Pritchett Tower: Small Heath’s high rise

19 05 2007

Pritchett TowerHere’s a different type of post. I am quite a fan of tower blocks! I know a lot of you are going to be quite bewildered to the reasoning behind this as they are generally considered to be the breeding pot of the lower classes and architecturally disgusting. They are concrete boxes. But I can’t help but feel that they were quite a revolution in Birmingham’s history. We couldn’t accommodate all these people in two storey semi-detached houses, and we needed to do something with the slums.

Because Birmingham was not expanding it’s boundaries very quickly in the 1960s, it needed to find new space – and that’s when we looked upwards. Some tower block projects were small, such as the one I’m going to post today, but some were huge – such as the Lee Bank estate which was previously slum territory. After World War II, the site was designated the “Bath Row Redevelopment Scheme” and fantastical ideas for the area were drawn up. These included huge motorways with massive interchanges and flyovers. In the early plans, we saw rows and rows of lowrise maisonette buildings and then a few tower blocks dotted around – all this in a wealth of parkland. This is obviously what we didn’t get and the whole site has been cleared for a brand new, yet similar type, of development called Park Central.

But this is not what I wanted to talk about today. Today, I want to talk about Pritchett Tower in the neighbourhood of St Andrews in Small Heath. Small Heath is very much an inner city area just beyond the middle ring road. Driving along Green Lane, you can see that it has barely been touched by post war development. Terraced houses still remain, though they are not a melting pot for the affluent of Birmingham. It is actually, as you will be aware if you live there, an area populous in foreign migrants. The population of those from Asia has boomed over the last two decades. But this area has always been associated with immigrants. Before the Asians, it was the Irish.

Because Small Heath was inner city, it was ripe for post war development, but for some reason, the council decided not to touch the area around Green Lane. Instead, they decided to go nearer to the middle ring road and start demolishing large amounts of land either side. St Andrews was to be born from here. St Andrews is a name generally associated with the Birmingham City Football Club’s football ground. But the name is also given to the housing estate to the south-east of the ground, which is clearly of 1960s age. The centre-piece of the development was a soaring tower.

Approved in 1969, the St Andrews Project, as it was known before construction, was to be a 57 metre tall, 20 storey tower housing 118 flats. Construction commenced immediately on the site and it rocketed up at a rapid pace, as was commonplace with concrete construction. Just two years later in 1971, Pritchett Tower was completed and ready for the residents to set up base in the tower. The 1970s were to spell the end of this generation of tower blocks due to concerns over quality and safety (as witnessed with Ronan Point in London in 1968). Needless to say, the public took to the tower as there was parkland adjacent. Plus, it offered amazing views over the city, and it still does today.

It’s style is not unique to tower blocks at all. It is rather ordinary, but it was Small Heath’s first tower block – and only tower block – so the residents really took to it at that time. They felt, despite the lack of development in the area, that they were ahead of the times and a futuristic area as compared to other neighbourhoods in Birmingham (though by now, pretty much all of them had a tower block to show off).

Pritchett Tower remains today, overlooking Birmingham and it can be viewed from the Bull Ring. It is the tower block to the left of St Martins Church when viewed from the platform on which Nelson’s statue stands. Located on Arthur Street, it appears as a lone soldier with no real significance. It was one of an estimated 350 tower blocks built by the council, and they are now rapidly disappearing. So, how long is it before we start to see this one get emptied and Coleman moving in with their explosives?

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9 responses

19 05 2007
dp

The question that comes to mind whenever I see someone saying anything nice about tower blocks is: would you live there?

Some of the oldest towers might be interesting, like the ones at Cape Hill in Smethwick, but by & large, the benefits in terms of amenity were offset by losses in social cohesion, neighbourhood vitality, and certain kinds of continuity. In retrospect, the old slums were mostly in repairable conditions, and would have been about the right size for today’s gentrifiers. As Prof. Whitehand said, the physical and social damage done by urban renewal made the Blitz pale in comparison.

22 09 2008
james

Us rebely irish kids who lived under Prichett tower used to joke come the revolution we’d make sure we’d capture !!! the tower before the cops. There was rumours that the cops use to spy on our community from up there. Btw your site is a pleasure.

28 04 2009
SW

Does anybody know how the name ‘Pritchett’ Tower came about?

10 12 2009
Anonymous

is eoghan quigg gay?

birmingham is the ugly and worst place to live in the uk 2009 2010

21 01 2010
mary

i would just like to let you know that pritchett tower is under going a face lift and as a tennant of the tower i am happy to say it will be here for a while longer.

11 04 2010
Terry Brigit Gaynor

I was born in 1960 and lived in Arthur street in the old back to back houses.(12 back of 100). I was about 8 when we moved. We often went past Arthur street on the bus with my brothers and sisters and for many years we were convinced the flats were built directly over our house.

15 07 2010
rebecca

i used live in there on 11th floor with my fiance and it smells rotten people shitting in the lift and dogs expect we left last years

24 09 2015
Dee

Terry my family lived in arthur street i was 5 when we moved in 1970. i remember our neighbour was a Mrs Nab.

7 01 2017
Yvonne Stanley

I lived in Butler Street as a child and I remember that block of flats being built at the bottom of my garden before we left and our house demolished.

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