City's '˜San Quentin'

There was great passion across the UK to create a much better life after the nightmare of the Second World War.This passion included clearing slum housing and embarking on massive rebuilding programmes.

Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield Hyde Park Flats Aerial View of the Complex 11 March 1990

New ideas for housing were embraced, such as high-rise flats, but sometimes these created worse slums than those swept away. One example was Sheffield’s Hyde Park flats complex, eventually dubbed ‘San Quentin’ because of the living conditions and the associated crime.

Sheffield experienced appalling losses to life and property in Luftwaffe attacks in December 1940 and was to determined to rebuild the city as an area where residents would be proud and comfortable.

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On February 21 1958, Sheffield Housing Committee approved the layout for Hyde Park. Started in 1962, it was the largest development of its kind in Europe and comprised blocks A, B, C, and D.

Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield Demolition Gap in the Flats 16th december 1991

The official completion date was on June 18 1965 when the keys of the last flat were handed over by Coun Cecil Johnson, chairman of the Public Works Committee, who said the 1,313 dwellings had been completed ahead of schedule.

Hyde Park was to house about 3,215 people, but no dogs. The steel supporting rods, end to end, would stretch from Sheffield to Istanbul.

When the Queen Mother arrived for the its opening she went by lift to the shopping precinct level and the Tenants’ Meeting Hall. There the Lord Mayor presented to her Alderman Harold Lambert, chairman of the Housing Development Committee, and Mrs Lambert, and several local MPs.

After signing the visitors’ book and taking a tea, the Queen Mother went by lift to the top storey to catch a general view of the city, and then visited the roof garden penthouse of Mr and Mrs Stuchberry.

The last block of to be demolished comes down in June 1993

Ten Years of Housing in Sheffield 1953 – 1963 notes there were 665 flats at Hyde Park and 648 maisonettes. The maximum occupancy was estimated at 4,605. The maximum population density was 160 per acre.

Although initially popular and successful, over time the living conditions became appalling and the violence horrific.

In 1967 a former planning officer for Sheffield Council claimed the flats should not have been built, claiming that people were not being housed but warehoused.

In May 1970 there were about 150 people living alone in Hyde Park. During the previous two years at least four people had died in the flats and not been discovered for days, sometimes weeks.

Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield Night patrol 25th March 1981

Teenage gangs were terrorising the area, it was reported in May 1974. Over the previous five months 40 flats had been burgled. There was arson outside doors and empty bottle were thrown from the balconies at higher levels.

A year later the complex was invaded by Pharaoh ants, a problem that would persists for years.

In November 1975, Jessie Raynes, who lived alone, was murdered and this prompted a petition for police protection. Shortly afterwards South Yorkshire Police opened a sub section at the flats.

By February 1978 a waste pipe buried 20 feet underground that carried water and household refuse was blocked, corroded and leaking. Consequently rats were breeding uncontrolled in ducts. A pest control expert said there was no quick solution.

The Queen Mother visits Sheffield Hyde Park Flats

Objects being thrown from high levels had tragic consequences in April 1979 when a television set fell on the head of a very young girl, Lisa Dean, and killed her.

Shortly afterwards it was discovered that pets were being thrown off balconies as well as petrol bombs, some of which were aimed at patrolling policemen.

In 1980, Roy Bebe, chairman of Hyde Park Residents’ Association, and several others initiated a nightly Home Patrol following a spate of more than fifty break-ins. On past nights the patrol had talked a woman out of leaping from the roof and reunited a husband and wife after he had locked her screaming in their flat.

Mr Bebe had lived at Hyde Park for eighteen years and had fought constantly to rid it of its stigma.

On one occasion, he caught a man with binoculars on the roof, spying on the flats. ‘They come up and try and work out which flats to break into,’ he said. ‘Kids also sling ropes over the sides of balconies and get into flats as easy as anything.’

One bad mistake was eventually highlighted: housing people with young families in high-rise blocks. This is quite a revelation when considering the whole idea of the flats – street decks, etc – was meant to mimic, albeit with all mod cons, the neighbourly streets they replaced.

Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield Demolition Gap in the Flats 16th december 1991

In the late 1980s the bill for repairs to the complex was about £24m. Thus Hyde Park was to close and only certain areas were to remain standing.

Tenants started to move out gradually towards the end of 1987 with door after door being boarded up, although the vandalism continued. In January the licensee of the Crow’s Nest pub urged tighter security after a metal pole crashed through his roof.

The troublesome Block B was eventually emptied and then converted for a very short period to accommodate students participating in the World Student Games. It was demolished during the early 1990s.

During 1994 tons of crushed remains of Block B’s bathrooms, kitchens and bedrooms were tipped into the city’s hole-in-the-road subway which had closed earlier in the year. Thus two of Sheffield’s architectural dreams of the 1960s which turned into nightmares in the 1990s were used to cancel each other out.

The smaller Block D was also demolished while the remaining Blocks A and C were refurbished and are still in existence.

The last block of to be demolished comes down in June 1993
Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield Night patrol 25th March 1981
The Queen Mother visits Sheffield Hyde Park Flats