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08/11/2019

Town planning giant recalled at Blue Plaque ceremony

Words: The Planner
Blue Plaque for Sir Patrick Abercrombie

One of the first English Heritage blue plaques for a town planner has been dedicated in a ceremony to mark World Town Planning Day 2019 (8th November).

The plaque recalling Sir Patrick Abercrombie is placed on the wall of the pioneering planner’s former London home at 63 Egerton Gardens SW3, where he lived for 10 years from 1935.

It was dedicated by Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) president Ian Tant and English Heritage Blue Plaque Panel member, historian and writer Rosemary Hill.

A leading figure in post-war planning, Abercrombie was originally an architect who went on to found the first planning school in the country in Liverpool. His later contributions to planning practice included the production of the Greater London Plan of 1944, which led the reshaping of the city and its surrounding region for the following half century.

Ian Tant said: “I am absolutely delighted to dedicate the English Heritage blue plaque to Sir Patrick Abercrombie on the 70th anniversary of World Town Planning Day. Sir Patrick Abercrombie was a founder of post-war planning, not only in terms of his Greater London Plan but also his work and influence nationally and internationally. 

“He was a powerful advocate for the profession and for the importance of planning to ensure that the built environment works for the benefit of communities. It is fantastic that he has been honoured in this way by English Heritage’s London blue plaques scheme.”

Rosemary Hill described Sir Patrick as the “pioneer of town planning”. She said: “This was the building where he was living when he took up his post of Professor of Town Planning at University College London in 1935. Egerton Gardens remained his home throughout the peak of his career and it was from here that he produced both his County of London plan of 1943 and then the Greater London plan.”


A brief history of blue plaques

The London-wide blue plaques scheme has been running for 150 years. The idea of erecting 'memorial tablets' was first proposed by William Ewart MP in the House of Commons in 1863. It had an immediate impact on the public imagination, and in 1866 the (Royal) Society of Arts founded an official plaques scheme. The Society erected its first plaque – to poet Lord Byron – in 1867.

The blue plaques scheme was subsequently administered by the London County Council (1901-65) and by the Greater London Council (1965-86), before being taken on by English Heritage in 1986. Find out more on the English Heritage website.


 

During the ceremony, Ian read a statement from Fiona Abercrombie-Howroyd, Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s only surviving grandchild who is now based in Tasmania, Australia.

In the statement, Fiona, herself a planner, spoke of a recently-found recording of her grandfather from 1948, in which he talked about making cities “vital places” that included green belts, cycle and walkways and transport hubs to facilitate our work and play.

She said: “This is what we, as planners, still aspire to do. I think if he were here today, he would suggest that we will continue to aspire, as there can be nothing more important than how we live, work and play in our communities and, ever increasingly, our environment.”

The ceremony was one of a number of events around the country supported by the RTPI to mark World Town Planning Day 2019. Visit the RTPI website for details of all events

Note: Former RTPI president Janet Askew has kindly informed us that this is not in fact the first bluw plaque dedicated to a planner, or even to Sir Patrick Abercrombie. In 2002, English Heritage unveileed a blue plaque on the house in Oxton, a suburb of Birkenhead, where Abercrombie lived from 1915-1935, before moving to the London home recognised above. In 2010, the Birmingham Civic Society unveiled a plaque remembering John Sutton Nettlefold, the first chairman of the city's housing committee and a "pioneer of town planning" at Winterbourne House in Birmimgham.

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