Garden city movement

White Cottage, Letchworth

Letchworth - cottage_530x381

White Cottage, Letchworth
Architects: Parker and Unwin (1906)
Photograph: N. Breach (1979)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection

Most of the housing in Letchworth is picturesque. White Cottage, however, is exceptionally delightful. Its enchanting form relies much on materials and plan. Its white walls bulge in and out; its deep thatch creeps down, almost to the ground. Small windows occasionally interrupt both: their dark frames and leaded glazing pepper the walls and snuggle in the thatch.  

White Cottage’s form can in part be explained by its position. This was deliberately rustic owing to nearby seventeenth-century properties. Clearly, though, the architects Parker and Unwin relished the opportunity to show their knowledge of traditional housing and building methods. Thatch, for example, had once covered much of the old housing of Hertfordshire before cheap clay tiles and Welsh slates arrived. This was a demonstration not only of Parker and Unwin's sensitivity to location, but also an affirmation of their loyalty to Arts and Crafts principles: traditional building methods needed to be revived.

A detached property, this was not the cheaper housing planned elsewhere. The density of housing in Letchworth was meant to be low; this, though is exceptionally spread out. The wide and mature gardens sheltering the cottage from the rest of the street, and arguably the harsh realities of the world beyond. Perhaps this explains the cottage’s original name – the Den. This was a retreat. How strange, then, that this idyll was later spoiled by the large modern aerial, perched on top of the chimney, an unwelcome guest to an otherwise timeless scene.


About the online exhibition

'How We Built Britain' is a major collaboration with the BBC


Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

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