Friday, May 05, 2006

Valley of the Kenton Bar Kings

I have posted previously about moving to Kenton Bar Estate in the late 60s. We moved from a rather uninspiring rented flat with an outside toilet to the heights of Council House luxury. My Mum & Dad had visited the house previously and described it in glowing terms. It was a split level design (now referred to as a Town House), with effectively five different levels as you progressed through the house, three at the front and two at the rear. The Council described it as a T1, which stood for design type 1. From memory there were six designs, varying from cube shaped blocks of three flats to linked terraces with nearby garages. Our T1 started at ground floor level with the front door, garage, downstairs hall and a small toilet. The Garage housed the main heating plant, which used gas fired warm air central heating which was fan assisted. The main air intake was in the hall and the heated air passed up a central duct riser, with vents along the way.

Up the second level, a door led to the dining room and kitchen, with a small enclosed garden beyond. The central heating time clock was in here, with a fan speed switch- high or low. On high, it sounded banshee-like!

Onto the next level and the main bathroom and bedroom were here. The bathroom had a slatted window that was a useful way to break in if you locked yourself out. (I once recall a crowd of us watching the police help someone in a nearby street get a ladder and remove enough glass slats so they could get in after locking their keys inside. No sooner had he got in than he came downstairs to thank the Police, closing the front door behind him…). The bedroom had a generous provision of fitted wardrobes, including over-cupboards where Father Christmas hid my presents. This was also the landing where we chose to put our phone, having them in living rooms wasn’t de-rigeur at all then.

Level four had the main lounge, including the TV outlet, on the Rediffusion cable service. Aerials were not allowed on the Estate and Rediffusion preferred you to rent one of their sets, however if you provided your own they came along to modify your set and hang an adapter box on the back, which basically connected the TV speaker to their unit. The sound was controlled by the channel knob on the wall, with a volume knob on the adapter box. The room also had the central heating thermostat.

Level five had two bedrooms, only one of which was heated. The front one was rectangular and narrowed in the middle due to two fitted cupboards. The back one was square (without any cupboard space) overlooking a flat roof and it was possible to open the window and climb out, which I did several times in order to run bobbins of copper wire for my first crystal set. (A variant of the T1 called the T1A actually had a staircase from the hallway up onto the flat roof, forming a terrace, although these were only on the very top row of houses on the way in to the Estate). This bedroom had a hot air vent, but coupling all rooms together with ducting was rather noisy- you could hear the telly and indeed conversation from any other room with the duct open when the fan was off. Being an only child, I alternated between which bedroom was mine, and indeed they were both mine really.

When we moved in, the Estate was still far from complete, with landscaping and snagging still to finish. Over time, saplings were planted, mounds of earth turfed and small localised playgrounds with slides and swings were kitted out. The biggest draw to me though, was the central square, next to my school. It was on two levels and the upper level featured a four-sided large square pyramid structure, covered in small 1” glazed grey ceramic tiles which I was informed cost a Penny each (old money). The Pyramid was probably about 18’ high and about the same square, tapering in about 6” or so at the base, forming a sort of concrete skirt, presumably so that moss didn’t creep up it from ground level. It was too steep and too slippery to be climbable, although in hindsight, I’m surprised it didn’t sport a bike tyre at the apex, that being a common sport with lamp posts.

One side of the pyramid (the east) had a slot that was just deep enough to crawl through at base level, although not for long, as a steel blocking bar was fitted to keep errant kids out. This was the water outflow to feed the cascade, the water running down a flat bottomed channel with gently sloping sides (also tiled with 1” mosaics, although a vivid blue) and then spilling over a lip to form a waterfall. However, when we first moved there, the water feature was far from complete. There was a steel trapdoor on the north side of the pyramid, which opened onto what looked like the access into a sewer, having metal climbing rungs projecting from the wall. If you went down, a short tunnel led into the pyramid itself, which housed the pumping chamber. A 6’ square (and deep) sump hole linked up to the water return from the lower channel which ran from the waterfall to the external wall of the Primary School on the South of the Square. Two large industrial pumps lifted the water up to the cascade level, rising over an internal wall and to outflow pipes inside the upper pyramid. Looking upwards, the internal pyramid shape was reflected in the concrete, with the shuttering board marks clearly visible.

The first time I went down it was lit only by a 100 watt hanging lamp and it was a very spooky place, with mysterious machinery, wonky switchgear and wires hanging out of the trunking. The bottom of the tunnel was also full of water, alleviated by putting wooden pallets down to walk on, although they were still squelchy.

Initially it didn’t have a trapdoor, just a large plywood board covering the hole. When the trapdoor was fitted, we worked out that it could be unlocked by a square shaft key, house internal door handles being admirable for the purpose! Eventually it was fitted with a padlock and subsequent explorations were curtailed. When I managed to get down again after it was all completed (courtesy a friendly Electrician) it was well lit with fluorescent fittings on all four walls, very tidy and somewhat spartan other than the pumps in the middle of the room. I had always thought of it as having blue pumps and pipes, however under decent lighting they were actually green in colour when seen other than torchlight.

I had befriended the Clerk of Works previously and managed to look at most of the plans, even sitting in with informal meetings involving the architect. When they got round to commissioning the water feature, they were rather disappointed to find that they only got the “sheet of glass” waterfall effect with both pumps running and the system overfilled with water, along with no wind, of course. The edge of the Waterfall had a metal plate creating a lip so that the water would cascade cleanly over and of course any rubbish in the upper waterway would spoil the clean lines of the cascade.

Another problem they encountered was rain run-off through the metal hatchway filling the bottom of the trough inside the Pyramid, as I had seen in early construction. This was resolved by drilling a hole from the trough through to the sump so that it would simply drain into the system. However, being reinforced concrete, it was a diamond tipped drill and half a day to do it.

The upper waterway was open to the path on one side (there was a sloping ramp on the other) and the builders were worried about Kids riding bikes through the upper waterway and possibly falling off. They decided to resolve this by putting up some sort of barrier and they created a number of large identical concrete boulders based on the shape of a large rock that had a pleasing form and was excavated during the building process. They were laid out in a curve rathe rthan just a straight line and I recall that fitting them and keeping them in place was a challenge, as the local ragamuffins enjoyed working out how to get them off their (hidden) mountings and lob them over the waterfall.

I imagine that the water feature would have been abandoned after a couple of years, as the square never quite became the Mediterranean plaza that the planners may have intended. Indeed the policy of “selected tenants” on the estate went by the wayside, one of our neighbours being known as “Mrs. T” by my Dad, although he wouldn’t tell me what it stood for until I was much older!

I was surprised to find no trace of the Pyramid when I returned there in the 1990s. It had been completely demolished and the two levels of the plaza merged into a slope to follow the line of the original ramp, which was still in-situ. The ramp had special tiles (which were less than 12” square so there were lots of them) and they were originally electrically heated from underneath when the temperature got near freezing. The bleak tarmac had been replaced with curved paths and lots of bushes so the area certainly looked more attractive, although the effect was counteracted somewhat by the school which had fencing that would suit a remand centre. (Originally, the school had a wooden fence in the bottom of a “Ha-ha”, a trench designed to reduce the visual impact of the fencing).

I have also only found one reference to the pyramid on the World Wide Web, which is surprising considering how unusual it was. So, now there are two. I have a photo somewhere, just to prove that I didn’t imagine it. Maybe one day I’ll track it down & post it up.


Anonymous said...

I grew up during the 70's/80's in Kenton Bar and since moving south have been searching far and wide for a photo of the pyramid to prove to my friends that it really did exist. If you could post up your photo that would be great. As I remember the pyramid was demolished circa 1990 to make way for a kind of childrens playground. By that time it's grey tiles had become black due to the rubber transfer from kids training shoes as they attempted to run up it, I did actually see a few make it right to the top!. The large stone boulders that used to sit in the blue tiled 'paddling pool' part of the construction are still to be seen in various locations around the estate where somebody, presumably a large group of kids, managed to roll them.
Thanks anyway for bringing back a few memories (I lived in the same design of house myself, quite liked the ducted central heating)

Delicolor said...

on, I've yet to come across the photo (it must be in the loft as it isn't in my general collection) but it will appear, one day.

Tinta said...

Ian - I lived on Kenton Bar too from the late 60's until I left home in 1986. The pyramid WAS able to be climbed and I can tell you how. As you know the houses on Kenton Bar were all flat roofed - a nightmare as every few years the council had to do extensive re-roofing to plug all the leaks. They seemed to do this on a rolling basis so every summer there was guaranteed to be roofing work being carried out somewhere on the estate. They used to dump a large tar boiler, gas canisters and big blocks of tar down and start boiling tar every day for the roofing work. Here comes the magic part we [The Kids] figured out that if we nicked some of the boiled, cooled and hardened tar after the workmen had gone (for some reason the raw blocks were not so good) then we could rub it on the soles of our shoes and make them sticky. Rub some tar on the pyramid's tiles too and they became sticky. By a process of rubbing on shoes, running up the corners of the pyramid, rubbing on pyramid and so on the pyramid could eventually be climbed right to the top. I did this myself on numerous occasions. Once fancy training shoes became fashionable instead of plain old ‘sand shoes’ then you could indeed climb the pyramid with no tar at all. One memorable occasion was at a lunchtime, one of the lads from the local School bought a whole chicken from the chippy and refusing to share it at all he ate stripped the carcass, proceeded to scale the pyramid and perched the bare chicken carcass on the pointed top.

Delicolor said...

Tinta, great story! What about getting down though?

mensforth said...

You just got down via the vertices/edges, frog leaping down if you know what I mean. Incidently Tinter is mistaken about the time of this deed. I was there, and the kid who did this was called Twed and he did it during a lull in the 'fighting' betwixt us(Kenton Bar) and Newbiggin Hall, at about 7.30pm.

mensforth said...

On the subject of the stone boulders:
a)Yes indeed, I remember we used to amuse ourselves by rolling the buggers miles away, and indeed I remember spending the best part of an evening rolling one right down to Kingston Park!I wonder how many there were and where they are now?...I remember about 6/8?
b) We also used to roll them about a bit to a new location near the pyry (in the lovely snowy winters we used to have), then make them into snowmen in the hope some idiot would be tempted to kick it down and in doing so hurt their foot!

Steve said...

How to get down? slide down the apex.

Shades said...

Steve, the apex is the pointy bit at the top, but I know what you mean.

Anonymous said...

I remember the Pyry I went to Kenton bar school and later Kenton school between 1978 and 1990.
Kenton bar shops were a regular visit.
I remember the tar on the shoes to get to the top of the pyry great stuff


Shades said...

still no closer to finding the photo yet.

Shades said...

Photo found- at