Once upon a time there was a farm called Witton Lodge Farm and it was surrounded by arable land. Early 1920’s Perry Common contained Witton Lodge Farm which gave way to the first housing estate. Before this period there were only swathes of fields. We have to use our imaginations and further research to build a picture of the activities and people who may have roamed through these fields.
Building work began in 1924 on land that was originally Witton Lodge Farm, standing roughly where ‘The Ring’ sits today and was named after the farm; hence ‘Witton Lodge Farm Estate’. Like its sister estates at Pype Hayes (just off the Chester Road in Erdington) and Stockfield (near Acocks Green), the homes were built from a concrete and steel frame design by Henry Boot Ltd of Sheffield.
These ‘Boot Houses’ were seen as cutting edge and cost effective at the time – though, as we know, they did not pass the test of time, with many suffering serious structural problems in later years. The upper part of Perry Common, ‘Oscott College Estate’, named after the nearby Oscott College was built slightly later and used a traditional brick built design.
Being ‘out in the country’ was both a blessing and a curse. Unlike Aston, Newtown and Hockley – where the majority of residents had moved from; Perry Common had green space, spacious 2 to 3 bedroom homes and all with front and rear gardens. The problem was that many people worked in the inner city and there were no shops, places for entertainment or much else in the area.
Mrs Betty Rees aged 91, who has lived in Perry Common since the age of 2 remembers: ‘Many people had moved to Perry Common from back-to-back houses in Aston. The new homes were lovely and people were very proud and respectable. The main problem was that there were no local shops. We had to go to Short Heath on the way to Erdington for the nearest shops – walking there and back. After this a small wooden cabin shop opened, then a few years later the shops finally came; on The Ring and College Road’.
To help cope with this ‘remoteness’, members of the local community established the PerryStanding Community Association which met at the Community Hall – now Perry Common Community Hall. In time, shops, schools, library, cinema, places of worship and an improved bus service were introduced. Perry Common even had its own branch of the Birmingham Co-Operative Society at The Ring.
Cracks Start To Appear
It was in the 1970s when cracks started to appear, quite literally. Through the 1980s many of the 908 Boot Houses on the estate fell into a severe state of repair. Some were in a worse state than others, but all were condemned by Birmingham City Council in 1989 – with all residents of these houses receiving letters stating that their homes would be demolished.
Many residents were worried about the future of the community, while many people had bought their properties from the council and were unable to sell their houses. For some residents, the thought of being moved to the four corners of the city was history repeating itself as many residents had moved to Perry Common after their back-to-back homes had been demolished as part of slum clearances in the 50s and 60s.
Mary Harvey, resident of Perry Common since 1945 and resident director of WLCA remembers: ‘I and my husband has bought our house in Broomhill Road. We had double glazing fitted and kept the house in very good condition. But we had to sell the house back to the council, as it did have dampness and a large crack right across the front of the house.’
The 1990s were a traumatic time for Perry Common. For many years the scene that greeted the visitor was one of boarded up, crumbling houses, surrounded by overgrown gardens and rubbish.
Numbers 136-138 Abingdon Road were the first Boot houses to be demolished. From here-on people were moving out of the old houses, and quite often there would be only one person still living in a block of empty houses. In some cases only one or two people were left in a road – a frightening experience especially for elderly residents! Houses were boarded up, others were being propped up, while some blocks had been demolished, leaving only overgrown ground in their place.
Crime was also becoming a concern, as people from outside the area were stripping anything of value from the houses – such as wooden floorboards, metal piping and there were even incidents of people steeling paving slabs.
Daisy, who settled in Perry Common after moving to Britain from Tanzania and then Aston, has been running the ‘One Stop’ shop at The Ring with her husband for 28 years. She commented ‘Crime did get really bad. We had problems with people glue sniffing in the area, burglaries and other crime. The community was faced being broken up – people were moving away and others were being told that they would have to move’.
Community Activism – The residents of Perry Common organised and fought hard to take control of their destinies. The Community Activism that precipitated the Regeneration Era is an inspiring story with important lessons for future generations. Please follow the link to find out more.
The Story of Perry Common Community Hall research complied by Jon Rostron