The Twentieth Century Society


Welwyn – the garden city that has aged well


Welwyn Garden City, founded by Sir Ebenezer Howard in 1920, is different to Letchworth, the first Garden City. In that town, home to George Orwell who infamously lampooned its progressive residents, the architectural tone was set by the Arts and Crafts style beloved of Unwin and Parker.
But as Geoffrey Hollis writes in our latest C20 magazine, WGC’s architect and town planner Louis de Soissons favoured a neo-Georgian style, which was to open up the new City in classical spirit, with a low-density and layout in the Beaux Arts tradition, framed by an avenue called Parkway running through the centre.
Appointed in 1920, de Soissons preferred this style for the town’s housing: mostly in red brick and with sash windows. But while he and his associate Arthur Kenyon designed over half the houses in the City, some were more modern with concrete construction and flat roofs. And in WGC some extraordinary industrial buildings were also created on de Soissons’ watch, including the Shredded Wheat factory of 1924, the Roche factory of 1937 and the Murphy Radio Factory of 1954.
De Soissons became celebrated after Welwyn and went onto build cemeteries in Italy and Greece for the War Graves Commission, as well as helping to rebuild Plymouth after the war. Prompted by his WGC initiative the Beaux Arts style became fashionable – then faded as a new era of towns such as Gibberd’s Harlow emerged. But de Soissons left a great legacy in WGC where a bust in Parkway remembers his contribution ¬ and his ideas are resplendent in the new generation of garden cities currently in planning.
Full story in the magazine which you can buy from this site or join the Society and receive it free.

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3 responses to “Welwyn – the garden city that has aged well”

  1. S Bell says:

    Any tours envisaged? My wife’s father was Malcolm Sefton, Landscape Architect for the city.

  2. Susannah says:

    That’s interesting. Nothing planned at the moment but do get in touch with the office if you’d like to be involved.

  3. Robert Drake says:

    I come to this rather late but the other Plymouth church by de Soissons is the Old Church Street Baptist Chapel just off Notte St of 1958 and with a mural by Hans Feibusch covering the whole East wall of St John the Baptist baptising Christ in the river Jordan. Welwyn Garden City is covered much more comprehensively in the new Herts ‘Pevsner’ volume published in March 2019 particularly how its axial plan took shape and details of its many inter-war churches notably St Bonaventure RC church on Parkway by T H B Scott of 1926 considered but not turned down for listing under ‘Taking Stock’.

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