Raymond Unwin and Garden Suburbs

The architecture of the Garden Suburb was strongly influenced by the cottage architecture of southern England. In fact the bricks and tiles were manufactured (by a co-operative firm) in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire, and it was Letchworth - founded in 1903 - that had set the architectural pattern for co-partnership housing schemes all over England.

Because of the similarity with Letchworth, many people referred to the Wavertree estate, in the early days, as a 'Garden City', but this was very definitely a misnomer. For true Garden Cities were the idea of a housing reformer called Ebenezer Howard. He had visited 'model' industrial villages like Cadbury's Bournville (in Birmingham) and Lever's Port Sunlight (on Merseyside) and been impressed by their spacious layout and wide range of social facilities. His dream was of a series of free-standing Garden Cities - combining the benefits of town and country, but the disadvantages of neither - where the residents would have not only decent houses to live in but also recreational facilities and a choice of employers close at hand.

In the event - largely owing to the difficulty of attracting firms away from the established centres of population - only two such Garden Cities were ever established: at Letchworth and Welwyn. But other reformers, including Henry Vivian, seized the chance to build 'garden city type' housing on the edge of existing towns and cities, leaving the residents to commute to work by bus, tram and train. Ebenezer Howard was not pleased, for suburban sprawl was the very thing which he had sought to avoid.

Now turn right from Southway, into Nook Rise. The roadside trees in Southway and Nook Rise are one of the most attractive features of the estate, and those responsible for planting the saplings in 1911 would surely be very pleased to see how they have matured. In fact some of these people may still be alive today, for in Nook Rise each tree was planted and looked after by a child living nearby.

Walk along Nook Rise as far as the crossroads in the middle, where two cul-de-sacs meet. The cul-de-sac was a popular feature of Garden Suburbs, firstly because it gave a 'sense of community' to those living within it, and secondly because it saved money on road construction. Economic arguments such as this were put forward very strongly by one of the key figures in the Garden Suburb movement: Raymond Unwin, the town planner responsible for the layout of Letchworth in 1904, Hampstead Garden Suburb (probably the best-known example in England) in 1906, and this first section of Wavertree Garden Suburb in 1910.

In 1912 Unwin published an influential pamphlet called 'Nothing Gained by Overcrowding', arguing the case for low-density house-building. One of his principles was that recreation grounds should be hidden away behind the houses rather than laid out along road frontages, and this is well illustrated here. For at the head of the right-hand cul-de-sac is a gate leading to the Suburb's bowling green and tennis courts, the existence of which is little-known except to club members and residents.

The above is an extract from 'DISCOVERING HISTORIC WAVERTREE',
. © Mike Chitty 1999.

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Page created by MRC 26 February 2000.