to be their home, but also a significant land mark building and were proud to be tenants in such a prominent building overlooking Sheffield. Many believed that Hyde Park despite its short comings, represented a vision for social housing that was both optimistic and outward looking and that the council had made ill judged and short sighted decisions that had contributed the decline, deterioration and the eventual demolition of the building.
The process of photographing at Hyde Park initially proved difficult, I started photographing in May but it was not until June that I had made contact with a small network of residents who understood and supported this project, introductions and accessibility was then made possible. There was resistance to anyone ‘official’, so establishing relationships with ‘personalities’ on the estate was key to being able to work closely with residents. I kept my camera out of sight in a plastic carrier bag in order to lessen my impact when walking around the estate. Talking to people, looking for introductions and visiting the various facilities helped residents become familiar with my purpose.
These large scale colour photographs (24″x24″) were exhibited together with 35mm B/W photographs by Roger Mayne (1929-2014), who photographed the first tenants in 1961 and later in 1966. The work of other well known photographers who had produced photographs at Hyde Park and Park Hill was also represented in this exhibition. Past and present tenants were also invited to contribute their own photographs, share their stories and memories were part of the exhibition.
‘Streets in the Sky’ was exhibited at The Untitled Galley, Sheffield during October 1988 and toured nationally. I was nominated for the Fox Talbot Award organised by the National Media Museum, Bradford for this work. The exhibition was co-ordinated by Mathew Conduit, manager of the Untitled Gallery and was financially supported by Yorkshire Arts, Sheffield Insulations Ltd and photographic processors Masterlab.
These photographs were taken using a Hasselblad 500 C/M camera with 80mm and 50mm lenses.
All images are Strictly Copyright © Bill Stephenson All Rights Reserved.
Bill Stephenson Photographer