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THE BLACK COUNTRY MEMORIES CLUB

The Early History of Stowlawn by Frank Sharman
Part 7 Otto Neurath continued

But, in the context of his work in Bilston, Neurath is best remembered for his view that you must consult the people who were to be re-housed and educate them on housing matters. He said you should do this through an exhibition which made the issue understandable by anyone – through the use of Isotypes - and that such an exhibition should be somewhere which was accessible to the people who were to be re-housed. “The whole success of any plan involving the lives of human beings depends on obtaining the assent, encouragement and co-operation of those human beings”. On the whole people do not like pamphlets and lectures or having information forced on them. Exhibitions can be entertaining ways of getting ideas across and collecting people’s views.

These sorts of view were also held by A V Williams, the Town Clerk, and Dr Robert Abbott, the Chairman of the Public Health Committee.

Otto Neurath died in December 1945. Marie Neurath records his last day. There was no reason to suspect that he was ill in any way, though he had been advised by a doctor friend to lose weight. Otto took to weighing himself each day, standing on the scales but leaning on Marie’s shoulder until the scales read what he thought they ought to read. He had spent the morning writing letters, including one long and difficult one to a Chinese philosopher. He said to Marie: “Nobody would do that for me”. She responded: “Never mind. You still have Bilston”. An hour later he was laughing at something he had written when he died. It may have been a stroke or heart attack. But he died with Bilston in mind and he died laughing.

Marie Neurath stepped in, anyway in respect of designing the proposed exhibition with all its Isotype charts,

The exhibition was held in a derelict shop in Oxford Street (now underneath the roundabout) so as to be nearer to the people most affected. It consisted of Isotype diagrams round the walls, showing the problems and possible solutions. It also contained a formicarium – an enclosed colony of ants – apparently intended to show the value of community co-operation.

The exhibition was well attended for a few days but after that few people came. It was intended to keep it open for months but after a few weeks it was suddenly closed. It had been objected to by several councillors of both parties. There is no clear evidence on what exactly the objections were, though several questions were asked about what it was all costing and one councillor called it a flea circus. He probably thought that what the ant colony really showed was a lot of frantic running about with no apparent outcome. The councillors opposed to the exhibition were probably frustrated by seeing this slightly odd affair and no council houses actually being built. “Thirsty men want beer, not explanations”.

Marie Neurath appears no more in Bilston but continued as a consultant on exhibitions and the use of Isotype and became well known as the author and illustrator of children’s books on scientific and historical subjects. She died in 1986.

Hitting the headlines

The proposals for Stowlawn hit the national headlines (and probably had some airing internationally). This national publicity was certainly helped along by the work of Clement Jones, who was the Bilston reporter for the Express and Star. He frequently reported on local events and efforts such as post war reconstruction. He was also an investigative journalist and published articles about housing conditions in Bilston. He had a very good reputation (and even Lord Beaverbrook once offered him a job) and it was probably his reports that were picked up nationally. So the Stowlawn scheme appeared in national newspapers, on the BBC (who interviewed Neurath) and in magazines like Picture Post.

Then the government stepped in, forcing a scale down

The Government (the Minister of Health in those days) had to approve all schemes because they were funding them. They decided that the Stowlawn scheme was far too expensive and took up too much land. They refused to approve it. This was a blow to the dream which Bilston, Reilly and Neurath had had.  Then Reilly died on 2 Feb 1948.

Then A V Williams left (and went to Dudley and from there to Peterlee).  These factors gave a death blow to the Bilston Venture. Bilston had to deal with the situation in a quick and practical way.

Sidwick had already been re-drawing Reilly’s plans on the skeleton of Lloyd’s road layout. And now his re-designs were adopted by the council. He reduced most of the greens. All notions of clubs, district heating and suction waste disposal were abandoned. The Chief Architect of the Ministry of Health had said that “leisure time may not be used to good account” in the clubs.

He then seems to have designed the houses on all the greens other than Lawnside, although he may have used, as a basis, the designs proposed by the Reilly team. Ella Briggs was probably more advanced in her plans for Lawnside and these were put in to effect.

The saga continues with Part 8 The council then started building

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