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Welwyn Garden City

Welwyn Garden City

Author: Roger Filler

Published: 1986 by Phillimore & Co. Ltd.

Format: Hardback 10" by 7½" with 179 pages

Roger Filler's book gives a full and interesting account of Welwyn Garden City from the events leading up to the founding of the town by Ebenezer Howard and his associates in 1919/1920 until the present time (1986). The account describes many of the town's prominent figures. There are 98 black and white illustrations which are mostly photographs of past residents and architecture - domestic, civil and commercial/industrial.


From the dust-jacket


WELWYN GARDEN CITY was born in 1920 and at the time was regarded by many sceptics as a reckless venture. To build a new, industrial town in an isolated area, without any existing development, was a brave idea indeed in a period of economic instability and high prices. The early years were full of anxiety, as well as hand lamps and muddy lanes. But the harsh conditions bred a determination that brought success and, indeed, happy days in a colony dependent on itself and with its future in its own hands.

This book is the story of one man's vision and of the problems that he and his colleagues encountered and overcame in converting this corner of the Hertfordshire countryside into a Garden City. From selecting the site and choosing names for the streets, the author's compelling narrative covers the entire history of Welwyn Garden City and of the Company and men who built it. It is the first time that the whole story has been told and the text is well illustrated with many previously unpublished photographs.

For all who live or work in Welwyn Garden City, Mr. Filler's book will be full of interest, adding greatly to their appreciation of their environment and the manner of its making. For many others, the book fills a gap — in the history of Hertfordshire, of the garden city movement and of urban growth in the 20th century — that will ensure a wide audience far beyond the Garden City fence.

Cover illustration: The Barn Theatre (photograph courtesy of The Welwyn Garden City Society).


ROGER FILLER lives in Welwyn Garden City with his wife and two children. Born in North London in 1950, he was educated in Barnet but moved to Hertfordshire in 1968. On leaving school, he studied at The London College of Printing and spent eight years in the printing trade before joining the John Lewis Partnership in 1977. A keen musician, he is also an enthusiastic local historian. This is his first book.


PHILLIMORE exists to serve the cause of local history throughout Britain and the list of titles under the Phillimore imprint is constantly growing. Local historians should be on the Phillimore mailing list and are invited to write and ask for catalogues to be supplied, free of charge. Authors and editors in the fields of local history, architectural or family history and archaeology are invited to contact the Editorial Director at the earliest possible stage in the preparation of a manuscript for publication.






  Ideas and Ideals
The Second Experiment
The Veins of the City
Leisure and Pleasure
City Scholars
Highways and Homes
‘Making it in Welwyn’
City Limits
Brave New Town





C. B. Purdom

The author has obviously done a lot of research because the book is packed with interesting detail. The five paragraphs below are from chapter III of the book — Foundations. I have picked this short passage because it concerns C. B. Purdom in whom I have a special interest. The passage gives Mr. Filler's opinion on what happened to Purdom in 1928. For further material on this issue please take a look at another webpage of mine — C. B. Purdom - Biographical Notes — which can be viewed by clicking here.

"By the beginning of 1928, the Garden City Company was reporting financial stability: its credit was good, money was becoming increasingly easy to raise, industrial development was promising and the almost insuperable difficulties of the Town's foundation had been overcome. The truth was very different from the press releases and there was considerable friction within the Company's ranks.

Several members of the Board had always found great difficulty in working with C. B. Purdom, finance director and managing director of Welwyn Stores Ltd., and in the early months of 1928 several of them moved against him. The reason for this concerted attack on Purdom and his eventual resignation is clouded with claim and counter-claim, but certain points are clear.

Charles Benjamin Purdom was a strange man with some remarkable gifts. His executive ability, energy and self-confidence led to his belief in his own superiority and to over-estimate himself. An intellectual, author and playwright, he had been active from the start in both the Letchworth and Welwyn Garden projects and had campaigned fiercely for Howard's Garden City principles. But he was unpopular with many and freely admitted to being tactless. Purdom had an advantage over many of the directors through his experiences of Letchworth and Welwyn, and there is no doubt that he had a big influence on the development of the Town. More than anyone else, he thought out the policy of the Garden City, and held it through all distractions, misconceptions and obstacles. In addition he had an incredible capacity for detailed work, and undertook the greater part of the shaping of the administration of the Garden City Company and its innumerable subsidiaries.

In February 1928 several members of the Board met with Sir Theodore Chambers and presented him with a memorandum demanding either Purdom's resignation or they would offer their own. Fearing a scandal Chambers asked for a complete statement of the Company's affairs from Sir Harry Peat, of Marwick & Peat, the accountants. The Board agreed to wait for the report. During the ensuing months, news that all was not well leaked out and before long the whole Town knew of the controversy. Things went from bad to worse and on 27 March Purdom resigned from his office as financial director and managing director of Welwyn Stores and Welwyn Restaurants, and four months later resigned from the Board of Welwyn Garden City Ltd.

Purdom always maintained that the others were jealous of his power and ability, and there does seem to be some truth in this. He was convinced he was in the right and had many supporters within the Company but he neglected the power of public opinion and this fact among others led to his downfall."




List of illustrations

Diagram of Original Town Plan, 1920
Sir Ebenezer Howard
Three diagrams from 'Tomorrow'
Letchworth Estate opening ceremony
C. B. Purdom
Richard L. Reiss
Sales particulars: part of Panshanger Estate and Digswell House
Lord Desborough and family, 1910
Peartree Farm, 1925
James Hunter, tenant of Peartree Farm, 1925
Upper Handside farmhouse
Handside Pond
Lower Handside Farm buildings
William Cooper Horn, tenant of Brickwall Farm
Bridge Road, looking towards The Campus
The Beehive public house, 1935
The workmen's huts on what is now The Campus
The original Welwyn Garden City estate office and accounts department
Sherrardswood brickworks, c. 1923
The Town's first pumping station and fire station, Bridge Road, c. 1920
Louis De Soissons
Layout of the Civic Centre (The Campus)
Guessens Road, looking east, 1920s
Brockswood Lane under construction
'The gum boot season in our Garden City'
Aerial view of the first houses in Handside Lane
Elm Gardens, 1930s
Daily Mail 'Ideal Village' site and sign, 7 June 1920
Meadow Green, Daily Mail 'Ideal Village'
Peartree Lane
First Howard Memorial, Howardsgate, October 1930
Original Barclays Bank, c. 1925
Telephone Exchange, c. 1935
The Town's first church
St Francis' church
St Bonaventure's church
The Free church
Digswell House
First issue of Welwyn Garden City News, 30 September 1921
Opening of Welwyn Garden City railway station, 5 October 1926
C. B. Purdom
Ambulance and old and new fire appliances
The former police station in Stonehills
Dr H. J. B. Fry and Dr G. Miall-Smith (Mrs Fry)
The Meeting Room, used as a church, clinic and school
The cottage hospital, Church Road
James P. Marsden, chairman U.D.C., 1931-2
G. S. (later Lord) Lingren, chairman U.D.C., 1933-4
Arthur R. Pelley, chairman U.D.C., 1935-6
William Ravenscroft Hughes, chairman U.D.C., 1936-7
The original Cherry Tree restaurant
The refectory, Peartree Boys' Club, c. 1937
Girl Guides marching along Parkway, 1926
Welwyn theatre
Sir Frederic Osborn and Dame Flora Robson
Mrs Mitchell - wife of James Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbons, the author)
The Woodman public house (later The Chieftain)
The Hollybush public house
The swimming pool at Stanborough, c. 1935
Drawings for Handside School
Handside (now Applecroft) School, 1926
The Children's House Nursery School, 1931
Sherrardswood School, 1937
Peartree School, 1936
Mrs Dorothy M. Bonney
Opening of Campus West Library by Sir John Betjeman, 1973
The Old Drive, looking north
Junction of Valley Road and the North Road, c. 1925
Digswell Lodge area development, aerial view 1935
Digswell Road, and White Bridge
Howlands area development, June 1955
The Moors, Panshanger
Welwyn Stores, with Campus huts and Welwyn Builders
Welwyn Stores
Old Welwyn Stores, hardware department
Welwyn Stores and Parkway Café, 1930s
Peartree Branch Stores
Woodhall Branch Stores, opening day
Welwyn Department Store, opening day
Shops in Howardsgate
A. D. Dawnay and Sons Ltd.
Welwyn Builders' and Joiners' workshop
Shredded Wheat factory, 'Folly Arch'
The Shredded Wheat Co. Ltd., 1926
Murphy Radio workshop interior, 1930
Welwyn Film Studios
Parsons Garage
Cresta Silks
Norton Grinding Ltd., under construction
Welwyn Garden City, laundry delivery service
Early I.C.I. plant
Evacuees arriving in Welwyn Garden City
Air Raid precautions around council offices
Bomb damage in Mandeville Rise
Golden Jubilee celebrations - H.M. The Queen Mother and Sir Frederic Osborn
Stanborough Lakes
Viaduct Nurseries Estate
Campus West complex under construction
Gosling Stadium, 1956