Wearside Echoes: The high life

Celebrations at Hahnemann Court, Southwick.
Celebrations at Hahnemann Court, Southwick.
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THE post-war housing boom of the 1960s saw Sunderland Corporation give the green light to tower block creation across the town – from Gilley Law to Monkwearmouth.

One of the most popular of these complexes proved to be Hahnemann Court, Southwick – which managed to combine all the comforts of mod-con living with a close-knit community spirit.

And, although demolition of the flats started this week, happy memories of sky-rise living will live on in the hearts of former residents and visitors – as our photographs show.

“Three of my great aunts on the Miller side of my family, Kate, Carrie and Ruth, were among the first people to live there,” recalls Pam Tate, chairman of Southwick History and Preservation Society.

“They all absolutely loved life at Hahnemann Court. There was a real sense of community, with people looking out for each other, and a real sense of pride in living there too.

“Everyone painted the little patch of wall beside their front doors, and the balconies were lined with potted plants. There was always someone to have a chin-wag with as well.”

Work on Hahnemann Court began in 1965. It took thousands of bricks, almost £800,000 and more than a year to complete the four multi-storey blocks of flats.

The John Laing Construction Ltd firm was drafted in by Sunderland Corporation to carry out the work, using “the latest in industrialised methods” and a total of 208 one and two-bed apartments were built.

“Hahnemann Court took its name from the street which stood on the site before the flats were built. There were Schimmel and Goshen streets nearby too,” said Pam.

“Hahnemann, Schimmel and Goschen streets had been named after German engineers brought in to help sink a shaft at Monkwearmouth pit using a freezing technique to control water flow.”

Hahnemann Court welcomed the first of its new residents in the spring of 1966. Some came from slum clearance areas, others were Suddickers keen to try out modern apartment living.

“My three aunts were moved to the court from Stoney Lane. I was about 12 at the time and would visit every week. The attraction for me was the lift. You could actually press the button,” said Pam.

“The only other place in Sunderland that had a lift at the time was Binns department store. But you could never press the lift button there as there was a man to do that job.”

Pam also recalls how high-rise living also brought other benefits – such as a rubbish chute at the end of each level of flats.

“It makes me smile to think of Aunty Kate, who always managed to bring back something from that chute – like a ‘new’ ornament or something ‘useful’ for a family member,” she said.

“Some say high-rise living can lead to loneliness, but that just wasn’t the case at Hahnemann. They went on day trips, had their own social club and looked out for each other. It was a special place.

“I think it is a shame, really, that it had to close, as it worked so well. There was a real sense of community at the court – all my aunts remained at Hahnemann until the end of their lives.”

Another person with fond memories of Hahnemann Court is Angie Burn, whose father-in-law Les Burn was a resident at the complex from 1966 until last year.

“Les and my mother-in-law, Elizabeth, moved from Faber Road in Southwick right at the beginning. They had heard some fantastic new flats were being built and put their name down,” she said.

“The flats were quite a new concept at the time, as you could park your car underneath them, and they were lucky enough to be chosen for one. The flat was all mod-cons. It was wonderful.

“I remember the sinks were of really modern stainless steel; a beautiful deep round design. But the best things of all were the balconies – which everyone called verandas.

“There were only two of these, split between six levels, but they were filled with potted plants by residents. They were an absolute blaze of colour, and people used to set up their deckchairs there.”

Angie also recalls how the residents set up their own community club on the site, organising get-togethers, day trips and other social events.

“People liked the place so much that they stayed there for years. It offered not just somewhere to live, but a great social life too. It was safe, secure and friendly. I know Les loved it there.”

l If you would like to share your memories or photos of Hahnemann Court, write to Sarah Stoner, Sunderland Echo, Pennywell, Sunderland SR4 9ER or email sarah.stoner@northeast-press.co.uk.