The Middlefield Lane estate was finally completed on 27 November 1965, when the community centre on North Parade was officially opened. Sadly, and perhaps fatally for the estate in future years, the centre was never meant for the whole community but for the daily use of what the Gainsborough Evening News on Tuesday 30 November referred to as ‘the old folk’, who lived on the adjacent ground floor flats. The centre can be seen at the end of the block of flats to the right of the early 1970s photograph above.
With its typically provincial lack of subtlety or nuance, the Evening News reported that the centre had an ‘L-Shaped sitting room’ which was ‘tastefully furnished with easy chairs in grey and green leather cloth’ that could be ‘easily sponged’.
So what happened on the estate after then, 50 years ago? Throughout 1966, the Evening News gives Middlefield just four mentions, the first on 4 January when it was reported that a library book service was to be introduced to the ‘new’ community centre, where a selection of books would be available to borrow on Wednesday afternoons in the communal lounge.
A week later, it was reported that the last of the six shops on the Precinct had been let as a ‘sales shop of ladies and children’s wear’. As someone who hung around the Precinct almost on a daily basis, I don’t especially remember that shop at all, but then at five years old I might not have been taking much notice – although I seem to think it might have been in the unit that later became the ‘Washeteria’.
The biggest news of the year as far as the estate was concerned came in May, when a bedroom fire was reported on Priory Close: ‘The first ever fire in one of the houses on Gainsborough’s new uphill estate’ stated the Evening News, as if it cheerfully expected many more to come. And finally, on 7 June, ‘concern’ had been expressed to the Gainsborough Urban District Council Housing Committee about the dangers of planting new trees on the estate too close to the houses (a year previously, in May 1965, the council Finance Committee approved a spend of £510 to Crowders of Horncastle to supply, plant and stake 340 trees on the estate). The architects of the estate, Fisher, Hollingsworth and Partners, were consulted and they were their usual single-minded selves in maintaining the aesthetic purity of the environment they’d designed, stating that any removal of trees would ‘upset the balance and layout of the estate’. As a consequence, ‘no action was taken’, and the trees remain as an important facet of this still very green estate today.
And that was it for 1966, and for the Middlefield Lane estate 50 years ago. On 8 November however, the Evening News reported that a ceremony celebrating the completion of the nearby Pasture Road development of 500 new council houses had taken place. The postwar local authority-housing boom was pressing on, at a scale both unprecedented in Gainsborough back then, and completely unimaginable today. Pointedly, the Evening News article set out to ‘meet the housewives of Newtown’, and their centrally heated homes, each complete with a ‘sun porch’. In the ‘White Heat’ of the 1960s, and within just two years of the estate being completed, Middlefield’s moment of modernity had already been eclipsed; it was already of the past.