An exhibition first displayed at Hertfordshire Archives
Ebenezer Howard was born in London in 1850 and educated at various places including for a short time in Cheshunt in Hertfordshire. He spent most of his working life as a shorthand writer (some of it in America), having taught himself the subject in his spare time. Through his work for the Royal Commission on Labour in the 1880s he became acquainted with many leading figures of the day and found widespread concern at the conditions in which many people lived and worked. This awakened his interest in creating a better environment for the working man and his family. In 1899 he formed the Garden City Association and societies for encouraging the formation of garden cities were established in many countries in Europe and in the USA.
Howard was also a part-time inventor but sadly his designs for a shorthand typewriter never made him a rich man. He continued to work up to the age of 70. Among his other skills, he became proficient in Esperanto. He was awarded the OBE in 1924 and was knighted three years later. He died at his home in Guessens Road Welwyn Garden City in 1928.
Many issues interested Howard:- unemployment, homelessness, spiritualism. Above all he was a deeply religious man. His ideas for a garden city, its housing and method for financing it were developed as a way of relieving the problems of unemployment and overcrowding in inner city slums. He was a member of the Fabian Society and a much sought after public speaker. His surviving lecture notes, often in shorthand, chart the development of his garden city ideals very closely.
Howard’s pioneering book Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform was published in 1898. In it he set out his ideas for the planned development of garden cities, each with a maximum population of 32,000 and surrounded by an agricultural belt. Each garden city should be self-contained for employment and social facilities, and six cities would form a cluster round a ‘Central City’ with a population of 58,000. All the cities would be linked to each other by a radial railway network.
A rural site of 3,818 acres was purchased by the Pioneer Company in north Hertfordshire and the first garden city was created in Letchworth in 1903. Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker were the architects of the Letchworth plan and designed many of its buildings.
Its principles have been widely copied all over the world and interest in the garden city movement is as strong as ever.
The Howard Papers
Three boxes of papers were deposited with Hertfordshire Archives in 1965 by Mr D G Howard, Ebenezer’s grandson. They have been through many hands since 1928 when they were inherited by Arthur Howard after his father’s death. One of the most notable was Sir Frederic Osborn, a fellow campaigner with Howard and his successor as garden city champion. Osborn left many pencil notes on the papers, and appears to have classified them by numbering them in blue crayon. The papers as they survive now in Hertfordshire Archives do not form as complete a series as Osborn must have seen – he loaned many of them to C B Purdom amongst others and it is clear from his notes that one or two items were never returned.
Many of these papers are written in Howard’s shorthand. A group of volunteers met regularly in Welwyn Garden City Library to transcribe this shorthand. The results of their work are being published on this website.