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C. B. Purdom

 

C. B. Purdom
Biographical Notes

by Alan Cash

 

Charles Benjamin Purdom

(C. B. Purdom)
(1883-1965)

(The above sketch by M. Somer appears as the frontispiece in Purdom's 1951 autobiography "Life Over Again")

 

 
 

Introduction

 
 


Charles Purdom (CBP) was involved from the beginning in the early development of both Letchworth Garden City and Welwyn Garden City, being accountant of the former and finance director of the latter. These two places (in Hertfordshire, England) were the first attempts to create new towns on the principles of Ebenezer Howard's garden cities ideas as set out in his book To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898), reissued as Garden Cities of To-morrow (1902).

My interest in Purdom began when I started collecting books on Welwyn Garden City a few years ago. I lived in Welwyn Garden City from birth (1945) until 1968, and found it a wonderful place in which to grow up. As I collected the books, I formed the opinion that Purdom had the most interesting personality of the various people who were involved in the founding of the town. In 1951, he wrote an autobiography Life Over Again, but no-one has written his biography so far as I know. I hope in the future that someone will do this if they can get sufficient material.

The notes I have prepared below set out some background information and biographical details about C. B. Purdom. I have drawn heavily from the autobiography which, according to a sentence in the preface, was written by CBP from memory, since his diaries, and a large part of his library, were destroyed in the blitz of 1940.
 

 
 
These family photographs have been very kindly provided by Antoinette de Pourtalès
 

(Click on the images to enlarge them)
 

Charles Benjamin Purdom

Charles with wife Lilian and daughter Barbara
at their home 39 Woodland Rise

 

Charles with Lilian and children
Ronan, Philip, Barbara and Edmund
in 1927 in Welwyn Garden City

Charles resting on the dock

 

Charles with Lilian, Edmund and Barbara
dining in Rome

Charles with Lilian, Edmund, Barbara and
granddaughter Antoinette at Lake Geneva

 

Edmund at Hollywood Boulevard, the "Walk of Fame"

 

 
(Click on the images to enlarge them)
 
 

 

 
 

Sources

 
 


I have used the following abbreviations:
 

 
 
[CBP-1913] C. B. Purdom, The Garden City, A Study in the Development of a Modern Town, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1913.
 
[CBP-1917] C. B. Purdom, The Garden City After the War. A Discussion of the Position of the Garden City at Letchworth, and a Proposal for a National Housing Policy, privately published pamphlet, 1917.
 
[CBP-1951] C. B. Purdom, Life Over Again (autobiography), J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1951.
 
[CBP-1963] C. B. Purdom, The Letchworth Achievement, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1963.
 
[FJO-1970] Frederic J. Osborn, Genesis of Welwyn Garden City - Some Jubilee memories, Town and Country Planning Association, 1970.
 
[WHITTICK-1987] Arnold Whittick, F. J. O. - Practical Idealist - A biography of Sir Frederic J. Osborn, Town and Country Planning Association, 1987.
 
[STULL-1987] Harold J. Stull, The Welwyn Drama Festival 1929-1987, 1987.
 
[RB-1988] Robert Beevers, The Garden City Utopia. A Critical Biography of Ebenezer Howard, The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1988.
 
[De SOISSONS-1988] Maurice de Soissons, Welwyn Garden City: A Town Designed for Healthy Living, Publications for Companies, Cambridge, 1988.
 
[HARDY-1991] Dennis Hardy, From Garden Cities to New Towns, Chapman & Hall, 1991.
 
[GRO] General Register Office quarterly indeces of births, marriages and deaths.
 
 
 

When quoting a single paragraph I have put the reference at the beginning of the quotation. When quoting more than one paragraph I have put the reference at the beginning of the first paragraph and at the end of the last paragraph quoted.

 
 

 

 
 

Copyright

 
 


I have reproduced some paragraphs of text from published books. If anyone with an interest does not want their work quoted here please contact me alan_cash@hotmail.com (underscore between 'alan' and 'cash') and I will remove the offending text with my apology.
 

 
 

 

 
 

Contents

 
 
Click on the links below to jump down this document to a particular section. Click on any of the links which say "(go to contents)" to return to this point.
 
 
 
  Family Background
 
(click here)
  The Beginnings of Letchworth Garden City
 
(click here)
  Marriage
 
(click here)
 
  First World War
 
(click here)
  The Garden City Association
 
(click here)
  International Garden Cities and Town Planning Association
 
(click here)
  Welwyn Garden City
 
(click here)
  The 1928 Affair
 
(click here)
  The Theatre
 
(click here)
  Employment in Business and Commerce
 
(click here)
  Journalism and the Literary World
 
(click here)
  The Civil Service
 
(click here)
  Politics
 
(click here)
  Children
 
(click here)
  Friends
 
(click here)
  Places of Residence
 
(click here)
  Death
 
(click here)
  List of Major Publications
 
(click here)
 
 

 

 
 

  (go to contents)
 

 
 

Family Background

 
 


I have been able to find out very little about Charles's early life. The first event described in his autobiography is his purchase in 1901 of a second-hand copy of Ebenezer Howard's book To-Morrow. [CBP-1951 p.36] I also know nothing about his education apart from the following single line from his autobiography "Then I reflected on my youth, on the fact that I was working for London Matriculation for something quite different, and that I knew very little about accountancy." [CBP-1951 p. 37] The context of this comment is the successful application by CBP in 1902 for a job with the Garden City Pioneer Company following his spotting an advertisement in the Daily News. Matriculation (known as "matric") was a system of examinations in England qualifying a student for university entrance. Matriculation was replaced by A-levels in 1951. What area of study CBP was doing in his matriculation or whether he completed his studies, I do not know. He does not mention his childhood or his parents in his autobiography. I have found some information from family history records - birth, marriage and death registration, and censuses.


Parents

Charles's parents were Benjamin Purdom and Margaret Newington, who were married in the third quarter of 1880 in St Saviour, Southwark, Surrey registration district. [GRO]

Benjamin Purdom's birth was registered in 1852, second quarter, St Saviour, Southwark, Surrey registration district. [GRO] In the 1871 census, he is recorded aged 18, a Private Soldier 2/2 Queens, at Raglan Army Barracks, Stoke Damerel, Devonport. [1871 census RG10-2129-87-20] In the 1881 census, which was carried out a few months after his marriage to Margaret Newington, Benjamin, aged 28, was with his wife at 141 Regent Street, Lambeth, his occupation being recorded as "Hackney Carriage Proprietor & Driver". [1881 census RG11-596-104-17] Unfortunately, I cannot locate Benjamin in the 1861 census when he would have been aged 8 and probably with his parents (CBP's paternal grandparents).

Margaret Newington's birth was registered in second quarter 1852, Godstone, Surrey registration district. [GRO] In the 1861 census, she is recorded aged 9, at Godstone Station, Godstone, where she is granddaughter of the head of household who was John Goodwin, age 59, grocer, born Tandridge, Surrey. Also present were John's wife and unmarried daughter, both called Sarah, and a niece and a lodger. [1861 census RG9-446-29-51] There is a marriage registered between Thomas Newington and Ann Goodwin (first quarter 1852 Godstone registration district [GRO] ) and this couple are likely to be Margaret's parents, and therefore CBP's maternal grandparents, but I have not verified this. In the 1871 census, Margaret, aged 19, was recorded as a general servant in the Coopers Arms, Peckham. [1871 census RG10-735-151-6]

CBP's mother, Margaret Newington (born 1852, married 1880) died in 1904, her death being registered in the third quarter of that year in Lambeth registration district, as Margaret Purdom age 52. [GRO] CBP was 20 years of age when his mother died. CBP's father, Benjamin Purdom (born 1852, married 1880) died in 1916, his death being registered in the second quarter of that year in Rochford registration district, as Benjamin Purdom age 63. [GRO] CBP was 32 years of age when his father died.


1891 and 1901 censuses

The 1891 census recorded CBP aged 7 living with his parents at 49 Neptune Street, Lambeth. [1891 census RG12-401-83-40] Click here to view the census image. Below is my transcript of it.

Name Relation Condition Age Profession/occupation Where born
           
Benjamin Purdom Head Married 38 Hackney carriage driver Southwark, London
        ("Groom" written above)  
Margaret Purdom Wife Married 39 - Godstone, Surrey
Charles B. Purdom Son Single 7 Scholar Lambeth, London
Thomas H. Purdom Son Single 5 Scholar Lambeth, London
Percy E. Purdom Son Single 3 - Lambeth, London

The 1901 census recorded CBP aged 17 at the same address now working as a commercial clerk [1901 census RG13-417-16-24] Click here and here to view the census image which runs across two pages. Below is my transcript of it.

Name Relation Condition Age Profession/occupation Where born
           
Benjamin Purdom Head Married 48 Cab driver groom Southwark, London
Margaret Purdom Wife Married 49 - Godstone, Surrey
Charles B. Purdom Son Single 17 Commercial clerk Lambeth, London
Thomas H. Purdom Son Single 15 - Lambeth, London
Percy E. Purdom Son Single 13 - Lambeth, London
Annie E. Purdom Daur Single 9 - Lambeth, London

The occupations of the Purdoms' neighbours in Neptune Street in 1901 included a cardboard box maker, a charwoman, a coke carman, a hatter, a laundry labourer, and a plumber.


Charles and his siblings

The births of the four Purdom children were registered in Lambeth registration district as follows:

Charles Benjamin Purdom (fourth quarter, 1883)
Thomas Henry Purdom (first quarter 1886)
Percy Edward Purdom (first quarter 1888)
Annie Elizabeth Purdom (third quarter 1891) [GRO]

Click here to see the birth certificate of Charles Benjamin Purdom. Below is my transcript of it.

Registration District: Lambeth. 1883 BIRTH in the Sub-district of Kennington 1st in the County of Surrey.
 
No. 62
When and where born Fifteenth October 1883. 23 Rutland Street
Name, if any Charles Benjamin
Sex Boy
Name and surname of father Benjamin Purdom
Name, surname and maiden surname of mother Margaret Purdom formerly Newington
Occupation of father Cab driver
Signature, description and residence of informant M. Purdom, Mother, 23 Rutland Street, South Lambeth
When registered Twenty sixth November 1883
Signature of registrar W. H. Edwards, Registrar

There is a death for Thomas H. Purdom age 49 recorded in 1935 first quarter, in Brentford registration district. [GRO] I cannot find a marriage for Thomas in the GRO. There is a short passage in CBP's autobiography which must, I think, relate to his brother Thomas:

[CBP-1951 p.211] My younger brother, whom I had admired for abilities I did not possess, for apart from other things he was a sportsman and musician, bad become a civil servant for the sake of security, and had looked with concern upon my insecure and unprotected career. He was highly successful, and made marked progress in the customs and excise department, where he would I suppose have reached the highest position, for he was popular and efficient, but he was unfortunate enough to be cut down by sclerosis of the spinal cord, for which there was no cure, and died soon after. He had once surprised me by thinking much about what was due to him, and by calculations about holidays, but I understood him now.

According to contacts, Percy Edward Purdom emigrated to Australia. He married Sarah Mabel Hodges (born 1890, Fremantle, Western Australia) in 1914. Their daughter Mary Margaret Purdom (CBP's niece) was born in 1915. Sarah died in 1962 and Percy died in 1968, both in Perth, Australia.

There is a marriage registered in 1917 fourth quarter, in Hitchin registration district, between Dawson R. Christie and Annie E. Purdom. [GRO] This is probably the marriage of CBP's sister. There is a birth registered in 1918 fourth quarter, Bridgwater registration district, for Stewart D. Christie, mother's maiden surname Purdon (sic). [GRO] This is probably CBP's nephew.

 
 

 

 
 

  (go to contents)
 

 
 

The Beginnings of Letchworth Garden City

 
 


[For a fuller account of the development of Letchworth, see my notes on the following three books The Garden City - A Study in the Development of a Modern Town, C. B. Purdom, 1913, Dent; The Building of Satellite Towns, C. B. Purdom, 1925, Dent; The Building of Satellite Towns (second edition), C. B. Purdom, 1949, Dent. These three books are on my Purdom index page - see link at the top of this page.]

In his book To-Morrow, a Peaceful Path to Real Reform, (1898), Ebenezer Howard proposed that £240,000 be raised in order to purchase 6,000 acres of agricultural land at £40 per acre on which was to be built the first garden city. CBP obtained a second-hand copy of this book (in about 1901), and this is how he described the revelation he found in the book:

[CBP-1951 p. 36] Early in the new century when still a boy I had bought a second-hand copy of a book that contained a revelation, an event that has often happened to eager-minded lads. This book was not a great masterpiece, however, but a little work by a man who never wrote anything else, which none the less is one of the key books of our civilization. On a text of my favourite, John Ruskin, Ebenezer Howard had written in To-morrow a descriptive argument for the transformation of city life by building a new kind of town. To me, born and bred in London, which seemed a kind of hell, this was a wonderful idea. It was so rational that I wondered every inhabitant of the city was not excited. The book had been published in 1898, a few years earlier, and it was incredible that London was still not being pulled down and rebuilt in the beautiful and reasonable way that Howard described. The friends to whom I showed the book remained calm, however. London was good enough for them, they assured me, even Lambeth, where I lived, already far gone in unmistakable decay.

A few months after the book was published, the Garden City Association (GCA) was formed (1899) with T. W. H. Idris (mineral water manufacturer) as first chairman. [CBP-1963 p.3] The object of the Association was to carry on the discussion of Howard's project by means of lectures and to formulate a practical scheme for a garden city. [CBP-1913 p.23]

After two years of work, with the Chairman of the Association now Ralph Neville, K.C., and Secretary Thomas Adams, and with support from George Cadbury and W. H. Lever who had founded the industrial villages Bournville, and Port Sunlight respectively, the Garden City Pioneer Company Limited (GCPCL) was formed in July 1902, with a capital of £20,000. [CBP-1963 p.3] Neville and Adams both took on dual roles because while they were respectively chairman and secretary of the Association, Neville became the Company's chairman and Adams became Company Secretary. CBP was involved with the new company from the beginning as he relates in his autobiography:

[CBP-1951 pp.36-37] A year later there appeared an advertisement in the Daily News, inviting applications for the positions of accountant and junior clerk in the office of the Garden City Pioneer Company Limited, formed in July 1902 to undertake the exploratory work of founding the first of Howard's garden cities. This took my breath away; I was thrilled, and sat down to apply for the accountant's job. Then I reflected on my youth, on the fact that I was working for London matriculation for something quite different, and that I knew very little about accountancy. I might not get the job, and thus lose the chance of being associated with such a glorious scheme, so I tore up the application and wrote another for the post of junior clerk. I was interviewed, got the post, and started work in November at Chancery Lane. The offices were at the top of an old building, adjoining Lincoln’s Inn, and were sub-rented from Arthur Blott, well known as an anarchist solicitor, a friend of Howard’s, but who had nothing to do with this project. The rooms were poor and dilapidated, and I found myself sitting in a partitioned-off part of Blott’s own office, without daylight or heating. This was not what I had expected, and some resolution was required to keep me there. The work consisted in addressing envelopes and filling them with the company’s prospectus in the campaign to raise its capital of £20,000.

This simple work was not organized even in the most elementary manner, and was in a constant muddle, but it was done with enthusiasm, which encouraged me to put up with every thing. The staff was Thomas Adams, another young man, a typist, and myself; all were on the job, and Adams would work in the evenings, which reconciled me. I looked for the accountant, who might have been myself. He took no part in this work, and seldom appeared, for his time was spent at the auditor’s office, there being no room for him at Chancery Lane. He was Harold Craske, fifteen or more years older than I. With his waxed moustache, top-hat, and frock-coat he was impeccable. When I saw him I wished I had had the audacity to compete with him, for I, too, had a silk hat in those days. Craske treated the whole affair as rather amusing. He had no belief in it. He was extremely amiable, and as we talked about what the garden city meant over a cup of tea at the tea-shop downstairs I was concerned to find how blank his mind was on the subject.

How different was the robust and energetic Thomas Adams ! [CBP-1951 pp.36-37]

The project was given free advertising space in the Daily Mail after Alfred Harmsworth heard about it and became an enthusiast. In a few weeks the money was fully subscribed. CBP describes chaos in the office under Howard as managing director. His work included visiting prospective sites for the first garden city.

[CBP-1951 pp. 39-40] At last the purchase of an estate at Chartley, eight miles from Stafford and 140 miles from London, was practically settled. It was a fine level site, theoretically well suited to development, but isolated and there were grave doubts. Then at the last moment, the company's solicitor, Herbert Warren, who not long before had bought a country solicitor's practice at Baldock in Hertfordshire, produced a proposal for the purchase of fifteen parcels of land between Baldock and Hitchin, making a total of 3,822 acres, which, though much less than was desired, was considered practicable for the garden city. This had all the appearance of providential guidance, and something of the characteristics of a conjuring trick. Hardly anything better could have been thought of. The site was 34 miles from London, in a practically deserted district, graphically illustrating the effects of rural depopulation, but with reasonable road and rail access. The directors were determined not to go too close to London, for they wanted the first garden city to have the obvious characteristics of an independent town, and this land was not at that date markedly under metropolitan influence, except for depopulation.

The Letchworth estate, as it was called, was pieced together by the skilled and, I may says artful, work of Warren's clerk, James Brown, who was also the Baldock postmaster, and his solicitor son Charles. Both were men of unusual character, Wesleyans and astute, with profound local knowledge. Their achievement deserves to be held ever in mind. They had the help of William Onslow Times, famous solicitor of Hitchin; even so not all their aims were fulfilled, for they wanted land on Hitchin Hill that would have provided a buffer to Hitchin, which at that date, however, showed little signs of expansion; but the lady who owned the land would not sell.

When the contracts for the purchase of the land were signed a company to build the town was formed in September 1903 and a prospectus was issued asking for £300,000 with which to do it, the land alone costing £160,378. [CBP-1951 pp. 39-40]

Raising the money was found to be difficult. After a year the total had reached £100,000.

[CBP-1951 pp. 40-41] Despite the failure of the prospectus a ceremony to record the establishment of the first garden city was organized the following month.* The railway company was induced to put up a few rail-sleepers on the branch line to Cambridge, which bisected the estate, to act as a temporary station, and Adams carried through a most successful affair on a field near Letchworth Corner during two days of torrential rain. No bad weather could deter enthusiasts from taking a look at the site, and after a luncheon attended by a thousand guests, at which Earl Grey presided, several thousand more people came drippingly to see the land. They could not see much, for there were few roads, and the only way in which to get from one side of the estate to the other was by a long detour on foot, but every one was happy. It was to many the greatest event in their lives, for here a town was to be built that would, they thought, change the face of England.

[*The ceremony took place on 9th October, 1903.]


Consumption; move to Letchworth Garden City

[CBP-1951 pp. 41-42] I got so thoroughly wet and chilled on these two days helping to look after visitors that when I returned home I was put to bed suffering from congestion of the lungs. I was ill for weeks, and not expected to recover. When he learned how ill I was Adams terminated my engagement with the company, which so infuriated my doctor that he wrote protesting that my condition was to some extent directly due to my work; for I had talked to the doctor of this wonderful scheme. Adams replied by sending me a further week's salary, saying he would be glad to see me when I recovered. This callousness was my first experience of the wickedness of the world. Adams did not, of course, realize what he was doing; he looked upon himself as an employer acting in the interests of his firm, and did what many, though not all, employers would have done.

When I was well enough I was sent to the hospital for consumption at Ventnor, Isle of Wight, where I stayed for three months, a well-managed institution where I was made happy. When I left I asked the doctor if I was likely to recover; he made a reply from which I understood the chances to be small. From that moment my confidence in doctors was shaken, never to be renewed. This man's lack of candour I despised; and I felt all the more displeased because convinced that I was not suffering from tuberculosis, which I thought he should have ascertained. The disease had been diagnosed by my own doctor and confirmed, but when 1 saw tubercular patients I knew I was not one of them. However, I went through the hospital regime; and maintained it as far as practicable when I returned home.

This experience was for years a cloud over my life. I never made reference to it, and wished it forgotten, for I felt it to make me a marked man. Any mention of it I regarded as unfriendly. That I was right in the judgment that I was not tubercular my life has proved. I have a constitution that the best man might envy, and though not robust nor athletic I have been able to work harder than most men.

My plans were shattered by this illness, however, for my studies could not be resumed, and I longed to escape from the vitiated air of South Lambeth. So I presented myself to Thomas Adams at the end of February 1904, and asked to be sent to the estate. This Adams agreed to, and on 2nd March 1904 I went to Letchworth as its first new resident to take charge of the company's office. There was no office, and I lodged with a ploughman and his wife, named Crouch, in a cottage at Letchworth Corner. She was an admirable woman, fed me well and took great interest in everything that was going on. Her husband was good-natured, and henpecked, from whom not a word could be got until he had had a few drinks at the Fox Inn at Willian on a Saturday night. She was of the same class but lively, talkative, energetic, and enterprising.

From the start my new life was an exquisite delight. I was in a practically deserted countryside, in a village of a dozen scattered houses, without store or public-house, though there were two larger houses inhabited by people who regarded the advent of the garden city with enmity, and were barely civil when I happened to speak to them. [CBP-1951 pp. 41-42]

. . . . .

[CBP-1951 p.43] I was still in my nonconformist phase, and went to Hitchin to the Congregational and Baptist churches, where I made friends with the pastors. I got to love sleepy Hitchin with its old houses and big gardens, small houses and no gardens, and streets of horrible slums.

. . . . .

[CBP-1951 pp. 43-44] That I was alone was part of my delight. I roamed about the country, under its wide expanse of sky and the billowy masses of white cloud, observed the spring breaking, without botanizing, watched and listened to the birds, knowing nothing of natural history. My spirit expanded. I recited Shakespeare, Shelley, Browning, Blake, and the Shropshire Lad until I was tired, my heart large with ecstasy. I did not care about people (there were none), neither was I communing with nature. Through the poets I was holding a colloquy with myself. I had left the city, its crowded and fetid streets, and entered upon a new life. From the Weston Hills to Stotfold, and the vale of Hitchin to the rolling lands east of Baldock, I walked day after day. Sometimes my friend Herbert Johnson would join me, but usually, as I say, I was alone.

I read omnivorously all the books I could buy or borrow, especially Emerson, Tolstoy, Coleridge, Sterne, Whitman, Donne, always Shakespeare, and every night Dickens. There was nothing else to do, and I desired nothing better, except that sometimes I would go into Hitchin to see my minister friends, or call on an old pensioned postman named George Aylott, who was an archaeologist, and gave me the benefit of a wide memory of stories of the neighbourhood. Returning to Letchworth I used as often as I could to pick up the one-horse post van, which ran every night from Hitchin to Royston. The driver stopped for a drink at the public-house in Walsworth, and there at 9.10 p.m., unless anticipated by another traveller, I would sit beside him and get a lift home. How many hundred times have I done it !

I had a bicycle but, never fond of cycling, I usually drove a small pony cart, in which I was able to take favoured visitors over the estate and bring them back to Hitchin station. [CBP-1951 pp. 43-44]


Howard

[CBP-1951 pp.46-47] That summer [1904] Mrs. Ebenezer Howard died, and was buried in Letchworth churchyard. She was Howard's mainstay and best helper, and there were fears about what would happen to him. On the day of the funeral I had the task of keeping him company, so that I walked with him for miles over the estate talking of the future, and saw him back to town. Howard was a good talker, but essentially simple-minded and fundamentally uneducated; his mind was that of an inventor. He made several improvements to typewriters, and devoted much time to a shorthand-writing machine; to him the garden city was an invention, the most important ever made.

No invention is the work of a single mind, and that was true of Howard's. He was, however, extremely sensitive about what he had done, and though in his book he quotes the names of three writers who, he says, had influenced him, he picked up ideas from many sources. He would not, however, discuss the matter, and inevitably changed the subject when it was referred to. The much-criticized term garden city was got from A. T. Stewart's Long Island scheme of the same name, the beginnings of which Howard must have seen when in America, but he would not admit it. All the same, Howard's achievement was an original one. He put together ideas derived from Robert Owen, John Minter Morgan, and John Davidson, among others, and produced his scheme in a form that appealed to nearly every reader. No one who knew him could regard Howard as a practical man, and it is a fact that he took an inconspicuous part in the task of building Letchworth and Welwyn; but it cannot be gainsaid that his garden city project was practicable in the highest degree. He had the vision, and presented it in explicit terms. He had no idea how the town he described was to be built, but he formulated its essential structure and economic basis, which was the creation of land values by converting rural into urban land. [CBP-1951 pp.46-47]


First inhabitants of Letchworth Garden City

[CBP-1951 pp. 48-49] By the winter of that year, 1905-6, the exhibition cottages* were sold and occupied, and other houses having been built by private persons and a speculative builder or two, there was the nucleus of a population, and it got to work. These first inhabitants were people with ideas. All had come in pursuit of some object. A few were there to establish themselves in trade or professions, builders, architects, solicitors, estate agents, as well as those who wished to set up businesses in the first new shops; others were employed by the company, but these were only a handful, for the company had a total staff in all departments of less than a dozen. Mostly the new inhabitants had come to Utopia. This was the longed-for garden city, the first town in which exploitation by landowners and the ugliness and slums of the old towns were not to exist. There was excitement, a sense of brotherhood, and the conviction that a new order had been established. Raymond Unwin became leader of the new residents; he, with his brother-in-law-partner Barry Parker, had been appointed architect to the company, and their town-plan had been adopted. The two architects built a pair of houses for themselves which became a centre of the town's cultural life.

[* Cheap Cottages Exhibition (first one), Letchworth Garden City, 1905]

[CBP-1951 p. 50] I see myself rejecting small talk and with no faculty for easy friendships. Everything with me had to be all or nothing. I dare say I was an uncomfortable because uncompromising associate, desperate for personal loyalty and loyalties to a common task. Attractive to women, but a puzzle to men, my enthusiasms were romantic. A good listener, if one had anything to say, and with plenty to say myself to those who would listen, I was undoubtedly too grave, even didactic, though chidden very often for a too keen sense of humour and a tendency to laugh when it was not expected or considered by others to be inappropriate.


Dent

[CBP-1951 p. 51] J. M. Dent, the publisher, put up a printing and binding works in 1906, for the production of his recently established Everyman's Library, which virtually inaugurated the industrial development of the town.

. . . . .

[CBP-1951 p. 51] Hugh Dent, the eldest son of the founder of Dent's, built a house, and with his wife threw himself into the life of the town.


Neville, Adams, Gaunt, Unwin, Parker

[CBP-1951 pp. 52-53] To go back a little, in 1906 Ralph Neville, the chairman of the company, had been made a judge of the high court and retired. This was a disaster, because Neville, a handsome and forthright man, had practical ability as well as a strong personality; it was especially unfortunate for Thomas Adams, for Neville was his friend, and he was left in the hands of a board by no means satisfied with his management. Adams found himself reduced to the office of secretary with a new man, W. H. Gaunt, made estate agent in charge of development. This Adams could not tolerate, and he resigned. To confound those who complained of his technical ignorance he quickly became a qualified surveyor. He then started in private practice, becoming in fact the first town-planning consultant, and advised Lord Lytton on the development of his Knebworth estate; but on the passing of John Burns's Town Planning Act of 1909 Adams joined the staff of the Local Government Board, and became the first inspector under the Act. Afterwards he went to Canada and the U.S.A., and was one of the leading town-planners of two continents.

Although Howard lived in the town, and another director, too, the lack of sympathy between the company and the inhabitants was marked. Indeed there was conflict. The inhabitants with the industrialists stood, they considered, for garden city ideals; the company, as its representatives declared, for the practical. The emphasis of the inhabitants upon the new and untried, their independent and even socialistic and sometimes anarchistic utterances and projects, were extremely distasteful to the company. Every member of the staff treated the middle-class Utopists with contempt. Through its agent the company set out to demonstrate that the town was intended to be all that could be expected in any town not called a garden city. Especially were the characteristics of a Manchester suburb and the features of a Lancashire industrial town to be re-established there. The nonsense of the idealists was to be squashed. That was Gaunt's aim, who came from Trafford Park and had the Manchester mind and accent. His ideals were within the terms of business and common sense, and he said so in an unmistakable way. He fell foul at once of Raymond Unwin, and would have none of his picturesque cottage building, declaring with no beating about the bush his intention of building square boxes with lids for workers, the kind of houses that William Morris had inveighed against. No doubt Unwin intended repeating at Letchworth something like Norman Shaw's village at Bedford Park, a William Morris scheme not far from the poet's Hammersmith. Gaunt wanted nothing of the kind. Anyhow, the town was to be industrial, was it not ? There was no one to contradict him, least of all the new industrialists, and every one agreed that the idealists were too idealistic. So Unwin fighting a losing battle fled during 1906 to Hampstead Garden Suburb, just started by the Barnetts, and Letchworth hardly saw him again; later he went into Government service.

. . . . .

He left the fate of the town, architecturally, to Barry Parker, who adapted himself, more or less well, to hard fate. Parker was an able and resourceful architect, but inclined to be indolent. As a young man he was a handsome and picturesque figure riding on a horse about the estate, and later he pleased the town with an agreeable baritone voice. He died, having long ceased to work, in 1947. Had it been possible for Gaunt and Unwin to work together the fate of Letchworth might have been different. [CBP-1951 pp. 52-53]


Accountant

[CBP-1951 pp. 56-57] My own work with the company was concerned with its finance and accounts. Craske became secretary when Adams left, and, young as I was, I functioned as accountant. Indeed, I had done so all along, for Craske would bring me back to London from Letchworth to prepare the accounts; the first auditors drew up the original balance sheet, and the firm of W. B. Peat the second, changing them considerably, and I the third, and each year afterwards until I left for the army. The work was of the greatest interest, for the company's undertaking was unique and its finance presented unusual problems. Those problems occupied my mind, for conventional accountancy practice did not seem to allow a true account of the company's affairs to be shown. .


1913 book

[CBP-1951 p. 58] It was this state of affairs that enabled me to make the study I undertook of the financial principles of the garden city. First I wrote, in 1913, the year after my marriage, a complete survey of the scheme in the book, The Garden City : a Study in the Development of a Modern Town, published that year, written to remind the country of the significance of Letchworth, which seemed to be forgotten, and to restate the objects of the undertaking for the benefit of all concerned. I followed the book by an analysis and study of the company's finances from the start, putting forward a scheme for a new form of accounts. This was completed early in 1915 and privately printed as Some Notes on a Proposed New Form of Accounts for First Garden City Ltd.

[RB-1988 p.148] ... so critical was it [the notes on the accounts] that the Chairman, Aneurin Williams, felt obliged to resign. Purdom later expressed his regret at this consequence of his efforts and his respect for Williams. But he had at least implied equally damaging criticisms of Williams in his book, The Garden City, published some two years earlier: he was already beginning to live up to his own assessment of himself as 'an uncomfortable because uncompromising associate'.

 
 

 

 
 

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Marriage

 
 


The marriage of CBP was registered in 1912 third quarter in Hitchin registration district between Charles B. Purdom and Lilian A. Cutlar. [GRO] Click here to see the marriage certificate. Below is my transcript of it.

Registration District: Hitchin. 1912 Marriage solemnized at St Hugh Roman Catholic Church, Pixmore Way, Letchworth
in the District of Hitchin in the County of Herts.
 
No. 189
When married Ninth July 1912
Groom Name and surname Charles Benjamin Purdom
Age 28 years
Condition Bachelor
Rank or Profession Accountant, First Garden City Limited
Residence at the time of Marriage Wayside, Wilbury Road, Letchworth
Father's Name and Surname Benjamin Purdom
Rank or Profession of father -
Bride Name and surname Lilian Antonia Cutlar
Age 24 years
Condition Spinster
Rank or Profession -
Residence at the time of Marriage St Ives, The Quadrant, Letchworth
Father's Name and Surname Peter Aloysius Cutlar (deceased)
Rank or Profession of father Doctor
Married in the St Hugh Roman Catholic Church according to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Roman Catholics by Licence
by me Adrian Fortescue, Priest. William J. Carter, Registrar
Witnesses Robert J. Cutlar
Herbert F. Johnson
May T. Cutlar
Benjamin Purdom

According to CBP's autobiography, Lilian was "Irish and a Catholic" [CBP-1951 p. 4], and her father was a "Waterford doctor" [CBP-1951 p. 2]. According to her GRO death registration (1971 first quarter, Hatfield registration district, Lilian Antonia Purdom) her birth date was 31st January, 1888. I have not been able to locate her in England in the 1891 or 1901 censuses - perhaps she had not yet come to England. I have nothing else on her family background. The picture of her below is from CBP's autobiography.

The following passage from chapter 1 of CBP's autobiography describes how they came to be married, and their early married life.

[CBP-1951 pp. 1-3] One October evening in the year 1911 I returned to my lodgings, and as I entered the living-room to greet my landlady I found her attending to the fire. With her back to me and without turning round she said, I have to congratulate you. The speaker was Kate Hayward, whose elder sister Edith had some years earlier married Ebenezer Howard, and the place was Letchworth.

My innocent and surprised reply was, Upon what ? Still with her back to me she went on, Upon your engagement. I could have heard nothing more astonishing, and was silent. Then, To whom ? I asked. To Lilian Cutlar, she replied, the whole town is full of it. Is it not true ? she asked, turning to me at last, glittering pleasure in her eyes. It was this look that made me angry. Why should she be so pleased at my denial ? My mind was fixed at that time on the determination not to marry. Once nearly caught by a charming girl, who was nevertheless not for me, I had ceased to dream of fairy princesses, while the look of possessiveness that every male has seen in female eyes warned me. But why should Kate be so pleased ?

Who is repeating this nonsense ? I demanded, for I was very angry. She mentioned several names, for now she was frightened. How jealous these women are, I said. Oh, it must be stopped, she went on, agitated, if it is not true. The upshot was that I went across the road to the Lees’, where Lilian, so Kate said, was to spend the evening, to ask them to invite her to come over to me.

Presently, Kate having gone out, Lilian, whom I will in future call Antonia, the name she is best known by, was sitting before the fire. The table-lamp threw a soft light upon features and colouring that demanded even my cautious admiration. Her face bore the innocence of an essential simplicity of heart. She was pleased to be sitting there, but a trifle anxious; was I going to offer her a part in a play ? That was the most likely explanation. I was walking up and down the room, unable to keep still, angrier than ever. Could she be responsible for this abominable tale ? It was most unlikely. Yet it must be scotched, and she must do it. I then told her word for word what Kate had said. She was as stricken as I. What is to be done ? I demanded wrathfully, while she looked at me bewildered. Then, the words coming to me as though spoken by someone else, I asked, Will you marry me ? She looked at me with incomprehension.

That was how it was. I knew she loved me; there was no need to confirm it. I knew that I loved her, though a moment before the suggestion made me furious. I was wholly taken by surprise. I had intended by talking to her to grasp the nettle and remove it. In grasping it I had succumbed. We had known each other for some time, and I do not say that no thought of being in love with her had entered my mind, for every young man has such a thought about every young woman who makes an appeal to him. But as marriage was not for me I had not entertained the idea, for on that subject my mind was closed. I discovered that one's mind is not the only factor in relations between the sexes.

We were both astonished at each other, but despite our agitation had no difficulty in coming to an understanding. There was much to be thought about. Her mother's consent had to be got, for her father, a Waterford doctor, was dead. We would make no announcement; let the talk, if there were any, take its course. I would tell Kate that the thing was cleared up. When I took her home the starry heaven sent down its beams upon us.

I was kind to Kate when she returned, for, indeed, had I not reason to be ? But I had little to say except that everything was all right. She could draw her own conclusions, and no doubt she did. She was little and plain, and I looked upon her as an old lady, which did her an injustice. For a very small weekly sum she looked after me very well; but this affair appeared to be as big a blow to her as to me. She took it very badly. [CBP-1951 pp. 1-3]

2

[CBP-1951 pp. 3-6] That this was love there was no doubt, and its suddenness was the marvellous thing. Against my will an inner purpose had mastered me. Though there was no conscious premeditation, there had been preparation through some other faculty than the mind: the sign was that I was changed; the world was changed. We were entranced and the enchantment was reality, the world was bathed in significance, everything took on new outlines, glowing and sweet. After a lifetime that moment is vivid, and I have no doubt that it was not deception, but truth. Love suffers in the life of conflict through which two beings learn to become productive, but its truth endures.

For though passion was in this engagement, it was not to be a merely passionate union, neither was it fate, it was choice. In a moment that did not belong to time I had made a decision, and the responsibility was mine. To have such a conviction is, I am sure, the most important element in marriage, for it is an irrevocable committal that liberates. Whatever happens a marriage based upon choice is secure. It has nothing to do with the merits of the partners, is not affected by the mistakes either makes, and can endure suffering, quarrels, or heartbreaks; for it is rooted in responsibility. For myself, I know that were I to choose again with complete freedom of choice, I should make the same decision.

There are marriages that are not the outcome of choice, and marriages arranged by parents are said to be happy. I do not doubt it; for an arranged marriage, accepted by the partners, can become a marriage of choice. It is that which makes them happy.

Before we were married we both had fears. I know that after the commitment Antonia trembled. I was plunged into doubt that tore at me and made me question what was unquestionable. Antonia told me of her uncertainty; I said nothing of mine. She was Irish and a Catholic. I was English and a Protestant. These were wide differences; but my fears had nothing to do with race or religion, to which she owed part of her attractiveness to me; they were the terrible fears in the depths of sex. I was acutely conscious of the conflict, the split, that is the fundamental human warfare. I did not know than that all wars have their origin in the division of male and female; but I have learned that reconciliation is the object of marriage and the only true pacifism. As I look back upon the nine months before our marriage I think the fears with which I struggled confirmed the significance of the step I was taking. They were essentially fears, I see now, arising from the end of loneliness. Each of us lives in his own separate world, and I was going through the process of the separation being broken down.

To be in love is to recognize the loved one. This is, indeed, a shattering experience. From the shattering springs the ecstasy of love, which is the ecstasy created by accepting another human being and the consciousness that one is not alone any more. It is a sort of death, for the separate self is abandoned. Love is an awful thing, because the lover has to face the death of self. That he has the courage to do so is why all the world loves him. Love is to be regarded as a personal catastrophe, and unless lovers feel it to be so they should question their love. Without the sense of catastrophe, what is called love may be only sexual attraction, which can possibly be satisfied with a night or two in bed. Love which is a death and the breaking of the seed of new life is another matter. Passion by itself is physical and destructive, and increases the natural enmity between the sexes. On the level of passion an insignificant woman can make us unhappy. Passionate love carries with it the certainty of unhappiness, however wonderful its colours, but all the same passion is necessary to love for the sake of its destructiveness: the seed has to burst and break. But unless the blinding naturalism of passion is passed through to the depths of another self, it remains a danger not merely to the peace of lovers' hearts but to the peace of the world.

It was Schopenhauer who said that there is a type in the opposite sex complementary to one's own, and all lovers wonder if they have found the right one. There is no mystery, however, for the right one is precisely the he or she to whom the word Thou is spoken, and by whom it is returned. The proof of love is in the acceptance by the lovers of each other. This acceptance is the basis of a changed life. There can be no doubt about it.

There was no doubt that my life was changed. My cherished plans of action had vanished, and though I walked to my office every morning and went on with my work as usual, everything had lost meaning. This engagement was the decision to make a new start. It was irrational, for it meant a commitment when I wanted none. Life, I was to learn, has its logic to which one's own logic has to accommodate itself. As always there were practical matters to be attended to. Among other things I told Antonia that I had renounced the aim of money-making as incompatible with the kind of life I thought it necessary to lead, and our marriage would deepen the principles of what I thought was the good life. I had come to the conclusion, I told her, that money-making was easy, but too heavily paid for. I wanted money, for I knew well the suffering caused by the lack of it; but it seemed clear enough that the only way to be sure of making money was to adopt it as one's sole aim. Anything short of that was useless; money had to come first. I thought Antonia would agree with me, but without any hesitation she gave my heroics short shrift, and would have none of such nonsense. A man's first duty was to support his wife, and for that he must make money, she bluntly said. I had to admit it; but I went on to say that I had meant more than support, I had meant abundance. Certainly, abundance, why not ? she asked. She treated this as one of my lunacies.

1 was to discover that life offers a bad time to fastidious young men who have not an independent income, no matter what they are fastidious about; and I was fastidious about many things, especially about what I considered right. A moralist, my candid friends would say of me, impatiently, blaming me for what was not most blameworthy.

Another matter was religion. I was to marry a Catholic. To me this presented no difficulty, for I had come to accept the Catholic Church, without having any intention of joining it. I was brought up an Independent of the kind that made Cromwell's armies, and independency was still a living element in my mind. For Antonia there was difficulty, and she was troubled, as mixed marriages are frowned upon by the Church. Fortunately she had as parish priest a friend, Dr. Adrian Fortescue, who gave the proposed marriage his blessing. He left me in no doubt as to what I was letting myself in for, but he saw that this was a real marriage and did not suggest that I should become a Catholic. I talked to him about the Church and he listened with sympathy. Roman Catholicism is a religion of ceremony and rules, also an incredible religion, which is its glory, is what I said. But he entered into no argument. He was a devout man, and perhaps he saw the signs of devotion.

The weeks that followed were a time of elation, the days passed in a crescendo of emotion. It would be impossible to exaggerate the sense that possessed me of the completion of my life hitherto, and of the opening of a new, exciting, mysterious, and responsible existence. What one might expect a bride to feel on the approach of consummation I felt in a different way, no less poignant and overwhelming. I approached marriage as a sacrament, as the Church says. Everything that did not pertain to it was dismissed from my mind for the time being, and though I went about my ordinary life it was as if a veil were suspended over the world. [CBP-1951 pp. 3-6]

3

[CBP-1951 pp. 6-8] We were married on 9th July 1912 in St. Hugh's at Letchworth, the first marriage in that church. The ceremony lasted only a few minutes because there could be no nuptial mass, and ended almost as soon as it began, to the astonishment of the crowd that had gathered. Fortescue had rehearsed us in our parts and enjoyed the whole thing.

We went to live in a cottage on Wilbury Road, and there we made our home. It was a country cottage, recently built, with a large garden. How we managed to furnish the place I do not know; for I had no more than £40; but we did not go into debt and bought nothing on hire-purchase. We were determined to have no standardized furniture, and except for beds avoided Tottenham Court Road; on the other hand we could not afford the products of individual craftsmanship. Yet we had a charming barely furnished place of which we were proud, with Morris curtains and carpets, some pieces of old furniture, and, of course, books - in every room, books. In the garden I planted fruits and cultivated vegetables, and proved that every Englishman is half a countryman.

Antonia was a handsome girl, and because she held herself well seemed taller than she was; her bearing was confident, and she had a positive manner, good taste, a knowledge of Latin, French, and German, but she rarely opened a book, and read only the headlines of the newspapers. Her voice when it is soft is still the loveliest in the world. She was and is physically active in the highest degree. Her stronghold was the kitchen. She delighted in cooking, and housekeeping was a stern duty: unless one could eat off the floor of the scullery the house was too filthy to live in; even the chicken-house was kept in such apple-pie order that it might be a spare bedroom. She said the hens loved to be clean, which I doubted, but I was not allowed to say so. She baked her own bread, and during the first war she had chickens, ducks, and rabbits, for we were never to be short of food; this was repeated in the second war, minus the ducks but with bees added. Antonia has a perfect understanding of animals, and a sick chicken or rabbit is invariably nursed back to health. In her storeroom there is plenty: home-made wines, jams and honey, racks of dated eggs, fruits and vegetables, bay leaves and herbs, bottled fruits and tinned meats and fish against every emergency. It is next to impossible to get her to sit down. When I think she is going to spend an evening with me I look up after a quarter of an hour and find her gone; she is in the kitchen doing something that must be done for next day or next week, or there is a cake to make, or sugar-syrup for the bees, or a chicken has to be searched for in the dark and brought in to be doctored.

Woodside Cottage was an ideal setting for a family. My salary was no more than £285 a year, and though money was then still money, there was nothing to spare. Marriage has its financial aspects, and the principle jointly observed was never to incur debt. I recognized my wife's interest in my income. For a time our account at the bank was a joint one, and Antonia drew on it for what she wanted; but it did not work. We had various other arrangements, but from the start she had her own allowance, and finally I opened an account of her own into which was paid automatically every month a sum to cover house keeping, the regular outgoings on the house, allowances for the children's clothing, as well as the allowance for herself. This she managed very well. [CBP-1951 pp. 6-8]

 
 

 

 
 

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First World War

 
 
CBP gives an account of his war experiences in ten pages of his autobiography. He says that had war not intervened he would doubtless have gone on the stage. He was not a war enthusiast but neither a pacifist; he at first decided to devote his time to Letchworth during the War, but after a long argument with an American friend of his, Bradford Perin, he enlisted. His call up was deferred on the sudden illness and death of his father.

1916 second quarter, Rochford registration district, death, Benjamin Purdom age 63. [GRO]

[CBP-1951 pp. 21-22] When he died I presented myself at Hitchin, and was marched with nine others to the barracks at Bedford, where I became a soldier.

3

Then started an experience that was entirely fantastic. I could not believe it was I being marched along the familiar streets of Hitchin. The sense of phantasy lasted throughout my service. I went as a volunteer, with my eyes open, but the unreality of the situation I had entered was never overcome. The Hitchin party included two brothers who had been released from Pentonville prison that morning, where they were serving a sentence for assaulting the police, who had come to arrest another brother who was a deserter. The others were a baker, cowkeeper, dairyman, horse-keeper, a man already serving in the artillery, and a boy who gave his age as seventeen years, nine months, though he seemed little more than fifteen. When this boy was asked his religion he said, Army Service Corps.

At Bedford I handed in my civilian clothes, which the quarter master's staff hoped to snaffle (a first bit of army slang) without success. I could eat no food at the barracks, the sight and smell of it made me sick, and I had to wait until I could go into the town. When I got out at lunch time on the following day, Sunday, and called at a well-known Bedford hotel where I intended to get a meal, I was warned off as it was reserved for officers. I have never since visited that hotel. To say that I was miserable would be an understatement. Every night the men in the barrack room came back to relate their experiences with girls, their only theme. There is only one thing you are interested in, a girl said to one of them, who repeated it with glee. They gave the closest details, not always truthfully. It was a relief when the corporal in charge came in, drunk every night. Every one else was then in bed. He came in shouting, Here I am again, boys, made a bloody beast of myself ! Drunk again ! You're a silly bugger, Corporal Brown. Who's a silly bugger ? You are ! And so he would go on, until he went to sleep and snored. [CBP-1951 pp. 21-22]

CBP was first posted to Ampthill in Bedfordshire, only about 10 miles from Letchworth. He was able to go home at week-ends. He was initially classified as a C3 labour man, but was given clerical work. He wanted to be reclassified so he could obtain a commission and go to the front, but after a further medical examination was turned down for service in France because of his spectacles. From Ampthill he went to the 29th Middlesex regiment at Crawley, thence to Purfleet, to Luton, and then to Preston barracks in Brighton. He again went before a medical board, and this time passed by memorizing the eye-test card beforehand. He then went to Chatham for intensive military training. [I think CBP was desperate not to emerge from the War as Private Purdom having done clerical duties.]

The following account from CBP's autobiography begins with his training at Chatham and ends with his discharge from the army in January 1918.

[CBP-1951 pp.28-30] This was the severest and most calculatedly inhuman, but in some respects the most oddly enjoyable, period of my army career. Reveille was at 5.30 a.m., we seldom finished until 5.30 p.m., and often there were evening and night operations. The commanding officer was a complete bully, and all his staff had to yell at the training squads at the tops of their voices, and unceasingly, or they lost their jobs. If he did not hear enough noise the old man would roll up, for he was very fat, to the top of a hill that overlooked the parade ground, and survey what was happening. The regimental sergeant-major threw up his post because he said the regime was too brutal. When on courses away from the barracks the instructors often allowed us to relax and do nothing because of the bad time we were having. Some of them, however, enjoyed it, and made everything as much worse as they could. I progressed, partly perhaps because I kept in front of me always a time-expired ex-guardsman, who had served at Mons but had been conscripted, and I imitated him closely. I was regarded as especially good at bayonet exercises, and was selected to give a display before the general, but I could not see myself carrying out these exercises in real operations. I remained in a dream. I went as thin as a lath, and was so near insensibility that I did not know whether I was alive or dead. Only at physical jerks did I get into trouble, where I fell foul of an officer, and was put into the guard-room, sleeping among mice and rats for three nights, for failing to obey an order. After a week's c.b.* I did the musketry course, when incredibly I proved to be a marksman. Before going on this course I damaged my leg at the physical training ground, and was unable to march. Determined to finish with this infamous unit I persuaded the musketry sergeant to let me ride to the range and back again, for I could not walk. Before going on final leave we were addressed in the way characteristic of the command; no one was congratulated, instead we were threatened with the direst penalties if we did not return to time, and things were so arranged that the only train to London was lost that would have enabled half a dozen men, out of the twenty of us who came from East Anglia, to get home that night. We were seething with indignation, for nearly every man had taken the five weeks' gruelling very well, and on the way to the station we agreed to overstay our seven days' leave by a day. Four men broke their word, the rest were late, like myself. Brought up before the company officer next day we were severely lectured, and given c.b.* until due to leave for France.

I was not fit for France, for my leg was not working as it should, and I could walk but little; but I was allowed to miss the general's inspection, and went off with the other nineteen men in my draft to Folkestone and Boulogne. As I could not march to Étaples, I was allowed to ride with the sick. My leg began to get well, which it had to do on its own, for I could not get it looked at. The doctor treated me for rheumatism without glancing up from his papers, and I threw his medicine away. I could go on short marches, and fortunately at the Bull Ring I was excused, on account of my marksmanship record, a lot of work I could not have done. Then I was detailed with the others to join the Sportsmen's Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment; but without going into the whole tedious story, my defective leg was made worse by jumping into a trench, and after the sergeant had playfully threatened to send me out on night operations to get rid of a burdensome man, I was sent back to a medical board and ordered to return home unfit for further service in France. Thus I escaped by an accident Haig's Passchendaele offensive of 1917, in which all who were with me in the draft from England, save one, perished. Soldiering in France was altogether different from what I had known in England. There was still plenty of the nonsense characteristic of an army designed for criminal types, but everything was more human, and more real, and the worst hardships were tolerable. The food was incomparably better, and the officers were men. But I was not to take part in real fighting. Not that I wanted to do so, for I felt incapable; but I was curious to know how I should face the impossible. I got no chance to know. I had barely had the verdict of the medical board when orders came from the War Office about the commission I had heard nothing of for so long, but I was told that in view of this unexpected decision nothing further could be done. From that moment I had no other thought but how quickly I could get out of the army.

In the end by persistent effort I succeeded. I returned from France to a training unit at Chatham, not at the barracks this time, where I was able to get leave to work on after-war housing and planning policy on which my mind was set. There were difficult and amusing episodes before I reached success, and the War Office seemed determined to bestow the commission I intended to avoid; for I had no wish to remain even as an officer with the tens of thousands of men, ordered to do unnecessary things wrongly, eating their hearts out, and I knew that whatever work I should be given to do could be done by anybody. But when the army has a hold upon a man it does not easily let go. In the end, and unexpectedly, I was discharged medically unfit, at the end of January 1918; it was nothing to do with my leg, and after a week or two at home I was sent to hospital for three months. I was indeed ill. My pension continued until the autumn, when it was reduced and soon ended. [CBP-1951 pp.28-30]

[*c.b. = confined to barracks]

After the war, CBP's old job as accountant with the Letchworth Garden City company had been filled. He was paid a year's salary. He remained living at Letchworth until 1922 when he moved to Welwyn Garden City.

 
 

 

 
 

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The Garden City Association

 
 


[The Garden City Association (GCA), founded in 1899, was renamed the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association (GCTPA) in 1909, and finally the Town and Country Planning Association in 1941. In this section I am including background information on the Garden City Association, and on the Housing Acts following the Great War, which I think is necessary to the understanding of CBP's involvement both in the Association, and in the early development of Welwyn Garden City. Most of the information in this section I have distilled from Dennis Hardy's excellent book From Garden Cities to New Towns, 1991, Chapman & Hall. This book is essentially a history of the Garden City Association. Also highly recommended is Visionaries and Planners - The Garden City Movement and the Modern Community, Stanley Buder, 1990, Oxford University Press.]

Ralph Neville, a prominent Q.C. and ex-Liberal M.P., was elected as chairman of the Association in 1901 (replacing Idris) and he employed Thomas Adams (1871-1940) as its first full-time secretary.

Adams was a young Scottish Liberal who had only just moved his family to London in 1901.

[HARDY-1991 p. 66] The advertised post in 1901 [for full time secretary of the GCA] called for someone with a sympathetic acquaintance with Howard's book. Adams is reputed to have read the book for the first time on the train from Edinburgh to his London interview, and to have been seduced more by the underlying philosophy of associated individualism than by the idea of garden cities as such.

[HARDY-1991 p.66] Adams's own particular contribution was as a very good organizer. He was quietly efficient, building a sound base, but with sufficient vision to launch initiatives (notably the Bournville and Port Sunlight conferences) that attracted national interest. 'His great gifts of charm, persuasion, patience, practicality, dynamism, shrewdness and lucidity were allied to substantial talents for organization, administration and publicity and were harnessed most effectively in his work for the emerging profession of planning.'

[In the last sentence Hardy is quoting from Thomas Adams and the Modern Planning Movement: Britain, Canada and the United States, 1900-1940, M. Simpson, 1985, Mansell.]

Once the Letchworth project was underway, Adams wanted to broaden the aims of the Association. This was in opposition to the executive chairman, Herbert Warren, who wrote a memorandum in 1903 suggesting that the Association should occupy itself in supporting the Letchworth experiment. Adams argued that the Association should have higher aims than that. It should be promoting social reform more widely rather than just being agent for the Letchworth company, and that, in any case, conditions at Letchworth departed in many respects from Howard's ideas.

[HARDY-1991 p. 55] The new town was by no means a replica of Howard's blueprint. Acknowledging the significance of this, Adams identified key areas of comparison between the garden city project as outlined in To-morrow, and what was happening on the ground at Letchworth [63]. He pointed to differences in methods of raising capital, administration, ownership of the sites and public services, land tenure, the size of the estate, the proportion reserved for agriculture, restrictions on growth, layout, and the system of distribution. What Adams regarded as 'fundamental principles' had been lost to what appears as a mixture of pragmatism and an ideological preference for a more commercial approach than Howard originally envisaged. The GCA could either come to terms with these changes, or reject Letchworth as an errant offspring. It chose the former course, the logical consequence of which was that its future was bound up with the broadest of garden city principles, rather than with the literal interpretation of a particular proposal. The importance of Letchworth in the history of the Association is that this is where the choice, however unwittingly, was made.

Hardy writes in note 63 of chapter 3 [HARDY-1991 p.103] referring to the above paragraph:

63. Garden City Association: Memorandum by the Secretary as to the 'raison d'être' of the Association, its relationship to the Garden City Company, and other matters which require consideration. Undated, but probably 1903.

Hardy describes a meeting of the Association called to debate the issue:

[HARDY-1991 p.42] In July 1903, shortly after land was secured at Letchworth for the first garden city, a special general meeting was called to broaden the original aims of the Association. While the proposition in Howard’s book remained paramount, the interests of the GCA were redefined as the general promotion of the relief of overcrowded areas and the achievement of a wider distribution of the population. Garden cities were seen as the best way to secure this, but secondary aims were to be through encouraging manufacturers to remove their works from congested areas to the country; by cooperating with or advising firms, public bodies, and other associations to secure better housing accommodation for workers near to their place of employment; by taking steps to promote effective legislation with this end in view; by generally advocating the ordered design and development of towns; and by promoting the practice of well-designed houses with gardens.

In 1903, Adams resigned as secretary of the GCA to concentrate on the Letchworth project, and he was replaced by George G. H. Northcroft, who was not a success being a poor organiser (according to Hardy). When Northcroft resigned in August 1905 Adams returned to his old job, but found the office in disarray and finances weak. Within nine months Adams restored the organisation and finances, but he left in 1906 being replaced as Secretary by Ewart Culpin who remained in the job until 1921. Adams went on to have a distinguished international career in the new profession of town planning. In 1909 he became Town Planning Advisor to the Local Government Board. In 1913, he founded the Town Planning Institute, a professional organisation for town planners. In 1914 he moved to Canada where he founded the Town Planning Institute of Canada in 1919, and then to the United States where, from 1923, he led the study which published the Regional Plan of New York in 1929.

Moving on from 1903, the debate in the country over the appalling conditions of overcrowding in English cities was focussed by Thomas Goglan Horsfall, who in 1905 contrasted the situation here with that in Germany where the growth of towns was being guided by carefully-prepared plans. The Association observed that most new housing developments in England bore no resemblance to their own ideals. Also, with the new Liberal administration of 1906, and Asquith's premiership from 1908, the 'associated idealism' of the Edwardian era was being replaced by a more directive approach. [see HARDY-1991 p. 56]

In 1909, the Housing and Town Planning Act was passed. The Association had lobbied hard in the period leading up to the passing of this Act, organising conferences in 1906 and 1907. When the Act came it fell short of what the Association wanted. It promoted garden suburbs rather than garden cities.

In the same year as the Act was passed, the Association's constitution and name were changed. It became the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association (GCTPA). According to Hardy this formalised what the Association had been doing - primarily the promotion of town planning.

[HARDY-1991 pp. 44-45] While few would have wished to dispute the first aim of promoting town planning (if only because in such a generalized form it could embrace a variety of more specific objectives and favoured schemes), a second aim - which linked garden cities with other forms of settlement - laid the foundations for considerable debate in the future about the priorities and scope of the Association. For now there was formal recognition that garden cities were not the only kind of deve1opment that deserved the Association's support, the aim being 'To advise on, draw up schemes for, and promote Garden Cities, Garden Suburbs and Garden Villages.' This really was a rewriting the gospel, and the Association was quick to assure its members that:

"The original aims of the Association in the establishment of separate garden cities will still be the great aim. We are not content, and never shall be content, with Letchworth as the only example of the complete application of Mr Ebenezer Howard's ideas, but in the meantime we cannot be idle. The ameliorative work of the Garden Suburb idea must be attended to, and the efforts of all enthusiasts for the Garden Suburb idea must have their focusing point. This, too, will be the Association's work." [HARDY-1991 pp. 44-45]

[In the second paragraph above, Hardy is quoting from the Garden Cities and Town Planning journal of August 1909.]

Hardy says that Neville was not happy with the way things had gone. In his presidential address following the 1909 Act, he said he was concerned that the proliferation of garden suburbs and garden villages would add to the problems of large cities. He thought that the way forward was for more towns like Letchworth, based on garden city principles, to be built. [Neither garden villages nor garden suburbs had the industrial element of the garden city idea; adding garden suburbs would increase the size of a city. A.C.]

Hardy explains that from 1916 onwards, with the War raging across the channel, a debate on post-war housing reconstruction became of increasing prominence in the government, in Parliament, and in pressure groups outside, including the GCTPA. With the Liberal government in power, and the Labour Party in the ascendant, the feeling was increasing that the State needed to take the lead in reconstruction. In 1916, Herbert Asquith was succeeded by David Lloyd George as prime minister, and he appointed Christopher Addison as Minister Without Portfolio giving him responsibility for postwar reconstruction. A Housing Panel was set up under the chairmanship of Lord Salisbury (who was then president of the GCTPA). Seebohm Rowntree, another GCTPA activist, was on the Panel. The Panel quickly increased the estimate of the shortage of houses from 120,000 to 300,000. They urged the Local Government Board to immediately identify where the houses were required and ensure the land was available. There was tension between the two bodies, with the Local Government Board wanting the local authorities to be in charge. Addison felt that the local authorities were not up to the task and insisted on more state control. In the end, the Cabinet approved the Board's plan in 1918.

Hardy says "on the broad issues of housing policy after the war, the Association made only a limited contribution."

[HARDY-1991 pp. 126-127] Of all the issues, however, the one in which the Association could offer the sharpest contribution to the reconstruction debate was that of including in the postwar plans provision for the building of new settlements along the lines of the first garden city. Strangely, though, it was this issue that led to one of the stormiest periods in the Association's history, dividing its members in the process. The source of contention was whether or not the Association should concentrate all its energies on propaganda for new garden cities after the war, as opposed to a more broad-based campaign along the lines it was currently pursuing.

Largely at the instigation of C. B. Purdom (who, in 1917, published a pamphlet arguing for new housing to be built on garden city principles), a breakaway group was formed to rekindle the flame of garden city idealism. Frustrated by what he saw as the GCTPA's 'failing as custodian of the garden city idea', and by his own inability to persuade leading figures at Letchworth to spread the fruits of the first experiment after the war, Purdom joined with Howard and W. G. Taylor (a director of the publishers, Dent and Sons) to form the National Garden Cities Committee. Their common goal was to see the creation of Government-sponsored new towns. Others who were attracted to the idea and those joining the group included F. J. Osborn, Professor Abercrombie and G. D. H. Cole. Of these, it was Osborn whom Purdom persuaded to write a book to publicize their cause. The outcome was a small book, New Towns after the War, published in 1918 under the author's pseudonym of 'New Townsmen'. [HARDY-1991 pp. 126-127]

The 1917 pamphlet by CBP referred to in this quote was The Garden City after the War, 1917. In a note, Hardy points to a passage in CBP's autobiography in which CBP explains that he wrote the pamphlet while serving in the army and that it had no influence, 'except on Howard, who hitherto discouraged and seeing no future for the idea, was excited into activity'. [CBP-1951 p. 60]

Below is the section from CBP's autobiography to which Hardy refers:

[CBP-1951 pp. 60-62] While serving in the army I wrote and published in 1917 a pamphlet on the future of Letchworth and the garden city movement after the war. It had no influence, except upon Howard, who, hitherto discouraged and seeing no future for his idea, was excited into activity. One day that year I was astounded to see him walking on the main road of the camp at Chatham to which I had been sent after returning from France. I brushed myself up and went into the town with him; he was full of praise for what I was doing, and begged that we should work together. I wanted nothing better. He went away, so he said, a new man. Soon I saw advertisements in newspapers advertising a lecture on Fifty Garden Cities after the War; that was his own idea.

So far as I could learn the garden city company was making no preparations for the future of Letchworth. I sent a memorandum to the chairman, Champney, outlining a post-war programme, which he discussed with me but said that he and the members of the board were too old to undertake anything new. When in 1918, before the war had ended, and before I had succeeded in getting discharged from the army, I persuaded F. J. Osborn, whose ability as a writer and speaker I greatly admired, to write a small book, which I considered he was better able to do than I, which appeared in 1918 entitled New Towns After the War, intended to expound my ideas. I got it printed, paid for it, and persuaded Hugh Dent to allow his firm's imprint to appear on it; but Dent's did not handle it. That was done by me through a body called the National Garden Cities Committee, which I had formed with Howard, with the help of W. G. Taylor. Then, as always, Taylor was my entirely disinterested friend, helper, and adviser, upon whom I never called in vain. He aided in the revision of Osborn's manuscript, and he, Osborn, and myself were the New Townsmen, credited with the book.

The National Garden Cities Committee was set up because in the opinion of us all, especially Howard, the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association was failing as custodian of the garden city idea; but the association was acutely jealous of the committee, and, on promises given, the committee was amalgamated with it at the end, of 1918, when I became the association's assistant secretary at a salary of £300 a year. Hitherto I had met all my own expenses, and though the committee had raised funds out of which I was repaid for the expenditure on the book, I acted in an honorary capacity, and did not want this job. However, to take it was tangible evidence of friendship with the association, and soon afterwards I became its secretary, when Ewart Culpin left to pursue his commercial and professional interests in connection with industrial housing. I had no taste for propaganda; but propaganda for the ideas to which my life had been committed seemed the most necessary thing at the moment.

The association had been practically moribund for a long time, and was thus galvanized into new life, to which R. L. Reiss contributed with large sums of money from the Joseph Rowntree Trust to be spent upon getting good house planning and construction under the Addison Housing Acts. To make this housing propaganda conform to the garden city idea was my aim, for Addison's programme was against it. Reiss, however, was no believer in the garden city, regarding it as socially fanciful and politically useless, and Howard he treated as an old man who had to be humoured. I set out to convert Reiss, who had gifts I did not possess. You are interested in ideas, said he to me, I am not. You are concerned to go into everything thoroughly; I want to know only enough about anything to be able to talk. I supported the proposal that he should become chairman of the association's executive committee, and had no doubt that I should convert him. I succeeded.

Though not happy as secretary of the association I did not think of anything but that I must continue. [CBP-1951 pp. 60-62]

Continuing with Hardy's observations: Osborn used a pseudonym for his 1918 book New Towns after the War because, being a conscientious objector, he was living anonymously in London to avoid conscription. Although published by Dent, the book was financed by Purdom. The New Townsmen credited as author comprised Osborn, Purdom and Taylor, who helped with the manuscript. [CBP-1951 p. 61] In the book, Osborn reaffirms the ideas in Howard's original book, but brings the argument up to date. He says a million new houses will be required in the five years following the war, and that this could be achieved by the building of 100 new towns. [Hardy points out that the terminology is changing from 'garden cities' to 'new towns' or 'satellite towns'.] Osborn, in a departure from Howard's 'associated individualism', argues for the rôle of the State to assume responsibility for the programme. [HARDY-1991 pp. 127-128]

Other influential books available at this time were: Nothing Gained by Overcrowding: How the garden city type of development may benefit both owner and occupier, 1912, GCTPA; The Home I Want, Richard L. Reiss, 1918, revised 1891, Hodder and Stoughton.

Returning to Hardy's comments on the 1918 book New Towns after the War:

[HARDY-1991 p. 128] The ideas in the book were well enough received in some quarters. And they were entirely consistent with the essential creed of the GCTPA, advocating just the kind of new settlement that the Association had promoted since its own formation. But the manner in which these ideas were now promoted, through a splinter group beyond the control of the parent body, and the challenge it posed to the other activities of the Association, was too much for the main body of the organization to accommodate. Strenuous efforts were then made to bring the radicals into line.

The Association decided to form a committee within itself to mount a major campaign to ensure garden city principles were incorporated into reconstruction plans. The issue was resolved when (1918) Purdom was appointed as secretary to this new Propaganda Committee, as well as the Association's Assistant Secretary at £300 p.a. The National Garden Cities Committee was effectively merged within the Association. [material from HARDY-1991 pp. 128-9]

The postwar election was held on 14th December 1918. In the campaign, Lloyd George promised 'habitations that are fit for the heroes who have won the war', the popular catch phrase being 'Homes fit for heroes'. The Liberals were returned with a large majority. The target was 500,000 houses over three years. The Tudor Walters Report (1918), laid down standards for house design, but did not promote the garden city idea - rather garden suburbs. The report was followed by the (Addison) Housing and Town Planning Act (July, 1919) which provided for a scheme of subsidised housing, under local government responsibility, but without unduly increasing the rates. The scheme was shelved in 1921 after 170,000 homes had been built. A new Housing Act (Chamberlain's Act) for subsidised housing, primarily to stimulate the private sector, was brought in 1923 by Neville Chamberlain's Conservative administration of 1923, and another in 1924 (Wheatley's Act) by the short-lived minority Labour government. Under these Acts in the years following, 580,000 houses were built, until subsidised housing was abolished in 1933. [material from HARDY-1991 pp. 137-8]

From 1918, the Association launched a vigorous National Housing Campaign which enthused the organisation with a new 'missionary zeal'. The GCTPA welcomed the 1919 Bill when it was introduced because of its revolutionary system for subsidised housing, but thought the town-planning aspects were totally inadequate. After the Act came into effect, the Association criticised the inability of some local authorities to carry it out, and the absence of national considerations in the distribution of the new housing. [material from HARDY-1991 pp. 139-141].

At the end of 1919, a clause in the Housing (Additional Powers) Act provided for powers for the public acquisition of land for garden cities as well as garden suburbs and garden villages. The Association felt this was not enough - a more active rôle in promoting schemes was required, and the inclusion of garden suburbs and garden villages confused the issue. In response, the Association provided a definition of a garden city as:

[HARDY-1991 p. 145] a town planned for healthy living and organised for industry, of a size that makes possible a full measure of social life, but not larger; surrounded by a rural belt; the whole of the land being in public ownership.

In 1919 Neville Chamberlain, an experienced reformer newly elected to Parliament, was appointed by Addison as chairman of the Slum Areas Committee (later the Unhealthy Areas Committee) to look at slum clearance and rebuilding. The Report (interim 1919, final 1920) said that 'the development of self-contained garden cities, either round an existing nucleus or on new sites, should be encouraged and hastened by State assistance in the early stages'. Two GCTP members were on this Committee - G. L. Pepler, and Richard L. Reiss who was Chairman of the Executive of the GCTPA at the time.

[HARDY-1991 pp. 147-150] In propagandist terms, the findings of the Unhealthy Areas Committee were significant. But, as well as operating at a national level, the Association also had some success in lobbying local authorities. At this level, their strongest influence appears to have been in London, where Herbert Morrison especially (as Secretary to the London Labour Party, and a former resident of Letchworth) espoused the cause with enthusiasm. Even before the end of the war the Association had submitted a Memorandum to the London local authorities, sowing the seeds of the garden city idea in the great reconstruction programme that was predicted*. Then, as part of the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition in February 1920, the Association mounted a conference on Satellite Towns for Greater London. Purdom put the Association's case, explaining that it was because of its belief that 'housing is a much larger question than the sizes of rooms or heights of ceilings, or even the supply of building trade labour or material' that satellite towns were proposed.

A proposal was made for a system of twenty-three satellite towns around London (a forerunner of the Greater London Plan of 1944). Morrison responded eloquently to the proposal, asking his colleagues to 'conceive London as the sun with a whole series of planetary towns scattered round it at suitable points in the Home Counties', and urging them 'not to treat this garden city proposal as if it were a hazy idea on the summit of the Welsh mountains.' But if for Purdom and Morrison the idea was already clear enough, for others it was to be another twenty years or more before the haze cleared sufficiently for general progress to he made. [HARDY-1991 pp. 147-150]

[*A note to this sentence reads as follows: 'A Memorandum by the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association for consideration of the Local Authorities represented at the Greater London Housing Conference called by the London County Council on October 30th, 1918.' The Memorandum was prepared by a sub-committee consisting of W. R. Davidge, H. V. Lanchester, Cuthbert Brown, Warwick Draper and C. B. Purdom. HARDY-1991 p. 225]

Hardy includes in his book [HARDY-1991pp. 148-149] two diagrams reproduced below. Click on these images for enlarged views.

 

As outlined above, Purdom was made Assistant Secretary to the GCTPA in 1918. At the end of the same year, Ewart Culpin resigned as Secretary to pursue 'his commercial and professional interests in connection with industrial housing' [CBP-1951 p.61]. Both Purdom and Osborn blamed Culpin for allowing the Association to deviate from the promotion of garden cities to broader support for garden-city-type developments. Through Reiss, whom Purdom had recruited into the Association, money to boost the finances was brought in from the Joseph Rowntree Trust (Seebohm Rowntree was a close friend of Reiss). Purdom resigned as Secretary in 1921. [Material from HARDY-1991 pp.159-160].

[HARDY-1991 p. 303] When Adams moved on to other things, the vacuum was filled by Ewart Culpin, who added to the growing national reputation an international dimension (not least of all in his role as a founder member of the IGCTPA). But for some of the purists, Culpin, who embraced garden suburbs and general planning goals within the orbit of the organization, was beyond the pale. Osborn, for instance, refused to acknowledge Culpin as a key figure in the garden city movement on account of his treachery in allowing the essential garden city idea to be 'submerged in the fashion for open housing estates and garden suburbs.’

In contrast, C. B. Purdom, who succeeded Culpin as Secretary of the GCTPA in the early 1920s, was a garden city purist. Though enormously able, he found himself powerless to stem the oncoming tide of suburban development, and quickly retreated to the sanctuary of Welwyn. There he worked alongside Osborn and others who might, otherwise, have been turning their energies to the national cause rather than risking obscurity in a second demonstration project. This tension between the goals of specific projects and a wider campaign is at the heart of many of the Association's problems in its first thirty years or so. [HARDY-1991 p. 303]

 
 

 

 
 

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International Garden Cities and Town Planning Association

 
 


The International Garden Cities and Town Planning Association IGCTPA was formed in 1913 when Ewart Culpin was Secretary of the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association GCTPA. Howard was its first President and Culpin became Honorary Secretary. It shared offices with the national Association. Its first congress was held in London in 1914 attended by representatives from the founder members Britain, Germany, France, Norway, Poland, USA and Japan, plus some others including Austria, Canada, Italy, Russia and Spain. [HARDY-1991 p. 100-1]

The first meeting after the War was held in Belgium in 1919, followed by one at London's Olympia as part of the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition. In 1920 Culpin and Purdom shared the post of Secretary of the international Association.

[HARDY-1991 pp. 169-70 with quotes from CBP-1951 pp. 62 & 64] Purdom recalls that the British Executive 'wanted to keep the international as a mere extension of its activities (at home), to be conducted for its advantage, which did not fit in with my ideas or with those of some of the more prominent continental members, who felt there was a place for a genuine international housing and town-planning body' [CBP-1951 p. 62] . . . During the 1930s it seems to have suffered from the turbulence of European politics, and by 1936 Purdom (who had remained until then in the honorary capacity) concluded that 'the federation passed back into a minimal phase of existence, the Germans secured control, removed the central office to Brussels, but allowed the British to hold presidential and other positions'.

CBP devotes a couple of pages of his autobiography to the international organization:

[CBP-1951 pp. 62-64] In 1919 I was asked to become responsible for an international organization set up in 1914 with more or less the same objects as the national association of which I was secretary. This was Culpin's creation, aided by a number of people in France and Germany also interested in garden suburb housing, what the French called la cité jardin. During the war there was nothing for this body to do; but with the war's end an opportunity for restarting international activity arose in connection with the rebuilding of devastated France and Belgium. The International Union of Towns, a body run by a Belgian senator named Vinck, who died in 1950, proposed a joint conference in Brussels late in 1919 to visit the battlefields and war-devastated towns, and there I gave a paper on the application of the garden city idea to the Belgian rebuilding problem. When, the following year, the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition was restarted, I was invited by the newspaper to organize an international conference at the exhibition; the affair was much publicized, and was a marked success. The delegates were treated with respect by the newspaper, which neither took part in the conference nor interfered even indirectly. This helped to get the international upon its feet, and at the newspaper's invitation a second conference was organized the following year with even greater success. By this time I had left the national association, except for membership of its executive, but that executive wanted to keep the international as a mere extension of its activities, to be conducted for its advantage, which did not fit in with my ideas or with those of some of the more prominent continental members, who felt that there was a place for a genuine international housing and town-planning body. The result was that in Paris in 1921 a new executive was formed, the sitting British chairman was not re-elected, but was replaced by a Frenchman, and a decision was taken to open an independent office in London, in charge of an organizing secretary, with myself continuing in an honorary capacity.

For fourteen years I was honorary secretary of this body, and became responsible for conferences in Paris, Brussels, Gothenburg, Amsterdam, New York, Rome, and Berlin, and meetings in many other cities on the Continent and in America, paying all my own expenses at home and abroad until the last two years, so that the work was done at a pretty heavy cost, though I found it a most interesting experience, for I was brought into contact with housing experts and town-planners, architects, engineers, and public officials in many countries, and saw much of the work done, or needed to be done, in continental cities. I was interested not merely in the technical but also in the wider cultural and political aspects of this work, and for that reason devoted more time than I really could afford to the organization. Incidentally I gained an insight into the mentality and methods of organization adopted in many countries, learning that we in England work with less fuss, and expense, than anywhere else.

The day-to-day work of the international was done by a man whose bulky figure and uncompromising presence became known all over the Continent. I refer to Harry Chapman, the organizing secretary, who devoted himself single-mindedly to the work, and mastered French and German to make himself more efficient. He was, however, the least internationally minded of men, for he loved only England, and in England Essex, and in Essex only the countryside, its beer and roast beef, and cricket. He believed in democracy, which meant people in pubs and at cricket matches. His attachment to the few people he liked was unbounded, and none of them could do wrong. An egotist of the most pronounced type, he managed not only to hold his own, but to build up the organization from a vaguely nominal body into one with an active membership. In 1929 its name was changed to the International Federation for Housing and Town Planning so as to avoid continental misunderstanding about the term garden city, which was liked but always misapplied. The growth of the organization aroused the jealousy of the proprietor (as I can justly call him) of the International Union of Towns, and with the aid of the dismissed chairman, who became his English representative, the intrigues in our organization became such that I got a good schooling in international diplomacy, for some of the continental members were skilled politicians, in whose hands the English civil servants and technical men who served on the committees were as children. At the Berlin conference in 1932 I had to leave the honorary secretaryship in favour of an English civil servant, and, after a conference in London in 1936, Chapman was made to resign, and the federation passed back into a nominal phase of existence, the Germans secured control, removed the central office to Brussels, but allowed the British to hold presidential and other positions, with which they were satisfied. I learned much from my foreign contacts in this body, and met many admirable men. One thing was outstanding, a declining interest in British housing owing to the increase in the number of tenement buildings in London and the large cities. The continental housing experts had too much experience of tenement housing in their own countries to find English imitations inspiring. What they were interested in were efforts at true community building, not the mere large-scale erection of dwellings, and for that reason they admired the two garden cities. They admired them because there were no equivalents to these schemes abroad. In this respect England had a unique and envied achievement. English was the most used language at these conferences. Often I came across half a dozen men of different countries, not one of them English, to hear them speaking English as a common language. [CBP-1951 pp. 62-64]

 
 

 

 
 

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Welwyn Garden City

 
 


[I have used material from HARDY-1991 pp. 150-157 for the first few paragraphs below.]

During the War, Howard became impatient with both the government and the GCTPA for not moving beyond Letchworth. He had combined with Purdom, Osborn and Taylor to form the National Garden Cities Committee which had refocussed the direction of the CGTPA, but he despaired of a government funded programme and in any case favoured associated individualism or private enterprise.

In 1918 Howard, Purdom and Osborn had walked around the agricultural land north of Hatfield which was eventually to become Welwyn Garden City. In April 1919, without telling the others, Howard wrote to Lord Salisbury (who was then President of the GCTPA), owner of the southern portion of this land (which was immediately to the north of the Hatfield House estate) asking if it could be bought for a second garden city. Salisbury declined giving the reason that such a venture could only succeed if backed by the necessary finance and business expertise.

Then came the coincidence of the Panshanger Estate, which included the northern part and bulk of the land which Howard required, coming up for auction in May 1919. [Hardy points out that this was not such a big coincidence since at that time many large estates were on the market.] Howard paid the deposit for the 1700 acres. A creditable group was soon assembled to form the pioneer company, Second Garden City Ltd.

[HARDY-1991 p. 153] At the head of the list was J. R. Farquharson (an industrialist with his own firm, and also a director of Letchworth Cottages and Buildings Ltd. and of the Howard Cottage Society Ltd.), Col. F. E. Fremantle (a member of the London County Council, and consulting Medical Officer of Health for Hertfordshire), Walter Layton (the distinguished economist, later Lord Layton), Capt. R. L. Reiss (Chairman of the GCTPA Executive Committee, and a member of the Government Advisory Housing Committee), H. Bolton Smart (a Director of First Garden City Ltd.), C. B. Purdom (who was by then Secretary of the GCTPA*), and Howard. It was intimated that others would be invited to join the Board of Directors of the new Garden City Company.

[* Purdom had become Assistant Secretary of the GCTPA in 1918 - see above - and became Secretary at the end of that year when Culpin left.]

A new approach to Lord Salisbury was successful and a further 700 acres purchased from the Salisbury estate. Meanwhile, further directors were sought and the following were added to the original seven: Lord Lytton (the second Earl, who became President of the GCTPA 1929 to 1947), Samuel Smethurst (a builder from the North), Sir John Mann (Scottish accountant) and, most importantly, Sir Theodore G. Chambers, K.B.E., a surveyor who had become director of many companies and who had been Controller of National Savings in the War. Chambers became chairman of the Company in 1919.

Hardy says that the GCTPA was in an ambiguous position because although some of the leading figures in forming the Company were its members, it had not promoted the scheme directly. However, the Association recognised that the attention attracted by the new venture would become a vehicle for its campaign for government schemes. Eventually the Association itself claimed credit for the scheme. Hardy points out that Welwyn diverted the energies of key Association members (particularly Osborn and Purdom) and that the Association's impact was lessened.

CBP, in his autobiography "Life Over Again", gives an account of his involvement in Welwyn Garden City from the beginning. Here is this material which is from chapter 2 of the book starting at section 10.

[CBP-1951 pp.64-68] Then something decisive occurred.

Every one who travels on the main line railway to King's Cross admires the beautiful Digswell Water valley about twenty-two miles from London. Not every one, however, had noticed that after passing over the viaduct there was a long stretch of level land without a house to be seen on it; passing it in the train almost every day I had observed it, and so not surprisingly had Ebenezer Howard. One day towards the end of 1918 he said, I know the site for the second garden city. So do I, was my reply. Howard suggested that we should spend a Saturday going over the land to discover if it were really what we thought it to be, and we did so, taking with us F. J. Osborn, who was then working with me on town-planning studies. We walked from Hatfield station, through Mill Green, thence on to the land at Peartree Farm, over Hunter's Bridge, and across what is now the golf course to Stanborough. We tried to get some bread and cheese at the Old Bull there, but the unfriendly landlady refused to serve anything but beer, which Howard and Osborn declined, being teetotallers, and we had to walk on to the Red Lion at Hatfield for something to eat.

It was a delightful walk, and the site, we agreed, was admirable. We thought the land belonged to Lord Salisbury as part of his Hatfield estate, and we speculated upon the possibility of his allowing it to be made into a garden city. Salisbury was then president of the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association, one of the innumerable public men who gave it support, and we thought it at least theoretically possible that he would favour the proposal. However we were in no position to do anything; but Howard, recognizing no obstacles, and without saying what he was doing, approached Salisbury, only to be told that the idea was preposterous, for the Hatfield estate was not for sale. Howard would not take this as an answer and kept on at Salisbury, who was in a rather ticklish position as president of Howard's movement and did not rebuff him. Making no progress, however, Howard tried to get me to join him in propaganda for a second garden city with the object of forcing Salisbury to sell. Early in 1919 there was great uneasiness throughout the country, and something of a revolutionary atmosphere, so that Howard thought the times were favourable. But I would have nothing to do with the proposal, for I could not see it formulated with any prospect of success, and in fact I did not want a second garden city on the same lines as Letchworth. I thought Letchworth had demonstrated the impracticability of building a garden city without ample initial capital. There were insuperable difficulties in raising in the ordinary investment field the large amount of money required, because revenue in the long early stages was too small to show a return; only long-sighted people could see the ultimately large values created. Howard was indifferent to this, and we fell out over it, for as inventor of the idea he wanted a second experiment, and did not care how it was done.

A surprising thing then happened. At the beginning of May 1919 the auction of a large part of the Panshanger estate between Hertford and Welwyn was advertised by Lord Desborough, which Howard did not notice until his attention was drawn to it by Edgar Simmons, an estate agent at Letchworth. The auction particulars showed that a large part of the site we had seen, the greater part of Digswell valley, and practically all the land to the west of the railway, belonged not to Lord Salisbury, as we had supposed, but to Lord Desborough. Without losing a moment Howard got busy. He went to see Sir John Oakley, the auctioneer concerned, telling him that he proposed to bid for part of the property for a garden city, and Oakley, liking the old man, but rather scared by his enthusiasm, sent him to another surveyor, Norman Savill, for advice. Savill also took to Howard, and promised to help him; he saw the land with Edgar Simmons, and the two agreed to work together. But Howard had to raise sufficient money to enable the deposits to be paid on purchases at the sale, and this he set about doing. He did not find this easy, for the deposits would have been lost were Howard unable to complete the purchases, and how he could do that no one had the least idea. None the less he managed to raise the sum required, mainly provided by his friends: J. R. Farquharson, £2,000; Franklin Thomasson, £1,000; G. C. Blane, £1,000; H. B. Harris, £500; R. L. Reiss, £200; and myself, £100. I saw little of Howard during these hectic weeks, for he knew I did not favour what he was doing. Towards the end he came to tell me with excitement of Reiss's contribution; I was surprised, for it was the last thing I should have expected, and I told him I would let him have £100. This he did not anticipate, saying that I must not do it, not because of my opposition, but because I could not afford to lose such a sum. I insisted, however, for however mad the action I had to share it with Howard. Farquharson, an industrialist with a great admiration for Howard, made the purchase possible. Thomasson was a generous man, who said to his friend Harris, both being directors of the Letchworth company, Come and have lunch with me, I have just lost a thousand pounds. Harris then made a contribution. Both could have lost their money without inconvenience.

The auction took place on Friday, 30th May 1919, attended by Norman Savill and Edgar Simmons; they succeeded in getting the lots they had advised Howard to be necessary. One small piece of land at Stanborough they had to let go, which was later to be a source of trouble, and for another lot considered essential they saw the bidding go beyond their limit, but to get the land Savill advanced out of his own pocket on the spot the sum of £250. Thus 1,458 acres were secured at a price of £51,000, which formed the nucleus of the second garden city.

When Howard got the news of these purchases by telephone he at once came to me. You must throw in your lot with me, he said. I had no alternative but to agree. There was nothing for it but to make a success of this crazy effort. We looked at the map, and it was clear that, to complete the scheme, land belonging to Lord Salisbury had to be got. Salisbury must be approached with great care under these entirely new circumstances, so I begged Howard not to take any action or to tell a soul what had happened until we had decided how to approach him. To reinforce what I said, I fetched Osborn, who was working at the British Museum reading-room, to talk to Howard, for he had a high opinion of Osborn, and a fellow-feeling with him, Howard being a strong pacifist and Osborn a conscientious objector. Osborn agreed with me that Howard must say nothing until the way in which to tackle Salisbury had been decided upon. Howard gave us his fervent assurances.

On the following Sunday Howard was to give a religious address to the Theosophical Society at Letchworth, but instead gave an impassioned talk on the second garden city, on the site purchased the previous Friday, and on the imminent purchase of land from Lord Salisbury to complete the scheme. His address was reported in the London press, and any plans we could have made were upset. Howard went at once to Salisbury, who was furious, refused to see him, and said he would have nothing further to do with him or his hare-brained scheme.

That was the position when Second Garden City Limited was formed in the following October. Lord Desborough was by no means pleased on finding that his land had been purchased for so socialistic a purpose as a garden city and would have been glad to cancel the contracts. He did, however, sell a further practically worthless piece of land of 230 acres known as Sherrards Wood, the timber having already been disposed of. Howard, who had so far acted on his own, formed the board of directors of the company, not always observing our understanding of consultation, and an announcement of a satellite town for London was made and widely circulated. When the company was formed Howard saw Lord Salisbury again, who finally agreed to the sale of a minimum area of his land, 689 acres at a price of £40,000, but on onerous conditions, including a right of pre-emption in the event of the land not being used for a garden city. This right of pre-emption was to embarrass the undertaking for years to come. [CBP-1951 pp.64-68]

11

[CBP-1951 pp.68-74] The company had to find a chairman, for none of those who formed the board was willing to take the responsibility. The Earl of Lytton had joined the board, but would not be chairman. Then the surveyor, Norman Savill, suggested to Howard the name of a fellow surveyor who, he thought, was the man we were looking for. He was Sir Theodore G. Chambers, K.B.E., just retiring from the position of controller of the War Savings Committee to take up his proper work again. When Howard mentioned his name to the board, having seen Chambers and liked him, I realized that I knew it already. While still serving in the army towards the end of 1917 I had read a report in the Builder of a lecture given to the Surveyors' Institution by Theodore G. Chambers on the decentralization of population, which had excited me, for he appeared from this lecture to be the first man I had heard of to understand the essential land processes involved in the garden city. I noted his name and what he said, and now Howard had interested him in our scheme ! Lt.-Col. F. E. Fremantle (afterwards Sir), Walter T. (afterwards Lord) Layton, and I were deputed to meet Chambers, to see if we liked him, and if we could recommend him to the board were he disposed to join us. We had luncheon at the Holborn Restaurant, and all three of us thought him to be our man. So Chambers was elected chairman, and I felt the future of the scheme to be assured, for Chambers and I came to an immediate and complete understanding.

 

The first sketch plan for
the new town of Welwyn Garden City
made by C. M. Crickmer in 1920

[From "Life Over Again" by C. B. Purdom, 1951]

(Click image to enlarge)

Some very difficult obstacles had to be got over before anything could be done. Money had to be raised to enable the company to carry on and to repay the bank, which had made an advance to complete the purchases on the personal guarantees of the directors. Howard worked hard at getting shares taken up by any and every body, and a fair amount was subscribed. We also wanted a further 250 acres of the Panshanger estate from Lord Desborough. He would have nothing to do with us. However, the essential land was already secured, and we could go ahead. We found an ample underground supply of water, for which we had to put in pumping plant, but there was no drainage, electricity, or gas, and hardly any roads.

Surveys were made, staff engaged, a town-plan prepared, and arrangements for a public issue of capital were put in hand. The bank at this stage turned nasty, and Chambers went boldly to Reginald McKenna, chairman of the Midland Bank, to ask him to back the concern until the public issue. This McKenna agreed to do, and the company's account was transferred to his bank. In the meantime activities of every kind proceeded. The story is contained in The Building of Satellite Towns, and I will not repeat it. Chambers's energy was unbounded. He threw his whole heart into the enterprise, and nothing daunted him. From time to time he would say, Purdom, I think we are fools; but he said it with a smile. Smiling he faced all who thought the scheme wonderful but impossible, and either got from them what he wanted, or effectively stopped their opposition. An undoubted Tory in every fibre of his being, he was a democrat and public-spirited, and though people marvelled at his enthusiasm they let him go on.

After talks with his friends in the city, Chambers found that the company's articles and memorandum were not looked upon with favour, and that a new company would have to be formed, not on different principles, but more in accordance with the current city practice. The limited dividend was disliked but being inherent in the scheme could not be changed, and no attempt was made to change it. A new company was formed, Welwyn Garden City Limited, and on 4th May 1920 an offer of £250,000 ordinary shares, limited to a maximum dividend of 7 per cent, was made under the best auspices the city could provide. It was an entire failure. The explanation offered was that the issue of the prospectus coincided almost to the day with the first post-war financial slump. But whatever might have happened a month earlier, nobody would look at the prospectus in May, for this was idealism not business. Everybody professed to be surprised at the result, and certainly the directors received a blow. But apart from the slump there was no need for surprise. The city lives and thrives on speculation and no speculation was possible in these shares. Had they been ordinary shares of the familiar kind the money might still have been found several times over, for the prospectus was an impressive document. But when it came down to brass tacks there was not a finger of support, and not a pound of investors' cash for such a crack-brained company limiting its possibilities of profit. The first allotment was for £40,000, and by superhuman efforts the total subscription was raised to £90,000 by the end of the year. It was a bitter disappointment. This was the result, although the prospectus showed that the town's development had started, the water supply and drainage carried out, and a number of houses built; but it made no difference.

Before the prospectus appeared a contract was signed with the proprietors of the Daily Mail for establishing the Daily Mail Ideal Village. The newspaper wanted to build a model village in conjunction with its Ideal Home Exhibition, and Northcliffe wished it built at Welwyn Garden City. No one doubted in the board room of the newspaper office that the company's share issue would succeed, and insistence was made that the contract should be completed before the issue; thus are even the most astute men misled. The village was built and opened the following year. Its main result was to attach the name of the newspaper to the town, and for years afterwards Welwyn Garden City was understood to be the Daily Mail town. The truth was rather the opposite, for without the company's aid the village would never have materialized; a village cannot be built by newspaper articles, and the Daily Mail owed the company more than it was prepared to admit.

The main effects of the failure of the capital issue were to discourage the board, and to provide the troubled conditions under which the enterprise was to be conducted thereafter. Chambers was not discouraged, however, and went ahead with unchecked vigour; indeed, more was demanded of him than ever, but he responded. It was my task to second him. What I had learned at Letchworth was now being fully used, and I was able to give Chambers the assurances he needed, if indeed he needed any at all.

One day at the board's blackest moment he brought forward a proposal that the members of the board should themselves subscribe for a hundred thousand shares to back up the issue, with the object of transferring them to those who came to build houses in the town. Chambers was always full of the idea that every resident should be a shareholder. It was a good idea; but his way of giving effect to it hardly seemed to be necessary. However, he suggested that the shares should then be issued on the basis of one shilling each paid up, the balance of nineteen shillings to be payable on a winding-up of the company. He was prepared to find half the initial payment of £5,000 if J. R. Farquharson would provide the other. Taken by surprise, protesting, but none the less flattered, Farquharson agreed. One member of the board refused to take part, the canny Sir John Mann, but the others acquiesced, the application form was signed, and those who signed it made themselves jointly and severally responsible for £95,000. This was in addition to their personal guarantees to the bank, which continued for a good many years.

Had Chambers consulted me I am sure I should have dissuaded him from the proposal. Perhaps he knew that, and for once did not consult me, or, what was more likely, he acted on the spur of the moment. For Chambers in the full vigour of his career was liable to speak and act with insufficient reflection. That was indeed one of the complaints some members of the board made against him. One large block of the shares was disposed of later, but the rest remained until the transaction was cancelled in the second reconstruction of capital mentioned later. The judge who made the order said that he fully understood why the thing had been done and made no criticism of it.

The heads of the various departments had been engaged, mostly men of calibre and promise. F. J. Osborn had been secretary of the original company, and was regarded as the chief official. He had had some experience of housing at Letchworth, and there was no doubt of his understanding of and devotion to the scheme, though he was personally ambitious; he has become the leading exponent of the case for the house in its garden as against the flat in the air. W. E. James, who had been engaged on the original survey, became engineer, and later was engineer to the district council; he died in 1947. C. W. Care, a young civil servant, and the ablest man in presenting figures I have known, became accountant, and has returned to the civil service; and Louis de Soissons, fresh from a brilliant academic career, became architect, and is now in private practice. The most difficult post to fill was that of surveyor, really a property salesman's job, and a man of unusual ability was looked for. Salesmen, however, are rare, and after several failures G. S. Hearne, older than the rest of the staff, all of whom were young, was engaged. Unfortunately he was soon taken ill and died; I say unfortunately because he had perspicuity and integrity, rare in one who pretended to nothing but expertness in land salesmanship. There were other managers for the various businesses. The board worked through a series of committees, I being chairman of the finance committee. I did not like the preliminary set-up, for it did not seem to possess the elements of stability, and lacked means of co-ordination, so that the driving force that Chambers and I, and, indeed, other members of the board, displayed was often misdirected. It was then that Chambers suggested that I should give up all my other work to become managing director. It was, he said, my duty, and after a walk with him one moonlit night over the estate, I agreed.

The outcome of the discussions that thereupon took place, in which I took no part, though it appeared that some ambitions were being checked, was that I was asked to become finance director in charge of the company's finances, subject only to the board, with Chambers as chairman in charge of administration. I did not care for the proposal, and Chambers had some difficulty in getting me to agree to it, for what I considered necessary was not being done. Though its essential features were that he and I were to work together, which commended it to me, it lacked what were in my eyes important elements, but Chambers declared that he would see that my ideas were carried out, and begged me to accept it. I did so.

Looking back I have no doubt that my hesitations were well founded, and that the deficiences of which I was conscious were real; but the arrangement worked for seven years because of the understanding between us and our confidence in each other. [CBP-1951 pp.68-74]

12

[CBP-1951 pp.74-76] It was not long, however, before a certain disharmony, present soon after the start, and aggravated by the financial predicaments of the company, became serious. In effect, the experience of the board at Letchworth was being repeated, but in a more violent form. Why this should be so agitated my mind. I was then in the full vigour of young manhood, engaged in an enterprise for which I had trained myself, working with a sense of competence and with a clear vision of the ends to be achieved. I was closely associated with a much older man whom I admired and whose advice I respected, working with a board on which I thought it an honour to serve. How was it then that in an undertaking they recognized to be of unquestioned importance men of probity and high personal character could not agree ? I think it was due in the first place to the nature of the undertaking, which it would not be unfair to say not one of them with the exception of Chambers and myself understood. They were highly conscious of moving in an unfamiliar world in which they were unsure. Had the conditions been favourable they would have gained confidence; but conditions were far from favourable. The company's financial insecurity made them uneasy; the fact that they were personally financially committed, mostly beyond their means, was never far from their minds, the imperative need of capital expenditure in a number of directions at the same time and entirely beyond available resources confused them; and, above all, the insistency of Chambers's enthusiasm accompanied by what were often rash prophecies irritated them. I have no doubt, however, that the main cause was the attitude of mind to the enterprise induced by the limited dividend on the share capital, which clouded the board's sense of ultimate responsibility and introduced entirely unfamiliar factors. In all commercial companies the clear and certain test of a company's position is the profit and loss account. This simplifies the demands made upon a board of directors; for everything, or almost everything, can be looked at from the profit and loss point of view, which was never possible at Welwyn, as it had not been at Letchworth, for there was no profit and loss account in the usual sense, but in place of it a peculiar document not in the least clear. This made the board extremely hesitant, continually puzzled, and created an atmosphere in which it could easily be upset. The fault was partly in the nature of the undertaking; but in a sense it was true that the members of the board were not fully informed, for they did not understand the information they were given.

There was also unconcealed jealousy of Chambers, who had the leading position, and indeed, in a sense he was the company; but some members of the board did not like it. Thus arose bickering, active expressions of animosity hardly diminished by professions of personal regard, and oftentimes bitter quarrels that were hard to endure. As I wholeheartedly supported Chambers I was not unscathed. It was with a heavy heart that I attended board meetings, not knowing whether at their close the undertaking might have collapsed through Chambers's and my resignations.

At the start I had set out to give the board as much explanation as possible, with the idea of enabling its members to enter into the full meaning of what was being done. I was not only explanatory; but stated pros and cons of proposals upon which Chambers and I were agreed. I even tried in the presentation of a case to do it in such a way that a member of the board might be led himself to propose an obviously indicated course of action, so that he might have the satisfaction of taking the credit to himself. This often worked; but before long I had to reverse my methods, for what I was attempting to do was turned against me; I was cross-examined, catechized, and opposed on my own candid expositions, often, it seemed, for the sake of criticism and opposition for their own sakes. This was an exhibition of the mentality of eminent men who should have been capable of disinterested examination of a subject, but they were as much under the influence of muddled thinking as any ordinary group. The board had therefore to be treated, as I had seen boards treated before, and as officials constantly treat committees, with the object of getting it to accept with the least waste of time, and no matter how blindly, what was proposed. This made my task lighter, but it did not ease my mind or end the underlying dissension.

I do not blame the board for this state of affairs, except for the personal rancour to which I have referred, which coloured every discussion. Furthermore, the system of civic directors introduced a weakness into the board and increased the confusion. The object of giving first the parish council, afterwards the district council, the right to appoint three of its members to sit upon the board as directors, was to create among the inhabitants of the town the sense of being directly associated with the work of the company. It had, however, no such effect. The three individuals were associated, but no one else. They could not discuss the company's business outside the board room, and, though appointed as representatives of the public authority, in fact they represented no one but themselves. I do not recall that they ever brought a single constructive suggestion or criticism of any consequence to the notice of the board. In practice matters of intimate concern were not considered when they were present. The idea was good, but unworkable.

A further novel feature of allowing the company's three chief officials to act as officials of the local authority had the same object. It was ultimately no more successful, for though it eased negotiations and provided the local authority with efficient service at a date when it could not otherwise have afforded it, the price paid was divided loyalties; too much was asked of human nature. I supported both these experiments, but I was wrong, and their failure was inevitable. What is theoretically sound frequently proves imperfect, and attempts to avoid conflict are usually wrong, because conflict is a necessary means of intercourse and has productive aspects.

The reader will appreciate that I am not attempting in this chapter to tell the story of Welwyn Garden City, or even to describe my part in the town's development; what I am concerned with is to make clear a state of mind. [CBP-1951 pp.74-76]

13

[CBP-1951 pp.76-80] In the company's prospectus the importance to the undertaking of enterprises incidental to the growth of the town was set forth. Experience of Letchworth had shown what trading and other services were required to enable the town to get established, and that it was impracticable because of uncertainty and the time-lag to leave them to the process of natural growth. Responsibility for the town did not stop with planning it on paper; its growth had to be guided by vision, but also supplied with energy and taken in hand as an immediately practical task. Chambers understood this thoroughly, for he had complete grasp of the nature and significance of land values, in which respect he was I should think unique. My aim was the creation of the town as an organic whole, his the skilled production of land values, and the two aims were complementary; that was why we were able to work together, for he could adopt my aim and I his without contradiction.

We soon set to work on the subsidiary enterprises, establishing separate companies for (1) housing, (2) building, (3) electricity supply, (4) horticultural work, (5) gravel and sand digging, (6) brick-making, (7) transport, (8) central stores, and (9) restaurants and public-houses. Only two of these units were joint stock companies, the others were registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, because such societies were more easily formed than companies and had similar advantages except for capital raising purposes. It was this multiple creation of subsidiary trading developmental enterprises, separating out and clearly defining these activities, that gave ultimate strength to the undertaking and enabled the company to survive its future troubles.

Despite our efforts the board was not able to appreciate what was being done, and as difficulties accumulated there were constant suggestions that we should reduce, even abandon, the subsidiaries as outside the company's scope. But the original prospectus setting out the company's objects was explicit on that particular subject, and these discouraging attempts with their inherent contradictions did not succeed. They added to the internal difficulties, however. The most direct and easily made attacks were upon the departmental stores, which depended in its initial stages upon a monopoly of shop sites, regarded by some of the board as well as by government departments, local authorities, and indeed every one else, as unheard of and unwise. Yet despite the fiercest prejudice the case for what was being done was unanswerable, and however bitterly the policy was attacked it could not be overthrown.

The primary object of the so-called monopoly was to enable a stores to be established to provide the town from the start with a more complete and better equipped shopping service than small shopkeepers left to themselves could have offered; this object was carried out by the Welwyn Stores, as every one agreed who examined the facts, however distasteful to their preconceptions some of the critics found this conclusion. But the major object both Chambers and I had in view was to conserve land values. At the start of development shopping sites had small value; by holding them off the market until a reasonably large population existed these values were conserved. Shop sites are the most important economically of all town sites. This was proved at Welwyn Garden City, for in 1920 and some years after a shop site of, say, one-twelfth of an acre would have been considered dear at a ground rent of £5 a year (capital value £1,500 an acre), for there was only a small population and the future was uncertain; moreover those taking sites would certainly have demanded restriction upon competition. In 1939 the ascertained annual value of such a site was not less than £240 (capital value £60,000 an acre). The arguments to support this were regarded as somewhat far-fetched, for nothing is so little understood as land values, but as expounded by the Tory land expert Chambers the policy could not be gainsaid, and was regretfully accepted. I had ample evidence of the early days at Letchworth to establish the fact that we were on safe ground. All the same, the attacks within the board itself on this and other matters never ceased.

It is hardly necessary to remark that these subsidiary enterprises made the management of the company's undertaking highly complicated. Though small in their initial phases, a good deal of work was involved, and all had to be envisaged in ultimately large terms. Much capital was required, and two of the enterprises, the restaurant and the stores, were made into separate financial units, raising their own capital, which was not found difficult. I became managing director of both. Altogether a heavy burden of responsibility was thrown upon Chambers and myself, but we did not hesitate, for we saw clearly how the entire undertaking should work and how the town would be built up on the methods we adopted.

Throwing himself wholly into the life of the town, Chambers lived there at the earliest opportunity, disposing of his London house, and building a new one to become a social centre. He and Lady Chambers initiated and took part in social activities, especially sport and pastimes, and behaved as true citizens. He served on the local authority, both the newly formed parish council and the rural district council, and was welcome for his charm and keen interest. I, too, came to the town and formed my own interests in the drama, for I associated the theatre with the intimate character of the garden city, both existing for social ends.

I was deeply engaged in all the various undertakings of the company, the subsidiary enterprises being my special concern. I took upon myself directing and co-ordinating functions aiming at creating a co-operative spirit and a family feeling. In this I succeeded to such an extent that in 1927 I was able to set up in association with E. R. Hughes an organization named Associated Welwyn Services Ltd., intended to offer to the country at large the services in architecture, building, engineering, public works, building materials, household stores, farm equipment, and supplies generally that the undertaking could provide. The initiation of this enterprise depended upon the highest degree of associative working. It was an ambitious scheme, the most far-reaching of anything we attempted. The fact that it was thought possible to embark upon it is positive evidence of the degree of co-operation that existed in the undertaking at that date; for without the sense of cohesion and ability to respond to the demands that were likely to be made upon it, in the organization as a whole, the scheme would have been inconceivable. It was started after exhaustive discussion and with the goodwill of all concerned, and, under the experienced management we had secured, had favourable prospects; but it was no more than set up than what I am about to relate befell.

Perhaps I should interpose at this point a note of the fact that my salary at the start when I became finance director was £1,000; at this amount it remained until increased by £200, afterwards £500 from the stores, a total of £1,500. For my other work I received nothing. I had no allowances, except a season ticket to London, and no motor-car. When I visited the restaurant, of which I was managing director, which I did daily, I paid for my meals. My colleagues often apologized for this underpayment, the excuse for which was the company's capital needs and the fact that the members of the board except three (Chambers, Reiss, and Howard) drew no salaries or fees; it was, I think now as I thought then, a poor excuse, but I had no sense of resentment. I did not really care so long as I was allowed to do the work. [CBP-1951 pp.76-80]


The account continues with a short passage about CBP's break with Welwyn Garden City Ltd. in 1928. This passage is included in my next section "The 1928 Affair".

CBP does not say much about his wife in his autobiography. There is one interesting short passage in which he tells of Antonia's employment at Welwyn Stores during WW-II:

[CBP-1951 pp.32-33] When the second war started in September 1939 I was busy with British Equity, and in May 1940 after Anthony Eden's broadcast I enrolled in the Welwyn Local Defence Volunteers; next month on that night of threatened invasion I stood guard at the district council's offices with an unloaded rifle. I left the force with relief after some months.

Shortly after the start of the war Antonia surprised me by saying that she had seen the management of the Welwyn Stores and had offered to join their staff to advise people upon making the best use of available foods. I was surprised but pleased, for her energies were not fully occupied; but what influenced her was the desire to make the extra effort called for by the war. The stores did not accept her offer, but invited her, indeed, pressed her, to assist in an existing department. This she agreed to do on condition that she had the privileges of a buyer while working as an assistant, which were readily granted. She worked there for five years, at first full time, later halftime, not always on the same work. She was found so hard-working and conscientious that heavy jobs were put upon her that others would not do or did badly, to such an extent that she was seriously overworked. She was inexperienced in such work, and advantage was taken of her. This went so far that without her knowledge I had to intervene. Then she was given lighter tasks, but the damage was done, and her health was affected. I was glad when the war ended and she felt free to stop.

It is odd to have to record that women in the town found it difficult not to assume that she had lost social standing by this work. Not a few were uncivil to her, which Antonia could not understand. She had not lowered herself in her own eyes by doing her best when the best of all was asked for. As I care nothing for social standing of this kind I laughed at the comedy. Antonia did not laugh, but was puzzled. She told me of incidents that occurred, but her happiness was undisturbed. [CBP-1951 pp.32-33]

 
 

 

 
 

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The 1928 Affair

 
 


On March 27th 1928, C. B. Purdom resigned his positions as finance director of Welwyn Garden City Ltd., and managing director of the subsidiaries. A few weeks later he also resigned from the boards of the company. He did this after a sustained campaign against him by officials of the company backed by some board members. These highly dramatic events I am calling the "1928 affair". Purdom was a highly dedicated and hard-working man, who was a staunch proponent of the garden cities idea, and who was devoted to the development of Welwyn Garden City. Without any inkling of what was about to happen, he was suddenly and ruthlessly rejected by those with whom he worked, and abandoned by people whom he regarded as his friends as well as colleagues. What happened was devastating for Purdom, as it surely would be for anybody finding himself in such a situation.

These events are what sparked my interest in his life and led me to study his books and create this website. In this section, I am giving some background information, followed by summaries of three accounts of the 1928 affair, which are by Maurice de Soissons, by Arnold Whittick, and by C. B. Purdom himself.


Background information - Purdom and Osborn

A brilliant account of Ebenezer Howard's life and achievements is to be found in the book The Garden City Utopia - A Critical Account of Ebenezer Howard by Robert Beevers published in 1988 by The Macmillan Press Ltd. Towards the end of this book, Beevers writes about the relationship between Purdom and Osborn. Robert Beevers is an historian who specialises in nineteenth century cultural history. He was one of the founders of the Open University.

[RB-1988 p. 145] Both Purdom and Osborn were born into the same social stratum as that of Howard himself - the lower middle class with Nonconformist affiliations - and each in his different way eventually abandoned the sectarian Christianity of his youth. . . . . . Purdom, whose family was somewhat the more affluent, had a better education than Osborn, who left his London Board school at fifteen. Later, when they worked together at Letchworth, Osborn profited from Purdom's guidance in his assiduous efforts to overcome the limitations of his schooling, and it was Purdom, as much if not more than Howard, who taught Osborn the real meaning of the garden city as a socio-economic idea.

After meeting Howard at a Fabian meeting in 1912, Osborn was appointed Secretary of the Howard Cottage Society at Letchworth. Purdom was finance officer for the Letchworth Garden City company and had already been there since 1904.

[1975 radio broadcast by Osborn] "When I got to Letchworth I found delightful open surroundings with charming houses with very beautiful architecture . . . and a small community in which everybody knew one another. I became enchanted, as a Londoner, with the whole idea of a new town".

[RB-1988 pp. 146] The outbreak of war brought dissension to the new community. Osborn himself took up an uncompromisingly anti-war stance, but he and the local branch of the ILP failed to carry a resolution protesting against Britain's entry into the war at a noisy public meeting held on the day it broke out.

[RB-1988 pp. 147] When, eventually, [Osborn] having been refused excusal as a conscientious objector, he was called up for service, he went 'on the run' and disappeared into hiding in London.

Purdom enlisted in 1916 and served until January 1918 when he was discharged medically unfit. As already mentioned above in the section headed "The Garden City Association", in October 1917, whilst still in the army, Purdom had written a pamphlet on the future of Letchworth and the garden city movement after the war. Purdom was dismissive about its impact saying it had no influence, 'except on Howard, who hitherto discouraged and seeing no future for the idea, was excited into activity'. [CBP-1951 p. 60] However, regarding the pamphlet, Beevers says:

[RB-1988 p. 148] Its importance can hardly be over-estimated, for it instigated a revival of the garden city movement and raised it, at least potentially, to the level of a national campaign for the building of new towns in large numbers once peace was resumed. For all their later differences, Osborn never failed to acknowledge Purdom's role as the prime mover in the revival, [see FJO-1970 p. 7] and Howard himself was so excited on reading the pamphlet that he recovered some of his old missionary zeal.

The events in 1918, regarding the National Garden Cities Committee, the book New Towns After The War, and the success of the New Townsmen in winning their arguments in the GCTPA, with Purdom becoming first Assistant Secretary, then Secretary of the Assocation, have already been described in "The Garden City Association" section above. Regarding the book, Beevers says:

[RB-1988 pp. 151-2] It was essentially a restatement, or more exactly a re-interpretation, of Howard's To-morrow for a very different readership, for the two publications belong to different epochs despite the fact they appeared within twenty years of one another. If To-morrow assumed in the reader an earnest idealism tempered by science and technology, its successor appealed to a kind of hard-headed, no-nonsense pragmatism. This pragmatical approach was to have a critical and permanent effect on the New Towns movement of the future, which came to be characterised as a housing programme rather than a scheme of social and economic reform. This was of course the last thing the authors intended, and, indeed, they were at pains to emphasise that the garden city was much more than an experiment in housing and town planning.

Beevers continues with an account of the rebuff given to the GCA by Addison, and Howard's determination to start a second garden city with private money.

[RB-1988 p. 161] On 5 May [1919] Osborn wrote a letter to Howard in which he strenuously argued the case against 'your proposal for the starting of a second garden city'. By then Purdom and Howard were hardly on speaking terms: the trust which had hitherto been taken for granted on both sides was being undermined, and there can be no doubt that Howard alone was responsible. Neither Purdom nor Osborn knew that he was already in correspondence with Lord Salisbury in an attempt to persuade him to sell part of his estate for the second garden city.

Beevers continues with an account of Howard's negotiation with Lord Salisbury for the purchase of the land for Welwyn, and how the Panhanger Estate land was purchased at auction, and how the deposit money was raised. The account continues with the formation of the Welwyn board under the chairmanship of Sir Theodore Chambers.

[RB-1988 pp. 166] In October [1921], Purdom resigned as secretary of the GCA to devote the whole of his time to Welwyn and in doing so effectively brought the campaign to an end. 'Only the sense of the great importance of the future of the garden city movement and the work at Welwyn Garden City', declared the executive committee in a warm tribute, had reconciled them to accept Mr Purdom's resignation.

The final chapter from Beevers's book is entitled "A Heroic Simpleton ?" covers the latter part of Howard's life. The following two brilliant paragraphs concern the Welwyn board's rent and rate policy which was key to the ultimate survival and prosperity of Welwyn Garden City.

[RB-1988 pp. 167-170] The critical question as to the type of lease to be offered prospective tenants at Welwyn was settled fairly rapidly and, apparently, without a great deal of debate - at least in public. It was first raised in the Company's development sub-committee, of which Howard was a member, towards the end of October 1920. There it was resolved that the Company should offer leases of 999 years at ground rents to be revised every 80 years; such leases would apply to all tenants except those on the agricultural estate. Thus the typical housing lease, although ten times as long as such leases at Letchworth, would carry a ground rent which might be adjusted as the value of the property increased with the growth of the town. Howard's rate-rent concept was in such an arrangement still theoretically applicable and unearned increment could be secured for the benefit of the community. When this recommendation reached the full Board of Directors, however, doubts must have been expressed, for it was decided that legal advice should be sought. The outcome was the abandonment of the economic proposition that supported the whole edifice of Howard's new social and industrial order. On the basis of the professional opinion of a single barrister to the effect that periodical revision of rents within a continuing lease was 'not good in law' the Company decided that only normal leases - that is those carrying a constant rent for the whole of the term of years - should be offered to prospective householders and industrialists. This decision was strongly supported by Chambers and Purdom. Howard presumably acquiesced, but Osborn may have had his doubts. If so, he took care not to express them publicly; not until several years later did he reveal his reservations regarding the Company's leasehold policy, and then only under a pseudonym. This most untypical silence may well have been a consequence of a condition he had accepted on his appointment as Company secretary: he agreed to abstain from political activity likely to prejudice the success of the Company or embarrass its Board of Directors.

Anxiety about the Company's desperate financial position, rather than concern for the niceties of the law of contract, was what really drove the board along this course. At that date its members were liable as individuals for the security of bank loans of up to £70000, and the more affluent of them, including Chambers, were major shareholders. By disposing of properties on such favourable terms to the leaseholder, they could demand high prices and thereby raise working capital. And in the case of housing, in which the Company had a major financial and operational interest, their hopes were not without substance. Houses such as James Leakey bought for Howard were advertised in the Company's newspaper under the headline 'Houses in Welwyn Garden City As A Good Investment' at £765 with a nominal ground rent of five shillings a year. Superior houses costing about twice that sum carried ground rents of ten guineas. In the long term they were to prove to be very profitable indeed. Those who invested in these properties profited from the growth of the garden city in much the same manner as did landlords on the fringes of sprawling London, whom Howard had hoped ultimately to dispossess. It would be wrong, however, to infer from its leasehold policy, important though it was, that the Board of Directors was merely resorting to pragmatic expedients to raise ready cash. There were to be no bitter debates in board meetings of the kind that at Letchworth had prompted Lever's resignation. Retention of the freehold of the estate was the cornerstone of a considered policy which was consistently adhered to. The essence of this policy was the vigorous exploitation of the Company's sole capital asset - an estate of 2378 acres, which because of its proximity to London was ripe for development. Because it held this freehold the Company possessed, as it did not fail to point out to prospective shareholders, 'a virtual monopoly in respect of a large number of enterprises of a very profitable nature'. The architect of this policy was Theodore Chambers and its chief executant was Charles Purdom, who was appointed financial director of the Company in October 1921. [RB-1988 pp. 167-170]

The last quotation from Mr Beevers's book includes a short account of the 1928 affair.

[RB-1988 p. 175] As the national economy faltered and plunged into its own crisis at the end of the decade, Welwyn Garden City Company suffered, in a way that its less ambitious counterpart at Letchworth did not, because of the energy and enterprise with which it had sought to exploit its capital assets. The first tremor was felt in 1928, and the first victim of the fallout was Charles Purdom. In spite of efforts on his behalf by Chambers, a majority of the Directors demanded his resignation from the Board and from his various executive posts. Their reasons were never disclosed publicly and were not recorded in the board minutes; they remain obscure today, but anxiety about the state of affairs in the Company itself was an underlying factor. Purdom more than anyone else, said Osborn at a public dinner two years earlier, 'has thought out the policy of the garden city (a policy bolder and deeper grounded in logic than anyone else yet realises), and held it on its course through all distractions, misconceptions and obstacles. . .' But Osborn played a leading part in bringing about Purdom's downfall, even convincing Howard of the necessity for his departure. Osborn himself stayed on as Company secretary for a few more years in which a drastic reorganisation took place, only to experience the ignominy of dismissal without the courtesy of the option of resignation. Encumbered by liabilities of the order of nearly three-quarters of a million pounds and on the verge of bankruptcy, the Directors applied to the High Court to sanction a revision of its memorandum and articles of association. In the outcome share and debenture holders were given the full equity and the garden city and its inhabitants were excluded from any interest in the Company or its profits. At the same time the opportunity was taken of abolishing the pathetic pretence of community participation, the civic directors.


Maurice de Soissons's account of the 1928 affair

The first main account of the affair I am giving here is by Maurice de Soissons (b. 1927) in his book Welwyn Garden City: A Town Designed for Healthy Living, published in 1988 by Publications for Companies, Cambridge. That book can still be obtained, secondhand or even new if you search for it, but do shop around because the price seems to vary wildly. It is a most excellent account of the origins and development of Welwyn Garden City richly illustrated with photographs from the town, some in colour. I have written brief notes on it which can be accessed by clicking here. There is a picture of Maurice from the cover of the book in my notes. His other books include one about Telford New Town and a novel featuring poachers in the east of England.

Maurice de Soissons is the son of the planner and architect of Welwyn Garden City - the Canadian Louis de Soissons (1890-1962). Louis prepared the plan for the town (based on an original by C. M. Crickmer), and was responsible for promoting the familiar red-brick, red-tiled houses, detached, semi-detached and terraced, with Georgian style window frames which are such an attractive feature of the older parts of the town particularly to the west of the railway line. I grew up in one of these houses in Digswell Road (No. 36).

This is what Maurice has to say about Purdom prior to the 1928 affair:

[De SOISSONS-1988 p. 33] C. B. Purdom came to Letchworth to work as an accountant. He became fired with Ebenezer Howard's ideals, and judging by his subsequent writing, developed a profound understanding of the garden city concepts and an ability to project them. He was, by contemporary accounts, imaginative, clever and articulate, talented in many ways including as an actor and stage producer. But he was also tactless and given to the belief that he knew best, facets of his character which brought him into conflict with his colleagues at a later date.

[De SOISSONS-1988 p. 35] In 1918 he [Ebenezer Howard] took Purdom and Osborn to walk over the acres between Hatfield station and the viaduct, which he now regarded as an ideal site for the second garden city. His colleagues of the GC&TPA agreed that the site was possible, and with other sites could be quoted as a prime place for a garden city. . . . . Contrary to the opinions of both Purdom and Osborn, who thought that the building of a second garden city by private enterprise would weaken the case of the GC&TPA and dissipate its energies, Howard set about raising money.

[De SOISSONS-1988 p. 51] Purdom as financial director was intimately involved in every fluctuation of the company's fortunes. He commented that the biggest handicap to the establishment of Welwyn Garden City was the difficulty of building sufficient workmen's houses fast enough. Those that were built were erected under the 1919 Housing Act, the rents being fixed by the Ministry of Health, the loss to the ratepayers being limited to the produce of a rate of one penny in the pound.

[De SOISSONS-1988 p. 66] During these years Ebenezer Howard, now in his late seventies, took less and less active part in the running of the town. Sir Theodore Chambers, ebullient, forceful and inspiring chairman that he was, was not a manager and manipulator of the minutiae of everyday affairs. He needed, as Osborn pointed out, a grand vizier to play to his caliph. More and more, Purdom as finance director of the company and managing director of Welwyn Stores Ltd, assumed the mantle of grand vizier, and strove to be managing director in all but name. Dick Reiss as the third "working" director was much bound up with the housing side of the garden city and social and health aspects. It was the day-to-day running of the enterprise, and the decision-making processes that began now to cause problems which were to come to a head in 1928.

[De SOISSONS-1988 pp. 67-8] The year 1927 saw a considerable number of architects, town planners. engineers and civic authorities from Britain and other European countries and America visiting and by-and-large praising the garden city. The WGC Theatre Society's play Mr. Sampson, produced by Purdom. won the silver cup of the National Festival of Community Drama. The WGC News changed its title to Welwyn News in April and gave big coverage to the theatre club which took the play to the United States where it won the David Belasco Cup against all comers in amateur dramatics.

And now for the crucial passage from a section headed "The 1928 Row":

[De SOISSONS-1988 pp. 70-2] While he lay ill, Sir Ebenezer had probably been concerned and saddened by rumblings other than that of the traffic outside. For the management of his garden city, with its three-committee system without a managing director, was in disarray. At the heart of the row was the man Howard had worked with since those early pioneer days at Letchworth. After 60 years one can read the depositions of the principal actors in the drama with a detached view. Yet the immediacy, urgency and upset to many hard-working and dedicated people comes through strongly. This was a row not in a company manufacturing boots or toothbrushes, but in an organisation expressing an ideal.

Purdom's allegiance to the garden city movement was never questioned, nor his integrity as financial director. But as a manager of men he seems to have overvalued his own abilities, underestimated those of everyone else. He believed that he and Chambers, rather in that order, had created the garden city together. It is certain that he took upon himself a great deal of decision making, and occupied himself with too much detail. The result was slipshod organisation and numbers of responsible people not consulted, not told, not given responsibility.

Matters came to such a pass that seven principal officers of the company wrote a letter to the chairman. They asked for an immediate enquiry into the administration, compelled by "the prospect that certain of our colleagues (themselves included) may have to leave the organisation on questions of principle, in which we think they are right." The officers included Osborn, James, de Soissons, Kenyon and A. R. Pelly, the staff manager. Purdom called it a conspiracy against him with Osborn and Pelly the instigators, and with Dick Reiss, although a director, conniving willingly. He tried to get Chambers to sack all the officers who, he said, were power hungry. Dick Reiss and the officers all denied Purdom's charges. The board was divided on the issue, with Chambers and the outside directors on one side, Reiss and the civic directors on the other. Sir Harry Peat, the company's auditor, was brought in to prepare a report. Evidently Chambers was anxious to compromise, and his ignorance of the true situation argues a certain blindness of perception with regard to his staff. He told Purdom he was too outspoken and frank and should cultivate more tact. Peat's report was conciliatory, allowing that the officers had some justification, but stressing that Purdom was the man "who should have the leading position in the company". He laid the blame for the situation on the weaknesses in the machinery of administration, which should be remodelled. His report was adopted by a divided board with Reiss and the civic directors against.

A further letter from the officers stated that the defects in the administration were due to Purdom's policy, methods and personality. Their "Purdom must go" stance was maintained through the early months of the year, was taken into the boardroom by Reiss, and eventually after months of painful argument Purdom resigned as managing director of Welwyn Stores and Welwyn Restaurants, but not from the board. He expected to fight and win the board battle so that reorganisation could go ahead and he could return to an even more important position. But the pressure for him to go completely was mounting and in July he resigned as a director of Welwyn Garden City Ltd.

Fred Osborn always paid generous tribute to Purdom's deep understanding of the garden city concept, to his labours for the nascent garden city movement and to his pioneer work on the ground. Purdom believed that the creative skill and dynamic energy of WGC was removed by what he always termed "the conspirators". He never forgave them, nor Chambers for being "weak and vacillating" over the affair. Osborn stressed that the officers admired, liked and were loyal to Chambers. It was his opinion that if it had not been for Sir Theodore's enthusiasm, leadership and persuasiveness, Welwyn Garden City would have failed. Other administrators joined the team and were to give the lie to Purdom's somewhat arrogant belief that with him gone the spark was extinguished.

As Peat had recommended, reorganisation there was. A report for the Minister of Health found the future of the undertaking reasonably satisfactory, but criticised the management of the Stores, and that too much capital had been put into subsidiaries, It recommended that more attention be given to commercial aspects. Two chartered accountants joined the board, Osborn relinquished the post of secretary to F. M. Page, for enlarged duties as estates manager. John Eccles, a chartered accountant, who was to play a major role in the company, joined to reorganise the finances of Welwyn Stores (1929) Ltd. [De SOISSONS-1988 pp. 70-2]

Finally, the last pieces from Maurice de Soissons's book:

[De SOISSONS-1988 p. 84] In January [1936] Fred Osborn resigned from his position as estates manager. There was a bald statement in the Welwyn Times put there by the company: "It is announced that Mr F. J. Osborn has resigned his appointment with Welwyn Garden City Ltd". After a 16-year career of pioneering the garden city concepts, was this all that could be said ? Osborn had been the first secretary, had been clerk to the parish council and then to the UDC. He had worked as estates manager, been active in all manner of social activities in which it was the studied policy of the company that its top officials should be, and far beyond that call of duty. How had the second of Howard's "bright young men" fallen from grace ?

Feelings of dismay at the "resignation" were expressed by many garden citizens. There has been little for a chronicler to find. Could it perhaps have been a long-delayed aftermath of the Purdom episode when working relationships, friendships and loyalties had been put to the test ? A letter from Osborn to Chambers is among the former's papers. It is mild for such a forthright man, merely asking for his compensation for loss of office to be modestly raised in view of his 16 years of service, and promising full co-operation to ease his successor into his work. Privately the company let it be known that in an era of professionals, it was necessary to have a staff of fully-trained, professionally-qualified officers. With chartered accountant John Eccles heading the new administration of the garden city, it seems that there was no room for a gifted amateur who had left school at 15. Osborn went to Murphy Radio as financial director with the proviso that he could have time to pursue his town planning interests in the GC&TPA. He continued to live in the town and to take a full part in its social, cultural and local authority life. The break with the company released him from day-to-day administrative responsibilities, and was instrumental in launching him into a career as an articulate and eventually influential advocate of new towns. [De SOISSONS-1988 p. 84]

[De SOISSONS-1988 p. 171] C. B. Purdom, who had continued to live in the town, died [in 1965] at the age of 81. As a director of Welwyn Garden City Ltd until the debacle in 1928, and later as a UDC councillor, and especially as a talented producer of many plays, he too had put much of his life and interest into the garden city.


Arnold Whittick's account of the 1928 affair

The second account of the 1928 affair I am giving here is the one in the book F. J. O. - Practical Idealist, a biography of Sir Frederic J. Osborn by Arnold Whittick, published in 1987, by The Town and Country Planning Association. I have written a commentary on that book which can be viewed by clicking here.

Frederic James Osborn (1885-1978) was secretary and estate manager to Welwyn Garden City Ltd., and also clerk to Welwyn Garden City Urban District Council, at the time in question (1928). He had known Purdom since 1912 when Osborn went to work for the Howard Cottage Society at Letchworth where Purdom was the accountant for First Garden City Ltd. In 1921, Osborn moved from Letchworth to 8 Brockswood Lane, Welwyn Garden City. From there, in 1925, he moved to 16 Guessens Road where he remained until his death in 1978. Purdom moved his family from Letchworth to 7 Handside Lane, Welwyn Garden City, in 1922. In 1928 the Purdoms were at Digswell Lodge. Like Osborn, Purdom remained in Welwyn Garden City until his death, which was in 1965.

John Arnold Whittick (1898-1986) had met Osborn in 1941 in the office of the Town and Country Planning Association. They together wrote the book The New Towns - the answer to megalopolis first published in 1963. Whittick wrote many other books on art, architecture and other subjects. He died before his biography of Osborn was quite ready and his widow Helen read the proofs and saw the publication through.

Quoting from Whittick's biography of Osborn passages relevant to Purdom prior to the 1928 affair:

[WHITTICK-1987 pp. 22-3] The most vigorous propaganda for garden cities emanated from Ebenezer Howard, C. B. Purdom, F. J. Osborn and W. G. Taylor who [in 1917] formed themselves into the New Towns Group. Purdom was a member of the staff of First Garden City Ltd. from its inception in 1903. These four wrote articles for the newspapers, especially the popular ones, they lobbied political parties and made every effort to spread knowledge of their ideas to interested and influential people. They were often regarded as unpractical idealists, but they persisted. Purdom wrote and published a little book in 1917 entitled "The Garden City after the War", and in 1918 another small book: "New Towns after the War" was produced by the New Towns Group but was actually written by Osborn. A second edition was published during the Second World War in 1942 when many of the arguments were reinforced by subsequent experience.

[WHITTICK-1987 p. 29] Immediately after the cessation of hostilities in November 1918 and shortly after the publication of "New Towns after the War", the New Towns Group formed, for the purposes of propaganda, the National Garden Cities Committee, with Ebenezer Howard as Chairman. This Committee was invited by the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association to join forces. C. B. Purdom became editor of the Association's Journal, and gave it new life; while Osborn was engaged as one of the Association's lecturers and "travelled all over the country preaching the gospel to local authorities, civic societies, universities and any other group that would arrange a meeting".

[WHITTICK-1987 pp. 30-1] Although Ebenezer Howard was sympathetic to the propaganda enterprises of Osborn and Purdom for dispersal by means of garden cities he was not very optimistic that the Government would adopt this as a policy. Indeed Osborn recalls Howard's remark to him when seeing him off on one of his journeys that: "If you wait for the authorities to build new towns you will be older than Methuselah before they start. The only way to get anything done is to do it yourself." Howard, however, spent much time thinking and searching for ways and means for starting a second garden city. Osborn records that Howard "on his frequent journeys from Letchworth to his shorthand reporting work in London had often observed the large area of unbuilt-on land at the railway junction north of Hatfield and regarded it as the ideal site for a second garden city", and he took Osborn and Purdom for a walk over the area. Howard himself records how the greater part of the area fell into his hands. "In a somewhat leisurely fashion", he writes, "I had been seeking to ascertain who the various landowners were, and the boundaries of their properties, when, like a bolt from the blue, there was forwarded to me a map, with particulars of a sale by auction to take place within a few days - a sale which included a great portion of the land I had set my heart upon. There was no time to lose; for if that large property were sold in various lots to numerous purchasers, then good-bye to my hopes for a garden city there. I had myself no money with which to bid; but thanks to the generosity of a few friends, in response to personal calls I made upon them, sufficient money was placed in my hands to enable me to be represented at the sale and to bid for and pay a deposit on the essential lots."

[WHITTICK-1987 pp. 31-2] As in the case of Letchworth a pioneer company was formed, in October 1919, called the Second Garden City Ltd. with a registered capital of £150,000 in ordinary £1 shares with dividends limited to 7 per cent per annum. Sir Theodore Chambers became chairman of the company. Many notable persons were associated with the enterprise but the principal were, as Osborn recalls, Ebenezer Howard, C. B. Purdom, R. L. Reiss and Osborn himself. "We four" he said "could be considered the nucleus of the Welwyn Garden City organisation - the 'co-founders' - though a good case could be made for including the subscribers to the deposit. Clear and definite as we four were as to the project we had in mind, and as to the importance of the garden city movement to humanity, I do not think any of us realized what a revolution in our own affairs and those of our wives and families old Howard's initiative was to bring about. We were all destined to be among the pioneer inhabitants of Welwyn Garden City and to spend the rest of our lives in the place - one of the most interesting experiences that could fall to anyone’s lot."

[WHITTICK-1987 p. 32] Much of the prospectus was concerned with finance which was C. B. Purdom's especial province. He became a very energetic finance director. Osborn, in addition to being secretary of the company was also estate manager and publicist, while at the same time he was clerk, finance and rating officer of the local authority, living as can be imagined, a very full life. Louis de Soissons was appointed planner and architect for the town and superintended much of its building until his death in 1962.

Now follows below the crucial passage covering the 1928 affair from chapter 6 of Whittick's book:

[WHITTICK-1987 pp. 38-45] Successful as was the enterprise of Welwyn Garden City Ltd. in the twenties, it was not accomplished without some degree of disharmony among the directors and executives of the Company which is perhaps inevitable with forceful personalities. This disharmony was caused mainly by the disruptive influence of C. B. Purdom, the Finance Director. Although Purdom had done much valuable work in promoting the enterprise in the early days, many members of the staff found it difficult to work with him. He was accused of being intolerant, unreliable, mean spirited and taking credit to himself for successful work and decrying the efforts of others. Objections to him were brought to a head by a memorandum to the Chairman from seven executives of the company. Purdom has given a full explanation of his conduct in an "Account of the Trouble at Welwyn Garden City", February to July 1928, which he left to the W.G.C. Library on his death. His account is dated August 1928 with a Postscript of 1952. Also deposited in the Library is the evidence of A. R. Pelly, Financial Secretary of W.G.C., and some notes of November 1966 from F. J. Osborn in reply to and in refutation of many of the maligning accusations made by Purdom.

The memorandum by the seven principal executives of the Company to Sir Theodore Chambers, was sent on 7th February 1928 and was as follows:-

"With great regret we have to put before you and the Board our view that a complete reorganization of the administration of the Company and its subsidiaries is urgently necessary. For some time past we have been conscious that the system which has developed is most unsatisfactory, causing inefficiency in the conduct of the business, loss of interest on our part and discontent among the staff, and prejudicing the standing of the Company in the town. The prospect that certain of our colleagues may have to leave the organization on questions of principle, in which we think they are in the right, compels us to ask for an immediate enquiry by the Board into the whole position."

It was signed by W. E. James, Arthur Kenyon, A. E. Malbon, F. J. Osborn, W. G. Parsons, A. R. Pelly and Louis de Soissons.

Both Purdom and Chambers knew that the memorandum was mainly directed at Purdom who called it a conspiracy and who suggested to Chambers that he should dismiss the leaders whom he thought were Osborn and Pelly, while requesting the others to apologise or be dismissed. He accused R. L. Reiss, one of the directors, of conniving with the memorandum.

Chambers was very uneasy and was undecided what to do, so he asked Sir Harry Peat for a report on the memorandum. In this report Peat said that "whilst the action of the signatories to the Memorandum is unusual and, in fact, reprehensible, there has been some justification for the uneasiness felt by the signatories as to the conduct and control of the business of the Company generally. This apprehension is, in my opinion, the result very largely of weaknesses in the machinery of administration and organization, and the fact that Mr. Purdom has had to perform duties and take responsibilities far in excess of the capacity of any one man if he is to retain sound judgement in dealing with all the various matters upon which his decision is required."

"As a result of my investigation, I find that many of the facts related by the signatories to the Memorandum are correct, but that the conclusions at which they arrived were based upon an imperfect knowledge of the motives underlying Mr. Purdom's actions and the authority which he obtained in connection with the matters of which complaint was made. I have no hesitation in saying that, in my opinion, no imputation against Mr. Purdom's honour can be maintained in connection with the matters which I have investigated."

Peat goes on to say that with proper organization and control the Company can eliminate the possibility of any similar complaints being made in the future by any body of men having at heart the prosperity of the enterprise. He mentions that the signatories "were actuated by one motive only, namely, a genuine desire and anxiety for the well-being of the Company generally", and referred to "the fairness and moderation with which they put forward their criticisms."

This rather ambiguous report was hardly a sufficient guide to Chambers on how to act. Purdom looked upon it as partly favourable to him, while Reiss, Osborn, Pelly and the other signatories were by no means satisfied. As a result of Peat's report Chambers intimated to the principal signatories that there was no question of Purdom's resignation and that he should have an important position in the reorganized undertaking. Osborn in particular seems to have been much incensed at this. It brought forth a further communication from the seven executives dated 19th March, in which they refer to the "decision of the Board that the reorganization scheme is to be prepared by the Chairman and Mr. Purdom in consultation with Sir Harry Peat, that the outline of the scheme has already been agreed to, and that in the reorganization there is to be no question of Mr. Purdom's resignation."

"We cannot think that the Board, in arriving at this decision, can have been aware either of the nature and weight of the evidence given on our side of the question, or of the extent to which our views are shared throughout the staff and in the town. The evidence, which the report agrees was moderately and fairly expressed, showed clearly that the defects in the work of the business are due primarily to Mr. Purdom's policy, methods, and personality, and that the signatories and most of the other responsible members of the staff take very strongly the view, on grounds that were fully stated by those of our witnesses who were heard, that any scheme of reorganization in which Mr. Purdom has any place will be unworkable. Sir Harry Peat's report does not in itself contain any data on which the main issues we raised could have been judged by the Board, and we cannot therefore understand that the Board should reach the conclusions referred to without themselves becoming fully apprized of the evidence upon which our views are based."

Purdom continued his protests about the treatment of him and criticised and maligned in particular Osborn, Pelly and Reiss while he criticised Chambers as weak and vacillating. Anyhow after further discussion on 28th March he sent his resignation to Chambers from the appointments as Finance Director of Welwyn Garden City Ltd., as Managing Director of Welwyn Stores Ltd. and of Welwyn Restaurants Ltd. His resignation was accepted at a special meeting of the Board on 2nd April, but it did not apparently include his resignation from the Board on which Reiss insisted. On 26th July Purdom resigned from the Board, thus ending an unfortunate episode in the management of the Garden City.

Purdom's Postscript of 1952 to his Account of 1928 includes some very damaging judgements of Sir Theodore Chambers, R. L. Reiss and F. J. Osborn. In the notes on Purdom's Account of the Trouble which Osborn left with the W.G.C. Library in November 1966 Osborn replies to some of these judgements and accuses Purdom of misrepresentation. He gives a clarifying note on the origin of the ultimatum. "It began", he says, "with a call on me by W. E. James and A. R. Pelly, who said they had decided they could no longer work with Purdom. I had long been very unhappy under his regime (as nominally Finance Director, but de facto Managing Director of the whole enterprise), but except for a complaint to the Chairman (Chambers) some years before, had done nothing about it. In view of James' and Pelly's decision, I saw that we had to act, and we found quickly that de Soissons, Kenyon, Malbon and Parsons also considered the situation intolerable. We agreed therefore to act together and to ask the Board for Purdom's removal; otherwise we would all resign. We were united and absolutely determined. None of us had any thought of enlarged jobs for ourselves."

He mentioned that Reiss supported the representation of the seven as did three other directors and Ebenezer Howard, "who was ill but wrote a letter expressing strong disapproval of Purdom."

Osborn refers to Purdom's notion of a 'conspiracy' as quite inappropriate. It was instead "a declaration by seven employees who simply said 'Either Purdom goes, or we go'." Such an action may be 'unusual', as Peat said, but not 'reprehensible' and certainly not 'revolutionary' or in any sense unlawful 'conspiracy' or 'plot'.

Osborn replied to Purdom's judgement of Sir Theodore Chambers. Purdom referred to himself and Chambers together as the main force in creating W.G.C. and of understanding each other completely, but he described Chambers as mean, vacillating, unreliable and untruthful. Osborn defended Chambers against this harsh judgement, admitted by Purdom as such. Osborn says it "is entirely untrue". "We all admired, liked and were loyal to Chambers", he continues, "my opinion was then, and is now, that without his enthusiasm, leadership and gifts of persuasion and influence in high quarters W.G.C. could not have overcome its many difficulties. Without his imaginative idealism and insistence on engaging the best available advice the town would not have had its distinguished quality. It is a characteristic, not a depreciation, that he had to have a capable administrator to lean upon; he was not the 'executive' type. I think of him as a Caliph who had to have a Grand Vizier to deal with details. And Purdom, who had great capacities for putting things into practice, was his Grand Vizier through an important period. Eccles occupied that position, with more acceptability to the organisation, later. (I think a reader of this 'Account' will detect that Purdom tended to see himself as the Caliph and Chambers as a figurehead.)"

Osborn had a long talk with Purdom in 1951 when Osborn tried very hard to get him to see why he was unfavourably regarded by so many. "This was the one attempt in my life" says Osborn, "to act as a sort of priestly counsellor to another person, and clearly it was a failure. Towards the end Purdom said he was impressed by what I said (and I think he was for the moment). So I went so far as to advise him, in his own interest, to find some way of withdrawing his adverse statements about other people, as a step to resuming open friendly relations. One of my motives, though I could not say this, was that, having a very high opinion of his ability and his knowledge of and genuine enthusiasm for the garden city idea, I wanted to bring him back into the 'movement'. I had often considered whether I could do so, but in view of his record in W.G.C. Ltd., the G.C. & T.P. Assn., and the International Federation, I had had to decide that he might be a disruptive influence. I felt I simply dare not take the risk of inviting him to resume participation in the T. & C.P. Association. It was perhaps foolish to imagine that what I or anybody said could 'change his spots'. However in this and several later apparently friendly talks at length I tried. But he never gave any sign of retracting. And this 'Account' shows that he maintained his completely inimical attitude to me and to most other former colleagues and associates."

"In many letters in recent years he has warmly congratulated me on my work for the New Towns movement, and thanked me for my recognition, in speeches and writing, of his own historic part in it. But he has never, in his own writing, given any credit for the Welwyn achievement to anybody except to Chambers during his own collaboration with him."

Osborn concludes with an estimate of Purdom's character. He thought of him as "a strange man with some remarkable gifts; executive ability, aesthetic sensibility, courage, and enormous disciplined energy and self-confidence. His conviction of superiority to all his associates had much foundation, but led him to underrate their qualities and to overestimate his own. He had wide interests, and desired to generalise his observations and experiences into a philosophy of life. But I think his essential intellectual powers were relatively poor - far below his ability to grasp specific practical issues. He was out of his depth in philosophy and religion (who isn't, in a sense ?), but his conviction of mastery (superiority ? greatness ?) would not allow him to admit his limitations. Perhaps this is why he was drawn to mystics who seemed to have some clue to the 'meaning of life' which neither they nor he could make clear to ordinary mortals. This was not a late development. When I first knew him in Letchworth in 1912-14 he used to deliver homilies at Sunday meetings that I found quite unintelligible."

Purdom was obviously a very gifted man with a variety of accomplishments. This is revealed in his autobiography - "Life Over Again" published in l95l. He again in this book refers to the controversy of 1928, in which he gives credit to himself and Chambers for the good pioneer work at Welwyn Garden City, and hardly any acknowledgement of the good work of others. He implies that when he left the organisation in July 1928 it was doomed to failure. Interesting is Osborn's review of this autobiography which appeared in Town & Country Planning in August 1951, in which Osborn pays generous tribute to Purdom's achievements while criticising him for his attitude to his colleagues. "Some passages in the book", says Osborn, "reflect, or rather distort, half-forgotten episodes of the 1918-28 period of the garden cities and planning movement. Mr. Purdom was, at important junctures, secretary of the Garden Cities Association and of the International Federation, and financial director of Welwyn Garden City Ltd. A man of energy and considerable ability, he was an undoubted force in the resuscitation of the garden city movement in 1918 and the initial stages of the building of Welwyn. His critical observation of the development of Letchworth from an inside viewpoint enabled him to contribute effectively to practical policy in the second garden city and to assemble valuable records in his books on both towns."

"These services should not and will not be forgotten, even though in his own anxiety to ensure recognition he makes the sad mistake of belittling the no less important contributions of others. But his colleagues in the planning movement and the two companies, while gladly insisting on giving him much credit, would have to add that Mr. Purdom was difficult to work with. Wondering, as compunctious men do, whether possibly some of the difficulty lay in themselves, they will note that Mr. Purdom in his story of a long series of arrivals in and departures from promising positions, encourages self-criticism, not only in them but in many others. The world was out of step; O cursed spite ! . . ."

"Former colleagues who will merely smile at his low assessment of their own parts in the advocacy and practical work of new towns will resent his depreciation or damnation by faint praise of the work of others - as for example, Sir Raymond Unwin, Sir George Pepler, Mr. R. L. Reiss, the 'weak' boards of the two companies who for the first time in modern history built completely planned towns, and the 'proprietor' (whoever he was) of the International Union of Cities. And they will note that the only persons who come out with credit in Mr. Purdom's recollection are the rare few who supported him when the stupid or jealous majority were almost unanimously against him. It is a tribute to a deep strength in Mr. Purdom's personality that one or two of these supporters were men of undoubted quality and standing."

"As in a previous book of Mr. Purdom's, the successful campaign of the T. & C.P.A. in the 1930s and 1940s is treated as of no account; the garden city movement 'died' in 1928 when Mr. Purdom was displaced from the Welwyn Board. The origin and results of that event are ludicrously misrepresented in this book, and a correction by some of those concerned in it appears in the Welwyn Times of 29th June 1951; but the world at large will care nothing for these old unhappy far-off things."

"As to the many other errors of fact and judgement concerning Letchworth and Welwyn and the planning movement, we have said enough to induce a reader to retain his critical spectacles. The historian of the movement, if ever there is one, will weigh Mr. Purdom's testimony with memoirs of the other actors in the play - not likely to be published in their lifetimes. In such a history, if it achieves a true balance, Mr. Purdom's contribution to the work of a remarkable and devoted team that set new standards for the world's cities will figure as an important one, despite the doubts cast by his own over-anxious claims."

Looking back Osborn comments on this retrospectively in a letter to Mumford of 21st September 1963. "I think I have still a slight resentment of his (Purdom's) treatment of me: I did suffer a lot of anxiety and frustration when he was Finance Director of W.G.C. and I was nominally estate manager; and of course I don't forget that he left me out of his account of W.G.C. and libelled me in his autobiography rather harmfully. But I don't forget either that in the 1917-19 period he, more than anybody, revived the garden city movement; that I as a new boy in 1912-16 learned a lot from his Letchworth experience; that he was an extraordinarily valuable member of the W.G.C. team, because of his experience at Letchworth; and that he also revived the ideals of the International Federation when Hon. Treasurer and Secretary of it in the 1920-29 period". This is a generous tribute from Osborn to a man who had so much slighted him. [WHITTICK-1987 pp. 38-45]

In this final short passage, Whittick quotes Osborn's view of Purdom's editorship of Town and Country Planning:

[WHITTICK-1987 p. 128] "C. B. Purdom (1919-22), with the Welwyn Garden City project to help him, reasserted the essential principles, broadened the catchment area of contributors, and gave the review a more stylish presentation." .


C. B. Purdom's own account of the 1928 affair

The third account of the 1928 affair which I am giving here is Purdom's own account from his autobiography, Life Over Again, published in 1951 by J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.

In my previous section "Welwyn Garden City" I quoted material from that book (sections 10-13 of the second chapter headed "Garden Cities") which gives his summary of his involvement in the Welwyn Garden City project from its beginning. In that long quote I went up to just before the break in 1928. The passage below follows on from that and is his account of the 1928 affair itself which he deals with quite briefly.

[CBP-1951 pp. 80-84] I was not, however, allowed to continue it. In the year 1928, after eight years, I resigned and detached myself from the entire enterprise, though I continued to live in Welwyn Garden City. To relate the full story of how this thing occurred is not my intention, but a few pages must be devoted to it.

The board of the garden city company had become very weak, for by the end of 1927 many of its leading members had left, including Layton, Mann, and J. J. Astor, among others, and of its remaining members one was ill and seldom attended. On at least two occasions the opposition to the chairman had shown itself in a secret move to replace him. I would have nothing to do with this, and, after an attempt was made to detach me from him in November 1927, it seems that the attack was switched against me. This was, no doubt, not difficult. Although Chambers and I together were invulnerable, separately we were not. It was easier to move against me. With the exception of the accountancy department (and, of course, the subsidiaries), the company's land development administration was not under my control, though I exercised financial supervision. It was by no means in a healthy state. The fact that three of the officers had joint posts, while the architect had his own private practice, had more than a little to do with this. However, certain members of the board opposed to the chairman and several of the officers combined together, and in the following January an ultimatum from these officers was presented to the board demanding my resignation. In the meantime I was being attacked week by week in an independent paper published in the town, the Pilot, which appeared with the legend P.M.G., and among other things a specific attack was organized upon me in the name of the Shop Assistants' Union on the false allegation that I opposed members of the staff of the stores joining the union. Furthermore, there appeared to be a whispering campaign in motion throughout the town on the subject of my morals, personal habits, honesty, secret hoards of wealth, and other subjects. In fact it seemed that the apparatus of political campaigning was set to work.

I did not realize what was going on until a member of my personal staff called at my house on a Saturday in February 1928, to say that he had done me a great wrong of which I did not know, and for which he was sorry; he felt it to be his duty to warn me of a serious attempt on my position about to be launched by certain officials and directors of the company. I was rehearsing a play for the opening of the Welwyn Theatre the following Monday, and took no action on this information until the morning of Monday when I saw Chambers. As soon as I spoke he got up, turned to his fire to attend to it, then threw up his hands with his back still towards me and said, Purdom, it is the end of all things. I was reminded of a similar action recorded at the opening of the first chapter of this book. He was in confusion, and declared that nothing could save the ship from disaster. I asked him what he meant, but he would say no more. Leaving him in amazement, and I confess with some disgust, I decided to find out for myself, and sent for the man who had come to see me. He related a story that brought in certain officials and others, and said the matter had been on his conscience, and he was deeply grieved. So I sent for one of the officials mentioned, and asked him what was going on. I cannot tell you, he said, but you will soon hear. I would have no more to say to him, and continuing my inquiries I found that only one man on my personal staff, apart from the one who had called on me, knew anything at all, and he was on his way to tell me; it seemed that the affair was confined to the parent company's own staff, and (with one exception) had not spread to the subsidiaries. I did, however, manage to get the facts together, and saw Chambers later that morning to tell him so. He was surprised, admitted that what I had gathered was true, but said he could say nothing until after the following day, and had not wanted me to know anything until the play was over at the end of the week. Two days later Chambers communicated to the board, but not to me, the contents of a letter he had received from seven signatories.

I remember with some vividness what followed over a period of two months and more. As I have long since digested it, regurgitation would not be possible, neither do I think the relation of the facts as they were known to me to be of any importance. Many men in positions envied by others have suffered as I. I had expected every one to work as I had striven to do, putting aside personal considerations. I worked as in a dedicated service. This was all very well, but I had neglected the wisdom of the serpent, and was therefore vulnerable, not being protected. I thought that an appeal to reason would always be heard. Thus I deserved to fall. For fall I did.

Sir Harry Peat was asked by the board to make an investigation, at the end of which he said to me, Purdom, it is all rubbish. It seems that there were personal charges the nature of which I never knew. He agreed that such a situation could not have arisen in an ordinary business concern. His report later said that I had been expected to do more than any one man could do. This report exonerated me, but that created no impression on my mind, for he did not condemn what had been done. The board, regarding the report as too complacent, accepted it reluctantly, certain directors objecting. Peat made a further report on the reorganization of the work of the company and its subsidiaries, in which he used to some extent proposals I made to him. To help in reorganization I resigned from my office of the company's finance director and managing director of the subsidiaries, but not from the boards, on 27th March. I was not asked for this resignation by Peat or Chambers or any one, but offered it voluntarily, to get the board out of the impasse into which it had fallen, though why I should have done so is not clear. It was one of the impulsive actions of my life. Chambers said he would never forget my self-sacrifice, and that I could leave my interests with absolute confidence in his hands. I afterwards saw Sir Harry Peat, and accepted his suggestion that I should go away for a holiday. You are essential to the company, he said, the undertaking largely depends upon you; a new board is needed, he added, and you should be the new chairman's right hand. So on 20th April I went to Paris and afterwards to the south of France.

When I had gone Chambers succumbed, and it seemed that Sir Harry Peat's idea of a new board was not to be acted upon. After some weeks I was asked to return to see Colonel (afterwards Sir) Edmund Royds, the company's solicitor, who told me that I must make up my mind to sever my connection with the company, however unjust the suggestion might be, and however intolerable and absurd, for this was a garden city, he said, and common-sense principles did not apply. To this queer argument I could make no answer. Royds was a charming and upright man engaged on a distasteful task. I afterwards had luncheon with him at his Lincolnshire home, and told him I would do as he asked. I was paid a year's salary as compensation. Thus the control of the undertaking passed into the hands of a triumvirate, which did not include Chambers, though he remained chairman.

I left my work at Welwyn with a sense as though my life had ended. All I had striven for had been brought to ruin, and I was sure that the scheme would fail. It was a time of great bitterness. In desperation I asked the permanent head of the Ministry of Health to make an inquiry into the circumstances of my resignation, but that quite rightly was not considered advisable; otherwise I did nothing.

Thereafter I lived in Welwyn Garden City as an observer. The board was strengthened in number, not in any other sense, and I attended two annual meetings of shareholders to point out the accelerating decline in the financial position of the undertaking, which was denied, the chairman declaring that the company was proceeding from strength to strength. However, I was right; the company was forced into one reconstruction after another, the records of which are contained in The Building of Satellite Towns. Something like half a million pounds was written off, the ordinary shares were reduced from twenty shillings each to two, the board was largely and the management entirely changed, being placed under the control of Chambers, who regained authority as chairman, with J. F. Eccles, who had been introduced by Peat, as general manager, and the undertaking was shifted to a commercial basis. These alterations were feasible because the inherent nature of the scheme was sound. The company had created large values in its land and business enterprises, which could not easily be disclosed, but were there. As an observer, and approving of the changes, though they did not in my view go far enough, I declared that the money lost would be recovered. The prophecy has proved correct. [CBP-1951 pp. 80-84]

In the next section (section 15) Purdom describes the aftermath of what he regards as the demise of the garden city idea. The first four paragraphs of that section are quoted below.

[CBP-1951 pp.84-85] The failure of Welwyn Garden City, for notwithstanding the final reconstruction of 1934 the company had failed in its original objects in 1928, meant the end of the garden city movement. The consciousness of that dire fact was to me the bitterest element in the whole affair. Howard died that year; there can be no doubt that the garden city movement was buried in his Letchworth grave. The inarticulate memorial that stands to him in Howardsgate at Welwyn Garden City symbolizes the end.

Yet when a movement dies the idea that gave it birth may survive. This is true of the garden city; for what was valid in Howard's conception, the idea of the limitation of the size of towns, and the marriage, as he put it, of town and country, will not die. It will provide a means of saving our civilization if applied in time.

Apart from the virtual collapse of the original form of Welwyn Garden City, evidence of the end of the movement is contained in the New Towns Act, 1946, and the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. The latter Act destroyed the economic basis of the garden city through the confiscation of increases in land value. The improvements in land value created by the conversion of rural into urban land are now public property, and a garden city, which inherently depends upon them, cannot exist. And the New Towns Act was explicitly intended to ignore the garden city.

It is necessary that the seed should die for it to bring forth fruit. The garden city died, but the idea is alive in a new form. This new development may, I think, be found in the idea of groups of towns, which, combined with large rural areas, are federated with a central city. The idea is explicit in Howard's work, and in The Building of Satellite Towns I have attempted to do something to examine what it means. What Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City set out to achieve will be the greatest contribution to this, as I think, fruitful idea. In the two towns are to be found the meaning of town-planning and what it is to develop towns as organic wholes. Without the two experiments, community town-planning and the new towns would remain in a vacuum. [CBP-1951 pp.84-85]

I have found it fascinating to compare these three accounts ( by M. de Soissons, Whittick, and Purdom himself) of the 1928 affair.

The first was by a man (Maurice de Soissons) who was born the year before it happened and can only know of it through what he was told (if anything) by his father and others, and what he has learned from the main sources which are the Frederic J. Osborn Papers held at the central library in Welwyn Garden City, and the Ebenezer Howard Papers in the Hertfordshire County Archives in Hertford, plus other books which he read such as the Letters of Lewis Mumford and Frederic J. Osborn published 1971.

The second account is by Osborn's friend Whittick in the biography of Osborn. Osborn was a man involved intimately in the affair itself, he being a company official at the time and one of the signatories of the memorandum. The third account is by Purdom himself.

I find it very difficult to form a judgment in my own mind. I have not seen the two sets of papers heretofore mentioned nor am likely to since I live in Wales and cannot travel. Also I am hopelessly biased being such an admirer of Purdom. I know that if what happened to him had happened to me would have been totally devastating and undermining of confidence.

Earlier in Purdom's book, in the first chapter entitled "Marriage", Purdom gives an indication of what effect the 1928 affair had on him:

[CBP-1951 pp.31-2] That break was a major disaster. I give a brief account of it later; here I say merely that I had devoted my entire thought and energies for the greater part of my adult life to work that had now violently been stopped. It appeared to me that my reason for existence was as it were at an end, and I wondered why providence had saved me during the war. Five months in the south of France, most of it on the Isle of Porquerolles, restored me. I went there without Antonia, first to Cagnes, and in the little pension on the hillside in the early hours of the morning of my arrival I heard a gramophone playing softly the song When my heart stood still from the Cochran revue, which I had heard at the London Pavilion only a few days before; I never hear it now without emotion. I had been before to Cagnes, crowned with its fourteenth-century castle, at the invitation of a French friend who had a small house there. I visited her again and travelled along that wonderful coast from Marseilles to Mentone. I loved Porquerolles, and the sound of the little motor-boat that twice daily went to La Tour-Fondue, whence an old bus took one into Hyères, is still in my ears.

On the Mediterranean shores from which our civilization sprang, in those pellucid waters, that dazzling air, my mind and body were renewed. I stored up the fiery sun in my heart, and was saturated in its light. The voices of the past were loud in my ears, and the blistering sirocco had a sort of therapeutic effect that sharpened my perceptions and stressed the need for discipline. I returned, not having lost the hatred for those who had destroyed my work, but I was conscious of fresh powers and of the ability to take up life again. I had new energy and initiative.

I wrote my book Producing Plays there, getting up early in the morning to do it.

I had to deal with the effect of this upheaval upon my marriage. The clever attack upon me had not spared Antonia, for nothing was sacred in the attempt to uproot me, and a great strain was put upon our relations, the tension almost reaching breaking point. But severe as it was the foundations of our life were not shifted by what happened. The Roman Catholic Church is right to look upon marriage as indissoluble; for a true marriage cannot be broken. The truth of the doctrine was confirmed by experience. [CBP-1951 pp.31-2]

 
 

 

 
 

  (go to contents)
 

 
 

The Theatre

 
 


Letchworth Garden City

Chapter 5 (more than 40 pages) of CBP's autobiography is devoted to the theatre. He begins with the formation of the Letchworth Dramatic Society at Letchworth.

[CBP-1951 p. 169] It was the Quaker poet, Henry Bryan Binns, who urged me to take initiative at Letchworth. He knew I had played in a semi-professional performance of an original play at the Bijou Theatre at Notting Hill Gate, and that I had great enthusiasm for non-commercial plays, and he kept egging me on. At last, in 1906, I called people together and the Letchworth Dramatic Society was formed. The society's aim was to prepare the way for a Letchworth theatre.

- - - - -

[CBP-1951 p. 170] The society's first programme consisted of two short original pieces, a version of Tolstoy's Ivan the Fool by Arnold Eiloart, and another of Thomas Hardy's tale, The Three Strangers, by a member, G. H. Hoffman; they were performed at the Howard Hall on 30th January 1907. I played in both, and they were my first efforts at production, though my stage knowledge was then practically nil.

The early productions were done at the Howard Hall. A larger building was required and there was a move to the Pixmore Institute where nearly forty plays were performed. CBP mentions a series of three musical plays known as the Garden City Pantomimes which were appeared in January 1909, January 1910 and March 1911. These were local satires with words by Purdom and music by Charles Lee. In August 1912, the first performance of Shaw's The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet was given at a time when the play was still censored.


Welwyn Garden City

For Purdom's contribution to the theatre in Welwyn Garden City from 1921, I am giving here a short excerpt from Harold J. Stull's The Welwyn Drama Festival 1929-1987.

[STULL-1987 pp. 7-9] The first Festival Committee were fortunate in having a solid bedrock of local enthusiasm for amateur drama on which to build their festival and a community which at so early a stage in its development had acquired a taste for festival achievement. For this, Welwyn Garden City owed a great debt of gratitude to one of its founders, C. B. Purdom. No account of the amateur theatre in WGC should fail to acknowledge his contribution, and it is worth spending a little time to examine why this should be so.

Charles Benjamin Purdom (1883-1965) was a Letchworth Garden City pioneer. With Ebenezer Howard and Frederic Osborn he was a founder member of the National Garden Cities Committee, formed immediately after the first World War. In 1919 he became Secretary of the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association and the editor of its monthly journal. He was one of the founders of Welwyn Garden City, a member of the Board of Welwyn Garden City Ltd, and Finance Director and first Managing Director of Welwyn Stores Ltd. In the 1930s he was elected to Welwyn Garden City U.D.C. as an Independent member. He was a remarkably gifted man with great executive ability and an immense capacity for detailed work, and he had great influence on the development and administration of WGC in its early years. He also had a reputation for being outspoken, stubborn, tactless and difficult to get on with. He brought these diverse qualities in full measure to amateur drama, for which he had a great and abiding enthusiasm. A perfectionist, he founded the Letchworth Dramatic Society in 1906 and under his guidance it achieved a considerable reputation. Purdom maintained that there was greater value in a performance by amateurs who loved drama for its own sake than one by professionals who performed for a living. He also held that amateurs could make a more worthwhile contribution to the theatre by concentrating on less popular and non-commercial works than by attempting to ape the professionals. For example, in 1912 his Letchworth society gave the first performance by English players of G. B. Shaw's "The Shewing up of Blanco Posnet" when that play was still banned by the censor. The first World War put an end to Purdom's Letchworth Dramatic Society as it put an end to so much else. Purdom edited the Swan edition of Shakespeare's plays, and in addition to his writings about the New Town concept he wrote books on Producing Shakespeare and What Happens in Shakespeare. His Producing Plays is something of a standard work for amateurs, as is his Drama Festivals and their Adjudication. He had much influence on festival work through the Guild of Drama Adjudicators, of which he was a founder member and the first Secretary.

Scarcely had the paint dried on the first newly-constructed houses of Welwyn Garden City when, in May 1921, Purdom gathered together a group of local residents and produced "The Shewing up of Blanco Posnet" in the Brickwall Barn. This was followed later in the year by the Welwyn Theatre Society's “Candida” in the restaurant of the Cherry Tree. Between then and mid-1929 a total of 37 additional full length productions (one of them performed in the French language) were staged in WGC by local societies and another nine by visiting companies.

Nor was C. B. Purdom inactive in drama festivals. The first one-act drama festival organised by the British Drama League (BDL) was held in 1926 and attracted seven entrants. The adjudicator was W. A. Darlington (the Daily Telegraph's theatre critic) and he travelled to the parts of the country where those seven competitors performed. The winners were the Huddersfield Thespians, whose production of "St Simeon Stylites" was subsequently taken to America to compete unsuccessfully in a Little Theatre Tournament in New York. It was perhaps characteristic of C. B. Purdom that he lost no time in making known his disagreement with the adjudicator's decision. He felt that the Theatre Society's entry ("The Banns of Marriage", produced by him) was more worthy of the first place - and in the light of the adjudicator's comments it is difficult not to feel some sympathy with his point of view. The adjudicator had said in the Daily Telegraph that the WGC Society's production was on a commercial level and would succeed anywhere, while the Huddersfield entry was a more representative amateur effort. Purdom considered this to be a reflection on Huddersfield's standard of performance.

But Purdom can be said to have had the last laugh when, towards the end of 1926, the BDL's National Festival of Community Drama was established. This time 107 societies took part and early in 1927 Purdom's production of "Mr. Sampson", again with the Welwyn Theatre Society, was unanimously placed first by the three judges who included W. A. Darlington. The other two were Sybil Thorndike and John Drinkwater. The Theatre Society then took the play to America, where it also came first in the New York Little Theatre Tournament, winning the Belasco Cup. [STULL-1987 pp. 7-9]

CBP says the following in his autobiography about the building of the Welwyn Theatre in Parkway in 1928:

[CBP-1951 p. 178] The object at Welwyn Garden City was to establish a theatre, and I had the idea, in which I thought myself to be supported by the board of the company, to base the theatre on the cinema. I had already opened a cinema for the company in temporary premises, and, when a permanent building became practicable, the Welwyn Theatre was built, with the intention of using it primarily as a cinema, but secondarily for theatrical performances, until a theatre could be built for drama. The Welwyn Theatre was opened in January 1928 with a film, and had a theatrical opening a week later with an original play, performed by a company of amateurs to which we had given the name of the Welwyn Garden City Repertory Company, to make known its aims.

- - - - -

[CBP-1951 p. 179] . . . . but the opening of the theatre coincided with the attack upon my direction of the garden city company's affairs, and this with all the other work I had projected ended, and the theatre fell into the hands of my enemies.

The building itself had some interest. It was erected at a time when money was scarce for the company, so that it had to be economically constructed. A rather exaggerated description of it contained in the Architectural Review for April 1928 was commented on by Gordon Craig in the April-June 1928 number of the Mask; he found much in it to censure, but he had not seen the building. [CBP-1951 p. 179]

CBP became well-known as drama critic, particularly whilst editor and drama critic of Everyman (1929-32) and New Britain (1933-34).


Equity

Purdom was appointed general secretary of the actors' union Equity for two years beginning March 1938.

[CBP-1951 pp. 186-7] One Sunday evening, early in 1938, when I had as I thought recovered from a motor-car accident the year before, I was telephoned to by Felix Aylmer, who asked the surprising question, Would I be interested in the general secretaryship of British Actors' Equity, the actors' trade union ? Equity wanted a man interested in the theatre who could meet managers on their own level, and it had been suggested that I might care to consider the proposal. I said I would like to discuss the matter, so a dinner was arranged at the Garrick Club to talk it over with Godfrey Tearle, Equity's president. I was then given the idea that Equity was in a bad way, that the office needed reorganizing, and the work required to be put on a new basis. Both Tearle and Aylmer presented the matter in a way that appealed to me, and I said I should be glad to go further. As a result I met a committee of which Dame May Whitty was chairman, when Arthur Wontner, the treasurer, spoke of the unsatisfactory condition of the association, and A. M. Wall, the trade unionist, who was its honorary adviser, said he wanted to give up his connection with it. A week later at the end of March I met the council of Equity and was appointed general secretary.

The job of general secretary involved mostly discussions with theatre managers regarding pay and conditions of Equity members. CBP devotes nearly 20 pages of his autobiography to an account of the internal politics of the association during the period he served as its general secretary. He paints a bleak picture of the times. There was very high unemployment amongst actors; theatre managers were frequently ruthless in their handling of actors; and some of the leaders of Equity were contemptuous of or indifferent towards the plight of the rank and file within their organisation.


E.N.S.A.

[CBP-1951 pp. 194-5] When the war was certain in 1939 Basil Dean had the idea of forming a wartime actors' committee, about which I talked to him, and attended the first meeting, also another meeting at the Saville Theatre, when the name was discussed and Entertainments National Service Association [ENSA] decided upon. I met him again on 29th August with Horace Collins and P. M. Selby, when arrangements were made to call a meeting of representatives of theatrical and musical organizations at the Apollo Theatre on 31st August, when E.N.S.A. was founded, with Sir Seymour Hicks as president, Walter Payne as chairman of committee, three vice-chairmen, and three executive secretaries, of which I was one, and expected to be the active one. Basil Dean informed the meeting that he had accepted an appointment from the Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes [NAAFI] to take charge of all their entertainments, and it had been agreed that the administrative and office work should be separated from the professional work of providing entertainment, which was to be done by the newly formed association.

CBP continues with an account of a stormy meeting held on 8th September at the offices of the Society of West End Theatre managers. The theatre managers were hostile towards ENSA and determined not to be told what to do. It seemed that ENSA had been shot out of the water. However, Basil Dean remained optimistic; the War Office had taken the Drury Lane Theatre for the new organisation.

[CBP-1951 p. 196] All its decisions were Dean's: he was E.N.S.A. Sir Seymour Hicks had the Drury Lane board-room as its president until he went to South Africa. Alec. L. Rea, the theatre manager, was its treasurer, from first to last. As the only one of the three executive secretaries who functioned I was allocated the leading actor's dressing-room as an office. There I installed a staff of three, and compiled a central register of artists, based on Equity's register, which I had started some months before, and it was handed over intact. I attended various committee meetings, but could not take what was being done seriously. I saw Hicks and others photographed with the first parties of E.N.S.A. artists going out to the troops: re-dressed N.A.A.F.I. concert parties that had been in existence for years. When plays were discussed Hicks laid it down that all the boys wanted were girls and plenty of leg, nothing highbrow, good heavens, no ! Not that he was taken much notice of, for only one voice counted; it was Dean's.


The Guild of Drama Adjudicators

Purdom was the first secretary of the GODA which was founded in 1947. The following paragraphs are from Harold J. Stull's The Welwyn Drama Festival 1929-1987.

[STULL-1987 p.218] The Guild of Drama Adjudicators was formed in 1947, mainly as a result of widespread dissatisfaction with standards of adjudication in the boom years of drama festivals immediately following the second World War. It is said to have been due to an influential editorial article in Amateur Stage that the Guild was made independent of the British Drama League.

Nobody disputed the need to strengthen and maintain standards of adjudication, but while it was an easy matter to set up a Guild from among the people who had long experience of adjudication it was not so simple to assess the merits of others who wished to join it. It was felt that prospective members should be given some sort of training followed by an examination to establish competence.

So far, so good. But who was to approve the examiners ? And were the founder members to undergo the same tests as those seeking membership ? Those who asked these questions clearly saw a danger that the GODA would become a self-satisfied closed shop.

The Guild's first Chairman was E. Martin Browne and its first Secretary was C. B. Purdom. They decided that those who sought membership would be required to attend a course on adjudication and, afterwards, to watch an amateur performance of a play and give a satisfactory public adjudication on it. They would also have to submit a written paper on some aspect of drama adjudication and finally satisfy an approval board of their competence as adjudicators. If satisfactory they would be made associate members of the Guild and after six adjudications might, on the reports of festival organisers, become full members.

Browne and Purdom also led the way in improving standards of adjudication of amateur drama by laying down principles of practice to which the Guild's members would be expected to adhere. The Guild's other objects were, and are, to ensure that qualified adjudicators are available to all organisations promoting amateur drama, to protect the interests of its members, and to provide continuing opportunities for discussion and tuition on matters concerning adjudication. The Guild publishes a directory containing, among other things, a list of member adjudicators and the conditions of their engagement.

Fears expressed at the time of the Guild's formation that it might become 'a self-governing body of adjudicators . . . . a body of self-righteous pedants, smug in their own authority' seem, happily, to have been unjustified - so far. A former editor of Amateur Stage has commented that it would be a pity if the Guild were ever to be viewed in such an unfavourable light by those dedicated and experienced amateurs who have neither the time nor the inclination to face a London-based approval board. They might feel that by not being members of GODA they were being denied the opportunity to serve the amateur theatre in a capacity for which, judged by all other criteria, they were fully qualified. [STULL-1987 p.218]


King Lear

Towards the end of his chapter on the theatre, CBP describes his theory about Shakespeare's plays which he develops in his book What Happens in Shakespeare. The idea that, in King Lear, the storm episode could be thought of as being in Lear's mind, was not new. But CBP came up with the original theory that the whole of the play was in Lear's mind.

 
 

 

 
 

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Employment in Business and Commerce

 
 


Purdom's own perspective on this aspect of his life is described in his autobiography (C. B. Purdom Life Over Again 1951, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd) in chapter 3, Industry. The chapter is quite long - forty pages; eleven of these are about the John Lewis company.

In the first three pages of the chapter, CBP gives some comments about commerce and industry in the early days at Letchworth where he worked for the company which owned the land and developed the town, from the beginnings of the town until he enlisted in the Great War.

He then moves on to talk about his work at Welwyn Garden City. He was Finance Director of Welwyn Garden City Ltd from the beginning in 1921 until his break with the company in 1928. He was also Director of most of the subsidiary companies including Welwyn Stores Ltd. He begins by describing his attempts to keep costs under control in building and engineering works in the town.

[CBP-1951 pp.97-8] I was always investigating costs and efficiency, and came to the conclusion that greater production and lower costs were possible. I reckoned that at least 10 per cent could be saved in building costs and as much in engineering works, so with that in mind I introduced a cost control system, getting the assent of the building manager, the architect, and the engineer; all the same they did not like it. Hitherto the engineer had worked on a priced bill of quantities agreed with the manager, and the architect on priced quantities or a lump sum. I could not help being struck by the fact that with clock-like regularity the work never failed to come out with a saving on estimates. Every one was clearly working within too comfortable a margin. My solution was a system under which the cost, based on a schedule of prices for each job, was handed to engineer and manager or architect and manager before a job started. The schedule, based on ascertained costs, was critically examined beforehand, and this examination was to be continued at all stages, with the aim of achieving a steady improvement. There is no need to say that the scheme was thought to tie them all down too much, but it had barely got into operation in 1928 when it was scrapped.

CBP continues with a short account of the founding of the laundry company which he had started up by employing a group of old ladies from Hatfield to wash and iron. Next he relates how the original Cherry Tree restaurant was built in 1921 and fell under his management.

[CBP-1951 pp.99-100] I am convinced that a good restaurant depends upon the proprietor or manager being his own cook. At one desperate moment I was prepared to act on this principle at the Cherry Tree, for Antonia is a splendid cook, who loves nothing better, but I was stopped, no doubt wisely, by Chambers, who was horrified at the idea.

Click here for a picture of the original Cherry Tree restaurant; the picture is from a 1923 book to be found on my WGC index page. CBP continues with an account of the difficulties in obtaining licensing for the Cherry Tree. He also describes the purchase at auction of the Wagonners pub. He says the original intention of Chambers and himself was that the restaurant and pub businesses should be run as a social activity with the profits being devoted to the town, but after CBP left the company (1928), these aims were dropped and the business sold to a brewer. A similar fate was in store for the cinema known as the Welwyn Theatre which was housed in a new building in 1928, but later sold to a circuit.

The chapter continues with a more detailed account of Welwyn Garden City Stores which CBP created and managed until 1928. This was originally in a building on the opposite side of Parkway from the existing department store (now John Lewis) which was not built until just before the War. Click here for a picture of the old Welwyn Stores from Purdom's Building of Satellite Towns (1949 edition) which is on my WGC index page. Interior shots may also be found in my notes on that book.

[CBP-1951 p.102] This department store was started in 1921 with the objects I have explained in the last chapter. One of our ideas was to secure for the future town some share in the profits of retail distribution, in the same way as with licensed premises and the cinema. The stores business in its inception and development had entirely novel features, which deserve attention. In what I shall say I supplement the discussion of the subject contained in The Building of Satellite Towns, where I considered it mainly from a town-development point of view. Here I propose to deal with the business as such.

A subsidiary concern was formed to run it, raising its own capital on a guarantee from the parent company. The board of directors was a strong one, with experienced men in various manufacturing and distributive businesses, including the food trades. [CBP-1951 p.102]

- - - - -

[CBP-1951 p.103] The manager was selected after interviews by the entire board; a grocer was chosen, paid six pounds a week, and expected to be able to engage the assistants and to open the store with its dozen departments !

When this stage was reached I put it to the board that some thing more was required to make the management efficient. They agreed; for some of them were getting bothered. I was then acting only in the capacity of finance director, and I was asked to become managing director, jointly with J. T. C. Wilkie, a member of the board with much experience. Thus I came in control of this important and, as I regarded it, key business. My knowledge of retail distribution was based mainly upon observation, especially on what I had learned at Letchworth; but the subject interested me, and I threw myself into the work with enthusiasm. Wilkie was an easy man to be coupled with, for he had the right ideas, good judgment, and left everything to me. He visited the store about once a fortnight on a Saturday morning. I found him a good colleague, not so much because he did not interfere, as because he had common sense and enterprise, and did not object to my drawing upon his knowledge. Otherwise he played no part in the development of the stores, though he remained to back me up for several years. until he went to India. [CBP-1951 p.103]

- - - - -

[CBP-1951 p.104] A weekly paper was started in the town, and devoted itself to attacking the stores in the interests of the tradesmen in the surrounding towns, none of whom wanted a shop in the new town, and all being free to canvass for orders and deliver whatever goods they pleased, usually offering extended credit, which the stores did not provide.

- - - - -

[CBP-1951 pp.104-5] In 1928 a public meeting was organized by the aforementioned newspaper at which G. K. Chesterton was billed to expose the wickedness of the stores' monopoly and myself in particular. He made a pleasant speech to a crowded audience, worked up to the attack, and said nothing against what was being done, because, as he wisely said, he knew nothing of it. When he had finished I got up and was invited to the platform amidst jeers, but I had no difficulty in winning over the audience and the benign Chesterton too. This policy of meeting customers was successful. I met the staff in the same way. Never did I cease to point out the stores' responsibilities, and that the business had to be conducted as though the shops of St. Albans and Hertford were at its doors. To re-enforce this I employed an experienced woman to visit each of these towns once a week to report on prices and to bring back samples of goods. Where prices on her report were lower than ours they were immediately reduced in the stores, and only afterwards was an explanation considered from the buyer. This was drastic action. I prepared a staff handbook, which every one was expected to have with him or her when on duty, in which the rules of the stores' service were laid down. It opened in this way:

WELWYN STORES: SERVICE CODE
 
The Stores Policy
 
The Stores exists for the service of the public, and for no private end whatever.
 
The aim is to meet the needs of the public for all classes of goods.
 
The goods the Stores supplies must be the best value obtainable.
 
The prices at which goods are sold are the lowest prices any one can sell at.
 
The guiding rule is that the public must be given the benefit of the markets whenever they are in the consumer's favour.
 
There is one price for every one.
 
The Stores service is intended to make WeLwyn Garden City the most desirable place in the country in which to live - and shop.
  The results of the Stores trading are to be applied to making the Stores service more efficient and complete, to reducing the prices of goods, and to increasing the prosperity of the town.
 
The benefit of the Stores trading rightly belongs to the town: that is, to the public who supply the purchasing power which makes trading possible.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Our Behaviour towards Customers
 
Every person who enters the Stores premises is our guest, and should be treated by every one employed here with courtesy and consideration.
 
Let every one who comes into the premises see that you are pleased to see her or him.

The Code consisted of sixteen small pages and was intended to be carried by every assistant and manager when at work. [CBP-1951 pp.104-5]

CBP continues with a short account of the setting up of the bakery, and the installation of a dairy on the stores premises. He continues with the bookshop, the lending library, and early plans for a larger building on a new site.

[CBP-1951 p.108] Although every department of the stores had my closest attention, and I did not hesitate to serve behind the counter at rush hours in most departments, there was one that had a special place in my mind, the bookshop. The Welwyn Garden City Bookshop was opened with the stores, and until the trade was large enough and I had trained an assistant I was buyer, and on Saturday afternoons and other busy times salesman, so that the bookshop yielded a small profit from the start. I thus got an insight into bookselling, and the bookshop became well known; . . . .

An early picture of the bookshop (from the 1923 book on my WGC book list menu) can be seen here.

[CBP-1951 pp.108-9] As part of the bookshop's service a lending library was opened, a daring luxury at the start, for there were only a few dozen borrowers; but the library grew and became profitable, and needless to say I found books and borrowers, including men readers who insisted on novels written by men and objected to women authors, a source of interest.

- - - - -

[CBP-1951 pp.109-110] When I parted from Welwyn I felt the loss of the stores greatly. Its direction had kept me interested in everything in common daily use; for we sold everything, and I went no where without seeing something that had bearing upon the business. The building was extended twice, and trebled in size, and I got the board in 1927 to authorize the preparation of plans for the permanent building. In this connection I was given the opportunity of examining closely from behind the scenes the working of the premier store of London, Harrods, and on one of my visits to New York I saw the whole of the working of Macy's, in company with its architect, an old friend; also I saw Marshall Fields in Chicago and other stores. The site selected for the new Welwyn Stores was where the Midland Bank stands in Howardsgate; it was intended to take the whole block along Parkway to Church Road and to include an arcade of privately owned businesses I was not certain of the site, however, and though the stores board, on the analytical figures I submitted of anticipated business and growth of population, authorized proceeding with the building, I put on a brake as finance director, and was cautious. The site I had in mind was wrong, and the one finally chosen, over ten years later, was right.

After a period in journalism (following his break with the Welwyn comapny in 1928), CBP returned to business in 1932. He continues in his book with an account of his unsuccessful attempt to revive an ailing sports and games manufacturing business (unnamed), which ended in his being "financially ruined". After this CBP became involved with a food manufacturing business (again not named in the book) in Blackfriars. He was given a five year contract as managing director and had the factory transferred to Welwyn Garden City. With the help of a chemist friend (not named) he expanded the range of products.

[CBP-1951 p.113] . . . I was also interested in a new business for supplying specialized herbal products to chemists, and it seemed that certain food products could be included with them, the production of both concerns being handled together. This was agreed to be practicable, and my young chemist friend was keen about the idea. We had barely started, however, when I had a severe motor-car accident, which was followed by the threat and outbreak of war. These were disasters which put everything back. The food company went ahead, for war conditions were favourable; but when I got interested in British Equity I cancelled my contract with the company for a small payment. This was a serious error from a financial point of view, for almost immediately sugar rationing was introduced, and, as the company had a favourable ration, its products were in such demand that its business soared and large profits were made.

- - - - -

[CBP-1951 p.114] The factory rented by my manufacturing chemists and herbal company was requisitioned by the Air Ministry, which put it out of action, and the business had to be closed down.

Most of the remaining twenty pages of the chapter CBP devotes to his experiences at and view on the John Lewis organisation. He begins:

[CBP-1951 pp.115-6] After a period in the civil service, the subject of another chapter, I was induced to write to John Spedan Lewis, head of the Oxford Street firm of John Lewis & Co. Ltd., and he invited me to pay him a visit at his Hampshire home. He then asked me to come into his partnership. You are, he said, the sort of man we need, and I should like you to see if you like us. It is time, he went on, that you dug yourself in somewhere, so come and dig yourself in here. The metaphor startled me, because digging-in was something I had never attempted, though often seen done. He told me much about himself, his aims, and what he considered to be his successes as well as his failures. He wanted to know how I had lost Welwyn. I liked him and his ideas and decided to resume my association with retail distribution under his auspices. The partnership was controlled, so Lewis told me, by a central management, he leaving it to those who did the job, so that he stayed in Hampshire, and, except for a visit now and then, did not go near them.

Although I was received with courtesy at Oxford Street it became fairly obvious that the central management did not know what to do with me. I made a few tentative and cautious suggestions for which I was asked, and, indeed, it seemed to me that there was ample scope for such abilities as I possessed, but it became clear that I had to look as though 1 hadn't brains; also it was clear that I was regarded as a nuisance, who had to be put up with as long as I could stand it myself. You are not a general, are you ? was a question I was asked by a manager, with whom I got friendly in the course of my wanderings through the partnership. When I denied military eminence the response was, Thank God; for we get too many retired generals. I took it that the man was joking. All the same I left the partnership after five weeks.

Eighteen months later, when I considered I was wasting time at the Ministry of Information, I wrote to Lewis about a herbal business his partnership had purchased, and suggested that he might consider taking over my abandoned business for what it might be worth. He replied saying that he would like me back in the partnership, and after a talk with M. (afterwards Sir Metford) Watkins, who was then director of trading, and under whom I previously had worked, I was invited to leave the ministry and return to the partnership with the object of becoming managing director of its herbal business, putting it on a post-war basis. The idea attracted me, and I offered to come for a low initial salary, which pleased Watkins; all such offers are mistakes, however.

Thus I rejoined the John Lewis partnership, but though I remained for nearly two years, I was not given the job I came to do. [CBP-1951 pp.115-6]

CBP continues with a short history of the John Lewis company, beginning with its founder, the old John Lewis of Victorian times and his two sons John Spedan Lewis and Oswald Lewis. He continues with Spedan, after a quarrel with his father, transferring in 1907 to the Peter Jones store in Chelsea which had been bought the previous year. In 1920 Spedan converted Peter Jones into a partnership, abolishing the terms employer and employee. Father and son were reconciled in 1923 and Spedan returned to Oxford Street. The old man died in 1928, and the entire undertaking converted into a partnership in 1929. CBP refers the reader to Spedan's book Partnership for All (1948, Kerr-Cross Publishing Company) for a full history. CBP continues in another dozen pages with more about about the company, not all of it complimentary. CBP, however, was obviously impressed by and very fond of Spedan.

[I am lucky enough to own a copy purchased from a Sussex bookstore of CBP's book Economic Wellbeing (1948, Nicholson & Watson) which has the following inscription at the beginning in CBP's own hand in blue ink: "To J. Spedan Lewis who has made an outstanding contribution to economic well being. C. B. Purdom. January 27 1948". John Spedan Lewis died in 1963.]

 
 

 

 
 

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Journalism and the Literary World

 
 


Letchworth Garden City


In his autobiography chapter 4 ('Journalism and Authorship') Purdom begins by relating how, soon after coming to Letchworth (1904), he began contributing a column to the Hertfordshire Express, then under the editorship of Walter Carling.

[CBP-1951 p.135] I soon found my comments on local events regarded as too free, and I had to avoid controversial subjects, but I continued with the column for some years, inventing themes of my own. My reporting activities lasted I should think no more than a year, for I had plenty of other things to do, but it was a useful introduction to journalism.


Welwyn Garden City

CBP then moves on to the period after the Great War.

[CBP-1951 pp.135-6] For two years from 1919 I edited the monthly Garden Cities and Town-Planning Magazine, until I gave all my time to the new Welwyn Garden City. There my mind was soon engaged with the question of meeting the need for a local newspaper, so the Welwyn Garden City News was started as an organ to publicize the new stores, but offering the town a newspaper. I wrote the entire first number, advertisements and all, to show the editor how it should be done, but although financed by the stores, the idea was to run it independently. The paper's columns were open to all, including the critics, and to the horror of the stores board I insisted that advertisements from outside traders, competing with the stores, should be accepted.

The paper was delivered free for six years, a copy to each house, other copies being on sale, from which the revenue increased to a substantial sum. [CBP-1951 pp.135-6]

- - - - -

[CBP-1951 p.136] The rival paper the Pilot, which appeared at about the same time, had splendid targets in the company and the stores, without which it could not have lived, and it played a part in the development of opinion. There was nothing for it at the time but a newspaper subsidized by the company in one way or another. In 1928 when I was got out of the way the owner of the Pilot was bought out and the News was renamed the Welwyn Times and run by the garden city company in its own interests. Twenty-one years later, when the company went into liquidation on the town being taken over by the Government, the paper, which had become by that time a valuable property, was presented as a gift to its managing editor, who was also the company's public relations officer, and a trust was created for its control.

After his break with the Welwyn company in 1928, CBP entered a period of editorship of journals. He edited Everyman from 1929 to 1932. He edited New Britain from 1933 to 1934. He edited Theatregoer in 1935.


Everyman

Everyman was created by publisher J. M. Dent in October 1912 under the editorship of Charles Sarolea. Publication was stopped sometime during the War. The magazine was relaunched in 1929 by Hugh Dent, the first issue coming out on 31st January under C. B. Purdom, who was appointed manager and editor by Dent.

The relaunched magazine did not make money. After 3½ years, in July 1932, ownership was transferred from Hugh Dent to Sir Robert Donald. Purdom continued as editor but resigned later that year after a disagreement with Sir Robert over political content. Donald died in January 1933 and the paper was acquired by Angus Watson, who installed Francis Yeats-Brown as editor. In August 1933 Dent reacquired the rights, but the publication was discontinued, and it was incorporated into Dent's existing quarterly magazine Bookmark which ran until 1938.

I have managed to acquire the very first issue of the relaunched Everyman dated 31st January 1929. Click here to view the complete issue, and also to read an extract from CBP's autobiography about his experiences with Everyman. This extract includes CBP's detailed style setting which he laid down for the magazine.


New Britain

After resigning as editor of Everyman, Purdom became editor of a new paper called New Britain - a Weekly Organ of National Renaissance which was intended to put forward the ideas of the New Britain group. The first issue was dated 24th May 1933.

Purdom edited 48 issues ending with the one dated 18th April 1934. The New Britain movement was a non-party association to discuss political, economic and social subjects in the spirit of national renaissance. Groups sprang up throughout the country. A conference was held in Leamington Spa in the spring of 1934, but was chaotic, and according CBP was "the beginning of the end" of the short-lived organisation.

The paper was launched with high hopes. In the first issue, an article "The World We Live In" began as follows:

[CBP-1951 p.154] "It is with modesty moderated with confidence that we announce ourselves and state that the event of this week is in all truth the appearance of this paper. It is well to have faith in the fact of one's earnest intention; and our endeavour will be to live and work for the renaissance and self-fulfilment of the British nation. There ought to be a New Britain; such is our hearts' desire, and such is the announcement. A new world and a better humanity must arise out of the present upheaval in human existence if that existence itself is not to be fatally thwarted. The moment has come for British men and women to take charge of their national destiny. In the dark labyrinth of the human crisis it is right for Britain to lighten the darkness and find the way."

CBP talks about Dimitri Mitrinovic [the "c" in this surname has an acute accent over it in CBP's text but I cannot reproduce that on this webpage], a "strange but attractive Serbian", who was part of the New Britain group. Mitrinovic, under the pseudonym M. M. Cosmoi, wrote a series of two-page articles called "World Affairs" which ran for ten weeks. These articles examined the condition of mankind and became surrounded by controversy. Click here to view a page (as reproduced in CBP's book) from the first issue of New Britain.

[CBP-1951 p.157] In the issue of 7th March 1934 I published an article entitled A New Constitution for Britain. I had already come to the conclusion that I should probably not be able to continue with the paper, and long having had in mind this article I decided one week-end to set out in outline the ideas afterwards developed in the book, The New Order.

CBP says that after his article came out he was called to a meeting by the publishers who attacked him for printing it.


Theatregoer

[CBP-1951 p.158] After this experience I did intermittent journalistic work, and a year later was invited to edit a fortnightly called the Theatregoer. This was owned by a business man interested in theatrical management - he had a play running in the West End - and he thought there was something in theatrical journalism. The manager of the paper was a man who had previously been on my staff as advertisement manager, and it was at his suggestion that I considered this proposal. It appealed to me, because it had to do with the theatre, and because I thought there was room for a critical theatrical magazine. Interested in the venture was a financier with imposing West End offices, and I understood he was ready to give the requisite support. The first number appeared on 24th May 1935, after two months' preparation. So practical was the business man that each of the three numbers published had a different printer. Then without warning the financier stopped. He had, like the business man referred to, gambled on success being attained with the first issue, and, when he saw it was otherwise, and that money had really to be found, he withdrew his support, and the manager was left with nothing but debts. None of the three printers was paid, neither were the contributors, neither was I, not even my out-of-pocket expenses, only the office staff got their salaries. This extraordinary affair was an example of the irresponsibility of business men and the peculiar methods of financiers.

 
 

 

 
 

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The Civil Service

 
 


Ministry of Food

In 1941, CBP was appointed finance officer in the salvage division of the Ministry of Food. The Ministry was based in North Wales in Colwyn Bay, but CBP's office was in Bristol. The work was concerned with the salvaging of food stocks affected by air raids. Whilst there, CBP attempted to inquire (without much success) into apparent irregularities in the accounts of contractors dealing with the Ministry. He was promoted to administrative officer in charge of salvage operations throughout Southern Command. He had his own car and had offices in Reading, Southampton and Plymouth, as well as Bristol. Damaged food stocks from large warehouses down to little shops had to be rescued. He had a disagreement over allowances for his staff and resigned in 1943.

[CBP-1951 p.215] What impressed me most about the Ministry of Food was the large number of men of military age at Colwyn Bay. Many were established civil servants, but the majority were temporary, like myself, and no doubt some were medically unfit; but many if not the majority appeared to the casual eye to be fit enough, and why they were needed was not obvious. On one occasion I was sitting or an appointments board when a young man presented himself, a tall, good-looking young man, who said that he had just had his medical examination and had been passed fit, and could not understand why he had been sent by the Ministry of Labour for this appointment. The chairman of the board, a member of the establishment division and therefore an established officer, unexpectedly asked if I would like this man for an appointment I had vacant. I shook my head. Afterwards I explained that I did not care to take a man who clearly ought to be in the army. I was told savagely that it was nothing to do with us whether he should be in the army or not as he was sent by the Ministry of Labour. He was found an appointment, and afterwards did rather well. The explanation may have been that he was somebody's protégé.


Ministry of Supply

Shortly after leaving the Ministry of Food, CBP was appointed salvage recovery officer for the Ministry of Supply in Leeds. He was responsible for seeing that waste did not occur in industry. He was only there for six months because the whole salvage recovery operation was then scrapped.


Ministry of Information

In 1944, CBP worked for the Ministry of Information for six months. The Ministry had taken over London University's senate house, and CBP was responsible for censorship of departmental press handouts.

[CBP-1951 p.159] It was not heavy work, though at D-day and after the pressure was severe, and the information that had to be passed on to the press about doodle-bug and V2 bombing sometimes kept us awake all night.

Everything was so badly organized, however, that whatever pleasure there might have been in the work was absent. For instance, on the evening of D-day dispatches of the day's great events were handed out, and those of us on duty had to sit up all night preparing them. In fact these documents had been lying in the office for a fortnight, now mysteriously taken out of their hiding place, sub-edited, censored, and handed to the press. They had been written not by journalists but by service officers, mostly sailors, and contained imaginary descriptions of the invasion of France. [CBP-1951 p.159]

 
 

 

 
 

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Politics

 
 


Welwyn Garden City Urban District Council

In the fairly short chapter (thirteen pages) entitled 'Politics' in his autobiography, Purdom mentions that he had been a member of the Labour Party from the time of its formation until he became finance director of Welwyn Garden City Ltd, when he let his membership lapse. Much of the chapter, however, is concerned not with national politics, but with Purdom's own experience in local politics with the Welwyn Garden City Urban District Council of which he was an elected independent member for four years.

He first stood unsuccessfully for the council in 1934. He explains that the council at that time was dominated by a majority group of councillors who were nominally "independent" but who (according to CBP) were in effect "the garden city company's party". The remainder of the council were composed of a minority Labour Party group, and one councillor who he describes as an "independent-independent". The two party groups worked together and the town was "regarded as under the company's domination".

[CBP-1951 p. 224] The garden city company exerted a natural influence over the town similar to that of a great landlord over his tenants and those who inhabited the villages on his estate, and there was reluctance to appear to be taking any interest in local affairs that might be contrary to the interest of the landlord. This influence was exerted by the company's local directors and by representatives of those directors, who held prominent positions in practically every society or organization. As the company directly controlled the local newspaper, the trend of all published news was in the company's interests, nothing being allowed to appear contrary to them.

CBP stood again in the following year (1935) and on this occasion was elected to the council for a three year term. He explains what happened at the first council meeting which he attended.

[CBP-1951 p. 225] An employee of the company was in the chair, and facing me two directors, several other employees, and a number of shareholders. Some of the business referred to matters in which the company was interested, such as the town-plan and complaints about some of its rural cottage property. I started by asking questions, then drew attention to the fact that the chairman and various other members were breaking the law by taking part in the consideration of these matters, a suggestion brushed aside.

In the Local Government Act of 1933, which came into force in June 1934, councillors were disqualified from considering, discussing or voting on matters in which they had a financial interest. CBP relates how, at the next meeting of the council, he put forward a resolution requesting a report from the clerk to examine the minutes to see if there were occasions when the Act might have been infringed. He says the resolution was adopted "with much bitterness". He also mentions that he entered into an agreement with another council member who he describes as "a highly respected, explosive, communist-minded working-class woman" [CBP-1951 p.226] by which each would second motions put forward by the other (regardless of whether or not they agreed with the motion) in order that they could at least be discussed. The clerk's report was presented at the next meeting disclosing fifty offences against the Act.

[CBP-1951 p. 227] The outcome was that directors and employees of the company ceased to serve on the council, and the so-called independent party broken up.

Purdom says that he did not suppose that any one had been acting for his own profit, and that his intention was not drive people, some of them its best members, off the council, but that they should observe the law.


Motorcar accident

CBP stood again for election "when my three years were up", but failing to get sufficient help in canvassing, "I found myself only just in". He then had a motorcar accident which he describes as follows:

[CBP-1951 p.229] The day after the election, visiting those who had helped me and clearing up where required, I was being driven by a friend when at a cross-roads his car collided with another, and I received an injury from which I did not regain consciousness for many hours. What happened I do not know, for I found myself in bed with the doctor by my side saying gently that I was going to have three months' rest. No bones were broken, but the concussion was severe; I had no idea how severe. As I quickly improved and met the doctor's tests I was attending council meetings and doing some business within three months. But I should have done nothing of the kind. There is no doubt that for a long time I suffered from a slight degree of aphasia, for I had difficulty in getting out my words at council meetings, also I did not find walking easy, but there was no mercy for me, for seeing how handicapped I was advantage was taken of my incapacity, and everything was done to make my life as a councillor a burden. This was an unpleasant time; all the more so because I did not know how ill I was. At the end of the council's year, as my time was up, for on this second occasion I filled a vacancy that had only a year to run, I retired.

CBP mentions this accident in two other places in his book. In the chapter on industry, he says the accident happened when he was promoting a new business supplying specialized herbal products to chemists, and was followed by the outbreak of war [CBP-1951 p.113]. Secondly, in the chapter on the theatre, he says:

[CBP-1951 pp.186-7] One Sunday evening, early in 1938, when I had as I thought recovered from a motor-car accident the year before, I was telephoned to by Felix Aylmer, who asked the surprising question, Would I be interested in the general secretaryship of British Actors' Equity, the actors' trade union ?

I cannot quite reconcile the date for the accident. This last quotation would indicate that it happened in 1937. However, he says quite clearly in the Politics chapter "A year later, in 1935, I became an urban district councillor" [CBP-1951 p. 225], and then "When my three years were up I stood again ..." [CBP-1951 p.229]. This would put the date for his second successful election in 1938. It's not important but just a bit of a puzzle. The accident must have been in 1937 or 1938. He was 54 in October 1937.

 
 

 

 
 

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Children

 
 


Charles and Lilian Purdom had four children, three (boy, boy, girl) while the family was at Letchworth Garden City, and the last child (boy) while at Welwyn Garden City. The GRO birth registrations are as follows:

1913 third quarter Hitchin registration district *Ronald H. Purdom (mother's maiden surname Cutlar).

1916 fourth quarter Hitchin registration district Philip C. Purdom (mother's maiden surname Cutler*).

1921 first quarter Hitchin registration district Barbara M. Purdom (mother's maiden surname Cutlar).

1927 first quarter Hatfield registration district Edmund C. Purdom (mother's maiden surname Cutlar).

*There are two mistakes in these GRO entries. The first child's first name was Ronan not Ronald, and the mother's surname is misspelt in the second child's entry. I have not seen the certificates, but presumably these details were correct in the original registers and on the certificates presented to the parents otherwise they would have pointed them out at the time. The errors are likely to have been made by a misreading of the hand-written entry when the GRO quarterly birth index was compiled.

[CBP-1951 p.8] In Woodside Cottage were born three children, Ronan Hugh (1913), Philip (1916), and Barbara (1921). Our fourth child Edmund was born at Digswell Lodge, Welwyn Garden City (1926). Neither of us had been educated for parenthood or knew how a family should be reared. We took our duties seriously to discover how ill equipped we were to discharge them, and our recollections of childhood gave us little help, because our own parents had found themselves in a similar position.

Woodside Cottage, referred to in this passage, was on Wilbury Road, Letchworth Garden City.

 
 


Ronan Hugh Purdom (1913-1935)

Ronan Hugh Purdom was born at Woodside Cottage, Wilbury Road, Letchworth Garden City, in 1913. He was the first child of Charles and Lilian Purdom. The picture and the passage about his short life reproduced below are from CBP's 1951 autobiography.

[CBP-1951 pp.10-11] The birth of Ronan was prepared for as a sacred mystery. We had an expensive monthly nurse, and nothing was left to chance. The nurse was a waste of money, for she thought more of herself and her comforts than of the mother and child, and it was as though the entire house had been prepared for her; she had to be waited upon hand and foot, and how glad we were to see the back of her ! When Philip was born Antonia went to the other extreme and had no nurse at all, except a daily visit from the district nurse.

Ronan Hugh was named after St. Ronan, an Irishman of the sixth century, who went to Brittany on a mission of conversion, was coldly received, and spent his life in solitary contemplation on the top of Finisterre, and St. Hugh of Lincoln, to whom the church in which we were married was dedicated. The attention we gave to his names was indicative of the preparation his advent received and the care he had. He was a passionate boy, intelligent and tenacious, but slow, and the darkness of the depths of his nature showed in his expression. He was wilful, independent, a natural teacher and leader, with a strong public sense, tall and handsome, and, unlike his namesake, attractive to every one. As a boy he had the missionary idea, however, and was devoted to peace. Before he was twenty he proposed to undertake a tour of the world, alone and on foot, playing a guitar and singing to pay his way, intending to speak to all he met of the peace of man. He received much advice for this mission from Sir Denison Ross* and others, and nobody seemed to discourage him. It was completely planned, but, after I had given the Foreign Office an undertaking to be responsible for him, someone there persuaded him to postpone his start for three months, for certain political reasons, with the result that he did not go at all. He was educated at St. Edmund's College**, and at the age of twenty-two, on 1st September 1935, full of promise, was killed on the road at Reigate in Surrey. This was the hand of chance. It ended his life and destroyed our hopes.

The day after his death I went in his room. There was mahogany table the surface of which he had spoiled by cutting paper with a knife. I recalled how angry I had been; but now how unnecessary was that anger ! As I felt the marks on the table I wished there had been more. [CBP-1951 pp.10-11]

[* Sir Edward Denison Ross (1871-1940) was an oriental linguist and author.]
[** This could be the Roman Catholic school St. Edmund's College, Ware, Hertfordshire.]

Click here to see the death certificate of Ronan Hugh Purdom. Below is my transcript of it.

Registration District: Surrey South-Eastern.     1935 DEATH in the Sub-district of Reigate in the County of Surrey.
 
No. 144
When and where died Twenty first September 1935. East Surrey Hospital, Redhill U.D.
Name and surname Ronan Hugh Purdom
Sex Male
Age 25 years
Occupation of Waters End, Fairfield Drive, Dorking U.D. a Builder's Clerk.
Cause of death Haemorrhage and shock following multiple injuries to right thigh and right axilla* due to an impact with a motor lorry when riding a pedal bicycle.
No pm. Accidental.
Signature, description and residence of informant Certificate received from G. Wills Taylor, Coroner for Surrey.
Inquest held 24th September 1935.
When registered Twenty seventh September 1935.
Signature of registrar H. E. Skelton.

[* axilla = armpit]

The age is wrong - it should be 22 according to CBP's autobiography. As can be seen from the image of the certificate, the age was originally entered as 20 which was crossed out and 25 entered in its place.

So Charles's eldest son, at the age of 22, was knocked down and killed by a lorry when riding his bicycle. Charles was age 51 when it happened; his wife Antonia was 47; his children were 18 (Philip), 14 (Barbara) and 8 (Edmund). It must have been shattering and deeply disturbing to the lives of all of them.

One thing I have discovered which is very puzzling - Ronan had apparently married in 1933 when he was age 19. I say puzzling because this was not mentioned in CBP's autobiography. Either CBP chose not to mention it for some reason, or he was not aware it had taken place. The marriage record is in the GRO. There are two entries for the bride.

1933 second quarter, Hendon registration district, volume 3a, page 1171.

Ronan H. Purdom - spouse surname Crowe or Kaye.
Euphemia Crowe - spouse surname Purdom.
Euphemia Kaye - spouse surname Purdom.

The presence of two entries for the bride under different surnames could indicate that the bride's surname is not the same as that of her father. This could be because the bride had a prior marriage or was illegitimate. I cannot locate an earlier marriage for Euphemia Crowe or Euphemia Kaye in the GRO.

I have checked the birth indexes between 1933 and 1936 and cannot find any children of the marriage.

 
 


Philip Camden Purdom (1916-1937)

Philip Camden Purdom was born at Woodside Cottage, Wilbury Road, Letchworth Garden City, in 1916. He was the second child of Charles and Lilian Purdom. The picture and the passage about his life reproduced below are from CBP's 1951 autobiography.

[CBP-1951 pp.11-14] His [Ronan's] brother, Philip Camden, born in 1916, when I was serving in the army, was a war product, and, so I was told, cried more or less continuously during his first six months, without recognizable cause. Yet he was a beautiful child, fair, blue-eyed, and a complete contrast to Ronan. He was quick and gay, became an admirable conversationalist at an early age, and was interested in everything. He was educated by the Benedictines at St. Augustine's School* and afterwards at Ampleforth**. When he left school he was articled to a quantity surveyor, and remained in that profession, though it did not seem to fit his natural abilities. He steadily failed at his examinations because he would not work, asking his mother why he should waste his time when as a territorial soldier he would be in the next war and be killed. I never knew any one more interested in life, in the smallest things as the greatest. One of my most vivid memories is of a holiday I took with him as a young boy and his brother, the three of us together, in Belgium, and how Philip loved the food, the wine, the beer, and talked with ecstatic enjoyment every minute of the day, Ronan watching, smiling, brooding, mostly silent. An avid reader, Philip would talk on every subject, politics, books, people, or philosophy, and such a simple event as a fine day would move him. At one restless moment he took a flat in London to live on his own, away from parental exhortations, but after three months he returned saying that independence was overrated. A few weeks before his twenty-first birthday in 1937 he was taken ill and died in three days after an operation. Why he died I do not know. His death was a mystery, never cleared up. Perfectly well on Saturday, 28th August, he developed abdominal pains in the night, and on Sunday evening the doctor saw him. Antonia and I were away. I returned to meet the doctor coming out of the house saying, Philip is upstairs making a great fuss about nothing; so far as I can see he has only a little tummy-ache. I went upstairs, and entering his room I saw for a moment what seemed to be Ronan stretched on the bed at the hospital where he lay dead. The two boys were not a bit alike, and I received a shock. But Philip smiled and said he was better. In the morning he certainly appeared better, and with confidence in the doctor, and knowing he would be well looked after by friends, I went to town as usual. Phoning home twice during the day I got no reply, which did not surprise me, as I took it for granted he was up and out. I was spending the evening with friends when at eight o'clock the doctor telephoned to get my permission to operate. I don't know what it is, he said, but I will phone you at home when it is over. At midnight he did so, seemingly at a loss, able to say only that it was not appendix, and that I had better come at once. I found him with his partner, who had given the anaesthetic, and neither seemed to know what to say, except that the boy's position was serious, and it would be a miracle if he pulled through. There was no conviction in what was said, except that the operation was too late, and that the patient had gone too far for it to be completed. I wired for Antonia who was in Ireland; she got back the next day in time to be with the boy when he died early the following morning, 1st September.

This second calamity was staggering. I had always thought Philip a lucky boy, and never supposed that anything but good would befall him. When he started flying I warned him not to rely upon luck, but never had I any fear for him. Now he was dead, less than two years after his brother. A handsome, charming, vital fellow, six feet three-and-a-half inches, half an inch taller than Ronan, with abilities of a different kind but unmistakable.

6

I have many doctor friends. Most of them would not I think challenge the statement that much that passes for medical practice is unsatisfactory. I have come to distrust all doctors, even the ones I admire and whose advice I follow. The most candid of them says frequently, We do not know. I trust him most. The National Health Service*** now at least enables them to tell their patients the truth. When they can do nothing for the patient, they now quickly say so; but a more radical change is urgently necessary. Doctors lean heavily upon the State when formerly they were supported by the bedside manner of private practice. The profession needs different standards and a different sense of responsibility from any that are at present commonly observed, both for its own sake and the sake of the public. I say this, although I owe my life to a doctor at Bristol whom I did not know, for he took the trouble when I was living there to look at me and to discover what was wrong. Doctors do not sufficiently look at their patients. I see young doctors at the hospital acting as house physicians and attending to patient after patient, their eyes fixed on the documents, trying to find their way about them, hardly giving the patient a glance. This is surely absurd; for the patient’s condition is not in his medical record, but in himself, and unless the human being is treated medicine is routine. Public dissatisfaction is not expressed except by visits to quacks and charlatans, and also to more authentic practitioners outside the orthodox and state-supported ranks, so that doctors think too well of themselves, not knowing what patients think. Yet there is no wonder in this, for when the doctor calls the patient says, Oh doctor, I am so glad you have come, I feel better already. A man so greeted must believe himself a god.

7

Antonia felt the loss of Philip intensely, for he had made her his confidante, telling her his plans, troubles, and experiences without reserve. In a few days he was to become of age, when he intended to get engaged. From a note of these events made at the time I see that one day just before the fatal conclusion he was talking about this approaching engagement and his subsequent marriage, describing what he intended for the wedding reception, when I said reminiscently that when his mother and I were married we had the simplest possible reception afterwards, to which he replied, Ah, but you were not the son of C. B. Purdom. If his death was chance for him, for Antonia and me it was the working of fate. Misfortune, it seemed, was unescapable and without limits. Fate, according to my philosophy, is evil; only by accepting it, by converting it into choice, so that what has happened becomes what one would have chosen had one been free to do so, could fate be defeated, and its mechanical effects lifted into the realm of freedom and made valuable. To what extent I was able to act upon this philosophy of life I am not sure. What was required was not resignation to the inevitable, but active acceptance of it so that evil was converted into its opposite.

How Antonia endured I do not know. She had her religion, which was real to her. She showed no resentment, and was a heroine in my eyes. [CBP-1951 pp.11-14]

[*This could be St. Augustine's School, Ramsgate.]
[**Ampleforth College is a Roman Catholic boarding school in North Yorkshire.]
[*** The National Health Service came into being on 4th July 1948.]

Click here to see the death certificate of Philip Campden* Purdom. Below is my transcript of it.

Registration District: Hatfield.     1937 DEATH in the Sub-district of Hatfield in the County of Hertford.
 
No. 373
When and where died First September 1937. The Cottage Hospital, Welwyn Garden City U.D.
Name and surname Philip Campden* Purdom
Sex Male
Age 20 years
Occupation of 36 Parkway, Welwyn Garden City. Quantity Surveyor.
Cause of death I(a) Intestinal obstruction
(b) Meckels Diverticulum.**
Certified by A. C. Dick M.R.C.S. L.R.C.S.
Signature, description and residence of informant C. B. Purdom, Father. Present at the death.
36 Parkway, Welwyn Garden City.
When registered Third September 1937.
Signature of registrar E. Hopkins??.

[* Philip's middle name is Camden in CBP's autobiography, Campden in the death registration.]
[** Meckel's Diverticulum is a congenital condition (i.e. present at birth). The developing human foetus has a thin tube connecting the umbilicus to the bottom end of the ileum (lower small instestine) near where the ileum widens out and becomes the large bowel. This vestigial organ is normally absorbed before birth, but in about 2% of individuals, predominantly males, it remains after birth. The tissue of the structure is stomachic/pancreatic and its cells may secrete acid. The condition may cause mild symptoms in early childhood but normally is without symptoms and goes unnoticed. Very rarely, a complication can occur in adulthood where the structure becomes wrapped tightly around part of the intestine causing blockage. The symptoms can resemble those of appendicitis. If not treated rapidly, this can result in death of a section of intestine, gangrene, perforation, and leaking of intestinal contents into the abdominal cavity. There were no antibiotics available in 1937. The effect of the penicillium mould on the development of bacteria was first noticed by Alexander Fleming in 1928, but the antiobiotic penicillin, which was developed from the mould, was not widely available until 1945. Without antibiotics, surgery was much more risky, and doctors were reluctant to operate unless there was no alternative. (This is my own lay interpretation of what happened to Philip after reading some medical articles.)]

Charles was age 53 when Philip died; his wife Antonia was 49; his children 16 (Barbara) and 10 (Edmund).

 
 


Barbara M. Purdom (1921-)

Barbara M. Purdom was born at Woodside Cottage, Wilbury Road, Letchworth Garden City, in 1921. The picture, and the passage about her life reproduced below, are from CBP's 1951 autobiography.

[CBP-1951 pp.14-15] The effect of the loss of their two brothers upon Barbara and Edmund was profound; in it they experienced to the full the intense, the unending, grief of childhood. They both did their utmost to comfort us and to conceal their own sorrow. Yet how disturbed they were I could well guess, and I felt an added tenderness towards them. Barbara's independent spirit developed with adolescence, and she became, as she admits, very difficult. I was at a loss what to do, and my uncertainty increased as she grew up. She became a ballet pupil and worked hard; though she was a good dancer I did not think she had the physique for the severity of life in the ballet, being too slight in build; she should in my judgment have been an actress, for she had the ability to transform herself, but I did not press this, and she showed no disposition towards the stage. She was and is a lovely dancer. The second war upset everything, however. After a little professional work, ending with an engagement in Christmas pantomime she gave up ballet and decided to become a secretary, where she achieved marked success so far as I could judge; then, wanting to get closer to the war, she became an operative in an aeroplane factory; finally at the age of nineteen she married.

I had supposed that one day she would confront me with marriage as an accomplished fact; on the contrary she came with filial correctness to ask if I would see a certain young man. When we met, and he asked for permission to become engaged to my daughter, I could do nothing but agree, and, shortly after, they were married. The young man was Roger de Pourtalès, English born of an English mother, though his father was Swiss. He was strongly Protestant, Barbara Catholic; but as she had discarded her religion, saying that it was no help to her, there was no difficulty. They were married by the local registrar at Hatfield. Antonia had to suffer this blow; but the ceremony in the registrar's sitting-room was a homely affair that unexpectedly pleased her, for the registrar, an old acquaintance was a genial and simple old man who imparted a feeling of confidence. So Barbara left home, and soon had a daughter, followed by two others; for she had determined to have her children while young, so that they could grow up with her.

These three lovely girls are Antonia's delight. She regards their mother with incredulous wonder, for the careless and wilful girl is an unimpeachable mother. Flying in the face of convention Barbara treats her children on a level of equality. She is a child with them. They do as she says, but she lays down little law, and in the main they behave as they please; but better-mannered children, Antonia agrees, she never saw, for they are expected to imitate their mother, not to take orders from her, and with their mother's exceptional manners, which distinguished all my four children, they have a perfect model. Barbara's method, in bringing up her family, which she follows without letting anything divert her, is her own choice. I find no fault with it. Luckily she lives in Switzerland, though the children were born in England, for her husband has a small château at Hermance, on the lake of Geneva on the French border. [CBP-1951 pp.14-15]

From the GRO:

1941 first quarter, Hatfield registration district, marriage, Roger De Pourtales & Barbara M. Purdom.

The GRO gives the birth registrations of the three girls mentioned by CBP in 1941 (4th quarter, Witney registration district), 1944 (1st qtr, Warwick r-d), and 1946 (1st qtr, Hatfield r-d). A fourth daughter's birth was registered in 1955 (1st qtr, Hatfield r-d). A Swiss genealogy website states that Roger de Pourtalès was born in 1915 and died in 1991.

 
 


Edmund Anthony Cutlar Purdom (1926-2009)

Edmund Purdom was born at Digswell Lodge, Welwyn Garden City, in 1926. The name in the GRO for his birth registration is Edmund C. Purdom, but everywhere on the Internet his full name is given as Edmund Anthony Cutlar Purdom. I don't know at what stage the Anthony was added. The picture, and the passage about his life reproduced below, are from CBP's 1951 autobiography.

[CBP-1951 pp.16-17] The youngest boy, Edmund, suffered most from the death of his brothers, as was proved by the fact that he was stunted in growth until adolescence, became hopeless at school, and displayed zest for nothing. So great a problem was he that he did not go to a public school after finishing with preparatory school, and I gave him the opportunity, which he took, of staying at home and attending a Jesuit secondary school evacuated to Welwyn Garden City. The Jesuits made him work, for they can tackle any problem, so that he got school certificate with four distinctions and three credits; but it was sheer force on their part. He then began to grow, and threw off the lethargy that had seemed to oppress him, and at last he had a life of his own. Leaving the Jesuits he went to the newly founded Welwyn secondary school*, where he was to work for the higher certificate with the object of a scholarship to Cambridge. A boy of brilliant promise, the school was glad to have him; but the head soon regretted it, for he would not work, attended school as he pleased - He treats the place as a club, complained the head master - and, except in mathematics, in which without working he achieved high marks, failed ignominiously at his examination. Shortly before leaving school he announced his intention of going on the stage. I suspected that he thought the stage to be an easy life, and I told him so - no more school, no more swotting for examinations. But you have chosen something much harder, I warned him. I knew he was an actor, however, though he never went to the theatre, or read plays or theatrical books, being an ardent musician and concert-goer; but I had seen him in a school play and had recognized the authentic quality. I had uttered not a word of this, for an actor was the last thing I wanted him to be. For the first time I admitted that I knew he had acting ability. But you have other abilities, I continued, and it is for you to decide which to develop; I wish you would choose anything else. No, he must be an actor. So the day after leaving school at eighteen he joined the Northampton Repertory Company, and stayed there until called up for military service. Edmund has what appears to me to be promise of genius, which is an infinite capacity for taking pains, and something more. He has that something more, that indescribable quality, as rare on the stage as elsewhere. Handsome, nearly as tall as his brothers, with a stage presence no one can fail to recognize, I see no end to what he might achieve. [CBP-1951 pp.16-17]

[* The Welwyn Garden City Grammar School was opened in 1939. Edmund would have been age 12 when it opened. I don't know if this is where Edmund went. On page 19, CBP says: The three boys went only to Catholic schools, except Edmund for his last year. Many articles say he was educated by "Jesuits at St Ignatius College, and by Benedictines at Downside School". Edmund's mother, in a magazine article, says Edmund was at boarding school in Ramsgate. I think that school must be St Augustine's School founded by the Benedictines of St Augustine's Abbey.]

In CBP's autobiography, after the passage about Edmund, the author continues with more about the education of his children, particularly in relation to religion.

[CBP-1951 pp.18-20] The two elder boys went to public schools, the youngest did not. Whatever dissatisfaction I feel about schools must be qualified by the fact that the public school gives a boy a stamp that other schools cannot give. He acquires an unmistakable elevation of manner and mind. Let me boast that my children displayed a natural elevation from their earliest years, but what the public schools gave the two boys was different. I sometimes wondered if it were snobbishness, a merely inculcated sense of superiority; but although that was undoubtedly an element, there was more. I can describe it best by saying that they had a sense of standards, which I think came, at least in part, from their schools. Above everything, evidence of having been to a public school means a great deal to a boy. I regret that I did not let my youngest boy have the benefit of that experience, for in a world of false values, even such a false value as this cannot be neglected. Public schools (and the right university) open doors that are otherwise closed. Perhaps Edmund has sufficient personality to overcome the handicap, for a handicap it is. The first question a young man is asked is, What school did you go to ? If he gives a satisfactory reply, the fact commends him, and continues to commend him throughout life.

11

All my four children were brought up to be Catholics, and all left the Church. Philip died with the benefit of the last sacrament, however, and Edmund has gone back to the Church, but it is obvious that there are serious defects in the Church's teaching. Except that they knew what church duties were expected of them, how mass was served, and in general the routine of their religion, none seemed to know its doctrine, history, or significance, and their knowledge of the Bible was practically nil. I discovered that I knew much more even about Roman Catholicism than they. This was a shock, for I thought being Catholics meant they would be well instructed in religion. It meant nothing of the sort; and as they had been to different schools it was not the fault of any particular school. The three boys went only to Catholic schools, except Edmund for his last year; Barbara attended a Catholic convent preparatory school and a secondary school afterwards. When I go to mass in various places I find usually so much attention paid by the priest to exhorting his parishioners with cajoleries and threats to attend the church services, to do their duties, and to pay their dues that no time is left for the true work of teaching. Almost always I come away highly displeased. So far as I can gather the same thing happens in the schools. Religion is treated as an outward affair and kept on the level of superstition. The child is expected to take his religion complete from the priest, who is the voice of God who sits in the heavens. No wonder my children said they found this voice neither sensible nor helpful. I take no pleasure in saying this, for I have the utmost respect for the Church and the intelligent, cultured, and devoted men who serve it; but they rely too much upon mere authority and too little upon reason.

In dealing with my children in their religion I was on weak ground, not being a Catholic. I did my utmost to persuade them that they should continue the practice of religion, but could not show them an example. This is the essential difficulty of a mixed marriage, for the non-Catholic partner cannot justify his or her position. I told them that they must do what their mother wished, but that if they had good reasons for not desiring to go to mass I would listen and would not force them. They gave me no reason good or bad; but I did not compel them to do what they did not want, and Antonia was persuaded to let them alone. Although I admit to being handicapped in this matter I still feel that a fault lay with the Church. The attitude of the priest is not unlike that of the drill sergeant on the parade ground; I see precious little difference, for both act on unchallengeable authority and treat their charges as wholly in their hands. [CBP-1951 pp.18-20]

What happened to Edmund after 1951 (the year of CBP's autobiography) is a matter of public knowledge. The obituary of Edmund below by Tom Vallance is from the Independent of 16th February 2009.

[Tom Vallance, Independent, 16.2.2009] The darkly handsome British actor Edmund Purdom became a Hollywood star in the mid-Fifties, and will be remembered particularly for playing the leading role in The Student Prince (1954), in which he mimed the songs to the voice of Mario Lanza. Though he possessed a pleasingly liquid, resonant speaking voice, Purdom was not the most animated of actors, but it was not entirely his fault that his most important leading roles were in two of Hollywood's most expensive flops, The Egyptian and The Prodigal. Later he made a new career in Italy, where he starred in "sword and sandal" movies and made extensive use of his mellifluous voice dubbing English dialogue for Italian films.

Born Edmund Anthony Cutlar Purdom in 1924* in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, he was the son of Charles Benjamin Purdom, a leading light in the Garden City movement. He was educated by Jesuits at St Ignatius College, and by Benedictines at Downside School, before making his stage début with a repertory company in 1945. In 1951 he played Metallus Cimber in a BBC television version of Julius Caesar, and in the same year he was part of the company that Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh took to Broadway, where he played small roles in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra.

He tested at Twentieth Century-Fox for the leading male role in My Cousin Rachel (1952), which went to Richard Burton, but the studio instead cast him as ship's officer Lightoller in Titanic (1953). His performance caught the attention of MGM, resulting in a contract and the small role of Brutus's servant Strato in Joseph Mankiewicz's splendid screen version of Julius Caesar (1953), with Marlon Brando, James Mason and John Gielgud.

Purdom's first sizeable role was playing a stuffy businessman who sets out to woo one of seven sisters in the musical Athena (1954), the story of a family of health and food faddists - originally planned for Esther Williams, but converted into a vehicle for Jane Powell and Debbie Reynolds. Reynolds, who confessed that she "hated the script," added, "The only relief on the set was the action going on off camera. Linda Christian, who was Mrs Tyrone Power at the time, was also in the picture. She was a temptress, and right before our eyes we saw the tempted, who was Edmund Purdom. They would go to his little trailer, close the door and be gone for quite a while."

Christian later divorced Power and became Purdom's second wife. Reynolds commented of Purdom: "He was a gorgeous, debonair Englishman, who was affected in a way that didn't suit a young man in Hollywood at that time. Had he stayed in England and met Cubby Broccoli a few years later, he'd have made a perfect James Bond."

Purdom then had his major break when Mario Lanza, already battling with weight gain, started feuding with the director of The Student Prince, causing MGM to take him off the picture and replace him with Purdom. Lanza's pre-recordings were used on the soundtrack, so audiences had to adjust to the powerful tones of Lanza coming from the slight Purdom.

But he was likeable as the Ruritanian prince who is sent to have a taste of life before fulfilling his destiny, and who falls in love with a tavern owner's daughter, whom he has to forsake when duty calls. With its lilting music by Sigmund Romberg and a spirited performance by co-star Ann Blyth, the film was entertaining, but did less business than it might have had Lanza been visually present.

Purdom then inherited another role, when Marlon Brando declined to star in The Egyptian (1954) after reading the script. As a physician in pre-Christian times who is lured away from his tavern-waitress sweetheart (Jean Simmons) by a Babylonian vamp (Bella Darvi), Purdom was wooden, and Darvi was even worse (the mistress of studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck, her career was brief, and she eventually killed herself). Co-star Peter Ustinov later said: "Being in this movie was like being on the set of Aida and not being able to find the way out". Despite some striking staging by director Michael Curtiz, the film, personally produced by Zanuck, was trounced by critics and lost a fortune.

MGM then cast Purdom opposite the superstar Lana Turner in The Prodigal (1955), based on the Bible's tale of the prodigal son, in this instance a Hebrew patriarch's son who journeys to Damascus where he is seduced by pagan priestess Turner. It was another lavish disaster, after which he ended his MGM contract, and his Hollywood career, playing a highwayman in a pleasing but minor swashbuckler, The King's Thief (1955), co-starring again with Blyth, plus fellow Britons David Niven, George Sanders and Roger Moore.

The following year Purdom moved to Rome, where he made more than 40 films plus many television appearances, as well as voice dubbing Italian films in English. He provided the voice of a British radio announcer in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), and he returned to the UK to play roles in Moment of Danger (1960), a story of jewel thieves notable as the final film of Dorothy Dandridge, The Beauty Jungle (1964), Val Guest's scathing exposure of the beauty-contest business, The Comedy Man (1964), and The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), in which peer Rex Harrison buys his wife (Jeanne Moreau) the titular limousine, unaware that she will be using the back seat to make love to Purdom.

In 1976 he had a role in Vincente Minnelli's A Matter of Time, and in the television film, Sophia Loren: her own story (1980), he was convincingly Italian playing the writer-director Vittorio De Sica. In 1984 he directed his first and only film, Don't Open 'Til Christmas, a thriller about a psychopath who slaughters Santas, in which he also played the leading role as a police inspector.

Edmund Anthony Cutlar Purdom, actor: born Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire 19 December 1924*; four times married (one daughter and one daughter deceased); died Rome 1 January 2009.

Edmund Purdom, actor, born 19 December 1924*; died 1 January 2009 [Tom Vallance, Independent, 16.2.2009]

[* I don't know why, but here, and in many other published articles, Edmund's birth year is given as 1924. CBP's autobiography says he was born in 1926, and his GRO birth registration was made in the first quarter of 1927.]

As a boy in the fifties, in my very small collection of 78 r.p.m. gramophone records (made of shellac and very breakable) I had a 10-inch record of Mario Lanza singing Drinking Song from The Student Prince. I remember Edmund in the television series Sword of Freedom. I was unaware that this man was born in the same road (Digswell Road) that I lived in, only 200 yards from our family house, and that a quarter of mile from me in the opposite direction, was living (in Woodland Rise) Edmund's father, CBP, an old man then, and now the object of my great admiration.

In the fifties, Edmund, when at the height of his fame, appeared in numerous magazines, mostly devoted to the cinema. I have found an article written by his mother Lilian Purdom about Edmund in the general interest magazine Illustrated (dated 11th December 1954, published in London). The first image below is the cover of the magazine which has on it Edmund's picture, followed by the two pages of the article. Click on any of the magazine pictures of Edmund to display an enlarged image in a separate window.

   

Here are the captions from the four black-and-white pictures accompanying the article:

The baby who grew up to be a star - Edmund Purdom and mother.

Stardom - Edmund Purdom as the physician in The Eqyptian. He took over his first big part at twenty-four hours' notice when Marlon Brando walked out.

The handyman - Purdom prefers to tune up his car engine himself. He has a mechanical bent and spends hours working in his garage in Hollywood.

The repertory actor - Edmund Purdom, Hollywood success still in the future, kneels in a l949 production of Molière's La Malade Imaginaire.

The text of Lilian Purdom's article is below.

MY SON EDMUND PURDOM

Home from Hollywood, he at once began tinkering with our radio - still the same boy I knew, writes his mother

When my son Edmund stepped off the plane at London Airport recently after three years in Hollywood, I knew at once that he was essentially the same Edmund. A few minutes later I watched him holding his first press conference in this country and I could see that he had not lost any of his charm.

The first thing he did on reaching our home in Welwyn Garden City, Herts, was to rush upstairs to see if his room was still as he had left it. Then he noticed that the radio was crackling. "I'll soon put that right," he said - and within two hours of getting off his plane he had a screwdriver out and was repairing the set. He had always done things like that since, at the age of ten, he dismantled my watch and cleaned it with petrol.

It was the same with everything else. He still liked my cooking, especially the morning porridge, which I do with salt. When I laid the table for dinner, he looked at the plates and said: "Oh. Mother, you've still got those lovely Meissen plates . . . "

On his second evening, with a thousand and one things to do, he found time to go to the local boys' club and gave them a grand time. He has always been popular with the teenagers here and now he is No. 1 among the local girl fans. Not so long ago, leaving a cinema after seeing one of his films, I was told of one seventeen-year-old girl saying to her friend: "Fancy that gorgeous creature living just around the corner in Barleycroft Road and we did not know it . . . "

Edmund is now a £350-a-week film star with title parts like Student Prince and The Egyptian to his credit, which to me are only a suggestion of what he will do later on. Yet, in spite of fame and adulation, he is, I repeat, still the same boy - gay, sensitive, a little moody, very intense about everything he does and madly keen on mechanics and music. He had been home for only a few days when he bought a new oboe, an instrument he has loved since the age of fifteen, when be heard Leon Goossens playing it.

Music was always the great passion of his life. In the old days he frequently disappeared on Sunday afternoons. When he returned late, and his father asked him where he had been, the answer was always the same; to a concert in London.

It was sometimes a mystery to us how he managed to pay his train fare and buy his concert ticket as well. A friend recently explained it to me: Edmund apparently had a special way with old ladies who saw him in the foyer of the Albert Hall, took pity on him and gave him a ticket.

He was extraordinarily good at doing a great deal on little money. When he was beginning to do well in Hollywood. he once said in a letter: "People are borrowing money from me now." We could believe it because he thought nothing of lending his last penny. Alter his first big part he and his wife gave a dinner party for the people who had lent them money in the thin times. Edmund is not a man to forget.

Once during the war, when his father was away, Edmund wanted to buy some gramophone records for the record player he had built - classical music, naturally. He eyed his father's collection and evidently did not think much of the old recordings, so he sold a lot of them to buy those he fancied. That was one of the few times I saw his father really angry.

Edmund always put his heart into what he was doing. He belonged to a teenage discussion group which he and his friends called "The Ring" and which met on Sunday evenings during the holidays. The boys and girls who belonged to it used to meet for coffee at the Welwyn Garden City Stores and talk about life, art and politics.

Edmund walked about with a little notebook in his pocket; in it he marshalled his arguments, kept addresses, facts about people's jobs, the top speeds of various cars, and so on. I am told he was one of the stars of the group.

First job lasted a fortnight

Later, during the school holidays, he took a job in the stores - in the gramophone record department, of course. But he kept it only for a fortnight. He played all the classical pieces, not the popular ones the customers wanted.

One of his best friends was a Jewish boy. So that he could talk to this boy's older friends on equal terms, Edmund learnt quite a bit of Yiddish and he still remembers it. He never did things by halves.

There was one thing at which he was never any good: letter writing. At his boarding school at Ramsgate there was a rule that every boy should write home once a week, and those letters used to haunt him.

During the war Edmund acted in school plays and also with a local group to raise money for the Red Cross. We did not know it but it seems he had become keen on acting. I shall never forget the day when he came home and quietly told me that he wanted to go on the stage.

"Well, you'd better talk to your father about it," I said. Though he was worried about what might happen he said he would do so at once. Edmund was always fond of his father and he used to introduce himself with the words: "I am the son of C. B. Purdom."

That night he told his father and I kept out of the way. My husband, who had known the stage all his life, was not a bit pleased. Edmund was intended for a scientific career - he had chosen it himself - and was to have gone to Cambridge. His father tried to persuade him that with his brains he had no need to go on the stage. Edmund just kept repeating: "I want to be an actor." and that was that.

He got a job with the Northampton Repertory, where he stayed until he was called up. After his National Service he went to the Kettering Repertory, then did two seasons at the Shakespeare Festival Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon.

The fuss was all for Edmund

He came to the West End to play in Golden City and in the cast he met a dancer called Anita Phillips. Nine months later, when he was playing the Dragon King in Where The Rainbow Ends at the Stoll, they were married. I shall never forget Edmund's wedding. My husband led me into Brompton Oratory through a crowd of photographers and whispered: "That's funny. There must be some film star being married today." Only when we came out did we realize that all the fuss was for Edmund.

Soon after the wedding Edmund acted in Laurence Olivier's productions of Caesar and Cleopatra and Antony And Cleopatra. Towards the end of the London run he arrived home one Sunday afternoon and told us Olivier was taking him across the Atlantic to play in the New York season.

While he was playing on Broadway he had the offer of a film test in Hollywood and he and his wife went there. The test came and went, but there was no job. When their first child was born, they were living over a garage and counting the dollars.

Once he booked their passage home and then cancelled it. He was never one to give up easily. A few weeks later, he wrote: "I got a small part." That was as the second officer in Titanic. From there he went up and up.

His success does not surprise me, but then I am his mother. His father is his greatest critic and Edmund always welcomes his criticisms.

Other people beside ourselves seem to think he would have made good at anything. Recently he whisked his father off to the Motor Show. Alter fifteen minutes of talking to the people on one of the stands, a salesman told him: "Mr. Purdom. you ought to be on this stand in my place."

LILIAN PURDOM

I bought the Illustrated magazine on eBay. It was accompanied by some cuttings from other magazines of the time, containing pictures and articles about Edmund. I have included these below. Click on any of the magazine pictures of Edmund to display an enlarged image in a separate window. The enlarged images can be made even bigger by using the zoom-level feature at the bottom right of the pop-up window.

   

 

   

 

 

 

   
 
 

 

 
 

  (go to contents)
 

 
 

Friends

 
 


In the chapter entitled "Friendship" in his autobiography, CBP concentrates on three men - Dr. Adrian Fortescue, Shri Meher Baba, and Dimitri Mitrinovic. [The letter "c" at the end of Mitrinovic's surname should have an acute accent over it.] Before turning to these three particular friends, CBP discusses friendships made whilst he was living at Letchworth Garden City (1904-1922), and later as editor of Everyman (1929-1932).


Whilst at Letchworth Garden City

The names mentioned from Letchworth include Hugh Dent (publisher), W. H. B. Binns (Quaker poet), J. H. Wicksteed (expert on Blake; he taught CBP voice production), Frank Merry (who taught CBP to sing), Charles Lee (author of novels set in Cornwall), W. G. Taylor (then head of Dent's) and Bill Furmston (teetotal landlord of the Skittles Inn). From these he singles out Charles Lee who was born in 1870 in Stockwell Green close to CBP's own birth place in south Lambeth. As well as novels, Lee wrote plays and musical scores. I have already mentioned the collaboration of Lee and Purdom in the Garden City Pantomimes (see section above 'The Theatre').


George Charles Beresford (1864-1938)

[CBP-1951 p.236] It is with Letchworth that I associate G. C. Beresford, for I first met him there, where he used to come for week-ends, staying with Onslow Whiting or the Perins, but I saw most of him in London and elsewhere. He had fame as a photographer, but was also the McTurk of Rudyard Kipling's Stalky & Co. Beresford told the story of his schooldays with Kipling from 1872 to 1882 at Westward Ho! in Schooldays with Kipling (1936), a book that any one knowing Beresford is certain was censored, for his imagination was unbounded. He was by far the most brilliant talker I ever knew.


Whilst at Welwyn Garden City

There is a 6-page passage in the chapter on friendship in the autobiography in which Purdom discusses his life at Welwyn Garden City. This is a dark passage in which no-one is mentioned by name. It begins:

[CBP-1951 p.238] At Welwyn Garden City, when I was growing into maturity, and where the great upheaval in my life took place, it is not easy to distinguish between friends and enemies. There I discovered in his nakedness the natural man who is perpetually at war, for I had a position that made me a target, and aroused jealousy, and I experienced the literal and exact truth of Hobbes's famous passage:

. . . so that in the nature of man we find three principal causes of quarrel. First competition; secondly diffidence; thirdly glory. The first maketh men invade for gain; the second for safety; and the third for reputation. . . . Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man, against every man . . . continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. [CBP-1951 p.238]

[The passage which CBP quotes is from Thomas Hobbes's book on political theory Leviathan, 1651, chapter 13.]

Later in the passage CBP says:

[CBP-1951 p.243] What I have written is from gathering the fruits of experience, and from what I have learned over many painful years. I have never been good at cultivating acquaintanceships, and confess that I have taken friendship too much for granted. When I was in control at Welwyn, and afterwards, in another sphere, when I was an editor, my acquaintance was much sought after. I did not encourage it at either time, which, from a worldly point of view was a mistake. Yet when I lost Welwyn and later the editorship, I found those who were eager to know me no longer there, and friend dwindled into acquaintance in rapid dissolution.


Whilst editor of Everyman

CBP says that he made many friends as editor of the literary magazine Everyman (1929-1932), but he makes only brief mention of them. He names Frederick Soddy, Major-General Fuller, Ernest Rhys, Hugh Walpole and Hugh Quigley, without saying much about any of them. To view the first edition of the relaunched Everyman dated 31st January 1929, and an account by CBP of his time as editor of the magazine, click here.


Dr. Adrian Fortescue (1874-1923)

CBP devotes nine pages of his autobiography to his friend Adrian Fortescue, whom he knew from 1907, when Fortescue came to Letchworth, until Fortescue's death from cancer in 1923, aged 49. Purdom knew Fortescue as the Catholic parish priest at Letchworth, and close personal friend of the Purdom family. Purdom's wife Antonia was a Catholic, and their children were brought up in the faith. Purdom himself took instruction in the faith from Fortescue but did not convert.

Fortescue was a distinguished scholar writing on Catholic theology with special interest in the eastern churches. His notable works were The Orthodox Eastern Church (1908), The Lesser Eastern Churches (1913), and The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described (1917). Fortescue was also a musician, writing his own arrangements for the choir at his parish church of St Hugh in Letchworth. He published a volume of Latin hymns in 1913. He was also a talented watercolourist and had many other interests.

CBP gives an interesting insight into Fortescue's personality from the point of view of someone who knew him well over a number of year up till his death. CBP includes in his book a sample of Fortescue's music for the choir, a sample of his handwriting, and the text of a letter written by Fortescue to a friend in August 1922 a few months before he died. Anyone interested in Fortescue would find CBP's book invaluable just for the nine pages.


Shri Meher Baba (1894-1969)

Meher Baba was an Indian mystic recognised as a Sadguru (Master) and by many as Avatar (incarnation of God). Purdom met him by chance at a retreat in Devon in 1931. Purdom was impressed by this man who must have had a remarkably magnetic personality. The respect must have been mutual for, in the following year, Purdom was asked to write a biography (the first) of Baba's life. The book The Perfect Master - Shri Meher Baba by C. B. Purdom was published in 1937. For my detailed notes on this book click here. At the bottom of those notes I have included a section from CBP's autobiography in which he describes his relationship with Baba. This will be of great interest to Baba fans.

CBP wrote two more books on Baba: he edited and published some of Baba's discourses in God to Man and Man to God (1955); he wrote a second biography of Baba entitled The God-Man (1964)


Dimitri Mitrinovic (1887-1953)

[The letter "c" at the end of Mitrinovic's surname should have an acute accent over it - I cannot reproduce that special character here.]

Dimitri Mitrinovic has already been mentioned in the section above headed "Journalism and the Literary World". Whilst CBP was editor of New Britain (1934-34), Mitrinovic contributed a series of two-page articles called "World Affairs" to the magazine under the pseudonym M. M. Cosmoi. These articles examined the condition of mankind and became surrounded by controversy. Click here to view a page (reproduced in CBP's book) from the first issue of New Britain.

CBP devotes 14 pages of his autobiography to Mitrinovic. Here are some paragraphs.

[CBP-1951 p. 266] That friendship was decisive for me; he was a friend from the moment we met. I have never had any doubt about him, and when I first heard him speak it was as though my own mind cleared and I knew what I thought. Yet Mitrinovic is not an easy friend, for he demonstrates in his own life the basis of a friendship that offering everything requires all. Neither is it easy to write about him, for he desires to be anonymous, and would rather nothing were said about him. Yet it is impossible to write my life without reference to him.

[CBP-1951 pp. 266-7] Mitrinovic came to England in 1914 at the start of the first war, having managed to escape from Germany, where he was studying the history of art in Munich. He was then not thirty years old, a Serbian, born near Monastir in Herzegovina. He is tall and dark, with a massive head, his hair generally shaven, with dark and sparkling eyes, inquisitive nose, full lips and expressive mouth, and a soft voice, and he is positive, fnendly, and approachable in manner. No doubt there is not a little Turkish blood in him. His mind is encyclopaedic. There is nothing in which he is not interested; his reading is comprehensive in half a dozen languages, and includes art, philosophy, philology, theology, history, anthropology, archaeology, physics, biology, psychology, politics, science, and economics. A student of Sanskrit, in recent years he has been learning Chinese. He is passionately devoted to music. He knows as much about modern as about ancient pictures and sculpture.

CBP includes a number of passages of Mitrinovic's strange prognostications. One of these is:

[CBP-1951 pp. 275-6 quoting Mitrinovic] "In whatever form sex is considered it is wrong: marriage is wrong, not to marry is wrong, to have a mistress is wrong, self-abuse is wrong, homosexuality is wrong. Sex is right only in its totality, and by mastering all its aspects, not denying any one of them.

All conflict is due to wrong sex.

The quarrels in the Church to-day started with St. Paul's neurosis, which was concerned with sex, and caused him to quarrel with St. Peter.

All action is either homosexual, self-love, or heterosexual, love of others.

The Holy Ghost is sperm, and the sin against the Holy Ghost is sin against sperm, which is not forgiven, because that sin is the origin of confusion, conflict, and death.

It is a sin to allow any one to masturbate. Masturbation is anything without a point: day-dreaming is masturbation. Most people masturbate in one way or another.

Frigidity in women and impotence in men are not physical but psycho-erotic. There is need to develop psycho-erotic intercourse. Frigidity and impotence are due to psychic refusal, the denial of others.

Most sexual intercourse is unsatisfactory because the woman is not ready and the man's sperm is wasted; she is unsatisfied, and he resents the waste of his force.

To love oneself is to know oneself.

The lower has to be passed through before the higher is reached.

The transcendence of homosexuality is to love another man as one loves oneself."

Continuing with more of CBP's own words about Mitrinovic:

[CBP-1951 p. 277] His first public activity was the formation in 1927 of the Adler Society, which held meetings every night in the week with a party every Saturday ! Each night the relation of psychology of art, sociology, or some other human activity was considered. In 1930 the New Europe Group was formed, which still exists, with the object of advocating European federation; its first president was Patrick Geddes. Three years later the New Britain group was formed, which was responsible for the weekly. Mitrinovic encouraged the work of Arthur Kitson, Eimar O’Duffy, and others, especially Frederick Soddy, whose money system he supports whole-heartedly, declaring him to be the greatest man in England.

The final paragraph on Mitrinovic relates to the death of CBP's second son Philip in 1937:

[CBP-1951 pp. 279-280] On the Monday evening that I was rung up by my doctor to say that my son Philip had to be operated upon, as 1 have related in the first chapter, I was with Mitrinovic. The following Wednesday at about seven o'clock he said suddenly that he must come to see me; a car was ordered, and he left at once for Welwyn Garden City with two woman friends. By chance I was at my house when he arrived, and had to tell him that Philip was dying. He sent the elder woman to the nursing home with me and said he would wait for our return. Six hours later, when the boy had died, we came back with Antonia to find him waiting as he had said. In his gentle voice he talked about the blessing of early death, then went back to London, leaving the elder woman to comfort and help Antonia until the funeral. This intuitive and practical sympathy, which nothing hinders him from expressing, is a marked characteristic of this remarkable man.

 
 

 

 
 

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Places of Residence

 
 


[TDL] = Telephone directory listing.

23 Rutland Street, South Lambeth

[Birth certificate, 1883.]

49 Neptune Street, Lambeth

1891 census [RG12-401-83-40] and 1901 census [RG13-417-16-24].

A cottage on Letchworth Corner, Letchworth Garden City

Lodging with a ploughman named Crouch and his wife. [CBP-1951 p. 42]

Wayside, Wilbury Road, Letchworth Garden City

[Marriage certificate, 1912.]

Woodside Cottage, Wilbury Road, Letchworth Garden City

1913, 1916, 1921 birth of first three children [CBP-1951 p.8].

7 Handside Lane, Welwyn Garden City

Many early residents of Welwyn Garden City initially rented houses in Handside Lane whilst having a property built in the town or looking for a permanent residence there. [TDL-1922, TDL-1923].

Digswell Lodge, Welwyn Garden City

[TDL-1927, TDL-1928, CBP-1951 pp. 30-1]

A glance at the street plan from the 1948 Welwyn Garden Citizens' Handbook book (for which click here) shows that this house was at the extreme north of the town as it had thus far been developed, and opposite a farm, and very close to where my own family lived from 1945 onwards. In his autobiography, CBP refers to the house thus:

[CBP-1951 pp. 30-1] I was already hard at work upon getting the garden city idea understood, and in the summer of 1919 steps were taken towards the establishment of Welwyn Garden City. I go over this in the next chapter. When the building of the new town started I rented one of the first houses, but we did not move our home from Letchworth until 1922. The war had changed Letchworth, and I was not known to the new population, so that I took no further part in Letchworth affairs. Working in London on garden city propaganda I had no time, and when Welwyn came into being no inclination.

At Welwyn Garden City we bought a late seventeenth-century house, built as a hunting lodge and lately used as a farmhouse, known as Digswell Lodge, part of the Panshanger estate, and midway between the great houses of Panshanger and Brocket. After some conversion it became the house in which I have felt most happy. No one else had thought of the possibilities of the house, which was rather out of the way at the time I bought it, so that the company's valuer fixed a lower price than I had expected. It was a lovely house for a family, and there Edmund was born; but on my salary it was barely possible to make both ends meet. I suppose everybody imagined I was well off, in view of the position I held, but the fact was different. We lived there until the break with Welwyn Garden City early in 1928, when we moved into a small house in the town. [CBP-1951 pp. 30-1]

36 Parkway, Welwyn Garden City

[TDL-1929, TDL-1930, TDL-1931, Philip Purdom death certificate 1937]

This house (36 Parkway) was hardly the "small house" which CBP describes at the end of the last quotation above. It is one of the substantial detached houses on the west side of Parkway between its junctions with Russellcroft Road and Church Road.

34 Barleycroft Road, Welwyn Garden City

[1948 WGC Handbook - list of residents, TDL-1951, 1953/54 WGC Handbook - list of residents, TDL-1954, TDL-1957, TDL-1958]

39 Woodland Rise, Welwyn Garden City

[1959 WGC Handbook - list of residents, TDL-1960, TDL-1962, TDL-1963, TDL-1964, death certificate, 1965]

 
 

 

 
 

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Death

 
 


Charles Benjamin Purdom died on 8th July 1965 at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Welwyn Garden City, following abdominal surgery. Click here to see the death certificate. Below is my transcript of it.

Registration District: Hatfield. 1965 DEATH in the Sub-district of Hatfield Second in the County of Hertford.
 
No. 69
When and where died Eighth July 1965, Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Welwyn Garden City
Name and surname Charles Benjamin PURDOM
Sex Male
Age 81 years
Occupation of 39 Woodlands Rise, Welwyn Garden City, Author (Retired)
Cause of death 1(a) Peritonitis *
  (b) Pancreatitis
  (c) Cholecystitis
        Cholecystectomy
Certified by K. M. Heaton. M.B.
Signature, description and residence of informant Lilian A. Purdom, Widow of Deceased
3 Woodlands Rise, Welwyn Garden City, Herts **
When registered Ninth July 1965
Signature of registrar Margaret H. V. Hopkinson, Registrar

[ * Peritonitis is inflammation of the peritoneum which is the membrane lining the abdominal cavity. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. Cholecystitis is inflammation of the gall bladder. Cholecystectomy is surgical removal of the gall bladder. ]
[ ** This should read 39 Woodlands Rise. ]

In the year after her husband's death, Antonia was listed as telephone subscriber at the family home, 39 Woodlands Rise. One year later (1967) she is listed at 19 Woodside House, Bridge Road, Welwyn Garden City. She died in 1971.

I end with the penultimate paragraph from CBP's autobiography:

[CBP-1951 p. 302] In these pages a design may be traced. I did not set out to make it, but there it is. It appears to be a design of loss; everything has ended in loss. It is as though I were not meant to get attached to anything. Though in the course of life I got attached to one thing after another, I was broken away from it, sometimes with violence I kept nothing, started what others were to finish, provided the means, but was not to use them, could point the direction but not take it. Yet throughout there is the consciousness of providence. Time and again Antonia and I have sat down together to speak of how the hand of providence has appeared. This means that we are not left alone, the finger of God interferes even with us.

 
 

 

 
 

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List of Major Publications

 
 


I have compiled this list of books from my own collection and from various pieces of information found elsewhere. I think I have included all the major works by C. B. Purdom. CBP was a prolific contributor of articles to newspapers and magazines. Also he was editor of a number of publications at various times and provided editorial material for these. From 1904 onwards he contributed a column to the newspaper Hertfordshire Express in his early days at Letchworth. From 1919 to 1922 he was editor of the journal of the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association. From 1922 he contributed to the Welwyn Garden City News producing the entire first issue himself. He was editor and theatre critic of the relaunched Everyman magazine from 1928 to 1932. He edited New Britain (1933-1934) and Theatregoer (1935). I have no details of the large number of articles by the author; only the major works are listed below.
 
* = I have a copy of this book.
** = I have prepared notes on this book which can be accessed via my Purdom menu here.
 
  1910 The Garden City Pantomime: Book of the Words, C. B. Purdom, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
** 1913 The Garden City - A Study in the Development of a Modern Town, C. B. Purdom, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
[An account of the origins, founding, and early development of Letchworth Garden City. My copy of this book is on CD-ROM. 330 pages.]
  1915 Some Notes on a Proposed New Form of Accounts for First Garden City Ltd., C. B. Purdom, printed privately.
  1917 The Garden City After the War - a Discussion of the Position of the Garden City at Letchworth and a Proposal for a National Housing Policy, (pamphlet), C. B. Purdom, Letchworth.
** 1921 Town Theory and Practice, C. B. Purdom (ed), Benn Brothers Limited, London.
[Articles by W. R. Lethaby, George L. Peplar, Sir Theodore G. Chambers, Raymond Unwin, R. L. Reiss, edited by C. B. Purdom who also wrote the 38-page introductory chapter. 139 pages.]
* 1921 A Plan of Life, C. B. Purdom, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
[146 pages.]
  1923 The Place of the Welwyn Stores in the Welwyn Garden City, C. B. Purdom, The Welwyn Garden City Bookshop.
** 1925 The Building of Satellite Towns - A Contribution to the Study of Town Development and Regional Planning, C. B. Purdom, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
[In this great work, Purdom gives an account of the Garden City movement, mainly through a detailed description of the development of the first garden city (begun in 1904 at Letchworth) and the second garden city (begun in 1920 near Welwyn). Purdom began using the term satellite town instead of garden city because the latter term was becoming used in a loose way to include garden suburbs and any planned town development in which houses have gardens. 368 pages.]
** 1930 The Swan Shakespeare - A Player's Edition, C. B. Purdom (ed), J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
[Introduction and notes on production by C. B. Purdom. In three volumes - Comedies, Tragedies, Histories. I have the Comedies volume which has 848 pages.]
** 1930 Producing Plays - A Handbook for Producers and Players, C. B. Purdom, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
[231 pages.]
  1930 Everyman at War - Sixty Personal Narratives of the War, C. B. Purdom (ed), Dutton, New York.
** 1937 The Perfect Master - The Life of Shri Meher Baba, C. B. Purdom, Williams & Norgate Ltd.
[330 pages.]
  1938 Memorandum Upon Decentralization and Satellite Towns, C. B Purdom, National Housing and Town Planning Council.
* 1941 The New Order, C. B. Purdom, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
[Proposals for a British revolution with new political, economic and cultural structures. 286 pages.]
  1942 Britain's Cities Tomorrow: notes for everyman on a great theme, C. B. Purdom, King, Littlewood & King, London.
[Tomorrow booklets. 32 pages.]
** 1945 World Organization - Federal or Functional, C. B. Purdom and others, C. A. Watts & Co. Ltd.
[Transcript of a round table discussion which was broadcast on BBC radio in February 1944. Introduction by David Mitrany. The panel were Patrick Ransome, George Catlin, Edvard Hambro, C. B. Purdom and James Avery Joyce (chairman). 54 pages.]
* 1945 How Should We Rebuild London ?, C. B. Purdom, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
[326 pages.]
* 1948 Economic Wellbeing, C. B. Purdom, Nicholson & Watson.
[222 pages.]
** 1949 The Building of Satellite Towns - A Contribution to the Study of Town Development and Regional Planning, second edition, C. B. Purdom, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
[A lot happened between 1925 and the publication of the second edition in 1949. Some parts of the book have been completely rewritten - others just have revised wording. There are many new illustrations and plates in the second edition. 532 pages.]
* 1950 Producing Shakespeare, C. B. Purdom, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd.
[Theatre and Stage series. 220 pages.]
* 1951 Life Over Again, C. B. Purdom, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
[Autobiography. 302 pages.]
* 1951 Drama Festivals and their Adjudication, C. B. Purdom, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
[138 pages.]
  1954 Three Incredible Weeks with Meher Baba: September 11 - September 30, 1954, Malcolm Schloss & Charles Purdom.
  1955 God to Man and Man to God: The Discourses of Meher Baba, C. B. Purdom (ed), Victor Gollancz Ltd.
* 1955 Harley Granville Barker - Man of the Theatre, Dramatist and Scholar, C. B. Purdom, Salisbury Square, London.
[* My copy is an edition published in 1956 by Harvard University Press. 322 pages.]
  1956 Bernard Shaw's Letters to Granville Barker, C. B. Purdom, Phoenix House, London, 1956.
[206 pages.]
  1963 A Guide to the Plays of Bernard Shaw, C. B. Purdom, Methuen & Co. Ltd.
[344 pages]
* 1963 The Letchworth Achievement, C. B. Purdom, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
[150 pages.]
  1963 What Happens in Shakespeare: a New Interpretation, John Baker Ltd, London.
[192 pages.]
* 1964 The God-Man: The Life, Journeys & Work of Meher Baba with an Interpretation of His Silence & Spiritual Teaching, C. B. Purdom, George Allen & Unwin.
[My copy of this book is an edition published in 1971 by Meher Spiritual Center, Sheriar Press. 463 pages.]

 
 

 

 
 

Newspaper articles
 
(Click images to enlarge)

1933

 

1963

 

1965

 

c.1967

 

c.1967

 

1970

 

2010

 

2010