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Wolverhampton Art Gallery – New website tells untold story behind tower block

Bolton Court Tipton 1965An online archive has been launched featuring previously unseen material relating to the Black Country’s tower blocks. The archive, which can be viewed at www.distinctlyblackcountry.org.uk, is part of Block Capital, a Heritage Lottery-funded project which is investigating the history of 1960s tower blocks in the region, with the help of local volunteers. Block Capital is hosted by the distinctly black country network, a heritage group based at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Thirty volunteers have been working on the project since autumn last year, along with staff based at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. They have been collecting the materials which feature on the website as well as stories from people whose lives are connected to the tower blocks in order to examine this previously under-documented aspect of recent social history. Their investigations have focused on 20 tower blocks in the centre of the Black Country across Bilston, Darlaston, Tipton, Wednesbury, Wednesfield and Willenhall.

Project leaders have remarked that some of the items which have been found are fascinating in comparison with today’s standards. On the website is a copy of the Wednesfield Council Tenants’ Handbook from the 1950s which outlines rules and guidance for people living in the tower blocks and includes detailed advice on a broad range of topics, such as several paragraphs on cleaning your bath (http://distinctlyblackcountry.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/wednesfield-tenants-handbook_hr.pdf).

The research has led to the discovery of maps and original planning documents, along with council reports which led to the demolition of some of the flats in Sandwell and Wolverhampton. There are written testimonies from former tenants, over 150 photographs, and a comprehensive list of all 276 tower blocks ever built in the Black Country, produced by author Miles Glendinning. All of these are now accessible through the distinctly black country website – www.distinctlyblackcountry.org.uk.

While there is already a wide breadth of material for web users to browse through, project leaders are now on the lookout for further items and stories to add, as well as new volunteers to help with the investigation

Paul Quigley, Project Researcher, said:

“The materials we’ve found so far provide a great insight into the blocks themselves and also the lives led within them, but we are always looking to add more to add to the website. We’re looking for people willing to record their stories about living in tower blocks, along with documents such as old rent books, photos of the blocks from the 1960s or 70s, and newspaper stories.”

Anyone interested in volunteering or contributing items as part of the project should visit http://distinctlyblackcountry.org.uk/blockcapital or discuss the project with Chaz Mason on 01902 552040/552194.

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