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Bird by Hebe Comerford.jpg
Harlow Water Gardens
Grid reference: TL445098
Location: 51°46’6"N, 0°5’34"E
Local Government
Council: Harlow

Harlow is a new town in western Essex. It is found by the border with Hertfordshire, in the Stort Valley, and close to the M11 motorway. It is considered part of the London commuter belt.


Harlow's name is Old English, and hlaw means "hill", but the first element of the name is debated. One theory is that it is from here hlaw ("army hill"), possibly identified with Mulberry Hill, which was used as the moot place for the district. Another theory is that it hearg hlaw, meaning "temple hill", possibly to be identified with an Iron Age burial mound, later a Roman temple site on River Way, or again with Mulberry Hill though know ancient English pagan temple remains have been found. Often a temple's remains lie beneath the church that superseded it.


A major feature to the new town is its green wedges and indeed over a third of the town is parkland or open space. Harlow Town Park is one of the largest urban parks in Britain, and occupies a large area of the central town. Each estate is also separated by open space.

The summer of 2006 also saw flash floods hit many parts of the town, causing major roads through the town to become temporarily impassable, and severe damage to many properties around the town. As a result, the council is reviewing its flood defences and drainage systems.

Old Harlow

Old Harlow is the historic part of the new town and district of Harlow. It was known simply as "Harlow" before the building of Harlow New Town, at which point it was renamed Old Harlow.

Old Harlow is found in the northeast of the town and is the oldest area of the town. Old Harlow pre-dates the first written record in the Doomsday Book of 1086, so it not sure when the town first come into existence. Originally Old Harlow was going to be the central area of Harlow New Town, however due to the amount demolition works and the loss of agricultural land it was decided to build Harlow New Town to the west of Old Harlow. As Harlow New Town was being built Old Harlow seemed to be forgotten and had fallen behind with its development. It was not until 1977 that Old Harlow was improved with the building of a heath service and a senior citizens day centre. Old Harlow still remains village like with 2 Grade 1 listed buildings and many other Grade 2 listed buildings.

The High Street has two Indian restaurants, a Chinese restaurant, a chip and kebab shop and a daytime café. Opposite the high street runs Fore Street and Market Street, where there are three of the Old Town pubs. The Crown has a wall of mediæval painting, dating back to the 17th century.


The original village, mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, developed as a typical rural community around what is now known as Old Harlow, where many old buildings have been allowed to remain standing.

Early history

Much archaeological material survives in Harlow from the Stone Age right up to the Middle Ages, though most information is currently unpublished. The Museum of Harlow contains a wealth of information.

The New Town

The new town was built after Second World War to ease overcrowding in London at the same time as the similar orbital developments of Basildon, Stevenage, and Hemel Hempstead. The master plan for the new town was drawn up in 1947 by Sir Frederick Gibberd.[1][2] The development incorporated the market town of Harlow, now a neighbourhood known as Old Harlow, and the villages of Great Parndon, Latton, Tye Green, Potter Street, Churchgate Street, Little Parndon, and Netteswell.

The town is divided into neighbourhoods, each self-supporting with their own shopping precincts, community facilities and pub. Gibberd invited many of the country's leading post-war architects to design buildings in the town, including Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya, Leonard Manasseh, Michael Neylan, E C P Monson, Gerard Goalen, Maxwell Fry, Jane Drew, Graham Dawbarn and William Crabtree. Harlow has one of the most extensive cycle track networks in the country, connecting all areas of the town to the town centre and industrial areas. The cycle network is composed mostly of the original pre-new town roads.

The town is notable being the location of Britain's first pedestrian precinct,[3] and first modern-style residential tower block, The Lawn,[4][5] constructed in 1951; it is now a Grade II listed building. Gibberd's tromp-l'oeil terrace in Orchard Croft and Dawbarn's maisonette blocks at Pennymead are also notable, as is Michael Neylan's pioneering development at Bishopsfield. The first neighbourhood, Mark Hall, is a conservation area.

The town centre, and many of its neighbourhood shopping facilities have undergone major redevelopment, along with many of the town's original buildings. Subsequently, many of the original town buildings, including most of its health centres, the Staple Tye shopping centre, and many industrial units have been rebuilt. GIbberd's original town hall, a landmark in the town, has been demolished and replaced by a new civic centre and shopping area.


The town has already experienced expansion. The first of which was the "mini expansion" that was created by the building of the Sumners and Katherines estates in the mid to late seventies to the west of the existing town. Since then Harlow has further expanded with the Church Langley estate completed in 2005, and its newest neighbourhood, Newhall, nearing completion. The Harlow Gateway Scheme is currently underway, with the relocation of the Harlow Football Stadium to Barrow's Farm in early 2006, and the building of a new hotel, apartments, and a restaurant adjacent to the railway station being complete. The next stage of this scheme involves the completion of the 530 eco-homes being built on the former sports centre site, and the centre's relocation to the nearby former college playing field site.

Other major developments under consideration include both a northern and southern bypass of the town, and significant expansion to the north, following the completed expansion to the east. The Harlow North plans, currently awaiting permission, involve an extension of the town across the floodplains on the town's northern border, into Hertfordshire, plans not universally welcomed, especially in eastern Hertfordshire. An attempt to have Harlow North designated an "Eco Town" was rejected by the Minister for Housing in April 2008.

The south of the town centre also underwent major regeneration, with the new civic centre being built and the town's famous Water Gardens being redeveloped, a landscape listed by English Heritage. Their intended effect is somewhat spoiled by the abutment of a range of new shops, a major superstore, and several restaurants and cafés. It is likely that this development will be continued throughout the rest of the shopping district, with plans awaiting planning permission to be granted.

Art and culture

Harlow is the home to a major collection of public sculptures (over 100 in total) by artists ranging from Auguste Rodin to Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Many of these are owned by the Harlow Art Trust, an organisation set up in 1953 by the lead architect of Harlow Frederick Gibberd. Gibberd had idealist notions of the New Town as a place where people who might not normally have access to art could enjoy great sculptures by great artists on every street corner. Consequently, almost all of Harlow's sculpture collection is located in the open air, in shopping centres, housing estates and parks around the town.[6]

In 2009 Harlow Council voted to celebrate Harlow's collection of sculpture by branding Harlow as 'Harlow Sculpture Town - The World's First Sculpture Town'. Harlow Sculpture Town began as an initiative from Harlow Art Trust, this will see Harlow present itself to the world as 'Sculpture Town', in a similar way to Hay-on-Wye's presentation of itself as Booktown.[7][8]

As part of the 'Sculpture Town' branding, Harlow is also home to the Gibberd Garden, the former home of Frederick and Elizabeth Gibberd, which is a managed twentieth-century garden, and home to some of the Gibberd's private sculpture collection.[9]

Harlow has the Playhouse Theatre[10] and an art gallery called the Gibberd Gallery in the Civic Centre, containing a collection of twentieth-century watercolours and temporary exhibitions.[11]

There are many dance schools in Harlow, many of the west end performers trained at the facilities in Harlow.


  1. Gardens Guide - Frederick Gibberd
  2. New town, a name change and all the jazz BBC News web site
  3. Memorial University - Department of Geography - Harlow's History and Geography
  4. English Heritage - Images of England - The Lawn
  5. BBC News - Redeveloping Essex's fallen utopia
  6. Gillian Whiteley, Sculpture in Harlow (Harlow: Harlow Art Trust, 2005)
  7. Harlow Herald (newspaper), 31 March 2009
  8. http://www.harlowarttrust.org.uk Harlow Art Trust
  9. http://www.thegibberdgarden.co.uk see Gibberd Garden
  10. The Playhouse
  11. http://www.harlow.gov.uk/about_the_council/council_services/leisure_and_culture/the_gibberd_gallery.aspx harlow.gov.uk

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Harlow)