'A very handsome service of table cutlery, a pair of razors, and a pair of fish carvers'
(gifts given to Charles Dickens by the Mayor of Sheffield)
On Saturday December 22nd 1855, Charles Dickens read from his book A Christmas Carol to an audience in the Mechanics' Hall, Sheffield to raise funds for their institute. The Mayor thanked him with gifts made in the city.
Sheffield was, and still is, synonymous with finely finished steel products. Its many small and fast-flowing rivers were a perfect source of power for mills and factories from the 17th to 19th centuries.
Members of the audience for Mr Dickens would have been unlikely to have lived in the Park Hill district of Sheffield. Around that time Park Hill housed the poor in back-to-back housing with one water pipe shared between a hundred or more people. By the 1930s it was known as ‘Little Chicago’, infamous for the violent crimes sometimes committed there.
Starting in the 1950s, Park Hill was transformed into a large estate of modern flats which is, perhaps surprisingly, Europe’s biggest ‘listed’ building. Run down and undergoing major renovation today, the flats were revolutionary when they were first built.
The design was inspired by the architect Le Corbusier and in particular his public housing scheme in Marseilles, France. Park Hill’s architectural merit comes from a combination of its ‘new’ concept of community based housing, its construction and its look.
The blocks had broad ‘streets in the sky’ with wide decks that would take milk floats and which flats opened onto. An exposed concrete frame had yellow, orange and red brick walling in between. Imagine how it must have seemed after the austerity of the war years. From a distance it appears brutal in scale but the vision was one of dense community living surrounded by green landscapes and space for leisure.
Park Hill is just one example of many 1960s high rise, social housing schemes across Britain. Many have since been renovated or demolished to make way for lower rise structures where flats have individual gardens or balconies – a scale that many people find easier to live in.