About Harlow

Visit Harlow logoHarlow New Town

Harlow New Town was built after World War II to ease overcrowding in London. It was one of several developments, including Basildon, Stevenage and Hempstead.

Lewis Silkin, Minister Town & Country Planning in the first post-war Labour Government issued a designation order on 25 March 1947 for a completely new planned community to house approximately 60,000 people to the west of an existing Essex village called Harlow. This was an ambitious task and described at the time as 'a leap into the unknown.'

The master plan for the new town was drawn up by Sir Frederick Gibberd for the Harlow Development Corporation, to incorporate 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 was split into neighbourhoods, each self supporting with their own shopping precincts, community facilities and pub. Each area was separated by a green wedge so that open space was never far from home. Two large industrial estates were also included at the north and the west of the town.

Harlow already had a railway station, built in 1841 and a smaller station to the west called Burnt Mill. New roads were built in 1948, and the old roads turned into cycle paths. 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.

In 1949 120 houses in Chippingfield, Old Harlow were constructed. However building work in Harlow was slow due to the shortage of materials caused by World War II. Mark Hall North followed in 1950 utilising the amenities that already existed and on completion in 1954, featured The Lawn, the first post-war tower block in Britain. The Lawn, designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd, opened in 1951 and is one of the first post war buildings to be Grade II listed by English Heritage.

Industrial development continued alongside house building with Templefields open for business in 1950 and the Pinnacles six years later. Original manufacturing in The Pinnacles took the form of a biscuit factory owned and run as a Co-operative. It provided employment to the town for over 50 years, before closing in 2002.

Work continued moving south and west at a rapid pace with the construction of Mark Hall South, Netteswell, Hare Street and Potter Street, with The Stow shopping centre being the first neighbourhood shopping centre to open.

Development of the Town Centre began with the first shop opening in December 1955, along with other neighbourhood areas such as Little Parndon and Bush Fair.

Between 1958 and 1961 the Harlow Sportcentre (now closed) was built. This was partly funded by contributions from the public through their rates. This was the first community project of its kind in the county and was the first to use the name 'sportcentre'.

In 1960 the small Burnt Mill Station in the north-west of the town was demolished to make way for a new larger station to be called Harlow Town Station. The old Harlow station was, from that point on, called Harlow Mill Station.

The Odeon cinema (now closed) was opened in 1960 and was the first cinema built in Britain since the war and the first by the Odeon group since 1937.

In 1966 fibre optic communications, which paved the way for modern technology like broadband internet, were invented here by Sir Charles Kao and George Hockham.

Building work slowed again with the Kingsmoor and Stewards areas and Staple Tye Neighbourhood Shopping Centre taking shape between 1965 and 1974.

The last areas to be constructed were Sumners and Katherines in 1974 and the Town Centre was finally finished in 1980 with the completion of the Harvey Centre.

Originally homes in Harlow were only offered to those working in the town and this saw many young couples move into Harlow from London - which had been devastated by the bombings in WW II. The population grew rapidly through the 1950s and 1960s with around 50 new families moving into the area each week.

By 1954 Harlow was being called "pramtown" by the national press due to the number of babies and young children and by the mid 1960s Harlow had a population of around 60,000 - many of them children.

With a thriving population and so many young children, Harlow had to focus on the needs of young families. The first Health Centre, with doctors, dentist and a district nurse all under the same roof opened in 1951 at The Chantry. This was replaced by the first permanent Health Centre at Nuffield House, The Stow in 1955.

With such a young population the town also needed schools and the first primary, Tany's Dell, opened in the Mark Hall area of the town, in 1952. The first secondary school was Mark Hall in 1954 which the Queen visited in 1957.

Work on a hospital to serve not only Harlow, but surrounding areas, Princess Alexandra Hospital, began in 1958 with completion in 1965.

Sir Frederick Gibberd was the only town planner to live in the town he designed. He received many honours and awards in recognition of his life's work, most notably a CBE in 1954 followed by a Knighthood in 1967.

The predominant influence on the architecture of the new town was that of Gibberd, but as architect-planner he also advised the development corporation on the choice of architects used. Several housing estates were designed by world famous architects. For example Tanys Dell and The Chantry (Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew), Ladyshot (FRS Yorke), Churchfield (H T Cadbury-Brown), The Downs (Richard Sheppard) and Northbrooks (Powell and Moya).

Bishopsfield, built in 1966, was the result of an architectural competition. Later known as "the Casbah" the scheme won several awards for its design including a Housing Design Award in 1969.

Lord Stephen Taylor, a member of the Harlow Development Corporation board, first conceived the concept of a 'Health Centre'. The idea was to have a building with a doctor, a dentist and a nurse all under one roof. Harlow opened the first health centre in a converted house in The Chantry called Haygarth House in 1951. The first purpose built Health Centre, Nuffield House, was opened at the Stow in 1955.

Harlow also pioneered the idea of an Industrial Health Service, whereby nurses would visit factories and businesses to monitor the health of the workforce.

The public houses are all named after butterflies and moths (an idea from Lord Stephen Taylor). The pub sign would show the insect on one side and on the reverse an image that would be a pun on the name.

In 2011, the government announced the creation of Harlow Enterprise Zone consisting of two separate sites under development, at Templefields and London Road, with the London Road site divided into north and south business parks.

Sculpture town

At the end of 2010, Harlow became the world’s first ‘Sculpture Town’. This not only celebrates the sculptures owned by Harlow Art Trust but other sculpture collections in Harlow, including those of the Council, the Gibberd Garden and Parndon Mill. A collection of sculptures of national significance are sited throughout the town. In the main squares and precincts, in numerous public buildings and at several schools, sculptures by artists, both famous and lesser known, are to be found. More information on the sculpture collection and trail

Did You Know?

Harlow boasts:

  • Comedian, writer, actor and voice-over artist Rik Mayall was born in Harlow in 1958
  • Ex-footballer and former Spurs, Chelsea and England manager, Glenn Hoddle went to school in Harlow
  • Professional footballer Luke Young was born in Harlow
  • British Olympian cyclist Laura Kenny CBE (Trott) was born in Harlow and following her gold medal in London 2012, Harlow has a gold letterbox
  • British Olympian, coxman Acer Nethercott went to school in Harlow
  • British Olympian badminton player Joanne Goode MBE was born in Harlow.
  • British Paralympic runner Noel Thatcher MBE lives in Harlow
  • British Paralympic wheelchair racer, Anne Wafula Strike MBE lives in Harlow
  • DJ Nihal, radio and TV presenter (born Nihal Arthanayake) went to school in Harlow
  • Actor Davood Ghadami, best known for his role in EastEnders was born in Harlow
  • ​Actor Rupert Grint, played Ron Weasley in Harry Potter films was born in Harlow
  • ​Actress Charlotte Spencer, played the lead role in BBC, The Living and the Dead, was born in Harlow
  • Former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham was born in Harlow
  • Choreographer Kevin Adams, owner of Kevin Adams Academy in Harlow, most known for appearing in BBC Fame Academy is from Harlow
  • It was in Harlow that Charles K. Kao and George Hockham invented fibre optic communications
  • The band Collapsed Lung, who released 'Eat my Goal' used in the Euro 1996 'Eat, Sleep Drink' Coca Cola adverts were formed in Harlow
  • Harlow has over 83 sculptures on public view throughout the town. 
  • As the Titanic sank the orchestra played 'Nearer My God to Thee', written by the poet Sarah Fuller Flower Adams born in Old Harlow in 1805.

Historic Boards Project

In 2011 Harlow Renaissance, Harlow Civic Society and Harlow Council developed a series of historic boards highlighting the history and heritage of key areas across Harlow.

Harlow History

Harlow in film

  • British Film Institute - The Harlow Development Corporation, showing Harlow village and the surrounding smaller settlements that would later all combine and become Harlow New Town 1949.
  • East Anglian Film Archive - HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh visit to Mark Hall school, Harlow in 1957
  • You Tube - Royal visit (1957): The Queen visits Harlow in 1957. This black and white footage from the British Pathé archives shows Her Majesty's visit to a newly constructed Harlow.
  • You Tube - Harlow architecture. This clip from a BBC4 documentary highlights Harlow's architectural history with vintage footage of the town.
  • You Tube - Harlow 1962-66. Shot and edited by the late Eric Alvin and narrated by his wife Jill, this video features footage of the town's residential areas and the young population that gave Harlow it's pram town moniker.