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Epitaph for a much loved old building

By john workman  |  Posted: November 09, 2012

Staircase to the first floor.

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The Bugle recently caught on camera the final moments of the Municipal Buildings in Cradley Heath, as the demolition team literally got stuck in and ripped the 75 year old building apart, and since the publication of the article in edition 1051 we have received a healthy response on the subject. It is difficult to write an epitaph for a structure made of bricks and mortar, so we have left the last rites to be carried out by David Hill from Dudley, who shares the happy memories he has of working there ...

"After reading the recent article about the demolition of a landmark building, I was keen to jot down my thoughts and memories. I worked in this building from August 1974 until November 2011 when the department I worked for was relocated to the Sandwell Council House in Oldbury.

Consequently this building holds a lot of memories for myself and former colleagues, some good and some bad, and it was with heavy hearts that we moved out after friendships and partnerships were forged which have lasted to this day, thanks to chance meetings at this building.

“It was originally the HQ of Rowley Regis Council, where the majority of all council services were provided. My 88 year old mother remembers going there to be interviewed and vetted on her suitability for a new council house, and eventually picking up the keys to a house which she still lives in today after 56 years.

“Following the formation of Sandwell MBC in 1974, it was decided that the merged architect departments of both West Bromwich and Warley would be based here, and work was done to the first floor to accommodate them. I joined the team in August 1974 just as the work was finished, and spent all of my time there in the offices at the front of the building adjacent to the balcony.

The building also had a rent and housing office, a social services office, and a child health office, all of which were on the ground floor, and in the basement we enjoyed our lunchtimes playing table tennis and snooker on a full size table. The basement also doubled as a venue for the Christmas parties held on the afternoon we broke up for Christmas.

I met my wife when she worked there, and we were one of many couples who met and married whilst working at the old Municipal Buildings.

“Back in those early days the Council was run by a group of councillors commonly known as the Rowley Mafia; men and women who were probably the last of that dying breed who wanted to serve their community for no financial reward other than out-of-pocket expenses.

“The building itself suffered from a lack of investment over a lengthy period of time, in fact the last time it was decorated throughout was the year I was married in 1982. In 1974 there was no such thing as personal computers, and pocket calculators had only just been introduced into the office. As such the working conditions were great, if a little cold in winter and probably too hot in the summer. And yet by the time we left there was a PC or laptop at every desk, which meant the atmosphere was invariably stuffy because we didn't have air-conditioning.

“The Council Chamber always seemed to be freezing-cold due to a lack of insulation, but the boiler room and pipes in the basement were insulated with asbestos, which of course gave rise to certain problems and I don't think the heating system was replaced in the 37 years I was there. When the wind blew from the north, rain water used to come in above the balcony windows, and we had to put buckets out to protect the carpets. It sounds grim but we loved it there. It was a convenient location with parking on the doorstep you just hoped there were no heavy falls of snow during working hours, because which ever way you went home there was always a hill or two to negotiate.

“Working somewhere for so long with so many happy memories, and then seeing it reduced to rubble, gives me an empty feeling. It's like selling off the family silver, just because a little elbow grease was needed to polish it up. In the current financial climate, and the fact the building was riddled with asbestos, I don't suppose the council would have received a great deal of money for the site, and I'm sure if it had been sold in a more buoyant financial climate it would have been a prime building site for a residential development.

“We will now await the construction of the new fire station, which is ironic because one of our major clients over the years has been West Midlands Fire Service, for whom we have designed several stations throughout the West Midlands, and I fully expect the new fire station will be functional in the extreme and highly unlikely ever to become a landmark building. It was a sad day when we moved out and even sadder to see the demolition of the old Council Buildings take place. But those memories we all hold so dear will never be cast aside as rubble!"

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