No longer such a new town: Milton Keynes at 50

Plan of Milton Keynes

This year Milton Keynes turns 50.  Tonight BBC4 is marking this anniversary with the programme Milton Keynes and Me by Richard Macer.

Designed to provide housing for over populated London, which had been badly bombed during World War II, development of the existing village of Milton Keynes began in 1967.

Milton Keynes was part of the third wave (1967-70) of new towns, designated following the 1946 New Towns Act, which designated sites to become new towns and passed responsibility for developing them to Development Corporations.  The Milton Keynes Development Corporation was the organisation behind the development of Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire.  The Act followed the Greater London Plan of 1944, prepared by Patrick Abercrombie at the request of the Minister of Town and Country Planning, which laid out plans for how to rebuild London and deliver housing needed for the growing population, following World War II.  Other new towns in England you might be familiar with include Stevenage (1946), Bracknell (1949) and Redditch (1964).

Plan of Milton Keynes from the Milton Keynes Survey

So what does this have to do with English rural life?

Those new towns needed to be built somewhere.  Often existing settlements were expanded by building on surrounding undeveloped or agricultural land.

The Milton Keynes Survey was conducted by representatives of the Department of Agricultural Economics, at The University of Reading, in the late 1960s to early 1970s.  Files, publications, documents, press cutting and maps relating to the survey are held in the archives of the Museum of English Rural Life (reference: SR DX34).  The material in this collection was compiled by and relates to several studies they published about the impact of Milton Keynes on agriculture in the area.

Our Landscape Institute collections also hold information for researchers of new towns.  We hosted a FOLAR seminar on the topic of new towns and landscape last year.  We hold a copy of The plan for Milton Keynes published by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation in 1970.  The Plan outlines ideas around the transition of land from rural to urban usage and the impact on the environment and landscape the expansion will have.

Selection of Milton Keynes material from SR DX 34

When training to be a landscape architect in the late 1970s, Marian Thompson, chose to create a design for a lake in Milton Keynes for one of her exams, named Las Venice.  Though we do not know if the design ever went beyond her exam, the area is now called Tear Drop Lakes and is part of Loughton Valley Park.

Marian Thompson’s plan for Las Venice, Milton Keynes

The development of new towns in the mid to late twentieth century, such as Milton Keynes, brings into sharp focus the reciprocal, but sometimes conflicting relationship between urban areas and the countryside.  How do we balance the need to provide for a growing population with concerns over protecting the landscape and environment?

Claire Wooldridge and Jen Glanville

Discovering the landscape: cut it out!

Written by Claire Wooldridge, Project Librarian

Over the past few years, my colleague Jen (Landscape Institute Archivist) and I have been working to integrate the library and archive of the Landscape Institute into the collections of the Museum of English Rural Life.

The LI collections are rich and varied, including material such as books, pamphlets, periodicals, press cuttings, minutes, membership lists, financial papers, Institute publications and a slide library.

Now the time has come for me to sort out the Landscape Institute cuttings collection.

What are cuttings?

In a library context a cuttings collection is most likely to include articles cut out of newspapers or other periodicals, or press cuttings.  It is also likely that other types of ephemera will find their way into a cuttings collection, such as offprints (reprints of articles from editions of a publication), leaflets, advertisements, catalogues or posters.

A collection such as this arises from individuals cutting out relevant articles and compiling them.  So they are a kind of personally (or institutionally) curated collection.  A lot of us are likely to have done this ourselves – cutting out and keeping articles of printed material that have a personal connection or are of local interest.

Therefore we treat cuttings as a library collection, as they are culled from printed material.

The LI cuttings collection includes material from the 1960s to the early 2000s.  It includes a lot of biographical articles on leading landscape architects, especially obituaries.  This is alongside material on policy affecting the work of the landscape architect and features on particular parks, gardens and landscape projects.

Does the MERL Library hold any other cuttings?

Yes we hold a MERL Library cuttings collection which we still add to.  This is in filing cabinets in the Reading Room and is organised in a sequence based on the MERL Library subject classification scheme.

Why keep cuttings?

Cuttings can be a problem for librarians!  Their ephemeral and often flimsy nature can make their provenance difficult to attribute, while storage and organisation can also be a challenge.

Nonetheless, it is precisely the ephemeral nature of cuttings that make them so valuable to researchers.  There is no better insight into contemporary views and public opinion on landscape architects and their projects than by reading what was being written about them at the time.

Of course, a lot of this material will now be available online or elsewhere.  Still this collection is of historical interest in itself, as a record of what the Landscape Institute felt it was important to cut out and keep.

When will the cuttings be made available?

I am currently about 25% of the way through sorting the LI’s collection of hundreds of cuttings!  Thankfully I have a wonderful volunteer, Tina, who is going to help me with the project.  Together we will be numbering, listing and repackaging the cuttings.  I would hope that this project will be completed towards the end of the year, but please get in touch via merl@reading.ac.uk if you are interested in using the collection before then.

Landscape Education in the UK: past present and future

On Saturday 1 April 2017 MERL hosted a FOLAR (Friends of the Landscape Library and Archive at Reading) study day on the topic of: ‘Landscape Architecture and Management Education in the UK: past present and future’.  

The day included talks and a pop up display of archive and library material from our Landscape Institute collections.  FOLAR Chair, Penny Beckett, gives an account of the event:

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections

The best discussion we’ve had about UK landscape architecture education in a long while

So said one of those who attended the recent seminar at MERL organised by FOLAR.  Chaired by John Stuart-Murray (University of Edinburgh), this half day event had 4 speakers: Guy Baxter, the University Archivist, who spoke about the first English university course in Landscape Architecture set up at Reading in the 1930s; Jan Woudstra (University of Sheffield) on the development of English Landscape Architecture Education and after the tea break, former Reading senior lecturer Richard Bisgrove who spoke about the Landscape Management degree at Reading which ran from 1986 to 2009.

Our Archivist Guy Baxter speaking at #folar2017

The last speaker was Robert Holden (former University of Greenwich), who gave us much food for thought about the current state of landscape education in the UK. It appears to be in decline, while at the same time the demand for qualified landscape architects by employers outstrips the supply of home grown graduates. Much of the question and answer session after Robert’s talk explored why this might be the case when the situation seems very different in both the USA and other European countries. Earlier, Jan Woudstra had suggested possible reasons, citing the encroachment of ‘new’ course topics, such as ‘landscape urbanism’ into a subject area once occupied by landscape architecture alone. He mentioned too the lack of landscape research in the UK (though Sheffield boasts a healthy 45 PhD students!); the difficulty too of conveying a consistent image to the wider public, prospective students and their parents  about what the profession landscape architecture is all about. The irony is that the work of landscape professionals lies at the very heart of the current political agenda, while landscape architects and managers have long been used to the interdisciplinary working that is now essential in our 21st century world.

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections, 1930s journals

Guy Baxter’s talk made interesting links between the pre-war students at Reading and some of the members of the fledgling Institute of Landscape Architects (ILA) they helped to establish. The Institute’s archives deposited at MERL reveal the connections. The first ILA member, for example, ‘Member No. 1’ was Marjory Allen (Lady Allen of Hurtwood) the landscape architect who was an early advocate of the importance of providing for children’s play in our urban areas.

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections

Richard Bisgrove described the genesis of the BSc (Hons) in Landscape Management course he set up at Reading in 1986. It ran successfully for many years, training students who then went into various branches of the landscape profession. Lecturers on the course included Tony Kendle who later went to the Eden Project and Ross Cameron who moved to the University of Sheffield.

Selection of material from our Landscape Institute collections

One small downside of the day was that the full programme allowed little time to look at the wonderful display of archive material put out for us in MERL’s Reading Room. So to the MERL staff involved, can I offer both apologies as well as many thanks for helping to make such a thoroughly enjoyable and informative day. A video recording of the seminar itself will be posted on the FOLAR website shortly.

Penny Beckett, FOLAR Chair

You can find out more about our Landscape Institute collections, using our Reading Room, FOLAR or see tweets and Instagram posts from the event.  

 

Discovering the Landscape: Dublin of the Future (1922)

Plan of Dublin from Abercrombie's 1922 'Dublin of the future'

Plan of Dublin from Abercrombie’s 1922 ‘Dublin of the future’

This post highlights Dublin of the future: new town plan by Patrick Abercrombie, Sydney Kelly and Arthur Kelly (University of Liverpool Press, 1922) – a title from our MERL Library Landscape Institute collections with intriguing context and provenance.

Patrick Abercrombie (1879-1957) was a town planner active in the interwar period.  He played a leading role in planning for the redevelopment of a number of urban areas, such as London and Plymouth.  Abercrombie retained a love of traditional landscapes and historic towns.  His 1926 article ‘The preservation of rural England‘ published in the Town Planning Review led to the foundation of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (CPRE – of which we hold an archival collection.

Plan of Dublin from Abercrombie's 1922 'Dublin of the future'

Plan of Dublin from Abercrombie’s 1922 ‘Dublin of the future’

Plan of Dublin from Abercrombie's 1922 'Dublin of the future'

Plan of Dublin from Abercrombie’s 1922 ‘Dublin of the future’

The foreword of Dublin of the future gives us an impression of the impact contemporary events were having on the day to day life of the time.  The Civics Institute of Ireland launched a competition in 1914 to encourage plans for a ‘greater Dublin’, to stimulate innovative ideas for how the city might be developed and address its housing shortage.  The competition was won by Abercrombie, Sydney and Kelly.  The outbreak of World War I in 1914 marked the beginning of several turbulent years for the city.  In 1922, Abercrombie returned to his plans for Dublin:

The members of the Institute feel that with the recent change in National circumstances a new epoch has begun, and that the present is a most opportune time to arouse the interest of the Citizens, hence it is that the design and report prepared… in the year 1916, now appears.

T. W. Sharp signature on our copy of 'Dublin of the future'

T. W. Sharp signature on our copy of ‘Dublin of the future’

Interestingly, the copy of Dublin for the future we received from the Landscape Institute has been inscribed with the signature ‘T. W. Sharp’ on the front endpaper (left).

It seems a fair assumption that this signature belongs to Thomas (Wilfred) Sharp (1901-1978).

Thomas Sharp was a town planner and writer, who we can imagine was was inspired by Abercrombie’s work.  Sharp shared Abercrombie’s enthusiasm for the landscape and its protection (he was President of the Landscape Institute, 1949-1951).  Coming into his own as a town planner following World War II (working on towns such as Oxford, Exeter and Salisbury) that this is likely to be Sharp’s copy of Dublin is a very rewarding aspect of the provenance of the book.

Upon first opening the book – the reader is presented with a striking and unusual frontispiece (below).

'The last hour of the night' frontispiece illustrated by Harry Clarke

‘The last hour of the night’ frontispiece illustrated by Harry Clarke

On first inspection – you could almost wonder why this illustration is used as a frontispiece in a publication largely about the technicalities of town planning. Harry Clarke (1889-1931) was born in Dublin and worked as a book illustrator and stained-glass artist.  Clarke was also a prominent figure in the Arts and Crafts movement in Ireland.

Clarke’s The last hour of the night makes plain to the reader the damage incurred by the city during the preceding years of war and battles for independence.  It is a haunting image that alludes to the challenge faced by Abercrombie and his team to rebuild, redevelop and reinvigorate the city.

Few towns have suffered a change, physical and psychological,  during these intervening years of war, trade boom and subsequent depression: but Dublin has added the double tragedy of war and civil war within her gates.

(Dublin of the future, p. ix). 

You can see Dublin of the future in full here.

Find our more about our Landscape Institute collections here.

Questions?  Then please get in touch with us at merl@reading.ac.uk

Claire Wooldridge: Project Librarian (Landscape Institute) 

Discovering the Landscape #23: New Towns, Landscape and Gordon Patterson

Guest post written by Penny Beckett, Chair of FOLAR

MERL is to host FOLAR’s third AGM and Study Session: New Towns, Landscape and Gordon Patterson – Celebrating mid 20C Design on Saturday 19 March 2016.  MERL staff will mount an exhibition of related New Town material selected from the Landscape Institute’s archive and from other collections held at MERL, including the CPRE and Land Settlement archives.

The theme of the afternoon study session (and exhibition), is to shed light on various aspects of twentieth century New Town design and planning and explore how the ideas generated last century can help inform the designs of such new settlements in the 21st Century.

Click here for more info & to book.

Boys fishing on the lake at Stevenage Town Gardens. Copyright HALS.

Boys fishing on the lake at Stevenage Town Gardens. Copyright HALS.

FOLAR has an impressive line up of speakers:

 

Elain Harwood: Housing, Traffic and Landscape – detailed urban planning in the New Towns.

Senior architectural advisor at Heritage England (HE), Elain is responsible for post war research and listing programme and has been an active member of the Twentieth Century Society for many years.  Her most recent book Space, Hope & Brutalism; English Architecture 1945-1975, was published by Yale University Press in 2015, and she is currently working on a book for HE about English New Towns.  

Radburn planning at Brontë Paths, Stevenage, 1962. Image Elain Harwood

Radburn planning at Brontë Paths, Stevenage, 1962. Image: Elain Harwood

Tom Turner: Landscape planning for London and the New Towns in the 1940s (talk and video).

A landscape architect and garden historian, for many years Tom taught at the University of Greenwich.  He is a firm believer in the need for open and vigorous debate on all aspects of landscape architecture and garden design.  In 1998 he launched www.gardenvisit.com and in 2015, with Robert Holden, he launched the website of the Landscape Architects Association to promote the profession’s capabilities.  Tom’s presentation will include a short film, drawing on his books, Landscape planning, 1987, and City as landscape, 1996, and making a recommendation for a landscape urbanism approach to the design of new towns in the 21st century.

London’s Green Belt and proposed location of New Towns. Image: Tom Turner

London’s Green Belt and proposed location of New Towns. Image: Tom Turner

Oliver Rock: Landscape without Boundaries.

Rock is a landscape architect with HTA Landscape Design practice.  In 2011, the practice won the Landscape Institute’s Heritage & Conservation Award for their restoration of Stevenage Town Gardens.  

View of Lake, Stevenage Town Gardens, c. 1960. Copyright HALS.

View of Lake, Stevenage Town Gardens, c. 1960. Copyright HALS.

These gardens were originally designed (1959-61) by Gordon Patterson.  As the award citation puts it, HTA’s design ‘captures some of the optimism and civic spirit of the original (design) while ensuring the gardens remain relevant today’. Oliver will also be talking about the practice’s current restoration of Hemel Water Gardens, a scheme originally designed by Geoffrey Jellicoe.  

Restored lake, Stevenage Town Gardens, 2011. Copyright Tim Crocker.

Restored lake, Stevenage Town Gardens, 2011. Copyright Tim Crocker.

FOLAR hopes that Gordon Patterson, for many years the landscape architect for Stevenage New Town will be able to join us. His archive is one of the latest additions to the Landscape Institute’s collections at MERL.

From the Land Settlement Association Archives at MERL. CR_3LSA_PH1_A_15_1

From the Land Settlement Association Archives at MERL. (CR_3LSA_PH1_A_15_1)

Lastly, Caroline Gould, the University’s deputy archivist will be talking about the New Town related material from other special collections held at MERL, including the CPRE and Land Settlement archives.

For further details and to book for the FOLAR study session and exhibition email: info@folar.uk or click here.  Tickets for the FOLAR study session and exhibition: £10.  Bookings are limited so please book early.

Town and Country: William Shenstone & Leasowes Park

Written by Adam Koszary, Project Officer for Our Country Lives.

Halesowen's Leasowes Park in the winter.

Halesowen’s Leasowes Park in the winter.

How interdependent are town and country? How do they rely on each other, and where does one end and the other begin? It is a theme we’re exploring in great detail for Our Country Lives and, considering around 90% of English people live in urban areas, a very relevant one. I wasn’t expecting, however, that my own town would ever factor into the discussion. Halesowen is part of the Dudley borough in the West Midlands. It is decidedly post-industrial and urban, despite sitting on the edge of a greenbelt. However, it also has a wooded, scenic park at its heart which began as one of the first landscaped estates in the country, perhaps even the world. Begun in 1743, Leasowes Park has managed to weather industrial revolution (including having a canal run through it), its encirclement by the West Midlands conurbation, a golf course development and the infamous town planners of the mid-20th century.

An aerial view of Halesowen, with Leasowes Park in the upper right corner.

An aerial view of Halesowen, with Leasowes Park in the upper right corner.

It was designed and built by William Shenstone (1714-1763), who began modelling the Leasowes estate on scenes inspired by pastoral poetry when he inherited the land as a dairy farm. His ashes are now contained in a sizable urn displayed in the Norman parish church of St John, and for his trouble also has a Wetherspoons named after him. Shenstone was among the first to conceive of a garden as a curated journey, pacing walks around the estate with built features and enriching the views with quotations from classical authors as well as his own writings (we have collections of his work in the University’s Special Collections). His Elegy XXI, written in 1746, could very well have reflected his vision for Leasowes:

Lord of my time, my devious path I bend

Thro’ fringy woodland, or smooth-shaven lawn,

Or pensile grove, or airy cliff ascend,

And hail the scene by Nature’s pencil drawn.[1]

The University of Reading holds Shenstone's books of poetry.

The University of Reading holds Shenstone’s books of poetry.

Leasowes still contains fringy woodland, smooth-shaven lawns and pensile groves, but he combined this natural landscaping with romantic structures such as urns, bridges and even a ruined Priory, constructed from the rose-red sandstone nicked from the ruins of Halesowen Abbey. Visitors came from far and wide to visit this landscape garden, helped in part by printed engravings which attracted figures such as Prime Minister William Pitt, Benjamin Franklin and American president Thomas Jefferson. A friend of Shenstone wrote:

‘Born to a very small paternal estate, which his ancestors cultivated for a subsistence, he embellished it for his amusement; and that in so good a taste, as to attract the notice, not only of the neighbouring gentry and nobility, but almost of every person in the kingdom, who either had, or affected to have, any relish of rural beauties: so that no one came to see the noble and delightful seat of Lord Lyttelton at Hagley, who did not visit with proportionable delight the humbler charms of the Leasowes.’[2]

4505015163_8729283651_zThe estate also had a profound effect on the burgeoning English landscape style, and particularly so on Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, whose tercentenary we will be celebrating in 2016. Landscape Architecture holds particular interest for MERL as we hold the Landscape Institute’s archives. The Institute was founded only in 1929, and work to improve the planning and design of the urban and rural landscape, so we’re delighted to hold their fascinating archives and library.

Leasowes remains a popular attraction for the local area, providing an oasis of natural calm sandwiched between dual carriageways. It was on one of these dual carriageways recently when I had the juxtaposed views of the Black Country sprawl spread out on my left, and on my right a horse grazing in woodland. Horses are a recent addition thanks to a recent HLF grant that has brought the park back to its original form, restoring paths, cascades and reintroducing cattle as well as horses.

A 1748 engraving of Leasowes Park, and the recent restoration of the cascades on the right.

A 1748 engraving of Leasowes Park, and the recent restoration of the cascades on the right.

It is in this way that the Leasowes estate encapsulates for me the strange relationship between town and country. Shenstone’s designs are an idealised, man-made manifestation of landscape, and one which pre-empts the long development of English gardens and country estates. When built, Leasowes was an escape into pastoral fantasy but now, trapped in a town, it is for many people the only countryside they know. The idea of the countryside can mean many things to different people – it could be a place of work, a place of relaxation, a place of sport; it could be down the road, it could be half an hour away; it could be local farmland, it could just be a local park; and for some few people, it is something they have only ever seen on television. Exploring what the countryside means to different people through how we view and perceive it is something we are exploring in great detail as part of Our Country Lives, and for me Leasowes Park is a perfect case study.

[1] Shenstone, W., ‘Elegy XXI’, The Poetical Works of William Shenstone, Esq., London: Alexander Donaldson (1775).

[2] Graves, R., Recollection of some particulars in the life of the late William Shenstone, Esq., London: J Dodsley (1788).