Harlow in Essex is a new town, built after the Second World War to a 1947 plan by Sir Frederick Gibberd, who also designed the Lansbury Estate at Poplar for the Festival of Britain. There is a population of around 90000 clustered in villages with a lot of green space surrounding the flats and houses. The first tower block in the country was built in Harlow and this is now listed. The new towns were built in a utopian spirit when people still had faith in the future (the past had been so horrible that faith in the future was needed) and people also had faith in their politicians to to deliver it. As politicians no longer believe they can make peoples lives better (only less worse) so the utopian vision has faded, as have the facilities and bus services. The cinema, where once Harlow’s residents dreamed their big dreams has closed and if it was open you would not be able to get to it as the bus doesn’t run. This is shameful.
The first picture shows the Adam clock overlooking the market place in the Festival of Britain style town centre. The town centre was rather characterised by empty shops, with a considerable number in one block alone. Apparently there are faults with construction of some of the buildings which has led to demolition of some of the town centre buildings and it may be that this block is due for demolition also, although I would have thought a town of 90000 people could support a full town centre of shops. There are a few large hypermarkets on the edge which may explain the lack.
Public art is prominent, and the final pictures show some of the public sculptures. Harlow has the largest collection of public sculpture for any town its size. The first is in the market place and is called ‘Meatporters’ by the sculptor Ralph Brown. It shows two porters carrying an eviscerated pig, which is appropriate for a meat and food market.
The second photograph shows a sculpture called ‘Trigon’ by the sculptor Lynn Chadwick outside the former Woolworth (although it is not a good sign that Woolworth has left).
Public art gives a sense of place and shows that the cultural needs of the townspeople are not neglected nor are they thought of as philistines.