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

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


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