The Milltown Boys Revisited

The Milltown Boys Revisited

The Milltown Boys Revisited

The Milltown Boys Revisited


Howard Williamson's 'Five Years' was a ground-breaking study of youth, poverty and crime in the 1970s. At its close, the boys he interviewed were left with few prospects and bleak futures. Twenty-five years later, Williamson returns to find out the sort of men these boys have become and narrates their stories in this extraordinary book.Of the original group of sixty-seven boys, seven are dead -- not one of natural causes. Williamson tracked down half of those remaining. Here they tell of their personal, family and social relationships, legal and illegal work, their experiences of the criminal justice system, and money. Contrary to what one might expect, their lives are startlingly diverse.The Milltown Boys Revisited is a riveting account of life on the edge during the Thatcher and Blair governments. It tells stories of dignity, human betterment and escape, of fatalism on the margins of criminal and drug cultures, and also of getting by in difficult circumstances. It is as much a celebration of individual resilience as an account of risk and vulnerability in the lives of the dispossessed.


In 1977 some of the Boys were on a job creation programme, and as part of their ‘social and life skills’ training, they produced a tourist guide for the estate, Scammy Tours – Scam being one of the Boys (though he is not included in this study). Before computers and desktop printing, they collated a range of black and white photographs they had taken of the exotic wildlife (stray dogs), night-time eating houses (chip shops) and unusual attractions (ripped-open bin bags and burnt-out cars). Crudely stapled together, those few badly photocopied pages captured some of the contemporary realities of Milltown.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the area comprised a couple of farms and a hamlet with a popuation of 183. It rose to 360 by 1861 following the building of a railway and the establishment of a station in Milltown. in the 1870s, the first resident police constable was appointed. Following the First World War and in a climate of building ‘homes fit for heroes’, the neighbouring city expanded its boundaries and, in February 1920, purchased two farms for the princely sum of £72,000. By 1924, some roads had been completed, though they had yet to be named.

Milltown is now routinely depicted as one of the largest council estates in Europe. With a population of over 30,000, it has all the characteristics of a ‘worst estate’ or ‘poor neighbourhood’: high unemployment, high rates of teenage pregnancy, high take-up of free school meals, high numbers of lone-parent families, low proportion of car-ownership, low levels of owner-occupation, and so on. It is regularly vilified in the media for the prevalence of delinquency, antisocial behaviour and drug misuse. the local comprehensive school has been judged a ‘failing school’ uniquely in Wales on two occasions. Community facilities are scarce and run-down, shops are boarded up, and litter abounds.

Yet, on a sunny day, it doesn’t look so bad, for Milltown is a monument to early municipal housing. the top half of the estate still conveys the ideal of the ‘garden suburb’ with its ‘half-hearted attempts at axial layouts, crescents galore and above all the central avenue, a dual carriageway running down the middle of the whole development like a useless spine’. By 1929, a further 3,412 houses had been provided to meet the needs of the city, and more development took place during the 1930s, though little more in the post-war period, except for some newer houses built on former allotment sites. There is still a lot of open space and, since rioting . . .

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