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One of Gustave Doré's illustrations for Jerrold's London: A Pilgrimage (1872), showing workers on the daily commute.

As the nineteenth century progressed, it became clear that the utilitarianism and materialism of the age had, for many, ushered in a life of squalor and degradation. John Ruskin and William Morris were also deeply disturbed by the changed nature of work in the factory system, which had turned the worker from craftsman to mere cog in the industrial machine. Moreover, as the century advanced, cities grew ever more over-crowded, unhealthy and gargantuan, spawning social unrest that Ruskin linked directly to this system of labour: "it is not that men are ill-fed, but that they have no pleasure in work" (qtd. in Harrison-Moore and Rowe 193). Others were concerned at the degeneration of the English stock, noting that factory workers were demonstrably shorter than their rural cousins.

Industrial Garden-Villages

Left: Almshouses for the retired mill-hands at Titus Salt's Saltaire. Right: Salts Mill, on the edge of the residential area, with allotments beside it, and beautiful Roberts' Park beyond.

For Ruskin the form of the city itself was the problem. In Sesame and Lilies (1865) he called for what amounted to the garden city, where new houses, in groups of limited extent within walls, would combine elements of town and country. However, it was the model housing of a few philanthropic industrialists like Sir Titus Salt (1803-1876), Joseph Rowntree (1836-1925), George Cadbury (1839-1922) and William Hesket Lever (1st Viscount Leverhulme, 1851-1925) that set the pattern of the garden city. Their industrial garden-villages, as adjuncts to their factories, provided modern sanitary facilities, either within each cottage or in public baths. They improved not just the houses but also the landscape the houses stood in. Hating cities, they rejected the barren row-upon-row of workers’ terraced housing by erecting semi-detached houses including gardens front and back as an essential feature, while also lining their streets with trees. In the case of Cadbury’s Bournville, gardens were equipped with fruit trees and the scheme itself with allotments to encourage healthy leisure activities. Indeed, gardening was made compulsory. Bournville and Port Sunlight especially became model villages, demonstrating just what was possible if there was a will to improve the lives of factory workers. However, neither public houses nor music halls were allowed (as would also be true of Letchworth and Hampstead). This was less a form of social control than a way of setting a model of high thinking and right living, anticipating the high-minded nature of the garden city/suburb movement itself.

Buildings for factory workers at Port Sunlight, on the Wirral, Cheshire: (a) Semi-detached tile-hung houses. (b) The Library Free Library. (c) Christ Church, intended for inter-denominational worship.

More than one thousand homes were built at Port Sunlight around a town centre laid out with wide avenues and parks. The first houses were of red brick, with white painted casement windows and tile hanging, inspired by Norman Shaw and the Arts and Crafts movement. These villages certainly set the pattern for vernacular design based on English regional styles, with the provision of high-minded leisure activities through libraries, reading rooms, churches and concert halls, as well as schools for the workers’ children. This concern for the moral, cultural and spiritual, as well as the physical, well-being of their employees was also a central tenet of the later promoters of the garden city/suburb movement.

Ebenezer Howard's Garden City

Left to right: (a) Sir Ebenezer Howard, from the frontispiece of his influential book (see bibliography). (b) His "Three Magnets" diagram, facing p. 16: "The Country magnet declares herself to be the source of all beauty and wealth," he wrote; "but the Town magnet mockingly reminds her that she is very dull for lack of society, and very sparing of her gifts for lack of capital" (16). So the best of both had to be combined. (c) General plan for a "Garden-City," facing p. 22. It includes allotments, fruit farms and cow pastures, provision for convalescents, and so forth.

Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928) was arguably the founder of the garden city idea in Tomorrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898), revised as Garden Cities of Tomorrow in 1902, though his interest was largely economic/political. His original plans involved simple, schematic diagrams indicating the structure and administration of his cities. He was less concerned with design, other than to incorporate gardens and parks, than with social and economic reform, and laid special emphasis on land reform. If adopted, this would have been a revolutionary improvement, striking at the base of capitalist society. In America as a youth, he had read the radical ideas of the economic theorist Henry George (1839-1897) about common ownership of land. George believed that land owned by the local community (not the state) would be a vehicle for fundamental social and democratic transformation, leading to decision-making through cooperation. This was a utopian socialist vision without the state or bloody revolution. Howard’s desire was to promote harmony and reconciliation through genuine "Localism"—social control for the local community over both physical planning and decisions on limits to growth. The garden city was to provide the amenities of a town in an Arcadian setting on land owned by the community. Gone was the paternalism of Bournville and Port Sunlight: at Letchworth most houses would be built by either building societies, cooperatives or the Garden City company, a privately funded liability company, with voluntary dividend restrictions. Howard’s garden city was also an answer to the dual problem, as he saw it, of the depressed, depopulated countryside, as well as of the congested industrial slums, though this aspect was lost in the compromises at both Letchworth and Hampstead. From the "joyous union" of town and country, he believed, "would spring a new hope, a new life, a new civilisation" (Miller 1), as Ruskin had intimated.

Letchworth and Hampstead

A view of Hampstead Garden City.

In 1903 Raymond Unwin (1863-1940; later Sir Raymond Unwin) and Barry Parker (1867-1947), the architects and town-planners who had already been asked to design the model village at New Earswick near York for the Rowntrees, were appointed to design Letchworth in Hertfordshire. Letchworth was to offer development for homes and industry, and the scheme they submitted showed respect for the contours and existing features of the site, expressing the typical, holistic garden-city concern with the landscape as much as the townscape. This would also be true of Unwin’s plans for Hampstead. The partnership's socialism was very English, in that paradoxically it harked back to the hierarchical agrarian village of the pre-industrial period, which represented the principles of social cooperation and social balance. Theirs was also a total design package, to promote their social vision of a more communitarian, less individualistic way of life. To this end, both at Letchworth and Hampstead, they even designed windows and interiors for their clients, trying to evoke a medieval cottage style, and were much dismayed that workers preferred a separate parlour not an all-in living room, and sash windows instead of casements.

All promoters of the garden city accepted the moral imperative to balance the community, so that, as Henrietta Barnett (1851-1936; later Dame Henrietta Barnett) suggested, those with higher educational advantages might set the tone and high moral standard, and the rich might learn of "the strenuous lives and patient endurance of the poor" (Standish 151). At both Letchworth and Hampstead Unwin did his best to achieve this but with varying success. Certainly at Saltaire, Bournville and Port Sunlight the managers and foremen lived in the same village as the workers, though in larger accommodation. At Letchworth the communitarian vision extended only as far as trying to include artisans and clerks, as the unskilled simply could not afford the rents that had to be charged, for the town was not subsidised by a manufacturer. Moreover, artisan and middle class housing was not contiguous, being allocated to separate areas. Inevitably pragmatism ruled at Letchworth as economic development depended on attracting capitalist enterprises and investors, so that cooperation (except in running leisure clubs and societies) and social/economic reform were subordinated to environmental reform.

Letchworth’s physical environment did provide wide roads for healthy fresh air, and houses were oriented to catch maximum sunlight. Low density was the aim with 12 houses to the acre. Like Howard, Unwin believed that it was possible to make individuals better people by improving their built and natural environment. He was inspired by the unifying influence, both social and architectural, that country villages had on their inhabitants. "The beautiful grouping of buildings and roofs ... a picturesqueness of grouping is rarely absent even when individual buildings have no special beauty" (Unwin 92). Also like Howard, Unwin believed that landscape was not a decoration, but an essential feature, so that he urged belts of parkland, woodland or orchard within and on the fringes of the garden city/suburb. Letchworth was conceived as an engine for social amelioration, to improve living conditions and promote harmonious social relations. Standish Meacham argues that despite the many compromises, it was ultimately successful in creating a new civilising ethos, with a flourishing social life of community plays, pantomimes and pageants (see Ch. 6, on "The Spirit of the Place").

Unwin and Parker employed two main principles in house design. First, houses for all classes must be designed for quality, to satisfy the architect and builder themselves through what William Lethaby called "construction … done with such fine feeling for fitness … that the work was transformed into delight’ (qtd. in Livingstone and Parry 108), and also to educate aesthetically. Secondly, their design must encourage healthy lives, not just by flooding rooms with maximum sunlight, which meant eliminating back extensions, but by encouraging occupants to encounter nature, by means of loggias, porches and balconies. The ultimate aim was to refine life for all classes. As Unwin’s planning concepts matured under the influence of the Viennese architect and town planner Camillo Sitte (1843-1903), he was drawn to the medieval city, like Rothenburg, whose walls clearly demarcated town and country, and whose compactness brought the classes together.

Left: A view of Wildes Farm, Unwin's own home at Hampstead. Right: The blue plaque marking his residence there.

At Hampstead he was able to put these new ideas into practice successfully, even using a wall with towers to separate the Heath extension from the housing. As at Letchworth the houses demonstrated a high-minded, Arts and Crafts unpretentiousness, now mainly in roughcast stucco and brick, with rooflines punctuated with dormers and gables. Hampstead worked, partly because of Henrietta Barnett’s driving force and contacts, and partly because of Unwin’s designs, which achieved an urban compactness with enclosed quads and courts, while still allowing plenty of room for nature. Remarkable here was accommodation for groups not catered for previously — unmarried working women, the elderly and convalescents. Mrs Barnett wanted a village-style centre with market stalls so as to enable it to become the social gathering place of all the classes, but this was superseded by Edwin Lutyens' civic grandeur with an institute and churches.


All the garden city/suburb promoters had a social mission both to enable their clients to lead a more fulfilling form of life, and thereby to improve society itself. They were marked by "radical conservatism, dreamy down-to-earthness and a sophisticated attachment to simplicity" (Livingstone and Parry 108). Though it sounds paradoxical, such spiritual aims worked in a typically Romantic English fashion, "to house all classes in joyful communion in an Arcadian setting" (Davidson 13). So successful was the movement that not only America and the Anglophone countries, but European countries too, especially Germany, were deeply influenced by it. Hellerau, a suburb of Dresden, is a particularly impressive example here — though of course all these developments take us well into the twentieth century.


Aalen, Frederick H.A. "English Origins," in Ward 28-51.

Cumming, Elizabeth, and Wendy Kaplan. The Arts and Crafts Movement. London: Thames and Hudson, 1991.

Davidson, David, "The Sharing of Great Things. In Landscape in the Garden City," Autumn 2011.

Greensted, Mary, "Nature and the Rural Idyll." In Livingstone and Parry 92-107.

Harrison-Moore Abigail, and Dorothy C. Rowe, eds. Architecture and Design in Europe and America 1750-2000. London: Blackwell, 2006.

Howard, Ebenezer. Garden Cities of Tomorrow. London: S. Sonnenschien, 1902. Internet Archive. Web. 9 September 2013.

Livingstone, Karen and Linda Parry, eds. International Arts and Crafts. London: V&A Publications, 2005.

Meacham, Standish. Regaining Paradise: Englishness and the Early Garden City Movement. London: Yale University Press, 1999.

Miller, Mervyn, English Garden Cities, An Introduction. London: English Heritage, 2010.

Morris, William. "The Revival of Architecture." In Harrison-Moore and Rowe 233-241.

Powers, Alan, "Architecture and Gardens." In Livingstone and Parry 108-121.

Unwin, Raymond, and Raymond Unwin. The Art of Building a Home: A Collection of Lectures and Illustrations. London: Longman, Green, 1901.

Ward, S.V., "The Garden City Introduced." In Ward 1-27.

Ward, Stephen V., ed. The Garden City: Past, Present and Future. London: E and F N Spon, 1992.

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Last modified 10 September 2013