Self-build Housing in Quinton

One Group's Experience in Jackson Way

In the mid to late 1960s and early 1970s Councils encouraged and assisted the formation of self build groups in order to encourage people to have affordable new home ownership.

The Lomvellen Self-build Group was formed in early 1970 as a result of a discussion between a number of firefighters whilst they were on night duty at Birmingham Central Fire Station. Two members of the watch came on duty and said that they had been to a meeting of the Birmingham Self build Association and had joined up with a group of trades people to build their own houses in Chelmsley Wood.

It appeared to be a very good idea as a lot of us were living in flats mainly on Fire Stations and as our wages at that time were so low there was little or no chance of getting a mortgage to get onto the housing ladder. As we had tied fire service accommodation there was very little chance of being offered council housing until we retired.

Six of us decided that we should obtain the details from the Association on to how to set up a group, attract trades people to join our group, how to be allocated the land by the Council and to get the necessary legal assistance.

They informed us that in order to assist and make self-build viable, the City Council leased land to Self-Build Groups at pepper corn rents and also gave low interest loans in the form of stage payments on completion of separate stages of building.

We joined the Association, which was being assisted by Wallace Lawler, a City Councillor for Ladywood. They informed us that pockets of land were scarce, however they would keep us informed when any became available and they would inform any trades people who contacted them that our group required members. The ideal size for a group was twelve with a general mix of skills. We were soon contacted by a plumber and a bricklayer. Following interview both joined the group.

After a period of time we were informed that there was a plot of land big enough for twelve houses on the West Bromwich and Walsall Boundaries. On inspection we found this site was sandwiched between a major road, a high speed railway line and a canal. It was with disappointment we felt it was not the right location for us and we turned the offer down.

After some further time we received a phone call from the Association informing us there was a small parcel of land available in Quinton that had been released by Birmingham City Council, however it was only large enough to build eight houses.

We inspected the land which was on part of the large triangle land between the Quinton Expressway, the M5 Motorway and Ridgacre Road West, with the point being Quinton Meadows Park. The parcel of land we were offered was at the bottom of Jackson Way and just round the corner into Samuels Drive. As we only had eight members in our group we were ready to accept immediately.

There was a mixture of building taking place in this area. The building firm David Charles was developing most of the site with private houses along the majority of Chichester Drive, Clay Drive, Powell Avenue, parts of Samuels Road and Collins Close. Jackson Way, part of Collins Close, the top of Chichester Drive and a plot in Samuels Road were given over to various self-build groups.

At this time a firm called Status Homes was offering technical and architectural advice along with modules for timber framed houses. We were aware that similar buildings were being erected by our colleagues in

Our Site 1970

Chelmsley Wood and felt that we would be capable of carrying out this work without the full complement of trades people usually required for traditional house building.

Discussions with council officials took place and they agreed to accept our plans for timber framing. Legal agreements were reached with both the Council and Status Homes; we were ready to move onto the land.

During our first day on the site laying out the footings for the first pair of houses we discovered a problem. Measuring from the building line on Jackson Way it became apparent that there was not enough land to build a pair of semi-detached houses in Samuels Drive. We continued to dig the footing by hand and contacted the Council when their offices opened on the following Monday.

Council Officials attended to measure our plot and concluded that David Charles had built one more house in Samuels Drive than they should have. We were told to leave the site until the matter could be resolved by the Councils Legal Department and David Charles.

The dispute turned on the facts that the Birmingham City Council believed that measurement of the land should have been taken from the Quinton Expressway leaving David Charles land to build three linked houses in Samuels Drive, whereas David Charles’s legal team argued that the measurement should be taken from the M5 Motorway which gave them enough land to build the four linked houses which were by now completed.

Several months passed before the Council decided not to pursue the matter further and we were given the option to accept the land to build three semi-detached houses in Jackson Way and one detached house in Samuels Drive. During this wait one of our firefighter members decided to leave the group and as we now only had seven members in the group, agreement was reached and we moved back onto the site.

Nobody told us that self-building would be easy, and so it proved. Having moved back onto site in 1971 we found that our previously dug footings had deteriorated and required re-digging by hand. On the first morning back we started this task.

In the afternoon the Status Homes expert and the City’s building inspector came on site. They soon realised that the connection with the sewers was at the top of the site, some 15 foot down under the roadway in Samuels Road. The site on Jackson Way sloped away considerably and was some 20 foot below this connection causing problems joining the bottom pair of houses to the sewer.

Discussion and calculations took place and it was agreed that if we didn’t reduce the height between each pair of semis in Jackson Way as much as originally planned and build up the ground at the bottom of the site, it would just about be possible to get enough slope on the drainage pipes from the bottom pair of houses to run away waste into the sewers. Because of the pipes’ proximity to the surface, this would require them being concreted into the ground in order to avoid damage.

After these setbacks we eventually got on with the task of building. Footings were re-dug to the inspector’s satisfaction, concrete poured and our bricklayer member completed the brickwork up to damp course level.

It must be said that the City Councils Building Inspectors had been and continued throughout the build to be extremely helpful. We anticipated his inspection of our completed footings with confident expectation of his permission to move onto the next stage of construction. This however was not to be. Having inspected the brickwork he informed us that it was substandard then proceeded to demonstrate this by kicking the wall which promptly collapsed. Our bricklayer member immediately walked off site never to be seen again.

During our enforced layoff from the site a number of us firefighters had been over to our colleagues’ building site on Chelmsley Wood. We had received some instruction and practice on bricklaying and felt confident that if time was taken we would be able to lay the foundations ourselves. As previously mentioned the main structure of the house would be timber framed and the brickwork on the outside would be a non-load bearing curtain wall, it was therefore decided that we would sub-contract this brickwork out. It was agreed that an electrician who had expressed interest should join the group.

Work now got on in earnest, members of the group being expected to put in at least 20 hours a week. With five of us working on the same shift at the fire station we were used to working closely together and able to put in many more hours.

The building inspector monitored us very closely and soon our footing was completed. Work started on the main task of erecting the timer framed walls. The walls came in ready prepared sections made of 1/2” marine plywood covered with tar paper attached to a timber frame made of 4”x 2” treated timber. These panels were bolted together to form the inner section of the downstairs walls of the building. The inside wall panels of the rooms, again 4”x 2” treated timber frames were erected, followed by the first floor joists and upstairs floorboards put into place, thus firming the structure.

The next stage was to erect the second floor walls, the roof trusses, and then layout the bedroom wall panels. After a search of suppliers for roofing tiles we found that it was cheaper to do a deal with Marley Tiles for them to supply and fix their tiles than to buy and fit them our selves. We obtained scaffold from another group who had just finished their construction and the tiled part of the roof was covered. The flat roof was boarded, tarred and felted.

We now had our first pair of house shells up and water proof ready for the inside fitting out and of course the sewers to be laid.

59 and 61 Jackson Way, 1971

Just as the first shells were erected, we had a visit from a small double glazing firm in Halesowen who made us an offer to fit double glazed units to all the houses at a very reasonable cost. Double glazing was a relatively new concept at that time and not something we had considered, however as the price he quoted was only marginally more expensive than single glazing, we readily agreed, although strangely enough we were never used as the “show houses” as the salesman suggested.

The outside brickwork was contracted out with us supplying the materials and labour.

The next major task to be undertaken was the laying of the drains and the connection to the sewers. A JCB digger and driver was hired for the day to dig out the main trench, unfortunately he was only able to dig down to a depth of ten foot at the top of the site which left a further five foot to be dug out by hand at the connection in Samuels Drive. Two days after starting this dig we had a visit from Mr. Brown the Building Inspector, who expressed considerable concern, almost verging on apoplexy, about the lack of bracing in the trench and he was extremely worried that the road would collapse. Bracing was hastily constructed and work continued.

We ordered precast concrete manhole rings which weighed several hundred weight each. Using firefighter training and initiative we rigged up a block and tackle using scaffold poles to lower them into place.

Our plumber member took time off from his work and pipes were laid, tested and past by the inspector. After about a week we were able to fill the trench, the road restored and Mr. Brown was able to sleep easier in his bed.

Ray Bryant, Chris Androlia and a visitor George James

Work on the inside now got underway with plumbing of water and gas pipes fitted, electric wiring laid ready for testing. The walls were insulated with 4 inches of fibre glass filling and plaster board fitted. We employed a plasterer to render the walls, whilst the ceilings were stippled using Artex. Walls and ceiling were painted any colour you wanted as long as it was white.

A skilled workman came in and levelled the concrete floor which we then covered with vinyl floor tiles. Members were able to make minor adjustments to the internal layout of the property, choose their own kitchen and bathroom equipment and decide their own form of central heating. In December 1971 the first pair of houses in Jackson Way were completed and occupied.

In order to fund building supplies and work the City Council made stage payment loans, however because our project was not a traditional build these stages did not correspond with our work. We had to take out a number of short term bridging loans from a bank until the stage payments could be claimed. On moving into the property rent was paid to the Group to help offset the interest on the commercial and City Council loans.

Work now got underway on the second pair of houses, the only real change being that the measurements had changed from imperial to metric which means that the first two houses are marginally smaller than the others.

The second pair of houses were completed and moved into by May 1972. The last two houses in Jackson Way were completed and occupied in early 1973.

The detached house in Samuels Way was built to the same basic layout with the exception of the integral garage which was converted to another room and separate garage attached to the side of the house. Our building expertise was now such that instead of contracting out the outside brickwork it was carried out by two members of the group, this brought a much needed cost saving.

The last work to be undertaken was the layout of the site into individual properties. The first task to be undertaken was to hire a bulldozer in to level the site and build up the land against a retaining wall at the bottom of Jackson Way. Concrete drives were laid and fences erected. After two years of work the last day came as an anti-climax and members of the group sat in the roadway saying “what do we do now”?

Our Treasurer, who had worked miracles keeping the books, organising loans, begging and borrowing money to pay our suppliers throughout the building, now produced the final cost for each individual property. The biggest problem was now to get mortgages, pay the City Council and sign all the legal documents. The Self Build Association gave assistance with the legal side through their solicitor and the Coventry Economic Building Society on Hagley Road West was helpful in providing mortgages. The final cost of the houses was on average £4,400 and had a market value of about £11,500.

The Group: John Phillip (Buster) Birch, (Treasurer & firefighter), Chris Androlia (firefighter), Ron Moffatt (Secretary & firefighter), Don Atkinson (firefighter), Ray Bryant (Chairperson & firefighter), Mick Molloy (Plumber), Brian Holden (Electrician)

Ed’s comment – Many thanks to Ray Bryant for this very interesting article and significant part of Quinton’s history.

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