Denton Road still appears on my old edition of the London A-Z but apart from that, practically all traces of it have vanished. I’ve never been able to find a photo in an archive, or a snippet of written information from decision makers on what happened to all those people who lived there, and why the decision was made to include it, demolishing it in Stonebridge’s redevelopment plan in the early 1970s. All I could find in the archives was the old printed electoral register, proving that there had once been a physical street there, and also showing names of those residents eligible to vote.
Area redevelopment had already been on the policy agenda during World War 2 , see the 1943 film The Proud City embedded in this Guardian article on the Abercrombie Plan.
Nationally, policy was top down; it was about planners and architects delivering what – in their perspective – was right. When they delivered their wholescale redevelopment programmes for places like Stonebridge Park, it is questionable whether they asked any residents what their views and aspirations were at all. Long term residents’ homes were knocked down around them and many were sent to live in council housing in different locations around the borough. The film Some Where Decent to Live (1967) (available from the London Metropolitan Archive) shows that whilst some housing was very poor quality, much decent housing was demolished as part of wider redevelopment.
It is almost impossible to calculate the full effect some of the programmes have had on people’s lives, many of whom were powerless to do anything about it. It has been well documented that many people did not want to leave their home or their communities, and some were forcibly removed so that demolition could take place.
Sure, many benefitted for the first time from an indoor WC, heating and hot water, even a bath. But something very fundamental went ignored. Some communities never recovered. This has become the stuff of sociological and architectural studies. Some of these new, once visionary and award winning estates have since themselves been demolished and redeveloped. This Rap from YouTube shows the once visionary housing at Stonebridge Park (and other NW London places), and all of these tower blocks have now themselves been replaced with more traditional housing and a regeneration process to turn the estate around and cut crime.
We are lucky that Harry McBain – once resident of Denton Road – has captured his memories of the street he grew up in his poem Summer ’58. He then commissioned an artist to paint his street and the people who he lived there with. He has preserved his own sense and recollection of his housing and his community and how it shaped his own development. His poem is full of energy, pulse and vitality. It clearly recalls neighbours; who they were, what they did, what they said. The artwork shows us those Victorian terraces and the vivacious community who lived there, some across generations.
The Latin communis (the root of our word community) means “shared in common”, suggesting that relationships are key. So much regeneration policy is based upon datasets and figures and graphs, but perhaps what matters more are peoples’ lives, and the unique stories they tell us.
Suggested reading: Stewart, J. and Rhoden, M. (2003) A review of social housing regeneration in the London Borough of Brent, in Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, March 2003, 123 (1) pp. 23-32