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THE BLACK COUNTRY MEMORIES CLUB

The Early History of Stowlawn by Frank Sharman
Part 9 Taking up residence

Stowlawn houses around a green Later housing built on a green, with children playing on the road Later housing built on a green, with children playing on the road Houses by Ella Briggs on Lawnside Houses by Ella Briggs on Lawnside
Stowlawn houses
around a green
A green. The houses
on the right have
their backs to the green.
Were they built back to front?
Later housing built on a green,
 with children playing on the road
Houses by
Ella Briggs
on Lawnside
Houses by
Ella Briggs
on Lawnside

When people moved into the estate it is well remembered locally that their furniture and other property was not allowed into the new house until it had been disinfested. A lorry equipped to do this was stationed on the estate at suitable times.

 It is not clear how far the ideas of moving whole communities and of fitting people to housing which fitted their particular needs and all the others Neurath had expounded, were applied in Stowlawn. One suspects not – fewer houses than expected were built and completion rates of those was slower than expected. But the need remained the same, if not higher.

Probably Bilston had a points system which tried to identify those with greatest need, and those with most points would have been moved into whatever became available. Indeed a local resident, already actively involved in local affairs though a teenager at the time, clearly recollects people refusing to move from their slums principally because of the loss of community: their way of life, their network of family and friends, would disappear and that loss was not worth the gain of a better house. There was probably also a fear of higher rents and greater regulation of their style of living.

Even the attenuated Reilly Greens did not last all that long. In the 1960s, when demand for building council houses was still high and the land available to build them on was scarce, many of the greens were built on. Only Lawnside Green – rather narrower than the others – seems to have escaped and its central green has been considerably altered by much more recent planting of beds of shrubbery.

Many of the greens now have council notices on them saying “No Ball Games” – a small but significant marker of the demise of the whole Reilly Green idea. Many of the houses are now in private ownership, they having been sold off in accordance with the policy of the Thatcher government. On Stowlawn there is a certain irony about this. When Mrs. Thatcher came into office as Prime Minister (or “into power” as she always said) she put a copy of a book on the cabinet table and said to her colleagues that they had no need to ask her what her economic policies were as they were all in that book.

The book was “The Road to Serfdom” by Friederich Hayek. Hayek was born in Vienna and became the leading economist promoting the free market and little or no government control over it – capitalism let rip. Such ideas were, of course, anathema to Otto Neurath, who had spent much time advocating the necessity of government regulation of the free market and a degree of central planning. In fact it seems that Hayek’s book had been written with the specific intention of refuting Neurath. And on Stowlawn the game played out – the planned community lost out to the forces of the unbridled free market.

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