'Iconic' new statue of Ebenezer Howard unveiled

Ebenezer Howard

The new statue of Ebenezer Howard with artist Ben Twiston-Davies - Credit: WGC100

A new statue of Welwyn Garden City's founder Ebenezer Howard was unveiled yesterday in Howardsgate.

Ebenezer Howard

In 1919 Ebenezer Howard bought 590 hectares of countryside near Welwyn village in order to create Welwyn Garden City - Credit: WGC100

The 2.2m tall bronze statue, by artist Ben Twiston-Davies, commemorates the town's founder and replaces the roundel which was removed back in February.

Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928) was the founder of the Garden City movement and was responsible for establishing the world’s first two garden cities, Letchworth Garden City in 1903 and our own Welwyn Garden City in 1920.

He saw garden cities as part of the solution to re-housing people living in city slums or rural poverty, and planned garden cities as new communities designed for healthy living.

Speaking before the unveiling, Ben Twiston-Davies said: “My design shows Howard pressing forwards, giving a rousing speech before digging the first spadesful of earth of the garden city. He was a modest and a shy man, but also a visionary, altruistic and concerned for people’s wellbeing. I hope I have done him justice.”

Welwyn Garden City Ebenezer Howard

The statue was scheduled to be unveiled last year, but was delayed due to the pandemic - Credit: WGC100

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Ebenezer Howard's great granddaughter, Ursula Howard, said: “I am thrilled to see this wonderful representation of my great grandfather. Ebenezer was known by his family as Ben and it’s fitting that his sculpture should have been produced by another Ben! Our family feel honoured that a century on, people will see the man behind the plan.”

The half-ton bronze sculpture rests on a plinth of Welsh slate with three hand-carved rings of lettering including words from William Blake’s Jerusalem.

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Letter carver Simon Langsdale created lettering especially for the commission using design principles that originated from the arts and crafts movement.

Howard’s spade rests on the word ‘sword’, emphasising his pacifists' desire for peaceful reform.

Ebenezer Howard

The statue stands proudly at over 7ft tall - Credit: WGC100

Graeme Bell OBE, who led the commissioning of the sculpture, said: “Ebenezer Howard was a modest man but he understood the possibilities of bringing people together to deliver his vision of places which are a marriage of town and country.

"The English garden cities were cooperative, mutual developments. They aimed to offer people some co-ownership with the many shareholders and benefactors who realised Howard's dream of communities where people of different means, from different social groups, lived together.“

The statue commissioned by the Welwyn Garden City Centenary Foundation as part of the town’s 2020 centenary celebrations in response to a very popular suggestion by the community. 

The locally-based Digswell Arts Trust (DAT) acted as artistic advisers to the Welwyn Garden City Centenary Foundation. Howard Cropp of the DAT said: “Public art was central to the ethos of the garden city idea and we are delighted to continue the tradition of introducing sculpture into the beautiful park setting of the town centre.”

Chairman of the Foundation Peter Waine added: “I am delighted to see this iconic sculpture in our town centre, albeit a little late because of coronavirus delaying the works. Howard had his own difficulties a century ago as his efforts to start the garden city were delayed as the Spanish Flu pandemic ravaged the country. Both he and we have triumphed!”

Ebenezer Howard

The statue depicts Howard giving a speech before digging the first spadesful of earth of Welwyn Garden City - Credit: WGC100

Fiona Howie, chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association said: “It is fitting that Ebenezer Howard should be permanently and faithfully portrayed in one of the garden cities he founded. The garden city movement offered a model for a different way of living, one with social justice at its heart. In the context of the challenges we face today, of securing decent homes for all, healthy green towns and beauty in design, Howard’s ideas are as relevant as ever. We must be inspired by his vision as we seek to emulate his energy.”

The first phase of the installation has been completed with the creation of a turfed mound at the base and lighting to be completed by the end of this week.

The statue replaces the bronze roundel, installed back in 1960, which is now being kept safe by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council until it is relocated vertically in the new Wheat Quarter.

Though the first memorial to Ebenezer Howard in Howardsgate was erected in June 1930 - an inscribed brick wall approximately 4ft high and 8ft long was sited opposite what is now the HSBC bank.

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