Ebenezer Howard had a vision that would end the poverty and slum conditions suffered by so many in the late Victorian era. Howard dreamed of ´Garden Cities´, where the best elements of town and country would be combined and the profits from the town would be used to benefit ordinary townspeople.
Howard outlined his philosophy in his book, ´Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform´, published in 1898 (reissued in 1902 as ´Garden Cities of Tomorrow´). This became the catalyst for Letchworth Garden City.
Letchworth, the world´s first garden city, is the embodiment of Howard´s dream and continues to represent a potent model for community design as it enters its second century. First Garden City Limited was formed in 1903 and invited a number of architects to submit ´Master Plans´ for the Letchworth Estate, and selected the scheme created by Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin. In 1905, the Cheap Cottages Exhibition attracted wide publicity for the garden city and demonstrated that sound housing could be provided at a cost of just £150 per dwelling. The exhibition attracted 60,000 people and its success prompted a second exhibition in 1907. As Letchworth flourished, roads were planted with individual species of tree and arbour days celebrated the bloom of a particular variety, were a feature of pre-1914 social life. Indeed, the years 1904-14 were a golden age for Letchworth and accounts made by early pioneers describe a new beginning and a great feeling of community spirit. Regrettably, the First World War disrupted development and plans for a number of public buildings on the Broadway never materialised. However, the 1920´s witnessed Letchworth´s re-emergence and between 1924 and 1926 alone, fifty new shops were opened.
After 1945, the First Garden City Limited began to generate large profits which were reinvested into improving the town. A hostile takeover bid from property speculators Hotel York Limited in the 1960´s led to a Private Members Bill through Parliament to protect the town resulting in the creation of Letchworth Garden City Corporation. In 1995, the Corporation was wound up and its powers were transferred to a new body the Letchworth Garden City Foundation, which continues to safeguard the unique qualities and architecture of the town.
The important industrial architecture of Letchworth includes the spectacular Spirella building.Combining Arts and Crafts styling with a reinforced concrete frame, the so-called ´Factory of Beauty´ was constructed in three phases between 1912 and 1920. It was the UK manufacturing base of the American manufacturer William Wallace Kincaid, who built the factory after learning of the Garden city and its founder Ebenezer Howard. The Spirella Building has a small coffee lounge and shop on the ground floor, open to the public in normal office hours. The factory produced corsets and became internationally famous. A luxurious ballroom still exists on the top floor of the building.
The world´s first road Roundabout is located in Letchworth on Sollershott East.
The First Garden City Heritage Museum tells the story of the Garden City Movement from its origins to the present day. It is housed in a beautiful and unique building designed in 1907 by the architect Barry Parker. You can visit Barry Parker’s office, filled with hand-made Arts and Crafts furniture and enjoy the temporary exhibitions programme, which explores the social history of Letchworth Garden City.