please empty your brain below

Passing by Harlow is one of my favourite activities, but each time I do I am reminded of the classic quote: Jean Harlow - "Say - aren't you Margot Asquith?" Margot Asquith - "Yes Dear, But the t is silent, as in Harlow."

Did you make it as far as Parndon Mill? It's in a lovely spot just outside Harlow, and is home to various artists studios.

There is an old church next to it with the grave of Hester, a West Indian slave, who was brought to Britain by a local family in the 18thC.

Those 60's planners were bonkers. Their grand scheme seems to have been to eradicate London, shipping everyone off to places like Harlow and even further afield. All that would be left would be central shops, offices, urban motorways, and a few scattered tower blocks here and there for the people who refused to leave. Was 1950s London really so awful that it needed to be shut down?

I was born in Harlow, but left for t'North before I was two. I've only been back once, when I was about seven, and can't remember anything about it. This article is a good prompt to pay it a visit, if only to see what I escaped from (and to surprise the man at the museum again).

While I'm on this, the Stevenage museum is pretty similar - no-one seems to go in, but it tells a fascinating story about the development of the New Town. Pity these little museums will probably go in the next round of cuts.

Max 1950s London was really awful!

Harlow is pleasant and full of sculpture and art, although my mate did a website called which was less than polite. I think he may have taken it down.

But was it so bad that evacuation rather than repair was the only answer, or had the planners and architects been drinking too much Cachaça in Brasilia?

Harlow is tolerable, but what had anyone done to deserve being shipped off to Basildon?

Yes, the Romans had sense and, as you say, placed their settlement by the railway line.

The best thing about going to Harlow is knowing that you can leave again. I might even say it's nastier than Hatfield, Hertfordshire, but maybe they're on a par.

I was also born in Harlow, but haven't been back. Might, now - I suppose I should honour the town of my birth at some point, and it sounds like there's more than nothing to see.

Harlow is much less unpleasant than Basildon, at least. To damn with faint praise, I know...

Elsewhere in Essex, Silver End (a bus ride from Witham) is another rather interesting, much smaller, bit of town-planning architectural utopia (built to serve the requirements of a window factory) that is far too little known about, and might well of be of interest to those who enthuse about the Harlow Museum et al....

Coming from Stevenage, I would probably dispute the first pedestrian precinct bit, but other than that, everything else you've written is familiar to me, even though I've never been to Harlow.

There used to be a Youth Hostel in the town so visitors from all over the globe could visit on a budget. I lived close enough not to need it. Excellent piece. I rather liked Harlow. A lot of heavy industry relocated there from London - it was planned that people would live and work in the same town, but for some reason, this never seems to work.

According to the entry in the Dictionary of National Biography on the Titanic's band leader, Wallace Hartley:
Early accounts of the disaster, beginning with a statement in the New York Times (18 April 1912) by Mrs Vera Dick, a Canadian passenger, reported that the musicians’ final performance was of the hymn tune “Nearer, My God, to Thee”. However, Dick’s lifeboat had been one of the first to be lowered and was about a quarter of a mile away when the ship sank. Other witnesses who were on board at the very end either denied that hymn tunes were played or reported that the band’s last performance was of another tune, the waltz “Autumn”.

That has made me laugh in what has been a truly depressing day. I also think "Passing by Harlow" (Ham) is probably for the best for anyone considering it........

These towns, whatever we think of them now, were places of optimism. The politicians, the planners and even the people that moved there were optimistic for a new and improved life. I always feel a little of this when I visit these places (it is somehow imbued in the architecture) and DG has managed to capture that in this post.

I agree with Steve - I think that poeple involved in planning and designing the new towns really cared about what they were doing - more so than many of the people involved in commissioning new buildings today. (Housing Associations I'm looking at you.) Harlow has many interesting buildings and is crammed with sculpture and public art. Definitely worth a visit.

@pedanto the great
"Other witnesses who were on board at the very end either denied that hymn tunes were played or reported that the band’s last performance was of another tune, the waltz “Autumn”."

Ah, the old What Were the Band Playing on the Titanic controversy. Unfortunately, Autumn is also the name of an American episcopal hymn-tune, so things are made no clearer. Gavin Bryars has investigated the issue thoroughly in the research for his piece The Sinking of the Titanic. See the article here

Thanks for another thought provoking post DG.

After years of negativity about new towns (and, as a Chingford resident I've had cause to visit Harlow a few times over the years and can understand the opprobrium)I think we are coming to the realisation (as posted by several folk) that the intentions were good if the execution poor.

There is a poignency that these places seemed to fall prey to the typical British fudge, a wonderful vision being "value engineered" and "down scoped".

These places are a snapshot of a time when the war ravaged country briefly glimpsed a different way forward and a more egalitarian world.

Unfortunately economic reality, vested interests, short sightedness and snobbery intervened.

That, and, lets also be fair, that cussed but prized British individuality that means we can't be boxed or made to fit a centrally planned existance.

These new towns may yet surprise us all by maturing into successful places in future but, one suspects, that will be in a more traditional organic way.


A couple of years ago Darren Hayman released Pram Town a concept album taking Harlow as its subject.

Worth a listen I reckon.

Interesting. I used to work in the Post Office in Chrisp Street Market (as I think you know?) and it's sheer ugliness made me want to cry every day that I had to go there.

Then I stood back one day and really looked at it. The architect hadn't designed it to be ugly, the people had made it ugly. The council had neglected it, god knows Royal Mail Property Holdings hadn't helped by abandoning the main part of the combined Royal Mail/Post Office building, and the occupants of the flats and shops didn't give a toss about it.

I did my bit where I could by being a total pain in the arse with Royal Mail, getting the bits that I could spruced up a bit, until they locked off the old delivery office so I couldn't see what needed fixing any more!

It could be lovely. Most of the square catches the sun for a lot of the day. Sadly, I don't think the residents of the area actually deserve it to be lovely.

Harlow. A poor man's Pyongyang.

We were at the Gibberd Garden on Sunday afternoon, a lovely place to while away a couple of hours. I was kindly given a sculpture map by a kind member of staff. A very happy lady indeed.

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