Shropshire Star

Looking back: 'Little Birmingham' and the last days before the Telford revolution

Today nobody under the age of 50 can remember life before Telford. And only the over-60s will really be able to recall what things were like before the advent of Telford’s predecessor – Dawley New Town.

Goodbye to Madeley High Street. The Anstice Memorial Hall on the right was spared.

Houses, streets, and even whole communities were swept away by the 1960s march of progress.

So we’ve taken a dip into our photographic archives to bring back to life some of these places as they were before they were so radically changed, and also to chart some of the early years of a revolutionary transformation.

New housing dubbed "little Birmingham" in Dawley in July 1961 – it was built to house incoming families from Birmingham.

As it happens, our colleagues from those early years could see what was coming and our photographers went out and about to record townscapes and landscapes.

The bulldozers move in. For some older folk this was the quintessential image of the new town taking shape around them.

In the atmosphere of the times the creation of a new town in East Shropshire seemed to many to be go-ahead, progressive, and forward thinking.

A perceived benefit was that vast expanses of post-industrial land and slag heaps would be reclaimed and repurposed.

While it is true that there was much reclamation, capping of old mine shafts, and so on, there was also much building on agricultural land.

Buildings of character which surely would today have been preserved were demolished.

The conservation lobby was weak and the power of Dawley Development Corporation, and later, Telford Development Corporation, was great in this mission to shape the government-sanctioned project.

Last days for Dark Lane. The community was destroyed by the development of Telford town centre and the Hollinswood housing estate. This picture dates from January 1965. Dark Lane Methodist Chapel is in the background. These houses were known as Bottom Row.

The beginnings of the idea had come in the mid-1950s when it was suggested that thousands of acres of land in the Dawley area of little agricultural value could be turned into housing land and for industrial development.

Dawley was, and still is, a community nestling among pit mounds and spoil heaps, a legacy of long-disappeared workings.

So it was an ideal place, it was argued, to cater for the “overspill” population from Birmingham.

Where cows safely graze... This area with the landmark Stirchley chimney was intended to become the new town centre – but instead has ended up as part of Telford Town Park.

The idea took hold, and the upshot was that new homes were built at Dawley in the late 1950s for people from Birmingham.

This inevitably led to the new housing being dubbed “little Birmingham.”

So it was hardly surprising when sites for new towns were considered in the early 1960s, that Dawley came into the frame.

Dawley New Town was officially designated in January 1963.