Sep 2018 Event


The History of Harlow New Town


by Ryan Karolak

Resume of the Talk given to the Society on Sep 10th 

Ryan Karolak’s September presentation was “The development of Harlow since WW2”. During that war, the Government was already planning post war re-construction and had already decided that urban sprawl should be restricted; thoughts centred on the success of earlier Garden Cities. The New Towns Act of 1946 proposed New Towns radially around, but separate from established cities in the UK but with most (8) around London. These towns were to be built on land acquired by Government and under the control of “Development Corporations”. They were designed to be self sufficient and offer Urban Life in a Rural environment. Harlow was chosen due to its flat open landscape and good transport links; local hamlets would provide the focus for State owned settlements surrounded by open land for parks and ammenities. Separate industrial zones to provide local employment were planned with generous State funding to encourage companies to establish themselves in these zones. Building commenced in 1948 and the chief architect was Frederick Gibberd, whose philosophy was that residential units should supplement, not dominate, the landscape. Dwellings were designed with individual features to give residents a sense of ownership. To many Londoners bombed out of slums and tenements, Harlow was said to be a “Dream come True”. In the 50-60s one quarter of its population was less than 5 years old. Amenities were extensive, eg Sports Centre and Stadium, purpose built Town Centre with theatre, shops, banks etc, but initially no hospital. Neighbourhood settlements had shops, banks, pubs and medical centres. As the population aged and grew in number, Princess Alexandra Hospital was built and houses could now be purchased. The town character gradually changed, with some high rises and some infilling being built. Ryan considered some of the original dream has been lost with inhabitants becoming more isolated and people can no longer expect local employment. His detailed knowledge of the town and its planning was much appreciated and he has provided a few references for further reading in response to enquiries from members of the audience. These are shown below.

Further Reading

Gibberd F, Harvey B H, White L (1980) Harlow: Story of a New Town

Schaffer F (1970) The New Town Story

Morris E S (1997) British Town Planning and Urban Design: Principles and Policies

Cherry G E (1996) Town Planning in Brtitain since 1900

Hui Lan Manley C (2017) Frederick Gibberd: publ. Royal Institute of British Architecture