Retro: Sheffield’s royal visitor opens city flats

Queen Mother on Hyde Park top floor with Ald Harold  Lambert chairman of the Housing Development Committee - 23rd June 1966
Queen Mother on Hyde Park top floor with Ald Harold Lambert chairman of the Housing Development Committee - 23rd June 1966
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The Queen Mother received a boisterous welcome from tenants and their children as she arrived to officially open Hyde Park Flats on June 23, 1966 with Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Ald Lionel Farris.

Home of 1,200 families, the flats were hailed as a triumph of productivity in the rebuilding of Sheffield.

A child waves a flag at the visit of the Queen Mother to Hyde Park Flats on 23 June 1966

A child waves a flag at the visit of the Queen Mother to Hyde Park Flats on 23 June 1966

Her Majesty had visited the city just after the Blitz when, along with the late King, she toured bomb sites.

It was anticipated her latest visit would be under more pleasant circumstances.

Earlier, on February 21, 1958, Sheffield Housing Committee had approved the layout for Hyde Park, part two of the Park Hill redevelopment scheme.

Started in 1962, it was the biggest of its kind in Europe and comprised blocks A,B,C and D.

The official completion date was on June 18, 1965 when the keys of the last flat were handed over by Coun Cecil Johnson, chairman of the public works committee.

He said the 1,169 homes had been completed ahead of schedule.

Incidentally, the book Ten Years of Housing in Sheffield states there were 1,313 dwellings.

It was claimed Hyde Park would house approx 3,215 people but no dogs.

The steel supporting rods, laid end to end, would stretch from Sheffield to Istanbul and 2¾ million square feet of wooden shuttering was used. It had 30 types of dwellings and the story of its construction “was not the typically dull harangue”.

In digging the foundation of block A, for example, bulldozers ploughing out the earth struck an unexpected seam of coal.

For three weeks construction crews turned into opencast miners and extracted 1,600 tons of coal, which the corporation sold to a power station for £5,500.

Then when the rock beneath the seam was found to be too weak for foundation support, another 20,000 cubic yards of earth and rock had to be excavated and a 2½-ft thick concrete raft sunk into the ground.

The affair cost the corporation a total of four extra working weeks and around £30,000.

The major factor in building Hyde Park was splitting the construction crew into teams of various sizes and giving each team a specific job to be completed by a calculated target date.

The men were encouraged financially by a bonus scheme that awarded them the money they would have been paid within the target time, no matter how early they finished the job.

A typical example had five men laying a concrete floor: two on the ground, one driving a lift crane and two spreading the glutinous mass 100 feet above ground.

This group set a record by laying 350 square yards of concrete into a five-inch thick floor in 12 hours. On average the men boosted their wages by 50 per cent.

The driving spirit, according to the construction officials, was competition.

At the top, there was trouble waiting in the form of an attractive but highly complicated roof.

With its large penthouses and gardens and intricate concrete tracery, the roof was an asset to the skyline – and a considerable debit in time and money. It took four months to complete.

During construction the question of safety was a public concern. Yet Hyde Park achieved one of the highest safety records ever.

Although one man was killed on the site in three years, when compared with the national average of 250 deaths per year, the overall picture was claimed ‘to be quite good.’

The public question was: “How could men racing the clock be expected to be as careful as those not?” The answer again was organisation.

No-one, in individual terms of blood, sweat and tears, was pitted in a minute-by-minute battle for speed.

What saved time was the foresight to tailor the crews to the job and provide the incentive to keep the men working.

When the Queen Mother arrived for the Hyde Park opening she went by lift to the shopping precinct level and the tenants’ meeting hall.

There, the Lord Mayor presented to her Ald Harold Lambert, chairman of the housing development committee, and Mrs Lambert and several Sheffield area MPs.

Then, after the Queen Mother and the official party had mounted the platform it was the cue for five-year-old Jane Parkinson, daughter of the first tenants of Hyde Park, to present Her Majesty with a bouquet.

After being welcomed by the Lord Mayor, the Queen Mother spoke and unveiled a memorial plaque. She was thanked by Ald. Harold Lambert.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Queen Mother visited the newly-completed youth club and then returned to the meeting hall where the men who played a prominent part in the design and construction of the flats were presented to her.

After signing the visitors’ book and taking a cup of tea, the Queen Mother went by lift to the top storey to catch a general view of the city and then visited the roof garden penthouse of Mr and Mrs Stuchberry.

Returning to ground-floor level, she visited the Park Gardeners’ Club, which replaced the old building which stood in Cricket Inn Road for so many years, a relic of the time when allotments abounded in the area.

Her final visit was at the new factory of Long Bros (Clothing) Ltd, where she saw women and girls working at modern machinery in what was perhaps the only factory incorporated in such a scheme in the country.

But the departure of the Queen Mother did not mean the end of their most exciting day for the Hyde Park tenants. During the evening they celebrated the event with a concert in the meeting hall, music provided by Sheffield Transport Band and a display by the Caledonian Society’s pipers and dancers in the shopping precinct.

There was also a beat session for teenagers in the Hyde Park Stadium Assembly Room and a fireworks display from the Horseshoe Arena, one of the highest points in the city, to conclude the day.

The book Ten Years of Housing in Sheffield 1953-1963 notes there were 665 flats at Hyde Park and 648 maisonettes. The maximum occupancy was estimated at 4,605. The net population density (maximum) was 160 people per acre.

Although initially popular and successful, over time Hyde Park was nicknamed San Quentin by residents due to its many social problems.

Hyde Park’s Block B was demolished in the 1990s. The remaining Blocks A and C were refurbished but Block D was also demolished.

* Can any reader recognise themselves in the pictures? or do you know anyone on these pictures or have any stories to share about the people featured? Let us know!