Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Deeper into the destruction of Desborough's high street

I've been looking deeper into the destruction wrought upon Desborough in 1970, both online and at the town's heritage centre.

It turns out that the catalyst for the demolition of the High Street was the widening of the A6, yet this road scheme need have affected only a small part of it.

Demolition on the scale that took place must have been done with money from the county council and central government, but the old Desborough Urban District Council seems to have been thoroughly on board.

It's job advertisements from this period all contain this boast:

Desborough has a population of 5,100, and is a progressive authority now involved in substantial redevelopment and expansion and consequently offers valuable experience.

And I don't know which party controlled Desborough UDC in those days, but the Desborough Labour Party website harks back to this era as a heyday:

The Labour Party has had a branch in Desborough for as long as anyone can remember. Working in the community, serving on the Council and campaigning on the issues that affect local residents.

Some residents may remember the work done by Walter Manton, Harold Goodman and Tony Allen in the days when we had our own Urban District Council. 

How did the local press cover the demolition of Desborough's High Street? The heritage centre has a cutting from an unnamed paper, dated Friday 24 July 1970, that has to be seen to be believed:

£300,000 Desboro' facelift under way

Desborough's £300,000 town centre face-lift has started. Bulldozers have moved into the redevelopment area and have begun a massive demolition job.

Fifty town centre buildings will be demolished and replaced by half a dozen shops, a new library, garages, 24 flatlets, 36 flats and a major realignment of the A6 in Desborough's biggest redevelopment scheme.

Bulldozers moved into the town's redevelopment are on Wednesday to start ripping down old Desborough.

The first houses to come down will include some over 300 years old. Town centre residents are being re-housed gradually as the redevelopment work gets under way.

As soon as the site is cleared work on building flatlets will begin.

The start of the town centre redevelopment is the first signs of four years careful planning by Desborough Urban Council.

The £150,000 0f the A6 through Desborough is not expected to start until 1972. The Ministry of Transport plan to realign the road from its junction with Gold Street to a point near the Co-op Society's corset factory in Rothwell Road.

The re-routing of the A6 has been before the Ministry since 1928.

House off High Street are the first victims of the bulldozers. Two bulldozers began tearing down houses that have stood for 300 years on Wednesday, so that sites can be cleared for the new buildings.

Town centre traders will be replaced and new shops built in the central redevelopment area.

Desborough Urban Council's development committee have arranged for a guide to the new town centre to go on public show.

The committee meet next week to finalise arrangements for the redevelopment exhibition.

Desborough did not so much get a facelift has have its head kicked in.

And the process went on and on. An ironstone inn in the High Street was pulled down by the new Kettering Borough Council as late as 1977.

I was chatting to someone at the heritage centre today who said the high street was narrow - "a double-decker bus filled it" - and mentioned the difficulties in transporting the Thor missiles stationed at nearby RAF Harrington around the countryside. You can see a picture of a missile on Rothwell on this blog.

But these were onsite there only between 1959 and 1963, so we can't blame the US military-industrial complex for this assault on Desborough.

So it looks as though the villains were local authorities who used the widening of the A6 as a pretext for wholesale destruction. The past is a foreign country.

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