The notorious Southgate estate in Runcorn was perhaps one of the wackiest urban developments ever constructed in Britain. Designed by James Stirling, it was (when first constructed) something of a bohemian enclave where people used to boast about living. One of our junior school teachers for example loved to crow about her shiny, modernist cubezone.
The estate was split into two styles, the maisonette flats aka ‘washing machines’ with their huge circular porthole windows and the cubist, multi-coloured space pods, aka ‘Legoland.’ Southgate was built right next to the ‘Shopping City’ aka the ‘Shoppo’ or ‘the city’ (now called Halton Lea) and connected by long, high bridges. The Shoppo was one of the biggest indoor ‘malls’ of the era and became a playground for us on weekend shoplifting excursions before the town really fractured into ‘Old’ and ‘New’ tribal loyalties in the early 80s. Back in the early days of the ‘new town’ wools and scousers co-existed quite peacefully (mostly) and walking around Southgate was like strolling around MoonBase fucking Alpha.
When we were watching these estates being built in the early 70s it seemed as if we were living in the kind of future promised to us by Neil Armstrong and Anthony Burgess. At night the apparance of the estate was truly terrifying and our mams would warn us about getting lost in Legoland, as the estate soon degenerated from a place where teachers boasted of living to a dumping ground for various social deviants.
As I got older, various family members and friends moved to the estate and whilst the maisonettes were structurally sound and large compared to those on other estates such as Castlefields and Palacefields, the reputation of Legoland during the 80s preceeded it and the place went downhill as more and more ‘problem’ families and criminals moved in from a ten mile radius.
Southgate and it’s one alehouse, The Merry Monk became notorious as places to score everything from weed to agent orange and the council eventually demolished the estate in the early 90s replacing it with yet another bland ‘Maunders’ deadzone. Not that the problems went away, no the dealers and the divvies just moved across town to Castlefields.
One of my ex-girlfriends had a flat on Castlefields when she was only 17 and I spent many happy hours there listening to The Peaceful Hour or Beswick before risking my life calling a cab from the utterly appalling ‘centre’
During the past few years most of the old ‘new’ estates have been either refurbished or demolished and whilst this is necessary in many cases as the houses were often gerry built death traps little better than the slums they were built to replace, nevertheless it’s sad to see such bold and futuristic architecture being bulldozed. Maybe this is symbolic of the end of the ‘new town’ Utopia, an admission that entire communities cannot be relocated at a whim and built again from scratch.
Whereas I have various convictions relating to old gang turf wars, my daughters’ generation have grown up together and shared the same schools. They have hybrid scouse/wool accents and don’t see eachother in terms of old tribal hostilities. My daughter’s mates have homes on the new Southgate aka Hallwood Park and the re-developed Castlefields and to be honest, both are nice enough places these days. It’s pointless getting nostalgic about what were grim urban hellholes for many families yet I doubt any architect or town planner would have the balls to create another Legoland these days. The future, it seems, was all a bad dream.