Park Hill, Sheffield

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Park Hill Flats
Park Hill Renovation.JPG
Park Hill under renovation in September 2010
Location Sheffield
Status Under renovation
Constructed 1957-1961

Park Hill is a council housing estate in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. It was built between 1957 and 1961, and in 1998 was given Grade II* listed building status.[1] Following a period of decline, the estate is being renovated by developers Urban Splash.[2] The renovation was one of the six shortlisted projects for the 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize.


A typical deck at Park Hill.

Park Hill was previously the site of back-to-back housing, a mixture of 2–3-storey tenement buildings, waste ground, quarries and steep alleyways.[3] Facilities were poor, with one standpipe supporting up to 100 people.[3] It was colloquially known as "Little Chicago" in the 1930s, due to the incidence of violent crime there. Clearance of the area began during the 1930s but was halted due to World War II.[3]

Following the war it was decided that a radical scheme needed to be introduced to deal with rehousing the Park Hill community. To that end architects Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith began work in 1945 designing the Park Hill Flats. Inspired by Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation and the Smithsons' unbuilt schemes, most notably for Golden Lane in London, the deck access scheme was viewed as revolutionary at the time.[4] The style is known as brutalism. Construction is of an exposed concrete frame with yellow, orange and red brick curtain walling. However, as a result of weathering and soot-staining from passing trains, few people realise this and assume the building to be constructed entirely from concrete.

The concept of the flats was described as streets in the sky. Broad decks, wide enough for milk floats, had large numbers of front doors opening onto them. Each deck of the structure, except the top one, has direct access to ground level at some point on the sloping site. The site also allows the roofline to remain level despite the building varying between four and thirteen stories in height. The scheme also incorporates a shopping precinct and a primary school.

Park Hill is also the name of the area in which the flats are sited. The name relates to the deer park attached to Sheffield Manor, the remnant of which is now known as Norfolk Park.


Construction began in 1957. Park Hill (Part One) was officially opened by Hugh Gaitskell, MP and Leader of the Opposition, on 16 June 1961.[4] The City Council published a brochure on the scheme which was in several languages, including Russian.

Welcome sign and plan at the main entrance.

To maintain a strong sense of community, neighbours were re-homed next door to each other and old street names from the area were re-used (e.g. Gilbert Row, Long Henry Row).[5] Cobbles from the terraced streets surrounded the flats and paved the pathways down the hill to Sheffield station and tramlines.[5]

Further housing schemes were completed to similar designs, including Hyde Park and Kelvin in Sheffield. Although initially popular and successful, over time the fabric of the building has decayed somewhat and some other disadvantages of the estate, such as poor noise insulation and resident security, became apparent.[citation needed] For many years, the council found it difficult to find tenants for the flats. The estate was nicknamed "San Quentin" by some residents after the notorious American jail.[6]

Listing and renovation[edit]

Park Hill renovation
Park Hill in 2008
Park Hill in 2011

Despite the problems, the complex remains structurally sound,[citation needed] unlike many of the system built blocks of the era, and controversially was Grade II* listed in 1998 making it the largest listed building in Europe.[3] Sheffield City Council hoped this would attract investment to renovate the building, but this was not initially forthcoming. The decision to list the estate was controversial at the time and it continues to attract criticism.[7] A part-privatisation scheme by the developer Urban Splash in partnership with English Heritage to turn the flats into upmarket apartments, business units and social housing is now underway.[7] Two blocks (including the North Block, the tallest part of the buildings) have been cleared, leaving only their concrete shell. The renovation was one of the six shortlisted projects for the 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize.[8]

Even now, inhabitants of Sheffield are split on the matter of Park Hill; many believe it to be a part of Sheffield's heritage, while others consider it nothing more than an eyesore and blot on the landscape.[9] Public nominations led it to the top 12 of Channel 4's Demolition programme. Other television appearances for the flats include Police 2020 and in an Arctic Monkeys video. A BBC programme called Saving Britain's Past sheds light on the building site's past and discusses the listing from several viewpoints in its second episode, called "Streets in the Sky". The 2014 film '71 used the buildings to recreate Belfast's notorious Divis Flats during The Troubles.

Sheffield City Council have created a new public park, South Street Open Space, between the railway station and Park Hill. This includes a series of seating terraces and new planting areas.


A piece of graffiti, "Clare Middleton I love you will u marry me", which is written on one of the "bridges" linking two of the blocks, was the subject of a documentary broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2011. The presenter went in search of the story behind the graffiti,[10] eventually finding that Clare did not marry the author of the graffiti, a man named Jason. She died of cancer in 2007. As part of the refurbishment of the estate the developers have chosen to illuminate the portion of the graffiti reading "I love you will u marry me" in neon. Clare Middleton's name has not been illuminated.[11]

Park Hill is referenced in the lyrics of Pulp's song "Sheffield Sex City".

Park Hill appears on the cover of Eagulls' self-titled debut album.

The building was used as the location for Harvey and Gadget's flat in This Is England 90.

Photo gallery[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ M. Hollow, "Governmentality on the Park Hill estate: the rationality of public housing", Urban Studies (2010) Retrieved 9 July 2012
  2. ^ Local Government Yorkshire and Humber "Park Hill" Retrieved 10 March 2011
  3. ^ a b c d "Sheffield City Council - History of Park Hill Flats". Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  4. ^ a b Sources for the study of the history of Park Hill flats Produced by Sheffield City Council's Libraries and Archives. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
  5. ^ a b "Park Hill's History". BBC. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  6. ^ "Listed buildings". London: Guardian. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  7. ^ a b "The absurd listing of a block of flats in Sheffield is richly comic". London: Guardian. 19 April 2009. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 
  8. ^ "Revamped 1960s tower block, Essex estate and Giant's Causeway visitor centre in the running for UK's best-known architecture prize". Daily Mail. 12 March 2015. Retrieved 12 March 2015. 
  9. ^ Haines, Samantha (19 July 2013). "Sheffield's Park Hill flats: Design icon or concrete eyesore?". BBC News. Retrieved 1 November 2014. 
  10. ^ Elisabeth Mahoney (7 August 2011). "Radio review: The I Love You Bridge". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 August 2011. 
  11. ^ "Truth of Sheffield's 'I Love You Will U Marry Me' graffiti". BBC News. 8 August 2011. Retrieved 13 August 2011. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 53°22′48″N 1°27′29″W / 53.380°N 1.458°W / 53.380; -1.458