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THE BLACK COUNTRY MEMORIES CLUB

The Early History of Stowlawn by Frank Sharman
Part 5 The council then started on a modern up-to-date,  whizz bang, socialist approach to the Stowlawn estate.

The council engaged Sir Charles Reilly and Dr. Otto Neurath. What the relationship between the two men was supposed to be is not clear but in the event it seems that Reilly was the main man drawing up the plans for the estate; and Neurath was consulted mainly on housing policy – something which would have fed into the estate design.

Sir Charles Reilly    Otto Neurath Marie Neurath
Sir Charles ReillyOtto Neurath     Marie Neurath

What Reilly did  - Professor Sir Charles Reilly (by now Emeritus Professor), was born 1874, the son of an architect. After attending Cambridge University he became an architect and was appointed Professor of Architecture at Liverpool University (aged 30) in 1904. Through his writings he promoted the idea of “civic design” or “town planning” . He retired from the university in 1933 and became a consultant on architecture and planning. He was knighted 1944. He was appointed at Bilston about 1944, aged 70. In making this appointment Bilston was again going for a big name who had ideas about council housing which largely coincided with their own.

Reilly’s ideas on suburban communities were espoused by the left and far left. The Labour Party conference of 1944 recommended them for general adoption and Aneurin Bevan especially supported the idea of creating communities rather than estates.

The chief feature of Reilly’s plans was that the houses should be built around greens, somewhat in the style of a village green, which Reilly seems to have seen as an archetype of a good community. He seems to have thought that the greens would promote interaction between people living around them. The greens were to be generally oval but not regular, and of different sizes but with some large enough to contain football or cricket pitches. Each green would have 500 to 1000 people living round it. Each green would have a club, which contained a library, reading rooms, billiards room and catering facilities – to which families could go to eat or from which they could order meals to be delivered (so each house had to have a telephone). Reilly also wanted district heating and waste disposal by means of a suction system which drew away all waste from each house to a central point.

Reilly called in a number of architects to work with him on the design details, apparently getting one architect to work on each green. One of these architects was Clough Williams Ellis who set to work with great enthusiasm and it would have been interesting to see what this unusual architect and founder of Port Meirion might have come up with had he not got bored and resigned from the project. Another of the architects was Ella Briggs. It is said that A V Williams had already asked her to design 160 houses for Stowlawn before Reilly appeared on the scene. If that is so then Reilly probably took her into the team and he assigned her the Lawnside green to work on.

Ella Briggs was, like Otto and Marie Neurath, an emigree from Vienna, who whilst in Vienna, had worked with Neurath and others on council housing.

Continues in Part 6 What Otto Neurath did

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