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Market Estate remembered: ‘It was like bomb alley in Bosnia’

PUBLISHED: 09:56 28 March 2018 | UPDATED: 10:11 28 March 2018

The Market Estate pictured in 1988. Picture: Islington Local History Centre. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

The Market Estate pictured in 1988. Picture: Islington Local History Centre. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

Archant

Two weeks ago, we ran a feature on the amazing history of Caledonian Market. In 1967, this was replaced by social housing: the Market Estate. Despite a short lifespan of just 43 years, the Gazette finds its history was just as colourful.

An archive photo of the Market Estate. Picture: Islington Local History CentreAn archive photo of the Market Estate. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

Has Islington – or even London – ever had a more notorious estate than the Market Estate?

When the old Caledonian Market shut after the Second World War, Islington Council campaigned for years to build social housing on the derelict land.

Eventually, in 1967, construction of the 271-home Market Estate off Market Road and North Road was completed. But its tenants were failed. Badly.

Within years, the estate started to fall into disrepair as the council failed to maintain it. Just as worse, people were terrorised by gangs.

In 1981, the Daily Mail reported how 62-year-old Rosamund Cutler hired a bodyguard to join her when taking her dog for walks. Rosamund had been fired at with an air rifle, constantly had her telephone wires cut and suffered numerous burglaries.

“I’m not a nervous person,” she said, “but I’m absolutely petrified of these youths. I just can’t stand living under constant fear every time I leave my flat.”

Granted, this was published in the Mail. So was the estate really that frightening?

Yes, says Sharon Jobe. She moved there in 1988, and chaired the Market Estate tenants and residents’ association when it formed in 2000.

Islington Council leader Alan Clinton speaks to concerned Market Estate tenants in 1995. Picture: Islington Local History CentreIslington Council leader Alan Clinton speaks to concerned Market Estate tenants in 1995. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

Sharon told the Gazette this week: “For me, it wasn’t that bad at first. But it soon got worse. It was like Beirut – burnt out cars, kids running riot, intimidation, the council not doing repairs.

“It was a magnet for kids causing trouble. They came from elsewhere, and thought they could get away with it because they didn’t live there.

“The design of the estate was part of the problem. All the blocks were inter-connected, so they could get from block to block and escape police out of a different door from the one they entered.”

Some even claimed a culture of fear ripped apart the estate’s community spirit. In 1998, two next-door neighbours were found dead in their flats nine days apart. Both of them died through illness. One of them, aged 88, had been lying undiscovered for three weeks.

It led Ian Kirkpatrick, a liaison officer who was hired by the council to generate community spirit in the estate, to bemoan to the Highbury and Islington Express: “There is absolutely no feeling of community here. People smelt the awful smell [of the 88-year-old’s body] but not one person reported it.

“A lot of residents are old people and they live in total fear of the large element of young offenders we have here. They rule the roost and the old people dare not complain.

“Basically,” Mr Kirkpatrick concluded, “it’s a big, bad estate.”

It was the same year as when vandals wrecked a brand new £250,000 security system in the estate. It took the youths five hours to break the strengthened glass – which had been designed for use in war zones – of the office protecting it.

The Market Estate, and the iconic clock tower, pictured in 1999. Picture: Islington Local History CentreThe Market Estate, and the iconic clock tower, pictured in 1999. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

In a report to councillors, the Gazette said, housing official Ros Tyrell warned that “due to extreme intimidation, no witnesses will come forward to give evidence”.

Holloway ward Cllr James Kempton even said: “Strolling through the estate is like walking down bomb alley in Bosnia.

“It’s a nightmare for tenants. They’re running out of hope. Somehow we have got to wrest back control of the estate from the hooligans and ensure the tenants can live in peace.”

Eventually, enough was enough. In 2000, 12-year-old Chris Pullen was killed in Southdown House when a vandalised fire door fell on him and fractured his skull. It led to Islington Council, then controlled by the Lib Dems, deciding to get rid of the estate and start again.

Then council leader Steve Hitchins told the Gazette: “It is a problem area but this is the right way forward. We want to get improvements for the people who live here.”

The Market Estate was bulldozed in three phases from 2004 and gradually replaced by a new estate, Parkside Place, from 2007.

A plaque commemorating Chris’s life was unveiled in 2012. There is also a street, Chris Pullen Way, named after him off North Road. He would have been 30 this year.

Sharon, who now chairs the Clocktower residents’ association in Parkside Place, ponders life in the new estate. She simply says: “It’s 1,000 times better than it was.”

What are your memories of life in the Market Estate? Email gazette.letters@archant.co.uk

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