I’ve long been interested in the development of Garden Cities and #HouseHistoryHour (28 April 2022) offered the opportunity to share some of this information, now available as Moments and forming the basis of this blog.

The Garden Cities movement was a response to poor housing in polluted cities and created healthier living environments. The movement developed over many years and from many influences. To understand Garden Cities, we need to go back a bit in history and some of the key people and ideas informing the movement. One of the first is William Morris and the arts and crafts movement, and his utopian socialist novel News From Nowhere is key.

The Garden City movement was about good planning and decent housing, but it was also more than that. It was about self-sufficient places with good employers and working conditions as well as communities living harmoniously together. It drew massive impetus from what have gone before in the form of industrial villages, each of which had a different ethos.

A prominent industrial village was Saltaire in Yorkshire from 1851. Dominated by the huge textile factory, owner Titus Salt created a pioneering village for his workers, with good housing allocated according to work status.

Another industrial village, Port Sunlight, developed from 1888, but was different in that the aesthetic of the houses and spacious layout was a priority. The Lever brothers improved soap production as a mass consumer designed product, but were also interested in housing, architecture and layout as well as creative opportunities for their workers, who were the only residents there.

Bournville, began in 1895, was also influential. Constructed next to the Cadbury Factory, the Quaker family sought to provide good, cost effective housing in a well planned environment for both workers as well as the wider community. The significance is the quality of the housing, but also an enhanced quality of life. The Garden City Association Conference was held there in 1906.

New Earswick was developed from 1902 near York by Rowntree, also a Quaker. The housing was separate from the factory, creating the idea of area zoning. Architects Unwin and Parker were able to showcase their architectural ideas, becoming pivotal to the Garden City movement.

Ebenezer Howard’s Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real reform (1898), later renamed Garden Cities of Tomorrow (1902), applied a theoretical approach combining good quality housing in planned environments with a socially mixed community enjoying the ‘joyous union’ of both town and country (town, country, town-country – the 3 magnets) and separate from other settlements. Defined zones separated industry and residential areas and provided with a civic centre and public gardens, to be self-contained and sustainable and enable social change, a ‘new civilisation’.

The world’s first Garden City was built at Letchworth in 1903. It was to provide impetus to further planning. Socially conscious architects Parker and Unwin created arts and crafts inspired housing there and elsewhere, but Letchworth became more commercial than the common ownership principles originally envisaged. A range of houses provided for Letchworth’s Cheap Cottage Exhibition in 1905 demonstrated that good housing could be built for £150, achieving national attention.

Industries like Spirella at Letchworth were skills and crafts based, with no heavy industry. Planning made it attractive for companies to relocate and offer good working conditions for skilled workers, good plots and spacious contemporary building, good transport links and situated away from heavier industry.

The LCC’s Tower Gardens garden city inspired estate at White Hart Lane, Tottenham was constructed between 1904-11 and now enjoys conservation status. It provides an unexpected, all planned setting in an otherwise urban area.

Garden Suburbs were to be the natural development. They were attached to already relatively urban areas and were not entirely new and planned venues. Generally lacking their own industries, they became desirable commuter belts, but nevertheless had their own unique identities.

Brentham Garden Suburb was a co-partnership management scheme developed from 1901, so residents had a greater involvement in its running. It was supported by Liberal Henry Vivian MP. Hampstead Garden Suburb 1905 was led by social reformer Henrietta Barnett, who was concerned with the plight of the poor in the East End and wanted to preserve the natural setting of Hampstead. Unwin and Parker, but also Lutyens were key architects, but the suburb was much more expensive and more middle class in nature, lacking facilities and becoming commuter belt. Most was in arts and crafts style but a couple of interwar streets are modernistic and in have been really well maintained to their original design see this post’s Lytton Close example.

During WW1 architect Frank Baines designed the Well Hall, or Progress Estate, at Eltham, serving the Woolwich Arsenal. The Tudor Walters Committee Report was published in 1918. After WW1, garden cities were hugely influential in municipal planning. The Housing and Planning Act 1919 (the Addison Act) funded well planned municipal housing estates, including Becontree (London) and Wythenshawe (Manchester) and enabled cottage estates in garden cities.

The second Garden City at Welwyn followed in 1920, Architect Louis de Soissons was prominent. It is constructed around the formal Parkway boulevard. Developments included a Daily Mail Model Village in 1922. Welwyn Garden City employers included The Welwyn Stores and Shredded Wheat Factory in aesthetic buildings. After WW2 it was designated a New Town in 1948.

Garden Cities became known for affordable housing and innovative architecture.

Garden Cities influenced post-WW2 housing policy such as New Towns e.g. the first one being Stevenage. Some of the principles of planned layouts can also be found at places as far apart as the huge new city of Milton Keynes and the much smaller scale New Ash Green Kent.

There are numerous examples across the country of how green cites has influenced housing developments and it is fascinating to keep learning about more. There remains considerable interest in their contribution to better housing and environments.



Addendum: Rhiwbina Garden Village (February 2024)

I was recently able to finally visit Rhiwbina, Cardiff’s Garden Village, enjoying a tour with a local resident. Rhiwbina was also originally designed by Raymond Unwin and shares a similar spacious, pleasant and community feeling to the many others I have visited. Enabled by the 1911 station, the first houses were built in 1913 and more followed soon after the first world war, around 1921-23. It has been a Conservation Area since 1976.



Further reading

Miller, M. (2010) English Garden Cities: an introduction, English Heritage

Rutherford, S. (2014) Garden Cities, Shire Publications


Stewart, J. (2016) Housing and Hope: the influence of the interwar years in England, available from the iTunes Store:  https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/housing-and-hope/id1138338603?mt=11

Pioneers in Public Health

Public Health in Edwardian Britain (scroll down this link)