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Welwyn Garden City
Author: Prepared by Stephen Bayley for the course team
Published: 1975 by The Open University Press
Format: Paperback 11¾" by 8¼" with 96 pages
Unit 23 has 41 pages of text illustrated with black-and-white maps, plans and a few photographs of housing. Unit 24 has 20 pages of text. Following this are 32 pages of good quality black and white photographs on glossy paper. There are several photographs on each page - 104 pictures altogether. They are mostly of individual houses or street scenes, but there are some of municipal and industrial architecture, and 3 aerial photographs. 11 of the glossy photographs are from Welwyn Garden City, including an aerial shot.
Following the Introduction the text for Unit 23 is in 3 parts:
Part 1 - The Background
Part 2 - The Preparation
Part 3 - The Realisation
The Introduction (3 pages) and the section on Welwyn Garden City (4 pages) are reproduced below.
Unit 2.3 is called 'The Garden City'; it continues the exploration of the housing question which was initiated in the discussion of flats in the preceding unit.
It is a curious truism that most famous architects in the past and, for that matter, many of the present, have not concerned themselves with the problem of mass housing. This situation has arisen perhaps because architecture with a social function is peculiarly a child of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and architectural reputations have by and large been made with cathedrals, palaces and town halls rather than the simply necessity of putting roofs over as many heads as possible.
It was only with the second and third congress of CIAM in Frankfurt and Brussels in 1929 and 1930 that the European Modern Movement sat down in an organized way to attempt to solve the problem of housing. They resolved the problem into the 'cottage or flat ?' debate. In Europe, the answer tended to be the flat, while in Britain the answer tended to be the cottage. There were romantic, as well as practical, reasons for the British conviction to build cottages rather than flats. The most influential form which cottage building has taken in this century is the garden city and, to a lesser extent, the garden suburb. The garden city is essentially the product of the inspiration of one man: Ebenezer Howard. It is the purpose of this unit to describe the background and influences affecting Howard's thought and to assess the consequences of his vision. Because of this the unit will be rather different in character from its predecessors. Howard looked through binoculars and not microscopes; his concern was not so much for the nice particulars of architecture or of fashionable style, but with the planning of whole communities. Unit 2.3 reflects this broad view and less space has been used here than elsewhere in the course to describe individual buildings and their architects.
What is a garden city ?
Howard established the philosophy of the garden city in his book, first published in 1898 as Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, but better known as the 1902 edition, Garden Cities of Tomorrow. Howard was neither an architect or a scholar; his book was what he called 'A Unique Combination of Proposals' in which he brought together all the different philanthropic, free-thinking and socialist ideas which had influenced him.
Howard's garden city was not first of all an architectural conception; indeed, it is an interesting problem of architectural semantics how the garden city came to be associated with the cottage-vernacular style. On the contrary, Howard was interested principally in social reform and, in particular, changes in the law relating to land tenure. He said
Howard's garden city was to be self-sufficient; it was to be a carefully planned settlement combining industry and agriculture into a distinct whole. The limits on its growth were to be set by the surrounding green-belt so that success could not cause ugly expansion.
The land of garden city was to be publicly owned, but private enterprise was to be allowed to flourish upon it. It was to be an efficient, working community. Sir Ralph Neville, a prominent disciple of the Howard philosophy, said that
In his analysis of the garden city, Lewis Mumford isolated three points which he considered central to Howard's vision. (Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities, Secker and Warburg, 1938, pp. 394-7.) The first was that the land is owned by the whole city, not by individuals. Howard thereby eliminated the private landlord and undermined any temptation which might exist to increase land values by in-fill building. The second point which Mumford isolated was that the garden city was subject to limited growth and limited population and the third was that there was to be a balance between town and country.
All these things have been achieved in the two most famous garden cities, Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City and Howard's philosophy was extended after the Second World War to become the lodestone of the British new towns policy. The recent new towns (for instance, Harlow, Stevenage and Peterlee) are essentially the recent embodiment of the proposals made by Howard in Tomorrow. They can all, with fairness, be considered garden cities. However, under this same umbrella title I want also to consider some related developments which are not, strictly speaking, garden cities, but which I consider essential to an understanding of Howard's philosophy and the forms which the realization of that philosophy took.
It appears that the garden city movement has four major constituent parts. Two of these preceded Howard; two postdated him. The earlier two are what I have called 'Imaginary Utopias' and 'Real Utopias' (Part One, sections 1and 2) and the later ones are the garden suburbs and suburban vernacular development.
By ‘'Imaginary Utopias' I mean those visions conceived by social reformers and mystics which form a continuous tradition in European thought which culminates in the ideas of Ebenezer Howard; by 'Real Utopias' I mean the experiments in empirical community building which flourished, particularly in Britain, in the nineteenth century under the influence of philanthropical manufacturers who wished to provide decent accommodation for their captive work-forces. Without this background, the genesis and growth of the garden city idea cannot be clearly understood.
Of the later constituent parts there is first the garden suburb. Prime examples of this phenomenon are Bedford Park, Port Sunlight and Hampstead Garden suburb. Essentially, the garden suburb incorporates (either consciously or unconsciously) many of the planning principles of garden city philosophy but differs from the garden city proper in that it is parasitic of an existing, conventional town or city and not the independent entity which Howard wished garden city to be.
Lastly, the suburban vernacular development seen throughout Britain can be said to be a bastardized form of the garden suburb [Plate 1]. I have tried to suggest in television programme 23, The Semi-Detached House, that the very suburban growth from which Howard was trying to escape began to imitate many of the garden city principles and, in fact, provides an unconscious monument to the rightness of Howard's idea that town and country should exist as one.
There are a number of worthwhile books and articles which are generally available which offer more detailed information on areas considered in this unit:
Abercrombie, P., 'A Comparative Review of Modern Town Planning and "Garden City" schemes in England' Town Planning Review, 1910, pp. 18-38.
Armytage, W. H. G., Heavens Below, Utopian Experiments in England 1560-1960 Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961; a fascinating study of planned communities built and envisaged in England over four centuries.
Batchelor, P., 'The Origin of the Garden City Concept of Urban Form', Society of Architectural Historians' Journal, 1969, pp. 183-200; a competent survey of the development of Ebenezer Howard's philosophy.
Creese, W. L., The Search for Environment, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1966. Despite some curious omissions and occasionally faulty research this is by far the best comprehensive view of the garden city movement. Perhaps its greatest value is that Creese is the first writer who was not himself connected with the early years of the garden cities to attempt an assessment, in architectural terms, of the progress and purpose of the movement.
Creese, W. L., The Legacy of Raymond Unwin: A Human Pattern for Planning, MIT Press, 1967; a valuable anthology of Unwin's published and unpublished writings.
Eden, W. A., 'Studies in Urban Theory', Town Planning Review, 1947, pp. 124-43.
Greeves, T. A. 'London’s First Garden Suburb' and 'The Making of a Community' in Country Life 7th and 14th December, 1967, pp. 1524-9; 1600-2; two well-researched articles on Bedford Park.
Howard, Ebenezer (ed. F. J. Osborn), Garden Cities of Tomorrow, Faber, 1965; the best edition of Howard, with an introductory essay by Lewis Mumford.
Hughes, M. (ed), The Letters of Lewis Mumford and F. J. Osborn, Adams and Dart, 1971; a very thorough and diverting edition of forty years correspondence concerned with the evolving problems of town-planning An invaluable retrospective view of the movement.
Macfadyen, D., Sir Ebenezer Howard and the Town Planning Movement, Manchester University Press, 1933; a quirky and unreliable book but still the only monograph on Howard.
Mumford, Lewis, The Story if Utopias. Ideal commonwealths and social myths, Harrap, 1923.
Mumford, Lewis, The Culture of Cities, Secker and Warburg, 1938; two brilliant perspectives by a gifted polymath covering a very wide range of material.
Osborn, F. J., 'The Garden City Movement. A Revaluation', Journal of the Town Planning Institute, 1945, pp. 193-207, required reading.
Osborn, F. J., 'Sir Ebenezer Howard, the evolution of his ideas', Town Planning Review, October, 1950, pp. 227 f.
Purdom, C. B., The Garden City, Dent, 1913.
Purdom, C. B., The Building of Satellite Towns, Dent, 1925 [and 1949], the latter is a second edition of the former and contains an analysis of Welwyn Garden City as well as Letchworth. Essential background reading.
Rosenau, H., The Ideal City — in its architectural evolution, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958, a book written from the point of view of an architectural historian with a specialized interest in French classical architecture.
Stewart, Cecil, A Prospect of Cities. Being studies towards a history of town planning, Longmans, 1952.
Tarn, J. N., 'Some Pioneer Suburban Housing Estates', Architectural Review, 1968, pp. 367-70.
Tarn, J. N., 5% Philanthropy, Cambridge University Press, 1973; the best current history of working class housing.
Taylor, N., The Village in the City, Temple Smith, 1973, a chatty but interesting view of suburban living.
Ostrowski, Waclaw, Contemporary Town Planning — from the Origins to the Athens Charter, International Federation for Housing and Planning, n.d., a useful book which puts the Garden City Movement in a European perspective.
As well as wanting to thank the members of the Course Team for their helpful criticisms and comments I should also like to mention the assistance given me in the preparation of this unit by Mr Robert Beevers of the Open University's Regional Tutorial Services, by Dr Quentin Hughes and Professor J. N. Tarn of the School of Architecture, University of Liverpool and by Ted Hubbard, the North-West Regional Secretary of the Victorian Society.
Television The Semi-Detached House Stephen Bayley
A case could be made for the argument that in the English suburb land developers and speculative builders, by wanting to build individualistic houses in vernacular styles away from the city, predicted the formulation of the garden cities. In this programme I describe the development and growth of the semi-detached house in the London suburb of Ilford and suggest that the accumulation of different pressures combined to produce a form of housing and community planning that was, like the Roman idea of rus in urbe, an ideal of sorts.
Television The Housing Question Stephen Bayley
In The Housing Question I want both to continue and summarize the course. Housing has been the most distinctive interest of the Modern Movement in architecture yet, despite the good intentions of the theorists, the results of this interest have not always been successful. The programme studies three post-war housing developments which are very different in character: the L.C.C.'s Roehampton Estate; Ernö Goldfinger's Trellick Tower in North Kensington and Ralph Erksine's new estate at Byker, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Two of these developments continue the ideas of the pre-war Modern Movement; while the third adopts an original approach to housing.
Radio The International Style Fifty Years After Henry-Russell Hitchcock
In this programme Professor Hitchcock who, with the architect Philip Johnson, coined the term 'International Style' examines the condition of modern architecture now.
Radio Conclusion T. Benton and S. Bayley
Part 3. Section 3. Welwyn Garden City
The shortage of housing after the First World War and the piously felt need to create 'homes for heroes' produced Dr Addison's Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919. It was felt at the time that this legislation might encourage the development of garden cities. Certainly, the notion of garden cities as a solution to the national housing shortage enjoyed a degree of popular currency. C. B. Purdom had been an active propagandist: he wrote his The Garden City After the War in 1917 and, together with F. J. Osborn and W. G. Taylor, New Towns After the War in 1918.
Before the passing of his act, Addison had been treated to the overtures of the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association who were very aware that the brief vacuum in building policy and activity immediately after the war gave them an opportunity to consolidate and press for the full adoption of their principles. In February 1919 they presented a memorandum to Addison which stated their position. They stressed the futility of building around large towns where land was expensive and suggested that since housing was now in the hands of local authorities its provision should be taken from the crudity of the laws of supply and demand. The memorandum said that:
It is a measure of the failure of Addison's Act (which merely supplied houses where the demand was most pressing at the expense of any sort of planned policy) and of the success of the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association in making known their aims that it was out of these post-war conditions that arose the new town of Welwyn Garden City, the most sophisticated of all garden cities. (The Council of the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association, however, refused to support Howard's pleas for a second garden city at Welwyn.)
Although Purdom regarded the terms 'garden city' and 'satellite town' as interchangeable he included Welwyn in the second section of his book The Building of Satellite Towns, which deals with satellite towns as distinct from garden cities. Purdom's conception of a satellite town was one which depended largely on a big city placed nearby for its industry, services and employment. In this sense he considered Welwyn Garden City to be a satellite town of London. Although this is clearly at odds with the whole garden city philosophy, it is, Purdom said, impossible in any conditions less than ideal to achieve independence for a new town. In two respects Welwyn depended on London: the first was that the line of the Great Northern Railway passed through the centre of the site and the second was that from the very beginning it was considered to be a settlement for the workers and factories of 'London industries' [Plate 42].
The Garden Cities and Town Planning Association had been against the accretions of rings of extra building around existing cities (which the 1919 Act encouraged) not only on aesthetic grounds but also on strictly practical ones. Not least of the constituents of their practical objection to this laissez-faire building was the problem of transport. In their memorandum to Addison they had pointed out the problems of maintaining effective transport in a sprawling city:
The Garden Cities and Town Planning Association did not even consider that the intelligently planned garden suburb was an acceptable alternative to the independent new town. Of the garden suburb the 'Preliminary Announcement of a Garden City in Hertfordshire for London Industries' (the founding organ of Welwyn Garden City) said:
Meanwhile, Ebenezer Howard was becoming more and more enthusiastic about creating a second garden city and in 1929 he organized the purchase of 1,458 acres of land in Hertfordshire for £51,000. This was soon followed by a further acquisition bringing the size of the site up to 2,378 acres at a net cost of £44 10s an acre. On 15th October 1919 a company, Second Garden City Ltd., was set up to found Welwyn Garden City. Sixteen years later than Letchworth, there are subtle but distinct differences to be perceived between the aims of the two towns. Letchworth was brought into being as an idealistic community to demonstrate just what could be achieved by the application of Howard's principles to a nascent, community. Whereas, in Welwyn, the purpose was to create a new town independent of London but with the intention of solving the housing problem of that city. Letchworth, on the one hand, was an independent experiment, while Welwyn marked the beginnings of the subsequent 'new town' policy. In the 'Preliminary Announcement' the aims were stated thus:
The new Welwyn was to be built on garden city principles and, in contrast to the anarchic city scene it was designed to complement, was to have its transport systems arranged to best serve its industry. Parker and Unwin's figure of twelve houses to the acre was to be adopted and a consistent architectural programme was demanded from the very start. 'Harmony' of architectural style was the declared aim of the company and this harmony was to be achieved in the neo-Georgian style of Louis de Soissons which, after the example of Welwyn, became the favoured style throughout the country for the expression of local authority housing schemes [Plates 43-52].
By 29th April 1920 the promoters of Welwyn felt able to present their scheme to the public and Welwyn Garden City Ltd. was formed with an authorized capital of a quarter of a million pounds.
A prospectus was issued in May of that year which laid out the proposals for the city. Between 40,000 and 50,000 people were to be housed in the new town at an average density of five houses to the acre. As at Letchworth, the financial factor which gave impetus to the scheme was the development of agricultural land at agricultural prices (£44 10s an acre — in a London suburb 1920 prices were between £700 and £2,000 an acre). By working the land in a garden city development the value of the land was raised and this was the method by which dividends were paid to the shareholders.
The town plan
The planned population figure was a long way off in 1920; in that year, when only 136 buildings were erected, the population was but 430 and five years later, when seven times that amount of building took place, the population was still only 2,584. (Purdom, op. cit., p. 201.) Progress was slow because the site presented a number of difficulties to the promoters: it was well wooded and had few metalled roads. The centre and southern parts of the site slope away to the south east and these factors, together with the existing railways, went a long way towards determining the nature of the site.
Louis de Soissons, Welwyn Garden City town plan
Plate 45 shows a view of the pedestrianized Wigmores. In contrast to the large scale and monumentality of the shopping area with its angular, wide boulevards the domestic housing in de Soissons' plan follows existing bends and curves in the road which are dictated by the site. It is as though the architect almost wished to include as much variety of planning vista within his scheme as was practicable; for the anonymous needs of business and commerce the geometrically blocked out areas were considered the appropriate form of planning expression while, for the more intimate needs of homes, the chosen plan was of cul-de-sacs and constantly changing street scenes.
A contour plan was a prerequisite for the architect and it was with the aid of this (as at Hampstead) that the plan was designed. A ruling principle employed by de Soissons was that the urban area should be made as compact as possible so that even the farthest distant residents had no more than three quarters of a mile to walk to the shops.
A similar social mix to that envisaged for Hampstead was in mind for Welwyn. In the residential areas which, of course, occupy the greater part of the whole town's area, the domestic sites vary quite dramatically from one plot to the next. At the corner of Russellcroft Road, for instance [Plate 46], is a house designed for a wealthy purchaser while just a few years [yards ?] further down the lane are some very much more modest properties [Plate 47]; these are next-door neighbours.
The main thoroughfare of the whole town and its most immediately 'planned' feature is the Parkway which runs for about 1,300 yards south from the commercial centre, parallel with the LNER line [film strip 7]. As if to prove that de Soissons did take natural and existing features into account when drawing up his plan, Purdom remarked of Parkway that its shape and line were
and he thought that the great width of Parkway and Howardsgate would be useful
In contrast to this magisterial width was the close sense of community engendered by the employment of the cul-de-sacs. There were four main types of cul-de-sac used by de Soissons: the houses could be spread out or cramped together to form a 'close' along a short, straight road; alternatively, they could be placed on a curving stretch of road or a T-shaped road, or, finally, in a more open rectangular format, Not only were the cul-de-sacs employed because of their pleasant effect of intimacy and community but also for down-to-earth economic reasons: when cul-de-sacs are used there is less main road frontage for the authorities to maintain; because the roads carry no heavy traffic they may be built lightly and the sewer plan is relatively easy to organize. In Welwyn anything between twelve and thirty houses would be built in one close. Although, as we shall see in the next section, the style of building at Welwyn was rather different in character from that of Letchworth a similar policy of the naming of streets was employed. Where such names existed, streets and roads were called after existing names of people or farms or trees. The strong sense of local identity which this suggests contrasts strangely with the formalism of Louis de Soissons' neo-Georgian style which he imposed on the Hertfordshire countryside.
Total control of the plan of Welwyn Garden City was in the hands of Louis de Soissons; all plans of buildings had to be submitted to him under the provisions of the Building and Other Regulations of 1923. In this way de Soissons was able to impose his taste (and that of the company, who, in order to further their attempts to control the appearance of the town, undertook as much as 41% of all building there).
Crickmer and Foxley, Handside Houses Ltd., Welwyn Garden City, 1920
(plan from Purdom, 1925)
Among the very first houses to be built were the workers' cottages in Handside Lane designed for the company, Handside Houses Ltd., in 1920 by C. M. Crickmer and Allen Foxley [Fig. 30]. These cottages were in a very plain vernacular style with little concession to the markedly Georgian taste of de Soissons which was at this time beginning to form itself. De Soissons' own first houses for the council were the group of fifty he designed in 1921. These were two-storey cottages in short rows tile-hung over the upper storey with the transom windows acting as dormers. Their elevation is simple and unpretentious; only the twenty-four light windows hint at the direction of the style at Welwyn. The internal plan of these cottages was quite sophisticated for even the smallest had a parlour which was architecturally separate from the living room. Some even had four bedrooms and all, of course, had a bath. The average cost of these first houses was £527. The cheapest of these early schemes at Welwyn was the batch of ninety-three houses which de Soissons designed for the company in 1923. Here, by meeting the need for economy expressed by the workers, the cost was brought down to an average of £330.
Externally, these cottages were in rows of four, the whole being covered by a hipped roof. There was no attempt made to create a folksy or arty impression: the form is a simple cube but, like de Soissons' first cottages at Welwyn, he was unable to resist the inclusion of long thirty-two light casement windows which add something of an air of affluence to this otherwise modest and dull housing.
Plate 48 shows how the simple early cottages built at Welwyn have matured with the effects of time. Here, in a plan schemed with picturesque principles in mind, the elementary details of the facade — half-lit door, eighteen light casement windows, and plain hipped roof — have complemented well the street plan. The simplicity of the architectural style combines with the matured trees, the curved road and the cul-de-sac to achieve a pleasing effect with the visual variety enhanced by the architect's refusal to lay-out the cottages in straight lines. Not only this but as well, the simple details are relieved by the occasional interruption of the view by a gable end included because of` the simple aesthetic decision to introduce variety.
Apart from the modest cottages there are, generally, three other styles discernible at Welwyn. The first is the style of cottages found on Parkway.
On this wide boulevard de Soissons thought it appropriate to design the cottages with a richer degree of detail than he had used in the intimate enclosed spaces of the closes and cul-de-sacs. The elements [Plate 48] are still simple but to compensate for the wide open spaces there has been the conscious introduction of visual interest in the rhythmic variety of the gable, pan-tiled roofs. The heights and emphases change, but, more important than that to the overall architectural effect, the whole upper storey falls under the cover of the low roof. The eaves project and, with the upper floor windows (which are vertically sliding sashes) in the form of dormers there is a profound sense of shelter and homeliness achieved. By contrast, the ground floor acts as a visual anchor for the whole. The plain brick walls are perforated only by the square, sixteen-light vertically sliding sash windows and the doorways which have Italianate surrounds.
The more affluent houses on Parkway are also distinguished by an elegant simplicity. In this case, however [Plate 49], de Soissons is more guilty of having approved a blatantly historicist style than he was in the modern vernacular cottages. The architect has clearly been inspired to imitate the classical villa format although, of course, the quality of his effect is very different. The form in this house approximates to a double cube with an elevation of five bays, with the central three bays standing slightly proud of the bulk of the building. The effect is unreservedly classical. The entrance door is centrally placed and is covered by an Italianate canopy and surround. The windows are either square or tall vertically sliding sashes. A massive, triangular pediment forms the main stylistic feature of the design and the gabled roof which covers it marries into the hipped, pan-tiled roof which covers the main body of the house. Even the garage reflects the classical influence and appearance which de Soissions sought to achieve. In not more tan twenty years the appropriate style for 'garden city' had passed from the arts and crafts derived empiricism of Letchworth to a rather formalistic aesthetic of neo-Georgian classicism at Welwyn.
This trend is also very clear in the third major category of buildings in Welwyn: the commercial centre. Three examples in Howardsgate [Plates 50-52] demonstrate the subtle variations possible in the style. The shop now occupied by W. H. Smith & Son at the corner of Wigmores South and Howardsgate [Plate 50] is an example of a commercial block which includes both classic and vernacular detail. There is a mansard roof covered with pan-tiles and the brick pier at the corner is decorated with blocking. Over the entrances to the shop (the plate glass windows are, of course, recent) the bricks are laid vertically to suggest a large lintel; bricks are also employed to form the surround and canopy of the tall window with vertically sliding sashes. The design of this shop was conceived to give visual strength to the comers of a long, low commercial block. Further up Howardsgate is a more restrained essay in neo-Georgian for premises now occupied by the Midland Bank. The height of the building is emphasized by the progression in shape of the windows from large, tall ones on the ground floor to small, square ones at the top. The doorway, which is not central [Plate 52], is placed at the right of the facade and is undisguisedly a derivation from a Georgian model. Its triangular pediment and quoined surround in stone suggest an air of dignity appropriate to a bank building.
The premises of William Perring & Co. Ltd., also in Howardsgate, show how close a reduced form of neo-Georgian could approach the form of the 'moderne' [Plate 51]. There are few concessions to stylism save for the stone surround and small balcony on the first-floor windows, but, perhaps because it is built in brick, the design does not jar with its more historicist neighbours.
At Welwyn Garden City the philosophy of Ebenezer Howard achieved its most ambitious results in the creation of a rationally planned, industrial city set in the countryside. However, the style which Parker and Unwin had used at Letchworth had now been replaced by a less honest, more debased stylism. Nevertheless, this does not militate against the success of the town planning principles employed; rather it supplied the example for many less successfully planned housing schemes sponsored by local authorities throughout the country who found it expedient to employ the neo-Georgian style which Louis de Soissons had pioneered at Welwyn in their own developments of housing for the people.
Welwyn Garden City from the air
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View from the station plain to the Shredded Wheat factory
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Louis de Soissons, view into the commercial centre
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Louis de Soissons, Wigmores
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House at corner of Russellcroft Road
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Louis de Soissons, workers' cottages near Russellcroft Road
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Louis de Soissons, cottages in Parkway
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Louis de Soissons, house on Parkway
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Louis de Soissons, Howardsgate (W. H. Smith)
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Louis de Soissons, Howardsgate (William Perring)
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Louis de Soissons, Howardsgate (Midland Bank)
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