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Doomed housing revealed in 'lost' album

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: April 19, 2014

Shay Lane Cott

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A FAMILY stands outside their village homestead and benignly smiles as the cameraman takes a picture destined to become part of a council archive.

Ironically, the photographer is a council official who no doubt had a hand in making that tough decision as to whether their family home could be deemed as “unfit for human habitation” - in other words, a slum.

The photograph would eventually be destined to be part of an album of homes in the Stafford Rural District Council's area and form a record of dwellings which were demolished, closed for possible restoration, or even listed as being of historical interest.

Back in 1951, the first photograph entered in the album was a row of dwellings in Weston known as the Glueworkers’ Cottages.

Entries would be made in the album for the next 15 years and entered in a national “accolade for enterprise” contest.

Over the years, the council's public health officers - now forming part of the environmental department - would systematically take photographs of every property destined for the album.

Back in the 1950s, being photographed was a novelty and perhaps families saw the opportunity as a last chance to be pictured by homes which they loved.

The names of dwellings which have disappeared are reminiscent of rural homes giving clues to their locations and purpose. . . Boundary Cottage (Hyde Lea), Post Office Row (Hixon), Church Cottage (Seighford), Fox and Hounds Cottages (Great Haywood), The Smithy (Gnosall).

Outwardly, some appear in need of a limited renovation while others, such as a corrugated iron bungalow at Weston, require more than TLC and so were destined for demolition.

In 1966, Stafford RDC’s chief public health officer, Mr GM Lawton, was proud of the authority's record in clearing slum dwellings or offering improvement grants to those needing major repair work.

Of course, the difficulty faced by the authority was finding suitable new homes for displaced people whose lives had always been lived in the country and, it must be admitted, in some of the most picturesque parts of rural Staffordshire.

The album was first mentioned in these columns last autumn with the question asked as to the whereabouts of this unique archive of rural properties . . . the response from Stafford Borough Council's environmental department was that it still existed and they had it.

The department’s Robert Simpson explained that the archive was still useful in pinpointing previous use of some of the rural sites.

However, he was quick to point out that the “lost” album had to be twice rescued from the rubbish skip because of office space considerations - the rescuer was his colleague John Fraser, health and housing services manager.

Mr Fraser said that slum clearance or closing orders were rarely invoked these days with the emphasis on restoration and renovation rather than demolition - and “before and after” photographs in the album show those where restoration had been successfully undertaken.

Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring some of these properties of the past along with those which have been restored or deemed suitable for listing.

In the meantime, thanks to Stafford Borough Council officials for keeping open a window on a lost world.

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