Book featuring Letchworth charts history of urban planning and provides backdrop to garden cities debate

PUBLISHED: 12:17 22 March 2016 | UPDATED: 12:17 22 March 2016

Building the Spirella Factory back in 1913. Credit: Garden City Collection

Building the Spirella Factory back in 1913. Credit: Garden City Collection


Despite the rowdy clamour for new garden cities being made by today’s politicians, this urban planning vision started off on a much more peaceful path.

The Duke of York (closest to the crowd) strolling in Eastcheap during a visit to Letchworth in the 1920s. Credit: Garden City CollectionThe Duke of York (closest to the crowd) strolling in Eastcheap during a visit to Letchworth in the 1920s. Credit: Garden City Collection

Professor Stephen Ward – who has just released his historical account The Peaceful Path: Building Garden Cities and New Towns – observes the debate over garden cities with fascination.

Feasible or not, Chancellor George Osborne made it clear in last week’s Budget that government will legislate to make it easier for local authorities to work together to create new garden cities.

As the debates rage, Letchworth is continually referenced alongside new town neighbour Stevenage – and it is on these two towns that Stephen has concentrated.

The title is taken from Ebenezer Howard’s visionary tract To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform – published in 1898 as a manifesto for social reform via the creation of garden cities.

Ebenezer Howard. Credit: Garden City Collection.Ebenezer Howard. Credit: Garden City Collection.

And as well as an early tip of the cap to Howard, the book charts the development of Letchworth as a ‘haven for liberal-minded, creative, largely temperate communities’ and the ‘bold and imaginative’ creation of Stevenage to meet social needs.

“I have made studying the garden city movement one of my major research themes,” Stephen said.

“In this book I honour the special place that Hertfordshire occupies on the peaceful path, beginning with the development of its two garden cities in Letchworth and Welwyn, developed from 1903 and 1920 by Howard and his associates.

“Both slowly achieved most of his aims and also emerged as havens for liberal-minded, creative, largely temperate communities.

“I also look at what was a dynamic era of new thinking, when the new towns programme was created by the post-war British government as an alternative way of realising Howard’s vision.

“Faster development was enabled of new towns that met real social needs. By 2011, more than a quarter of Hertfordshire’s population lived in its garden cities and new towns.”

Stephen, who is a professor of planning history at Oxford Brookes University, added: “There is so much debate over whether today’s new garden cities can ever make a real impact, whether they will have the same high environmental standards as the early housing projects, whether they’re just headline-grabbing gimmicks or they can actually become something worthwhile.

“I observe the continued debate and interest in garden cities with much fascination.”

l The Peaceful Path – published by Hertfordshire Publications – is available from bookshops or online at


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other The Comet visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by The Comet staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique The Comet account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More news stories

Yesterday, 20:17

The dark skies suggest foreboding. Rain has started to fall and there is a chill in the air in deepest Cambridge.

Yesterday, 17:15

A volunteer team of staff and sixth formers from Stevenage’s Marriotts School has returned from a life-changing trip to help children in the West African country of The Gambia.

Yesterday, 16:45

The A1’s northbound carriageway is still closed north of Baldock Services after one lorry rear-ended a second near Biggleswade – with traffic stationary all the way back to Junction 8 for Stevenage.

Yesterday, 15:59

Tributes have been paid to a former mayor of Arlesey and prominent Letchworth figure who died on Sunday, aged 85.

Most read stories


Show Job Lists

Most commented stories

Digital Edition

Read the The Comet e-edition E-edition

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter