Exhibition: 'The Golden Age of Social Housing? Life on the Gascoyne Estate'

Life on Hackney's showpiece estate explored in new Hackney Museum exhibition

COUNCIL estates today, rightly or wrongly, get a bad rap. But in post-war, post-slum Britain, the new complexes – spacious, bright and modern – were viewed by those who first lived there as a veritable ‘paradise’.

In 1948, dozens of families moved into the Gascoyne Estate, a newly-built architectural showpiece, made up of stop-in-your-tracks, art deco, redbricked, balconied blocks.

For many of these low-income families, diaspora of the East End slum clearances and some of the many blitz homeless, it was the first time they had luxuries, including indoor baths and toilets. “The room, the space, the facilities, it was wonderful,” said early resident John Sawyer. He added: “From where we’d come from it was paradise. A silly thing to say but it really was. We thought this was Buckingham Palace.”

For generations of families, the Gascoyne Estate has provided shelter and support. “Everyone came together,” said Jason Foster, who lived in Harrogate House between 1974 and 1995. “It didn’t matter what colour you were. We felt rich. It felt cool to be in a community of people from all different backgrounds.”

This story of dramatic transformation, including the challenges faced by those living in the estate in the 90s early 00s, is told through the words of residents past and present using film, family photographs and personal memories, in the new Hackney Museum exhibition, ‘The Golden Age of Social Housing? Life on the Gascoyne Estate’.

The exhibition, in collaboration with documentary filmmaker Derek Smith, explores the role social housing has played in the lives of Hackney’s diverse communities through the story of the south Hackney estate from 1948 to the modern day, and provides a chance for residents to look back and examine how life on the estate has changed.

Book a free space for a screening of the documentary film ‘Gascoyne Lives’, looking at 50 years of community life from 1948 to 1998, which will be held tomorrow (Thursday 16) March at 6.30pm. 

Visit the exhibition at Hackney Museum for the full story of the estate, open 14 February to 3 June.