Rob Clayton’s Photographs of The Lion Farm Estate, 1990s

British Culture Archive

Robert Clayton is a freelance photographer based in London. In 1990 whilst studying for a photography degree under acclaimed photographer Nick Hedges, Rob undertook a social photography project – capturing the residents and life on the Lion Farm Estate in Oldbury, West Midlands.

Working Class

Oldbury sits on the eastern fringe of the Black Country, a traditional working class town with historical industrial links to nearby mining towns around the Midlands. Before de-industrialisation the majority of its residents worked long arduous hours in the mines and numerous factories that made up the landscape of the region.

Estate Rob Clayton
The Lion Farm Estate, 1991. Photo © Rob Clayton.

Thatcher

When the Lion Farm estate was built after the slum clearances of the sixties, it was seen as modern and progessive upgrade for its newly rehoused residents. The demolished ‘two up-two down’ terraced housing all came with an outdoor toilets – having a toilet inside their property was seen as a luxury. However, like many large estates during the Thatcher led government, Lion Farm became plagued by neglect, crime and lack of maintenance. The estate was eventually earmarked for destruction by Sandwell Council.

Anti Poll Tax Thatcher 1990
Anti Poll Tax Graffiti. Lion Farm Estate, 1990. Photo © Rob Clayton.

Over twenty years since Rob’s photos were taken his images remain very poignant – the need for affordable and quality social housing is still a greater necessity than ever. The right to buy scheme in the 1980s saw huge stocks of social housing sold off at a fraction of the market value, adding significantly to the crisis and demand for housing that we see today.

Lion Farm Oldbury Rob Clayton
A Lion Farm resident hangs out her washing, 1990. Photo © Rob Clayton.

When Rob started his series he wanted to capture the reality of everyday life for residents on the estate. He explains in an interview with PhotoMonitor

“I wanted to photograph in a very accurate manner an environment that a lot of people have to endure in their daily lives. The playgrounds for example were hardly used and why should they be? One element of them was old sewer pipes (left over from the days of construction) that were set into cement and deemed a suitable for children to play on.”

Playground on The Lion Farm Estate Rob Clayton
Playground on The Lion Farm Estate. Photo © Rob Clayton.

Lack Of Maintenance

Writer and film maker Jonathan Meades refers to this, he questions the lack of maintenance afforded to such estates once they were built. “They were Utopian in that they helped solve a real housing and public health crisis in the UK (look at Nick Hedges work Make Life Worth Living) and this is to be applauded, but then councils tended to walk away and neglect their upkeep.”

Parents and Children on the Lion Farm Estate
Parents and Children in the Playground. Photo © Rob Clayton.

Rob’s Estate series eventually became a critically acclaimed photo book Estate which includes essays by writer and gallery owner Laura Noble and Jonathan Meades. Jonathan sums up the series in the below extract from the book.

'A time capsule which emphasised ordinariness'

“There was nothing special about Lion Farm Estate. It could have existed in more or less any British conurbation which was on the cusp of losing its raison d’être. What is special is Clayton’s humane rendering of it as a time capsule which emphasised ordinariness. This was how it was for millions of people in the early 1990s.”

Lion Farm Estate Oldbury
An elderly man walking his dog. 1991. Photo © Rob Clayton.

Gallery

Jesus Is Alive. Lion Farm Estate, Oldbury, 1991. Photo © Rob Clayton.
The Lion Farm Estate Oldbury British Culture Archive
A boy on a Raleigh Chopper cycles through the estate, 1990. Photo © Rob Clayton.
Lion Farm Estate. Photo © Rob Clayton.
Shopkeepers on The Lion Farm Estate
A Shopkeeper and his friend, Lion Farm Estate, 1990. Photo © Rob Clayton.
A boy on a Motorbike on The Lion Farm Estate
A boy on his Motorbike. Photo © Rob Clayton.
Lion Farm Estate, 1991. Photo © Rob Clayton, all rights reserved.
Shopping on the Estate. Photo © Rob Clayton.
Lion Farm Estate Fish and Chips 1990
Boys on the estate, 1990. Photo © Rob Clayton.
Anti Poll Tax Graffiti Lion Farm Estate
Anti Poll Tax Graffiti. Lion Farm Estate, 1990. Photo © Rob Clayton.
Lion Farm High Rise Estate
Lion Farm Estate, 1991. Photo © Rob Clayton.
Lion Farm Estate Phone Box
Lion Farm Estate, 1991. Photo © Rob Clayton.
Moving Furniture. Photo © Rob Clayton.
Building a bonfire on The Lion Farm Estate Rob Clayton
Building a bonfire on The Lion Farm Estate, 1990. Photo © Rob Clayton.
Lion Farm Estate Shops
Lion Farm Estate Shop. Photo © Rob Clayton.
A resident on The Lion Farm Estate Rob Clayton
A resident watches TV. Photo © Rob Clayton.
Lion Farm Estate, 1991.
Photo © Rob Clayton.

All photos © Rob Clayton. You can purchase Robert’s book Estate from Stay Free Publishing here.

Keep up to date with Rob’s work including his recent follow up series Estate Return on his website here.

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