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Welwyn Garden City
Author: Arnold Whittick
Published: 1987 by the Town and Country Planning Association
Format: Hardback 8½" by 5½" with 167 pages
Arnold Whittick was friend and colleague of Frederic Osborn from 1941 until Osborn died in 1978. They jointly wrote the book The New Towns - the answer to Megalopolis which was first published in 1963 (view here). The third edition, re-titled The New Towns - Their Origins, Achievements and Progress, was published in 1977 (view here). Whittick himself died in May 1986 having just completed writing this biography of Osborn, the publication of which was carried through by Whittick's wife Helen.
The book is illustrated with 31 black and white pictures,
mostly photographs of Osborn.
About F. J. Osborn (dust-jacket front flap)
Sir Frederic J. Osborn will be remembered in history as the great pioneer of the policy of dispersal from overcrowded cities by means of new towns. He had a world-wide reputation as such. It was principally his propaganda that led to the New Towns Act of 1946 which provided for the designation, planning and building of new towns under the administration of Government appointed Development Corporations. 28 New Towns in Great Britain have been designated, planned and built between 1946 and 1970. It was due to Sir Frederic Osborn's zeal and persistence, fortified by a wide knowledge of planning in all its aspects — social, economic and aesthetic — that made this ambitious programme a reality.
He is known as an ardent disciple of Ebenezer Howard but he was much more than that. At the meeting in Welwyn Garden City in June 1985 to celebrate the centenary of Osborn's birth Wyndham Thomas, a former Director of the Town and Country Planning Association, said that in his view Osborn "achieved even more than Ebenezer Howard to bring garden cities into concrete reality. And if Howard was responsible for the garden city idea, it was F. J. O. who was responsible for the new towns."
About Arnold Whittick (dust-jacket rear flap)
Arnold Whittick, the author of this biography, knew Sir Frederic Osborn for 36 years, having first met him in 1941. From the beginning they worked together and collaborated in the book on New Towns. The first edition (1963) was entitled "The New Towns — the answer to megalopolis," but this was changed for the third edition (1977) to "The New Towns — their origins, achievements and progress".
Arnold Whittick was the author of many books on art and architecture and related subjects, the principal of which is a history of European Architecture in the Twentieth Century. He served in the First World War with the Infantry in France, and in the Second World War he lectured to the Forces (Navy, Army and Air Force) on Architecture, Planning, Housing and Reconstruction. He was a member of the Town and Country Planning Association from 1941 to his death in 1986 — was elected a vice-president in 1981. In 1979 he was awarded an honorary degree by the Open University.
In the preface, Whittick explains that the first three chapters of the book were, in fact, written by Osborn himself, being the texts of the first three of five short broadcasts on his life which he gave in 1967. These chapters describe his childhood and first clerical jobs in London. He was born in a terraced house in Kennington, son of a mercantile clerk. The family later moved to Clapham. He first went to a dame school and then another private school before transferring to a council school at age 11 when his father became ill and could no longer afford the fees. He describes himself as a shy and timid boy, very fond of reading. He also tells of his joining the ILP and then the Fabians after becoming a fan of H.G. Wells.
In chapter 4, Osborn becomes, in 1912, secretary and manager of the Howard Cottage Society in Letchworth, having applied for the job, at £150 per year, which turned out to be a life-changing move. It involved settling families into new houses and collecting rents. Whittick gives a brief account of Ebenezer Howard's Garden City Association of 1899 formed the year after the publication of his book Tomorrow, and the subsequent formation of the First Garden City Ltd in 1903. Osborn gained valuable experience in Letchworth because he was dealing directly with the tenants and was able to give feedback to the architects about their wants and needs. After 1914, Osborn continued at Letchworth taking no part in the War on the grounds that "the Great Powers had blundered into conflict". In 1916, he married Margaret Paterson Robb, a Glasgow graduate of poetry, whom he had met at the Fabians. During the War, development at Letchworth slowed and eventually stopped, and Osborn went to London to avoid military service, and spent his time studying at the British Museum Library supported by his wife. Osborn became part of the New Towns Group (Howard, Purdom, Osborn & Taylor) who campaigned for more new towns, and Osborn wrote his book New Towns after the War in 1918. (A later edition of this book, published in 1942, is reviewed on this website.) Also in 1918, he wrote an article entitled The Public Control of the Location of Towns for the Economic Journal under the pseudonym Edward Ormiston.
Chapter 5 gives, very briefly, the events leading up to the formation of Welwyn Garden City Ltd in 1920. In 1918 the New Towns Group formed the National Garden Cities Committee chaired by Howard. This Committee and the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association joined forces, with Purdom becoming editor of the Association's journal, and Osborn giving talks around the country. The Committee and the Association sent a memorandum to Dr Addison, President of the Local Government Board, advocating a national policy for the building of new towns on the garden city principle, but they were rebuffed. Meanwhile, Howard had spotted a large area of agricultural land north of Hatfield which would be an ideal site for a second garden city, and he took Purdom and Osborn for a walk in the area. By chance, part of this land came up for auction, and without telling the others, Howard raised the deposit money and bought it at auction on 30th May 1919. The same day he appointed Osborn, on a salary of £8 per week, to form a company and organise the project. A pioneer company, Second Garden City Ltd, was formed in October 1919. The following April, Welwyn Garden City Ltd was formed. Purdom was finance director. Louis de Soissons was planner and architect. Osborn was company secretary, estate manager, and publicist, as well as being clerk and finance/rating officer for the local authority.
Chapter 6 covers the start of the building of Welwyn Garden City, with Osborn moving, in 1921, into 8 Brockswood Lane, one of the first houses to be built. While here his children were born - Thomas in 1921 and Margaret in 1923. In 1925 he moved to 16 Guessens Road which he occupied for 53 years until his death. [Howard was at 5 Guessens Road from 1921 until his death in 1928.] Osborn was intimately involved in the day to day work as the houses were built and occupied, as he had done in Letchworth. Much of the chapter concerns the rift which developed between Purdom and other company executives which led ultimately to the resignation of Purdom in 1928. Osborn was among those signing a memorandum, of 7th February 1928, to chairman Sir Theodore Chambers. This did not name Purdom but was clearly about him. Much later, in 1951, Osborn met with Purdom to try to heal the rift but was not successful. [Purdom's side of the story can be found in his autobiography of 1951.] The chapter finishes by relating how Osborn became chairman of the WGC Drama Festival with Flora Robson as stage director, and also Osborn's fondness for the piano, having a Blünther grand in his drawing room.
Chapter 7 describes Osborn's campaigning for garden cities in the period 1932-1939. Whittick describes Osborn's paper Industry and Planning given to the Town Planning Institute (TPI), of which he was an associate member, in 1932. Next he describes Osborn's involvement with Dr Thomas Adams in the Town and Country Planning Summer School of the TPI. He then describes at length Osborn's pamphlet Transport, Town Development and Territorial Planning of Industry presented to the Fabians. In 1936 Osborn's employment with WGC Ltd as Secretary and Housing Estate Manager came to an end, the reason being "obscure" possibly due to "some disagreement on policy with the Chairman, Sir Theodore Chambers". Osborn then became financial director of Murphy Radio Ltd on condition he would be given time to continue his campaigning for new towns. Osborn also became Honorary Secretary of the Garden City and Town Planning Association (GC&TPA). He prepared, on behalf of the GC&TPA, Evidence for the Royal Commission on the Geographical Distribution of the Industrial Population, whose conclusions were presented in the Barlow Report. He presented this Evidence jointly with Cecil Harmsworth. Whittick goes into this Evidence at length. Whittick finally describes Osborn's address (later printed as a pamphlet) to the Conference of the National Housing and Town Planning Council entitled The Planning of Greater London.
Chapter 8 covers the WW-II period. In 1941, Osborn was seconded as advisor to Lord Reith who was appointed by Churchill to study post-war reconstruction. The GT&TPA had now become the Town & Country Planning Association (T&CPA), and it was at its London office that Whittick and Osborn became friends. At this time Osborn was editing 13 booklets on Rebuilding Britain published by Faber & Faber (1941-1945), the first of which, Overture to Planning, was written by Osborn himself. Whittick describes this at length. In 1942 Osborn prepared for the T&CPA a statement to the government entitled The National Planning Basis. This statement was influential in the planning laws passed from 1946 onwards. In 1943, the County of London Plan, prepared by J.H. Forshaw and Patrick Abercrombie, was published. Osborn was critical of this report and Whittick goes into this at some length.
Chapter 9 covers Osborn's achievements in the period 1945 to 1953. Osborn became an influential member of the New Towns Committee (Lord Reith was chairman) which was set up by Lewis Silkin, Minister of Town and Country Planning in Atlee's post-war government. From this Committee came the New Towns Act of 1946, which authorised the building of 14 new towns. In 1948, Osborn underwent a gastoenterostomy operation from which he took 3 months to recover. Despite the operation, Osborn made several lecturing trips abroad to North America and Europe during the period covered by this chapter. He was by now Chairman of the T&CPA (since 1944) and Editor of its Journal (since 1949).
Chapter 10 covers the period from 1950 to 1960 during which Osborn campaigned tirelessly for new towns. 14 had been designated under Labour between 1945 and 1950, but only 3 more under the Conservatives between 1950 and 1964. [11 were designated by Labour during 1964-1970.] This chapter also covers Osborn's knighthood which he received in the birthday honours of June 1956 (he had turned down a C.B.E. in 1946). Osborn had more health problems in this period with a prostate operation in 1954, and then 2 eye operations following glaucoma. In 1959 he had a bad attack of 'flu which left him with a weakened heart.
Chapter 10 deals with Osborn's poetry which he had published occasionally in The Spectator, The Times, The Observer, etc. He also published a small volume of verse in 1959 entitled Can Man Plan ? Whittick quotes from several of Osborn's verses including from his sonnets of which there were 132.
Chapter 11 discusses the 1963 book The New Towns, the Answer to Megalopolis by Osborn & Whittick. The remaining 3 chapters deal with his later years and summing up of his achievements. Osborn died on 1st November 1978, at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital at Welwyn Garden City, age 93½.
Principal writings and editorial activities of Sir Frederic Osborn.
The Public Control of the Location of Towns, The Economic Journal, December 1918. For this article Osborn adopted the pseudonym of Edward Ormiston.
New Towns after the War (Dent), London 1918, second edition (Dent), London 1942. (view here)
Industry and Planning: Journal of the Town Planning Institute, July 1932.
Transport Town Development and Territorial Planning of Industry (Victor Gollancz and New Fabian Research Bureau), London 1934.
The Planning of Greater London, with foreword by Sir Raymond Unwin (Garden Cities and Town Planning Association), London 1938.
Evidence to the Royal Commission on the Distribution of the Industrial Population: 1938. This was prepared for the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association by F. J. Osborn and presented on the 20th and 23rd days by Cecil Harmsworth (later Lord Harmsworth), Chairman and F. J. Osborn, Secretary.
Edited a series of 13 booklets on Rebuilding Britain, 1941-44 of which two were written by Osborn. The complete series (all published by Faber & Faber) is given in reference 3 to Chapter 8 [see below]. Those by Osborn are:
Green Belt Cities: The British Contribution (Faber & Faber), London 1946, second edition (Adams & Dart), Bath 1965.
New edition of Ebenezer Howard's Garden Cities of Tomorrow edited with preface by Osborn (Faber), London 1946.
Editor of Town and Country Planning (Journal of the Association), 1949-1965. Osborn generally wrote the leading articles, and a section called Planning Commentary that appeared in each issue, and many special articles. Following is a selection which includes contributions by him before and after he was editor.
Town Planning is Industry's Problem Too. The Director, January 1952.
How Subsidies Distort Housing Development. Lloyds Bank Review, April 1955.
The British New Towns Policy. Land Economics, August 1956.
Can Man Plan ? and other verses (George G. Harrap)' London 1959.
Frederic J. Osborn and Arnold Whittick: "The New Towns: the answer to Megalopolis" (Leonard Hill), 1963. Second edition 1969. Third edition with changed title: New Towns— Their Origins, Achievements and Progress, 1977.
Genesis of Welwyn Garden City. Some Jubilee Memories with Forward by Baroness Sharp (T.C.P.A.), 1970. Osborn's writing at its best although written when he was 85. (view here)
The Letters of Lewis Mumford and Frederic J. Osborn, A Transatlantic Dialogue 1938-70, edited by Michael R. Hughes (Adams & Dart), Bath 1971.
13 booklets on Rebuilding Britain, 1941-44 of which two were written by Osborn - reference 3 to Chapter 8. [see above]
The complete series, published by Faber and Faber, is as follows:
Osborn at the entrance to his house in Welwyn Garden City, 1954