That belongs in a museum! - Ashgrove Court's milk boxes

tenants of Ashgrove Court opening milk boxes

Very recently Jenny Brown, Lead Curator had the pleasure of not only collecting a hugely exciting object for Aberdeen Archives, Gallery & Museum, but also getting to meet the people it belonged to.

The item in question is a set of milk boxes from Ashgrove Court. Aberdeen’s first high-rise social housing, Ashgrove Court opened in 1961 with 40 flats over ten floors – 38 “three-apartment” and two “two-apartment” with a basement, a top floor for drying clothes, launderette, two lifts, underfloor electric heating and provision for TV and telephones. Built by Alexander Hall & Co at a cost of £100,000, the building was complete ahead of schedule and considered to be the prototype for future multi-storey building in Aberdeen.

On 4 September 1961, the Evening Express ran an article about the flats, describing how Mrs H Phillip of 15 Ashgrove Court was delighted with her electric underfloor heating: "It's so clean ... There's no dirt, no ashes..." and the children enjoy lying on the floor to watch television. 

residents pouring tea in front of milk crates in ashgrove

Residents of Ashgrove Court and the Milk Boxes

No-one knows history like those who have lived it. Some of those first residents still live in the building, and it has been a real pleasure to meet them and listen to their stories. In fact, one resident told me that not only could you lie on the warm floor, if you left your clothes there overnight they were always nice and toasty the next morning.

Originally milk was delivered to each individual flat, with the milkman and a young assistant taking over both lifts. Complaints over noise and not being able to use the lift to get out of the building for work on time, led to the introduction of the milk boxes. Quite a revelation. Now residents could leave their money in the locked milk box, then collect their milk at leisure. At that time, the Coop had a virtual monopoly over milk deliveries in the city but over time, as more folk had cars and fridges use declined.

milk boxes in ashgrove

Milk Boxes in place at Ashgrove Court

The milk boxes are a really significant acquisition for Aberdeen Archives, Gallery & Museums which collects artefacts which show domestic life in Aberdeen over the years. Whilst many of these are from tenement buildings, very few represent social housing. It also adds to the story of the small collection of milk bottles from the Northern Co-operative Company we look after.

Half pint milk bottle, Northern Co-operative Company, 1960s

Half pint milk bottle, Northern Co-operative Company, 1960s

Either way, it’s great to have an object which so clearly illustrates one of the challenges of multi-occupancy buildings – how do you stop people stealing your milk?