Noel Streatfeild is best known for her children’s book ‘Ballet Shoes’, but in 1960 she published ‘New Town’. This features the Bell family, the Reverend Alex, his wife Cathy and 4 children Paul, Jane, Ginnie and Angus. ‘New Town’ tells the story of the family moving from their London vicarage to the Crestal New Town, where the builders ‘forgot’ the civic centre. The story tells us how planning for ‘Crestal New Town Day’ (instigated by Ginnie) has a transformative effect on the otherwise disparate and lonely ‘new town’ people. With my heritage hat this simple story reminds us of the connection between the tangible and intangible, and how ‘doing’ creates meaning in the present.
The imaginary vision presented of New Towns, their problems and solutions is a light-hearted look, but one that informs our response to New Towns.
Our response to New Towns has changed over the last 50 years and is a far cry from the vision of Ebenezer Howard when he envisioned Letchworth Garden City (which was started in 1903 and was one of the first new towns).
Letchworth was also the site in 1905 of the ‘cheap (£150) cottages exhibition’ organised by St Loe Strachey (who was proprietor of the Spectator). This exhibition was significant as one the ‘big’ moments in the early 20th century interests in earth building in the UK. One the young architects who was interested in the competition was Clough Williams Ellis. Who went on to win a later competition for a cottage built in pise, he then wrote Cottage Building in Cob, Pise, Chalk and Clay (1909).
Clough Williams Ellis also married Strachey’s daughter, which handily meant his publication had a glowing introduction from his publishing-magnate father-in-law. Cottage Building in Cob, Pise, Chalk and Clay went on to inform the 1919 Amesbury Experimental Cottages, undertaken by the Building Research Station (and precursor to the BRE).
More about Letchworth on the Spatial Agency website:
And the cheap cottage exhibition through the Letchworth Garden City Museum website:
More on a ‘rereading’ of Angus Wilson’s ‘Late Call’ – (which also features some other novels about new towns):
This also led me to the brilliantly informative ‘Charley in the New Town’ – a public information film produced by the Central Office of Information for Ministry of Town and Country Planning in 1948, and directed by Halas & Batchelor.More information on via the national archives:
and BFI films on youtube: