Saturday, 25 March 2017

Happy 70th Birthday Harlow New Town

Wow Harlow you are 70! Harlow New Town received its designation 70 years ago today although building didn't start until 1949.

My first memory of Harlow goes back to the late 1960’s when my dad was General Manager of a car dealership in The Pinnacles. It was a modern, light showroom and I remember that on a Saturday if I went into work with him I was allowed to work the switchboard which was not easy back then…lots of cords and holes ..... 

There were family events for the staff including Bonfire Night fireworks with sausages and jacket potatoes on the wasteland at the back of the dealership. We would also shop in Harlow with its still new Town Square and a very large CO OP that sold clothes. The Pinnacles itself is a wide road flanked on each side with factories and light industry and I distinctly remember the Sandeman's port factory as well as a large biscuit manufacturer.

That was the Harlow I remember from my childhood and a place I didn’t really explore again until my eldest son started sixth form college there in 2007. I didn’t realise how young Harlow was when I first went there and how innovative a scheme it was.

Harlow New Town was created out of necessity after WW2 to provide homes and work for people whose homes and places of work had been destroyed by bombings. The Master Plan was drawn up in 1947 by Sir Frederick Gibberd who became a resident of Harlow. His garden can be visited between April and September. 

Gibberd encouraged up and coming architects to submit plans to the Harlow Development Corporation for this scheme and names such as Powell, Moya, Fry and Drew made their mark. Gibberd himself designed The Lawn in 1951 which was the first residential tower block in the United Kingdom. Harlow was designed in a series of neighbourhoods which provided schools, shops, places of worship and healthcare.

Companies such as Gilbey’s Gin moved their operations and a majority of their workforce out to this shiny New Town in the early 1960’s. Gilbey’s a centuries old company had previously been in Camden on a site that covered over 20 acres.  

What I hadn’t appreciated back then was that Harlow was also known as sculpture town as it had over 70 pieces by leading sculptors on public display. Not many towns can boast having pieces Henry Moore alongside Elisabeth Frink, Barbara Hepworth, William Mitchell and Auguste Rodin.
My favourite piece is by Willi Soukop and is simply called Donkey. He is tiny and hidden on a grassy patch between two rows of houses.   

A very Happy Birthday to the Harlow Not So New Town     

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