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THE BLACK COUNTRY MEMORIES CLUB

The Early History of Stowlawn by Frank Sharman
Part 3 Housing conditions in Bilston

The council knew that housing conditions for most people were still appalling with consequent bad effects on health; and that things were made worse by air pollution, not to mention noise and smells. But, in 1943, they set about collecting data to get an accurate view.

One of the things they did was to use the ARP wardens to give out cards to people, door to door, to collect information about housing conditions. None of these cards has ever been seen so one cannot tell whether they were merely collecting information or whether they also collected opinions and aspirations.

A national survey of housing conditions assessed the number of families in each local authority area who were living in “overcrowded conditions”. The figure for England and Wales as whole was 3.8%. In Wolverhampton it was 3.2%. In Bilston it was 13.7%. The twenty worst cases in England and Wales ranged from 12.6% to 25.2%; and Bilston was 17th on the list.

To establish what the air pollution problem really was Bilston’s Salvage Officer, Eric Sheldon, placed gauges and dishes in the open air all round town and collected the deposits every two days. He then trotted off to Stewarts & Lloyds works where their laboratories analysed and weighed the deposits. Sheldon then drew up a map of where the pollution was worst and came up with a headline figure that 1,400 tons of smoke particles per square mile were falling on Bilston each year. (This is roughly the weight of 11 blue whales or 233 elephants per annum). Local housewives, trying to dry the laundry, would have been able to confirm the general nature of the problem – but, of course, it had an appalling effect on health too.

In 1944 Bilston’s sanitary inspector noted that 2,655 of the 7,700 houses in Bilston were in disrepair or lacking proper sanitation and it was estimated that 4,000 new houses would be needed.

So it was abundantly clear that large numbers of council houses were needed; and the only places available for large scale estates within the Borough were at Bradley and an area of derelict waste land (which had been plundered for coal and then abandoned) to the north-west, known as Stowlawn. This was in the area of least air pollution but it was not exactly a greenfield site. (The council seems not to have considered the possibility of building outside the borough boundaries or of entering into an “overspill agreement” under which the people of one town or city were persuaded to move to another, possibly distant, town or city).

Stowlawn site   Map of air pollution   Unfit housing 1950s
The Stow Lawn site   Map of Air Pollution   1950's Unfit Housing
Unfit housing 1950s   Unfit housing 1950s   Unfit housing 1950s
1950's Unfit Housing 1950's Unfit Housing 1950's Unfit Housing

    Click Images above for larger versions

The northern boundary of the Stowlawn estate was marked by a brook, no official name for which is ever mentioned, but it seems to have been known to everyone locally as the Rusty Brook. It was grossly polluted – some locals claiming that it was known as the most polluted watercourse in the country.
The area also contained ponds, probably old mine workings which had become filled with water. They were known as “The Pink Pool” (because of the colour it took on), “The Cracker” (because it was next to the site of an old stone breaking machine – a cracking machine – which was operated by Tarmac) and “The Stocking Pool” (because of its shape). The only use of the area seems to have been as a playground for children.

Continued in Part 4 a plan for the Stowlawn estate.

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