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Welwyn Garden City

Welwyn Garden City Wins Out
(Article from The American City magazine, May 1937 issue)

Author:   Sir Theodore Chambers, K.B.E.

Published: 1937 (publisher unknown)

Format: Paperback (magazine) 11¼" by 8"

I do not have the whole magazine from which this article was taken. I only have pages which were cut out of it. The image above is of the first page of the article, not the magazine cover.

Welwyn Garden City Wins Out

Pre-planned Community Proves Value for Homes and Industry

Fellow of the Institution of Chartered Surveyors


The land for Welwyn Garden City, the second Garden City built in England, was purchased by Ebenezer Howard in 1919, at a price somewhat, but not much, above its value for agricultural purposes. At that date the 4 square miles of territory, although within 25 miles of London, was a remote, rather inaccessible, piece of the countryside. Two or three farm houses and a few cottages for agricultural laborers were the only buildings, and these were approached by narrow country lanes.




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In that period of high prices and dear money, a bolder scheme than that of developing a new town, satellite to London, could scarcely have been conceived. Howard's idea, stated in simple terms, was that of building a self- contained, independent industrial town of reasonable size, well planned in all its parts, providing the maximum of satisfaction for its inhabitants in their labor and in their life outside working hours. He believed that these conditions could be secured more rapidly and more completely by building a new city de novo on virgin land than by the slow process of reconstructing an existing unit encumbered by "vested interests," dependent on the maintenance of the status quo.


Before the pioneers were able to organize a company to promote the project, a pin had been pushed into the bubble of the short-lived post-war boom, and it was with the greatest difficulty that the promoters were able to proceed with the undertaking. From 1919 till 1933, when the Company was reconstructed, the history of the Company is one of the unceasing overcoming of well-nigh insuperable financial difficulties. Wave after wave of deflation reduced the value of all capital works undertaken during periods of higher price levels. Houses which had cost £1,000 in 1920 had to meet the competition of similar houses which could be built later for £300. The fall in costs of construction affected adversely the values of every thing the Company had done of a capital nature. Roads, sewers, water works, disposal works, buildings of all sorts - all could have been produced in later years at lower price levels. At the same time the Company was saddled with high interest rates on loan capital. It was only by reason of the intrinsic merits of the project and the inherent possibilities of the future that the Company in 1933 was able to make terms with the holders of shares and debenture stocks and to reconstruct the capital of the concern on a sound basis. The losses which were involved were considerable, but the proprietors of the prior charges, faced with the alternative of foreclosure and probable liquidation, met the situation with generosity, and the continuity of the enterprise was secured. Last year the Company's shares entered the dividend list; on a small scale, it is true, but the prospects for the future are considerable.


In addition to the normal development of the land, the Parent company, through various subsidiaries, builds factories, shops and houses. It owns the chief department store. It operates the Electricity Supply Company, and conducts other businesses of an ancillary nature.


In 1926, the area of the town -some 2,460 acres* - was constituted an "Urban District," and its local government is in the hands of an elected Urban District Council functioning under the statutory provisions of the English Local Government Acts. The Company has transferred to the Council the water undertaking and the sewage-disposal works, which it originally constructed, and the Local Authority exercises the normal jurisdiction over the town in respect to highways, street lighting, health and sanitary matters. The happiest relations exist between the Board of Directors of the Company and the elected members of the Urban District Council, and between the officials of the two bodies.


*An additional area of 700 acres adjoining the original estate has been purchased recently by the Garden City Company, making the whole area in single ownership 3,160 acres.


The present population is approximately 12,000, of whom possibly one-quarter are dependent upon London, the principals of the families traveling to and from the Metropolis; while three-quarters depend for their livelihood upon the factories, workshops and other local sources of employment.


The number of inhabited houses is over 3,000. Of these, 892 were built by and belong to the local authority, having been erected under the various post-war Housing Acts. The rents, including rates and water charges, range from about $2.60 a week for a two-bedroom, non-parlor cottage, to $4.70 for a four-bedroom, parlor cottage. Most of the houses are provided with well-built sheds. All have bathrooms and are lighted by electricity. Electric cooking equipment is commonly used. The gardens are ample in size and are almost invariably well cultivated. It is probable that the annual value of the agricultural produce from the built-up area in the form of fruit and vegetables is greatly in excess of that produced in the original open fields. As an additional room in summer for children and grown-ups alike, and as a place of recreation all the year round, the gardens possess a social value which cannot be exaggerated.





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Factories and Stores


There are upon the register today 45 factories, 16 work shops and 15 registered work places in the town. Two American firms of standing, the Shredded Wheat Co., and the Norton Grinding Wheel Co., own and operate the two most important factories in the town. Both buildings are stately edifices standing in their own grounds. The factory of the Shredded Wheat Co. was the first noteworthy plant erected in the town in 1924, and it has been consistently prosperous. It has been a great asset to the town and it is a debt owed to the United States.


The Company's policy in regard to retail shops was dictated to a large extent by circumstances. It was obviously necessary in the earliest days to provide for the full needs of the first inhabitants. The nearest village was distant some three miles, and something had to be done about it. Various interests were approached, but capital was chary of embarking in such a speculative sphere. The Company had perforce to start its own general store. This business has today a yearly turnover of over $1,000,000. There is a large central store, and four branches in different parts of the town. Although the service was fairly complete and covered all the main requirements of life, there arose a disposition on the part of the inhabitants to criticize the element of monopoly. Prices were, however, in fact strictly competitive, and the service was, on the whole, efficient. Itinerant vendors and metropolitan stores with delivery services would have kept a check on any tendency to exploitation. The ability of the housewife to do all her shopping under one roof was appreciated, but there remained the psychological factor. People coming from other cities regretted the absence of their streets of shops and missed the pleasure of wandering around comparing goods and prices.


Thus, independent individual shops were encouraged to start operations, and a definite shopping center came into being, and, while the Company's store remains the principal shop of the town, some twenty proprietary establishments are now carrying on business.


Recreation and Education


The Cinema, which seats 1,100 persons, a noteworthy building, designed by Louis de Soissons, the Company's architect, who has been responsible for the town plan and the majority of the buildings in the town, was also built by the Company. This establishment has now been disposed of to a well-known Cinema Circuit, which will also promote additional theaters as the demand arises.


The educational facilities of the town are well provided for. The public elementary schools in different parts of the town have been provided by the County Council and are run on normal lines. By the nature of things, Welwyn has attracted, in the main, a population young in years. The birth rate per 1,000 in 1935, was 19.8, as compared with 14.7 for the whole of England and Wales; while the death rate was only 7.4 per 1,000, as compared with 11.7 for the rest of the country.


The average age of the female population is just under 30, and of the males just under 27 years and six months. This is five years younger than the average age of the population in the county as a whole, which is 34.5 for females and 32.5 for males. Of the population in 1931, five years ago, 3,248, or more than one-third of the population, were under 21 years of age, and, what is perhaps more remarkable, 1,922, or just under a quarter of the whole population, were under ten years of age. Apart from immigration, these figures indicate that approximately 200 boys and girls living in Welwyn in 1931 could be expected to reach school age every year. Manifestly these conditions presented a problem to the educational authorities, and demanded a vigorous policy of school building, which has been efficiently adopted.


With the rapid influx of a population of young people engaged in the factories and workshops of the town, the question of the employment of leisure hours, both in winter and in summer, has been a constant problem. The provision of open spaces for organized games has been studied from the earliest days, and between the Company and the Urban District Council it is expected that sufficient provision will be maintained. There should be no difficulty in providing adequately for sports grounds and playing fields as the population increases.


Health Association


In health matters there is a similar cooperation between the Company, private and personal effort, and the Local Authority with the Ministry of Health behind it. The Welwyn Garden City Health Association was formed in very early days with the advice of no less an authority than Lord Dawson of Penn. The Health Association is a body created on lines similar to the Educational Association, and its work is administered by two committees. One deals with maternity child welfare and district nursing, and under its supervision and control there are child welfare, ante-natal, massage and dental clinics, and health visitors, district and school nurses and midwives are employed. The Hospital Committee operates the local hospital and an eye clinic and a nursing home.


The interest in health matters shown by residents in Welwyn Garden City is illustrated by the fact that there are 2,750 subscribers to the Health Association. This includes 2,000 persons who subscribe to the Association and Hospital through the Central Civic Fund industrial scheme. The Health Association works in the closest co-operation with the Urban District Council and the official Medical Officer of Health and the Sanitary Inspector of the locality. That the system has proved to be well founded may be indicated by one official figure. The infantile mortality rate for England and Wales in 1935 was 57 per 1,000 live births; at Welwyn Garden City, 35.


The Central Civic Fund was started in 1927 and was sponsored by the Rotary Club, under the influence of J. W. Bryce, who was at that time Managing Director of Shredded Wheat, Ltd. The idea was based on that of the Community Chests, the value of which system Mr. Bryce had discovered in the United Slates. The purpose of the fund is to facilitate the raising of money for the voluntary organizations in the town which exist for general social welfare and not on a sectarian or partisan basis. The fund supports the Hospital, District Nursing, Infant Welfare, Home-Help, Red Cross, School Development, The Library, Adult Education, The Guild of Help, and the St. John's Ambulance Brigade. The fund is administered by the Urban District Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the local trade unions and the participating bodies. There are also co-opted members representing business and finance. There are 2,630 subscribers, and 37 firms in the Town support the scheme.


Welwyn is no longer in the experimental stage. It is recognized by industrialists as one of the most advantageous locations for industry in the country. The total population of England and Wales in 1931 was approximately 40,000,000. Of these about half live within 100 miles of Welwyn, constituting an extraordinary concentration of purchasing power. The supply of labor presents little difficulty. Population follows the availability of work. Industrialists are every day becoming more alive to the conditions under which their employees live. They appreciate the value of the health and contentment which good housing and advantageous living conditions produce. The operatives at Welwyn live within walking distance of their work and are saved the fatigue and wear and tear of long train or bus journeys. The children are raised in conditions which are calculated to turn them into healthy, satisfied men and women. No one has appreciated these aspects more than the American firms that have established their factories in Welwyn.


There would therefore appear today to be no reason why the development of the town should not fully justify the faith of its original promoters. Thanks to the genius of its Architect, Louis de Soissons, who has been responsible for the layout and the control of the architectural treatment since 1920, Welwyn is becoming a very lovely place in its maturity. Its main avenues present vistas of great beauty in the spring and summer months. The thousands of trees which have been planted on each side of the streets are now reaching an age when they add greatly to the attractiveness of the town. The surrounding country is easily accessible and is exceptionally attractive. The industrial area, well planned and concentrated in appropriate zones, does not detract but rather adds interest to the whole, and it can scarcely be doubted that, as time passes, Welwyn will become more and more appreciated by industrialists who have the interest of their people at heart.