Queens View at 50: Living the High Life in Leeds
Queens View flats is 50 years old this week. Neil Hudson met residents, some of whom have been there since day one.
They say that on a good day you can see York Minster from the top of Queens View flats in Seacroft. Not that the residents living there get to do that anymore - health and safety put a stop to all that. Previously, cheery, hard-working residents of that landmark building would wander up to the roof to hang out their wet washing on what was quite possibly the highest clothes line in the land.
Turn the clock back just a little over 50 years and Queens View was the great icon of its day - a modern day Bridgewater Place, a soaring vertical street intended both as ingenious solution to a housing crisis and to pioneer a new way of communal living. It looked down almost regally upon the old Seacroft Centre and even had an elevated footpath leading from its front door into the heart of the new concrete shopping mecca.
It was meant to be opened by the Queen (hence the name) but construction overrun and royal timetables could not be changed and so Her Majesty instead attended the inauguration of the old shopping centre, which was later demolished to make way for the Tesco complex which stands in its place today.
This week marks a special anniversary for Queens View, because on May 24, it will be 50 years since it opened.
Remarkably, there are still a handful of residents living there today who moved in all those years ago.
One is 93-year-old Lucy Ring, a retired seamstress, who moved into the flats on Day One. She recalls hanging her washing on the roof and watching traffic head up the A64.
“One a Friday, Saturday and Sunday there used to be an endless line of caravans going up York Road, we used to play a game at counting them. Of course, you can’t see them today, because the trees have grown up so much.”
Lucy has lived on the 10th floor for the last 50 years and says she still loves living there.
“I always wanted a garden, at least I did when I moved in but this place just grew on me. When we first moved in, it wasn’t sheltered housing, as it is today, but was full of working age couples. Everyone used to get on.”
Great grandmother Lucy, who helped make tanks waterproof during the war, recalled another story.
“There was a time when all our doormats went missing and no-one knew why but it was always on a Friday. One day, we found the reason - someone who had apparently missed the last bus home from Seacroft had snook in and taken all the mats up to the top floor to make themselves a bed for the night.”
In the old days, when the Seacroft Centre was still cutting edge, it could boast two pubs, a bingo hall and bowling alley and it was even rumoured Inglebert Humperdink once went there.
Alan Robson, 79 and wife Andrea, 72, moved into the flats in August 1966.
Alan recalled: “There were only four people living here when we moved in, including a teacher on the top floor. It is a nice place to live but it has changed over the years. There are not as many amenities as there once were.”
Originally the flats all had under-floor heating but its use was swiftly curtailed after a cleaner in a similar block of flats with under-floor heating discovered scorch marks under a settee, after which it was deemed a fire risk and was replaced by central heating.
Today Queens View is specifically sheltered housing, with wardens planning regular weekday activities, including bingo, fish n’ chip nights and even Thai chi.
Chris Briggs moved into the flats in 1967 and is planning a special celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the building, which will be attended by the Lord Mayor of Leeds.
He said: “I am proud to live here, I enjoy it. I think things have changed. We’ve lost some of the things we had round about and that’s still happening to an extent but the atmosphere in here is marvellous. Most people know each other, the ground floor rooms have been converted into communal rooms, which made a huge difference. The other things residents here value is the level of security we have, people feel safe.”
Today the 47m (160ft) 17-storey tower block still dominates the landscape, although its concrete concourse leading into the shopping centre is now gone.
Dr Alex Schafran, lecturer in urban geography at the University of Leeds, said: “There’s nothing wrong with living in tower blocks, it’s all about how well they are designed, maintained and whether people respect them.”
Councillor Debra Coupar, executive member for communities on Leeds City Council, said: “Some of the current residents at Queens View have lived there since the flats were officially opened 50 years ago and they can chart the many changes and investment that they’ve seen over the years. These stories paint a vivid picture of a vibrant community.
“Now offering sheltered accommodation, people have the peace of mind that support is on hand if they need it, and companionship with their fellow residents and neighbours.
“With a very active residents group and a team of support officers that go above and beyond offering activities and trips, Queen’s View will continue to make a real difference to people’s lives.”