As Drake House tumbled, two blocks of the estate’s Milldane cluster were also demolished. These received the main focus of local and media attention, not least because a popular public house nestled in the shadow of one of the units. The pub escaped with hardly a scratch.
Drake House appeared generally liked by its residents. Conveniently placed for shops and public transport, the building was in good condition and about halfway through its practical life. At the invitation of a group challenging the proposal to demolish, some students at the city’s School of Architecture drew up innovative plans to reconfigure Drake’s floor layouts for improved accommodation and mixed use.
However, this was a time when the Hull City Council was under increasing pressure from Central Government to reduce its social housing stock. A citizens’ jury was set up to debate the issue of demolition (mainly of Drake House), but the decision had already been made. At noon that July day, a lot of addresses were removed forever.top
Vernon House was originally to be demolished together with Drake House and the two Milldane blocks in 2002. As residents were being rehoused, and with D-Day approaching, it was realised that no arrangements had been made for resiting the complex of communications antennae that covered the roof of the building and which provided lease income. This expensive oversight brought a stay of execution for Vernon, demolition taking place on Sunday 27th June, 2004.
Completed in the late 1960s, the Homethorpe blocks were given names of naval admirals from history (Bridgeman, Drake, Vernon) during a refurbishment programme around the early 1990s. Also, controlled entry and a 24-hour concierge service were introduced.
Vernon acquired a concentration of tenants, many of them young, who were barely or inadequately prepared for accepting social responsibilities. The Council’s housing allocations policy must be regarded as a factor, but the reputation of Vernon House was perhaps sealed by the local media’s regular and unhelpful attachment of the adjective ‘notorious’ to the name whenever an incident was reported.
There was only the one attraction that day [Picture 2].
A pupil from the nearby primary school pushed the plunger. His action detonated some 1200 charges to release 30 kilos of carefully placed explosive, reducing the 210ft (64m) high 22-storey tower block – the joint tallest residential building in the city – to a 15,000 tonnes pile of rubble deposited within its own curtilage [Pictures 3 to 8].Kinthorpe and Laxthorpe low-rise blocks overlooking the scene [Picture 9].
Diggers were soon picking away at the heap [Picture 10].
Concrete debris was crushed to a manageable size and removed by lorries using a temporary access road [Picture 11].
An attempt was made to retain a mememto of the felled edifice - a name board. Unfortunately, only the right half of one board survived preparations for demolition. It spelled ‘NON USE’, and was discarded.
A descriptive memory of Vernon House lives on, however, as the model for Hopewell House in Iain Brimswall’s novel The Zoo Keeper.
When major regeneration of Orchard Park was announced, in July 2009, the plan was to remove all the multi-storey dwellings in the area before construction of new homes began. The sudden cancellation of the project by the Coalition Government in November 2010, and a change of political majority within the Council the following May, gave rise to a period of uncertainty regarding the future of the estate’s remaining tower and low-rise blocks.
The fate of Bridgeman House, though, was never in question – an extra care facility had been planned for construction on and around the site of the former Homethorpe cluster.
The trio’s longest surviving high-rise unit was brought down by controlled explosion some minutes after ten o’clock on the morning of Sunday 29th July 2012.
Once the rubble of the last demolition had been cleared, all that remained as explicit evident of the Homethorpe high-rise community was a solitary signboard. Painted over are the block numbers, used before the flats were given names. The sign was taken down during the second week of April 2013 and is now in private ownership. In the background is the Orchard Centre.
To the east of the Homethorpe cluster of three high-rise blocks, and the first multi-storey to be built on the estate, were two smaller structures, not given names but known after their locations.
These 10-storey low-rise, or ‘midi’, blocks were situated at the end of Kinthorpe and Laxthorpe cul-de-sacs, and addresses were numbered accordingly, though the main entrances to the buildings faced towards Homethorpe. Both provided accommodation for residents above a certain age.
As late as 2013 the plan was to retain the Kinthorpe block along with the low-rise at Gorthorpe while only the Laxthorpe unit would be demolished. When changes to proposed sources of funding made refurbishment to a modern standard unfeasible, total removal became the only course.
Unlike the former neighbouring high-rise blocks, the two smaller units were mechanically dismanted using a ‘nibbler’. Slower and less dramatic, the choice of method was influenced by proximity to domestic properties and, lying adjacent to Laxthorpe, the grounds of Thorpepark Primary School.
And so to the end of an era. Demolition of the Gorthorpe low-rise block was, as with Vernon House, delayed because of roof-mounted antennae. Multi-storey flats when left empty for some time are prone to acts of vandalism. On 11th May 2015 a room was set alight on the sixth floor.
Hull’s Orchard Park Estate comprises four urban villages known as the Courts, Danes, Shaws, and Thorpes. No multi-storey buildings were constructed in the Shaws.