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An Examination of the Origins and Sources of Humberstone Garden Suburb, Leicester, (1907-1914)

By M D Forrester, BA (Hons), Leicester Polytechnic, 1984

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This dissertation was written as the result of a promise to elderly inhabitants of Humberstone Garden Suburb, whose parents created the community, and who feared that their short history might well die with them. Research has revealed that the ideology and impetus that created Humberstone Garden Suburb in the early twentieth century are closely linked with, and form a continuing part of, certain ideas, experiences and empirical experiments of the nineteenth century.

The history of co-operation within a defined community goes back, in England, to Saxon and Norman villages and, in central Europe, to communities experimenting with communism during the Reformation. The philosophical idea of the ordered community can be traced from Plato’s Republic, through New Atlantis and Sir Thomas More’s Utopia to Robert Owen’s A New View of Society of 1813. During the nineteenth century, the ideology emerged from theories and fiction into practical fact, culminating in two successful pioneer communities at the turn of the century: Letchworth, the First Garden City (1903) and Ealing, Brentham Garden Suburb (1905-7). Ealing, chiefly the work of Henry Vivian, was the ‘blue-print’ for all co-partnership communities, of which Humberstone Garden Suburb was the first in the provinces.

Chapter One outlines the history of Humberstone Garden Suburb from its inception to 1984. The founders, the Anchor Boot and Shoe Production Company, are introduced in their historical and social context.

In Chapter Two, Robert Owen’s faith in communitarian principles, co-operation and co-partnership in industry are explored because they are seminal to the growth of the co-operative movement and because co-partnership ideals were a feature of Humberstone Garden Suburb. The origins of industrial villages for factory workers are also traced since these communities gave practical demonstration to many of Owen’s communitarian principles.

Chapter Three examines the contemporary sources of the suburb, looking at Ebenezer Howard’s garden city movement, which incorporated land, housing and town planning reform. Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin planned the layout of Letchworth Garden City and the Garden Suburbs at Hampstead, Brentham and Humberstone. Parallels are drawn between the philosophical outlooks of Howard, Vivian and Unwin.

In the final chapter, four, the suburb is examined under thematic headings arising from the first three chapters:

  1. Was the suburb utopian in practice?
  2. The importance of village imagery and sense of environment.
  3. Nature as morally regenerative as well as useful to man, and housing reform generally.

The Conclusion summarises the thoughts and activities containing the communitarian thread from Owen in the early nineteenth century to the success of co-operative, co-partnership communities at the beginning of the twentieth century, and points to queries and anomalies that arise from the investigation.

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