The foundations of a Garden Village were laid down by Joseph Rowntree in 1901 when he acquired 123 acres of land near the village of Earswick outside York. In 1902, he commissioned the established partnership of Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin to become the architects for the village of New Earswick.
Joseph Rowntree’s guiding principles can be seen in his insistence that he did not ‘want to establish communities bearing the stamp of charity’. He wanted residents of his model village to develop ‘a sense of civil responsibility’ and so, in 1907, The Village Council was formed, to manage the Folk Hall and develop a ‘civic spirit’ in the village.
To oversee and fund the creation of New Earswick, Joseph Rowntree set up a Trust in 1904. Its priority was to create a community of improved dwellings, with sufficient facilities to encourage residents in living “full and healthy lives”. From the beginning, New Earswick was regarded as experimental. Designs pioneered there were used in the later Parker and Unwin ‘Garden Communities’ in Hampstead Garden Suburb and Letchworth.
House rents were fixed so that they would be within the means of working people while at the same time bringing in a modest commercial return on the capital invested. Tenancies in the village were not restricted to Rowntree employees but were open to anyone who “worked with their hands or their minds”. In the first building phase, lasting from 1901 until 1915, 175 houses were built in pairs or short terraces.
Each house had a garden with fruit trees and enough ground to grow vegetables. Green space in the village was safeguarded by the Trust Deed of the Village Trust. Roads were named after trees and houses built of local brick from the nearby brickworks. The Primary School was opened in 1912 by the Minister of Education in recognition of its novel open air design. In 1908, the Folk Hall was completed for use as a community centre.
In 1914, Raymond Unwin was appointed Chief Town Planning Inspector to the national Local Government Board. He was responsible for producing a Housing Manual for implementation of the ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ campaign in 1919 for returning servicemen. In the section of the Manual illustrating model house types, all three house plans developed at New Earswick were included as prototypes. In the following years, as the ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ scheme developed into state-aided housing provision, the three prototype plans from the Manual were widely adopted for use on Council Housing estates in Britain.
Building continued in New Earswick after the First World War. Various innovative schemes were tried out or introduced, including bungalow builds and the creation of cul-de-sacs. In 1950, the brick ponds used for early phases of building were developed into a nature reserve. The so-called ‘Swedish flats’ were constructed in the 1960s. New Earswick has continued to develop and today it comprises over 1000 homes, together with two schools, a range of sports facilities and local shops.
The Village Trust changed its name to the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Trust in 1959 and eventually, in 1990, became the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. In response to increasing life expectancy across the twentieth century, the Trust took responsibility for developing the Hartrigg Oaks retirement community at the edge of New Earswick in the late 1990s.
Today, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation works with the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust (JRHT), a registered housing association and care provider in York and north-east England, to support local communities and inspire social change. The JRHT has plans to build 1,000 new homes across the next 10 years.
Gillian Darley, Villages of Vision, Paladin Granada Publishing (1978)
Alison Sinclair, ‘Early House-planning at New Earswick’, York Historian, Volume 21; Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society (2004)
Lewis Waddilove, One Man’s Vision: The story of the Joseph Rowntree Village Trust, George Allen and Unwin (1954)
John Boughton, Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing, Verso (2018)
See also the downloads on this page:
– A timeline of New Earswick, written and compiled by the Rowntree Society and available in hard-copy for sale at £3, or available at the Folk Hall.
-An early pamphlet about New Earswick.
-Text of the speech given by Joseph Rowntree on the occasion of the opening of the Folk Hall.