The industrial revolution had engendered not only new technology and smoke-belching factories, but also a momentous rise in urban populations. By the late nineteenth century, the great industrial towns had evolved into sunless slums characterised by extreme poverty. Reform was imperative and came in the shape of the Garden City Movement.
The Garden City Movement was a visionary alternative to the chaos and squalor of british urban life. It was the brainchild of the pioneering Ebenezer Howard, whose book Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898) became its manifesto. Through better housing, better union between town and country, and better community bonds, howard proposed that a better civilisation could be created. Not content with merely theorising, however, he set about making his dream a reality. Thanks to his tireless energy and toil, britain’s two garden cities were created, Letchworth Garden City (1903) and Welwyn Garden City (1920).
Welwyn Garden City
A model of sustainable development
In 1919, Howard purchased at auction the rolling green tract of Hertfordshire countryside upon which the town sits today and, the following year, a private company, Welwyn Garden City Limited, was formed to plan and build the new town.
In contrast to most towns, the garden city was built to a master plan by the Company that owned the freehold of the land. The Company quickly appointed a talented young architect, Louis de Soissons, as its master planner. De Soissons designed a place of beauty characterised by neo-Georgian buildings, elegant boulevards and generous open spaces. Existing trees and hedges were retained in his layout, and some of the original farm buildings still survive today – the Barn Theatre and the Backhouse room, for example.
The early settlers that came to live in the town were pioneers in a new project to create a better way of life. We would now call this approach ‘sustainable development’.