Ebenezer Howard

Ebenezer Howard

Sir Ebenezer Howard OBE (/ˌɛbˈnzər ˈhərd/; 29 January 1850[1] – 1 May 1928[2]), the English founder of the garden city movement, is known for his publication To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898), the description of a utopian city in which people live harmoniously together with nature. The publication resulted in the founding of the garden city movement, and the building of the First Garden City, Letchworth Garden City, commenced in 1903. The second true Garden City was Welwyn Garden City (1920) and the movement influenced the development of several model suburbs in other countries, such as Forest Hills Gardens designed by F. L. Olmsted Jr. in 1909,[3] Radburn NJ (1923) and the Suburban Resettlement Program towns of the 1930s (Greenbelt, Maryland; Greenhills, Ohio; Greenbrooke, New Jersey and Greendale, Wisconsin).[4] Howard aimed to reduce the alienation of humans and society from nature, and hence advocated garden cities[5] and Georgism.[6][7][8] Howard is believed by many to be one of the great guides to the town planning movement, with many of his garden city principles being used in modern town planning.[5][9]

Early life

Howard was born in Fore Street, City of London, the son of Ebenezer Howard (1818–1900), a baker,[10] and Ann (née Tow, born 1818). He was sent to schools in Suffolk and Hertfordshire. Howard left school at 15 and began working as a stenographer in London.[5] Howard subsequently had several clerical jobs, including one with Dr Parker of the City Temple. In 1871, at the age of 21, influenced partly by a farming uncle, Howard emigrated with two friends to America. He went to Nebraska, and after his farming efforts failed, discovered he did not wish to be a farmer.[5] He then relocated to Chicago and worked as a reporter for the courts and newspapers. In the US he became acquainted with, and admired, poets Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Howard began to ponder ways to improve the quality of life.

Later life

By 1876 he was back in England, where he found a job with Hansard company, which produces the official verbatim record of Parliament, and he spent the rest of his life in this occupation. Howard's time in parliament exposed him to ideas about social reform, and helped inspire his ideas for the Garden City.[5] In August 1879 he married Eliza Ann Bills. Howard has been described as a humble and practical inventor who used his spare time to create outlines of new cities.[5] It was the social milieu of the 1800s which led Howard to consider the social problems of the time and try to find alternatives.[5] Howard mingled with free thinkers, anarchists and socialists, whose revolutionary and reforming ideas greatly influenced him.[5]

Following the death of his wife Eliza Ann Bills (1853–1904) in 1907 he married Edith Annie Hayward (1864–1941), who ended her days as Edith, Lady Howard, and with whom he is buried in Letchworth Cemetery.

Influences and ideas

The original Garden City concept by Ebenezer Howard, 1902.

Howard read widely, including Edward Bellamy's 1888 utopian novel, Looking Backward, and Henry George's economic treatise, Progress and Poverty, and thought much about social issues. He disliked the way modern cities were being developed and thought people should live in places that should combine the best aspects of both cities and the countryside.[5]


The only publication he wrote in his life was titled To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, which was significantly revised in 1902 as Garden Cities of To-morrow. Garden Cities of To-morrow was based on ideas of social and urban reform.[5] Garden Cities were to avoid the downfalls of industrial cities of the time such as urban poverty, overcrowding, low wages, dirty alleys with no drainage, poorly ventilated houses, toxic substances, dust, carbon gases, infectious disease and lack of interaction with nature,.[5][11] This book offered a vision of towns free of slums and enjoying the benefits of both town (such as opportunity, amusement and good wages) and country (such as beauty, fresh air and low rents). He illustrated the idea with his famous Three Magnets diagram (pictured), which addressed the question 'Where will the people go?', the choices being 'Town', 'Country' or 'Town-Country'. Garden Cities of Tomorrow proposed that society be reorganised with networks of garden cities that would break the strong hold of capitalism and lead to cooperative socialism.[12]

It proposed the creation of new suburban towns of limited size, planned in advance, and surrounded by a permanent belt of agricultural land. These Garden cities were used as the model for many suburbs. Howard believed that such Garden Cities were the perfect blend of city and nature.Howard believed that a new civilisation could be found by marrying the town and the country.[5] The towns would be largely independent, managed by the citizens who had an economic interest in them, and financed by ground rents on the Georgist model. The land on which they were to be built was to be owned by a group of trustees and leased to the citizens.

While many believe the diagrams and designs in Howard's Garden Cities of Tomorrow to be a physical plan for the perfect garden city, Howard notes these to be merely suggestive as each city should be planned to be organised as per the needs of the people and their environment.[5] Howard never intended for garden cities to be circular like his diagrams.[5]


Howard's 'three magnets' diagram
The grave of Ebenezer Howard in Letchworth Cemetery

In 1899 he founded the Garden Cities Association, known now as the Town and Country Planning Association.

By his association with Henry Harvey Vivian and the co-partnership housing movement his ideas attracted enough attention and funding to begin Letchworth Garden City, a suburban garden city 37 miles north of London. A second garden city, Welwyn Garden City, was started after World War I.

His acquaintance with German architects Hermann Muthesius and Bruno Taut resulted in the application of humane design principles in many large housing projects built in the Weimar Republic. Hermann Muthesius also played an important role in the creation of Germany's first garden city of Hellerau in 1909, the only German garden city where Howard's ideas were thoroughly adopted.

The creation of Letchworth Garden City and Welwyn Garden City were influential for the development of "New Towns" after World War II by the British government. This produced more than 30 communities, the first being Stevenage, Hertfordshire (about halfway between Letchworth and Welwyn), and the last (and largest) being Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. Howard's ideas also influenced other planners such as Frederick Law Olmsted II and Clarence Perry. Walt Disney used elements of Howard's concepts in his original design for EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow).

In 1913 Howard founded the 'Garden Cities and Town Planning Association' – presently the International Federation for Housing and Planning. Its goal was to promote the concept of planned housing and to improve the general standard of the profession by the international exchange of knowledge and experience.

Howard was an enthusiastic speaker of Esperanto, often using the language for his speeches.[13]

Howard is buried in a modest grave in Letchworth Cemetery with his second wife Edith Annie, Lady Howard.

Letchworth Garden City

Main article: Letchworth

Letchworth was developed and owned by a company called First Garden City, Ltd which was formed in 1903, based on the ideas of Howard.[14] After Howard's book was published he worked to gain financial support to bring his ideas into reality, Howard ran lectures on Garden Cities and began the Garden City Association.[14] The Garden City Association collected money from supporters, his supporters tended to be people who were impressed by the social justice element of the Garden City.[14] The Letchworth estate which was agricultural land, was purchased from 15 individual owners.[14] The Letchworth estate lies on a train line and is only 35 miles from London, making commuting possible.[14]

The original land on which Letchworth was built cost the First Garden City, Ltd £160,378 and covered 3826 acres. However, more land was purchased and the property increased to 4710 acres.[14] The Letchworth garden city was to sustain a population of between 30,000 and 35,000 people, and would be laid out as Howard explained in his book.[14] There would be a central town, agricultural belt, shops, factories, residences, civic centres and open spaces, this division of land for specific purposes is now referred to as zoning and is an important practice within town planning.[14]

Howard constructed Letchworth as an example of how the Garden City could be achieved, and hoped that in its success many other towns would be built emulating the same ideals.[14] Some criticisms of Letchworth exist, claims that it is too spacious and there are few architecturally impressive designs. However, it can be argued the space is what makes Letchworth pleasant, and the architecture, while not highly impressive and uniform, has consistency of colour and is satisfying to the needs of the people.[14]

Welwyn Garden City

Main article: Welwyn Garden City

Welwyn was an area of woodlands and open fields before the garden city was constructed.[15] Welwyn was Howard's second Garden City after Letchworth.[16] Howard purchased the land with £5000 borrowed from friends.[15] Welwyn is only 20 miles from London, and captured the charm of the countryside and managed to stay unspoiled by urbanisation.[15] The architecture in Welwyn has been described as pleasant, and the residential cottages with their wide roads and open spaces make Welwyn a refreshing picture when compared to London of the time.[15]

After 10 years of existence Welwyn had a population of 10,000, with well-established residential, industrial and commercial zones.[15] In 1930 the health of Welwyn inhabitants was considered greater than those living in London, as Welwyn recorded lower death rates and infant mortality rates.[15] The increased health in Welwyn was understood to be due to the principles of the Garden City.[15]

It could be argued that Welwyn fell short of Howard's ideals, Howard wanted investors to invest for the sake of philanthropy, but investors wanted returns and local democracy failed with an exclusive government group formed.[9] Finally, Welwyn was marketed as a middle class commuter suburb, entirely disrespecting the garden city ideals of a self-reliant city.[9]


Howard was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1924[17] and a Knight Bachelor in 1927.[18]

Family members

His great-granddaughter is the actor, dancer and TV personality Una Stubbs;[19] other direct descendants of Howard include his cricket manager grandson Geoffrey Howard, as well as another great-granddaughter, the poet and publisher Joy Bernadine Howard.

Diagrams from the 1898 edition

Diagrams from the 1922 edition

See also


  1. Penguin Pocket On This Day. Penguin Reference Library. 2006. ISBN 0-14-102715-0.
  2. (1933) Enciklopedio de Esperanto
  3. Klaus, Susan (2002). A Modern Acadia. The University of Massachusetts Press. pp. Preface. ISBN 1-55849-314-X.
  4. Stern, Robert (1981). The Anglo American Suburb. London: Architectural Design Profile. pp. 84, 85. ISBN 0-312-03717-1.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Clark, B 2003, 'Ebenezer Howard and the marriage of town and country', Archives of Organizational and Environmental Literature, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 87–97.
  6. Steuer, Max (June 2000). "REVIEW ARTICLE A hundred years of town planning and the influence of Ebenezer Howard". The British Journal of Sociology. 51 (2): 377–386. doi:10.1111/j.1468-4446.2000.00377.x. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  7. Meacham, Standish (1999). Regaining Paradise: Englishness and the Early Garden City Movement. Yale University Press. pp. 50–53. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  8. Purdom, Charles Benjamin (1963). The Letchworth Achievement. p. 1. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  9. 1 2 3 March, A 2004, 'Democratic dilemmas, planning and Ebenezer Howard's Garden City', Planning Perspectives, vol. 19, pp. 409–433.
  10. Hibbert, Christopher; Ben Weinreb; John Keay; Julia Keay. (2010). The London Encyclopaedia. London: Pan Macmillan. p. 304. ISBN 978-0-230-73878-2.
  11. Livesey, G 2011, 'Assemblage theory, gardens and the legacy of the early Garden City movement', Urbanism, vol. 15, no. 3, pp.271–278.
  12. Fishman, R 1977, Urban utopias in the twentieth century: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier, Basic Books, New York.
  13. "The creation of Esperanto Association of Britain"
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Bonham-Carter, E 1951, 'Planning and development of Letchworth garden city', Town Planning Review, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 362–376.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 British Medical Journal 1930, 'Ten years of Welwyn Garden City', The British Medical Journal, vol. 1, no. 3625, pp. 1184.
  16. British Medical Journal 1930
  17. London Gazette (supplement), No. 32941, 30 May 1924. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  18. London Gazette (supplement), No. 33235, 31 December 1926. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  19. "Una Stubbs". Who Do You Think You Are?. Series 10. Episode 1. 24 July 2013. BBC Television. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
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