Say the words “Leek Street Flats” to South Leeds residents of a certain age and memories come flooding back of tower block apartments that dominated the Hunslet skyline between the late 60’s and early 80’s, now long gone.
Video by Chris Richardson
Construction of the 350 flats started in 1968 following a widespread slum clearance project in the area. The Hunslet Grange complex (to give its proper title) was commissioned by Leeds City Council and built by Shepherd Construction, in a maisonette style with so-called ‘streets in the sky’ and overhead walkways connecting blocks. The exterior of the buildings were pale grey pebbledashed concrete. Each floor had a rubbish disposal chute leading to huge bins at street level. Hidden in the complex on the second floor were shops and a public house. Twelve of the blocks were six storeys in height and six were of seven, with the entrance on the second floor. The estate covered a large area of Hunslet and was arranged in three clusters around a small park.
The individual flats had large windows and were spacious and light, and were very popular with their new tenants. But the popularity was short-lived; the heating systems were inadequate for the poorly insulated concrete, prefabricated buildings, the interiors suffered from condensation, and the exterior walls became streaked with black. In addition, the “rabbit-warren” layout made the estate hard to navigate and, within a few years, even harder to police.
The flats were condemned and the residents relocated. For a time the buildings were briefly used as a setting for TV dramas requiring scenes in decaying blocks of flats. Questions were asked in Parliament about who was to blame for the problems with the buildings. The costs of which are still being payed off by LCC to this day. Demolition of the complex started in 1983, less than fifteen years after the first tenants moved in, to be replaced with low-rise council housing, which was completed in the late 1980s.
“Good riddance” is what a lot of people are heard to say these days, as tales are recounted of troublemakers, spiralling costs, eyesores and social problems. But in one small corner of the internet, this is not the case. Facebook is home to “The Leek Street Flats Rocked” page on which many former residents of this much maligned home to many share their memories, photos & rare films of a life lived for this brief moment in time in the sky over Hunslet. A read through its postings gives a reader a sense of the community that lived there which similarly to so many places both then and now, was perhaps unfairly tarred and negatively labelled as a whole with the same brush.
There are pictures of the buildings, from when they were proudly showcased as modern new homes of the future in the late sixties through to their poignant deserted decay and demolition such a short time later in the early eighties. There are photos and memories enthusiastically shared of life inside the flats, the fashions and hairstyles to be found therein. One former “Leekies” resident Steve Morrell has even shot an informative series of videos on his phone looking for traces of old Hunslet in the landscape today, uncovering the only surviving building from the vast complex still standing, an unassuming old electricity sub-station on Hillidge Road.
Were it not for the inter-connectivity of social media and its ability to share information and images so easily, much of this chapter of South Leeds social history, be it loved or loathed, would most likely have been lost and forgotten forever. Whatever outsiders thought of them, they were still “home” to a lot of South Leeds residents. “Flats were great to grow up in, plenty of open spaces to knock about in and great people to know. Real community spirit” wrote one of the group’s 360+ members recently. What started out as a simple Facebook group page for a few friends has evolved into something of a local history resource and reunion network. Whilst the buildings may be gone, the community lives on in cyberspace. So if you lived there and would like to join the conversation and sharing of images, or are just interested, click here to join it.
Written by Jason Slack