Howard (1850 - 1928)
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The man behind the birth of the Garden City movement was born in Fore Street in
the City of London, the son of a shopkeeper.
He had no particular advantages of class, or special education, but at an early
age he was sent away to school, where recieved an early exposure to a more
rural environment. Firstly in Suffolk, then Cheshunt in Hertfordshire and
finally completing his education at the age of 15 at Stoke Hall, Ipswich.
He worked in a series of clerical posts and learned shorthand. Transcribing
sermons for one of his early employers, Dr Parker of the City Temple,
who observed that he could have been a successful preacher.
Influenced by an Uncle who was a farmer, at the age of 21 he emigrated with
two companions to the United States with the intention of farming. They
travelled to the West and he settled on 160 acres in Howard County,
Nebraska as a homestead farmer. This venture did not work out and shortly
he made his way to the city of Chicago, Illinois to resume his career as
an office worker.
He arrived at a time when the city was recovering from the Great fire of 1871 which had destroyed most of the central business district.
While he worked for a firm of law stenographers Howard witnessed the regeneration
of the central business district and the development of the city's rapidly
The American landscape artist F.L.Olmsted prepared a master plan for a suburban community
where the layout was informal with spacious plots for houses with landscaped
parkway roads. Olmsted was also responsible for Central Park , New York.
In 1876 Howard returned to England where he joined a firm of official Parliamentary
reporters. Here he was responsible for recording the details of debates
, committees and commissions. Through his work he became aware of, and
frustrated by how difficult Parliament found it to find solutions to the
problems of housing and labour.
Howard observed that all parties no matter how opposed politically, socially or
by religious beliefs were virtually united by one issue, the continued
stream migration from country districts to the already overcrowded cities.
On the other side of the problem , the country and agricultural land was being
stripped of its able bodied population. Depressing the economy of these
areas and leaving villages deserted with the remaining population crowded
into poor quality dwellings.
The shortage of living accomodation for agricultural workers and the decline of the
agricultural communities increased the pressure that drove the people towards
the towns and cities.
Working long hours for low wages the agricultural workers could not afford to rent
properties at a level that encouraged new building.
The migration of the population led to disasterous living conditions in both
the cities and the country for those without the money to get away from
the worst of it. The overcrowding and the industrial pollution together
with the lack of good water supplies, poor drainage , poverty and slum
living conditions led to disease.
Several outbreaks of cholera between 1831 and 1854 killed hundreds of thousands,
creating national concern for the public health. Various reports
around the early 1840's reported on Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring
Classes . Polluted water supplies due to inadequate or total lack of sanitary
sewage and waste facilities , poor burial practices , and the effect of
overcrowded housing were all identified as sources of disease.
Gradually public health legislation led to improvements in water supply and drainage
and planning controls for buildings were introduced. This led to the mass
of suburban housing built to conform with the new legislation around existing
cities. It didn't address the problem of migration.
Howard had always been interested in inventions and inventing. He revisited America
between 1876 and 1898 in connection with these and the introduction of
the Remington typewriter into England.
In 1879 he married Elizabeth Ann Bills, an intelligent woman with a love of the
countryside. They had three daughters and a son, and nine grandchildren.
Although it is doubtful that he ever made any profit from his inventions , they
were an important part of his life, and he had a small workshop to develop
his ideas throughout most of his life.
Once an idea for a project took shape he would pursue the solution relentlessly
even if there was no likelyhood of any financial gain from his efforts.
As a young man Howard had spent his spare time moving in various intelectual
circles including nonconformist churchmen , other religious groups and
reformers. The land question was a major source of discussion among these
groups, and the many issues concerning land ownership, land nationalisation,
land taxation, land values, and the problems of urban squalor and poverty
would have been issues he was well aware of.
He could also see the various attempts being made by industrialists to set up healthy,
well planned model communities for their employees.
There were several developments earlier developments for
example Copley in 1849-53, but the most notable were those by W.H.Lever
(1851-1925) and George Cadbury (1839-1922) who were both later involved
in the Garden City movement.
Lever built an empire from the success of Sunlight soap, and in 1888 began the
creation of a model village on the west bank of the river Mersey, near
his factory . This was near an earlier model village built by Prices Patent
Candles around 1853. Lever interested in architecture and town planning,
also built housing at Thornton Hough, and his developments became a great
attraction to polititions and royalty.
Cadbury produced a quite different community which made up to half the housing
in the available to the general public, making it a more normal community.
Starting around 1895 Bournville's architect / planner was influenced
by the Arts and Crafts movement he designed terraces and semi detached
cottages, with garden areas and allotments to allow families to grow their
own fresh food.
The housing here was of a quality and design that influenced later construction at
New Earswick (built for the employees of Rowntree in 1902, this village
was begun by Parker and Unwin before Letchworth and features many of the
ideas that they would develop for the Garden City), and early estates by
London County Council.
By the late 1880's a new movement in architecture and design was being advocated
by John Ruskin and William Morris .
Ruskin in particular appears to have forseen the Garden City movement with descriptions
of improved environment, and integration of town and country in his writings.
lectured for the socialist league and promoted the concept of "decency
of surroundings" which included: "Ample space, well built clean healthy
housing , abundant garden space, preservation of natural landscape, pollution
and litter free". Raymond Unwin joined the socialist league in the
1880's and was closely involved with Morris.
In 1884-5 The Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes reported on
the worstening conditions of slum housing, and in 1888 a major study of
urban conditions by Charles Booth revealed that over 300,000 of the 900,000
population of East London were living in extreme poverty.
Howard's reading included a wide variety of works on diverse political and economic
theories and he later credited various philosophers and reformers with
nearly discovering the Garden City.
A novel by the American novelist Edward
Bellamy "Looking Backward" (a futuristic
novel about Boston in the year 2000), published in 1888 impressed
Howard so much that he purchased 100 copies which he distributed among
his friends. (The link should take you to a site that seems to have the
whole novel on it)
He was inspired by this rather Utopian vision of a future city and society to
be involved in bringing a new better civilisation into existence, and he
began to create his own plan.
Howard immediately began apply his practical brain to the Utopian dream that had
inspired him and by combining elements of various projects and concepts
, refining theories and philosophies that he came to develop his own master
plan published in 1898 "Tomorrow
a Peaceful Path to Real Reform / Garden Cities of Tomorrow"
He described his concept in great detail using diagrams and economic argument but made
it clear that the plan was be adjusted to suit the site of the city.
An illustration to show one of Howard's key ideas