The Homethorpe cluster of tower blocks on Hull’s Orchard Park Estate, a few seconds before noon on Sunday 14th July, 2002. From left to right are Bridgeman House, Vernon House, and Drake House. Drake, at 167ft (51m), is the smallest unit. It is bound with what looks like giant black tape.
A siren sounds and, on the dot of the hour, a muffled explosion is heard. Immediately, the building crumbles at its base.
Faster than this amateur snapper was prepared for, the 17-floor structure is reduced to a cloud of dust.
The billow rises up the side of the adjacent blocks but, remarkably quickly, even the dust surge is gone – though the car parked in the middle ground probably needed a wash!
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 was generally liked by its residents. Conveniently placed for shops and public transport, the building was in good condition and hardy 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.
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 admirals from history (Bridgeman
) 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.
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 midi blocks.
The fate of Bridgeman House, though, was never in question – an extra care facility is being built on the sites of Vernon House and Drake House. Homethorpe’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
A picture taken on the evening of Friday 27th July 2012. Only one retaining band this time, placed around the base.
Sunday morning, and minutes away from the big bang.
The official observers are in place.
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A job well done. In the distance, the Ashthorpe high-rise block awaits demolition at a later date.
Part of the roof survived the fall. The short wall at the end of the path once flanked the main entrance to Bridgeman House. Glimpsed behind the mass of debris is the Gorthorpe midi-block, which is to be refurbished.
The ‘ship’s bow’ metalwork added to the front of the Orchard Centre, an integrated services centre opened late 2009, shares a certain geometry with the rubbled remains of the last of three tower blocks which visually dominated the local landscape since the 1960s.
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.