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Warwick researcher adds 3 of Coventry’s historic town planners to Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

The latest update of the prestigious Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, has added details on the lives of three of Coventry’s town planners and designers published on Thursday 14 February 2019, features the lives of some the individuals described by thanks to History of Art researcher Dr Otto Saumarez Smith at the University of Warwick. Dr Saumarez Smith was an advisory editor and key contributor to the update.

The three new entries on those who worked on Coventry were for the following:

Sir Wilfred Burns (1923-1984), Whose approach to planning was formed whilst an assistant planning officer at Coventry, which he described as ’by far the most ambitious and inspiring scheme in the country, and the plan most likely to fit in with contemporary and future society’. He was later head of planning at Newcastle upon Tyne, who sacrificed important aspects of its Georgian townscape for a new shopping centre and roundabout.

Percy Edwin Alan Johnson-Marshall (1915-1993), became senior assistant architect of Coventry’s newly formed city architect’s department in 1938, and he helped organize the exhibition ‘Coventry of Tomorrow’. His first wife was killed in the Coventry air raids. He later set up in private practice in Edinburgh, and his ideas were set out in his book Rebuilding Cities (1966).

Frederick [Fred] Bernard Pooley (1916-1998), was deputy city architect at Coventry, where he worked on the precinct, and he introduced high-rise blocks in Tile Hill. He was chief architect for Buckinghamshire, remembered though for his concrete tower in Aylesbury and his uncompleted monorail plan for North Buckinghamshire.

 

Dr Saumarez Smith also added an entries for:

Alwyn Gwilym Sheppard Fidler (1909-1990), designer of housing estates in Birmingham and the new town of Telford

Stanley Gordon Wardley (1901-1965), achieved the reconstruction of Bradford city centre

(Wladyslaw) Konrad Smigielski (1908-1999), who devised a traffic plan for Leicester

Dame Elizabeth Ursula Chesterton (1915-2002), designer of the National Motor Museum

Percy Edwin Alan Johnson-Marshall (1915-1993), the Edinburgh architect, whose ideas were set out in his book Rebuilding Cities (1966).

Walter George Bor (1916-1999), Liverpool’s planning officer, who also planned the new city of Milton Keynes

Frederick [Fred] Bernard Pooley (1916-1998), chief architect for Buckinghamshire, remembered though for his concrete tower in Aylesbury

Colin Graham Lindsay [Graeme] Shankland (1917-1984), who blighted Liverpool with his plan for an elevated six-lane inner ring road

Sir Wilfred Burns (1923-1984), head of planning at Newcastle upon Tyne, who sacrificed important aspects of its Georgian townscape for a new shopping centre and roundabout.

Geoffrey Copcutt (1928-1997) group leader for the town centre of Cumbernauld, whose decked concrete structure, eight storeys high, with indoor shopping malls received an architectural award in 1967 but by 2005, was voted Britain’s ‘most hated building’.

 

Dr Otto Saumarez Smith said:

“There are few professions in Britain as widely denigrated as the subject of this new release of Oxford DNB entries. Britain’s post-war urban planners are regularly held up as bogeymen, responsible for a variety of calamities, from the despoliation of historic buildings, to the breakup of traditional communities, and the imposition of gimcrack, over-scaled, ugly, concrete monstrosities on comfortably traditional townscapes. The hostility towards this profession is exemplified by by Prince Charles’s statement that 'You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe. When it knocked down our buildings, it didn't replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. We did that.'

“These Oxford DNB entries are a contribution to the ongoing reassessment of these controversial figures. They attempt to understand, rather than merely castigate, the profession at the heart of the unparalleled physical transformation of urban Britain in these years. The subject is hugely important because of the profound effect it had, and continues to have, on everyday lives and places across the country.”

February 2019: summary of newly-added lives

In early 1946, the London-born and educated civil engineer Stanley Gordon Wardley (1901-1965) became city engineer and surveyor of Bradford, West Yorkshire, where, in 1953, he set out his vision for a reconstructed city centre, with ring roads, expressways, and pedestrian subways. His new city centre and motorway system was achieved at great speed, and on a massive scale, embodying what seemed a futuristic vision, though by the end of the twentieth century much of it began to be dismantled. The traffic plan for Leicester, published in 1964, was the work of the city’s Polish-born town planner (Wladyslaw) Konrad Smigielski (1908-1999) rejected concentric ring roads in favour of a single inner motorway encircling a central area to which private motor traffic would be severely limited. His ambitious plans for a monorail were rejected by central government, and his plan was never implemented, and he turned to other, smaller-scale projects in the city, among them the preservation of the Georgian New Walk. The first chief city architect for Birmingham, Alwyn Gwilym Sheppard Fidler (1909-1990), who had trained at the Liverpool school of architecture, was appointed in 1952, and made high-quality design a priority, winning civic trust awards for new housing estates, but came into conflict with councillors who wanted quicker results. Later, in 1976, his practice produced the master plan for the new town of Telford, and designed the Bourne Hall library in Epsom. Another graduate of the Liverpool School of Architecture, Percy Edwin Alan Johnson-Marshall (1915-1993) taught at the University of Edinburgh department of architecture which he combined with private practice. His ideas were set out in his book Rebuilding Cities (1966). Born in Hampstead Garden Suburb into a family with Bloomsbury group connections, Dame Elizabeth Ursula Chesterton (1915-2002) graduated from the Architectural Association School of Architecture and became a freelance planning consultant. Her 1964 report on King’s Lynn helped to spare the town from a projected ring road, which would have demolished historic riverside warehouses. Her largest completed scheme was for the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, which opened in 1972. Born in Vienna and a refugee from Nazism whose parents died in the holocaust, Walter George Bor (1916-1999) became Liverpool’s first planning officer in 1962 and proved a pioneering city planner, preserving pedestrian precincts protecting the dominance of landmark buildings, revitalizing public transport, and building two new river tunnels. In private practice, he produced a plan for the new city of Milton Keynes (1970) and undertook consultancy, including a new city centre for the Iranian capital, Tehran, though the scheme was halted by the Islamic revolution of 1979. His book The Making of Cities (1972) explained planning to a general audience. As Buckinghamshire’s chief architect from 1954, Frederick Bernard Pooley (1916-1998), needing to respond to London overspill, he preferred to work within the county’s vernacular building styles, though ironically he came to be associated with the twelve-storey concrete tower in Aylesbury, built in 1966 to house the county council’s offices. His plans for the North Bucks New City, incorporating monorail public transport, were announced in 1964, but was opposed by central government, and replaced by Milton Keynes, based on the car, though the idea of a well-cited new city in the north of the county remained his legacy. After drawing an unrealised plan for a new town at Hook, Hampshire, Colin Graham Lindsay [Graeme] Shankland (1917-1984) became a planning consultant for Liverpool’s city centre, working with Walter Bor, and produced in 1965 an ambitious plan including an elevated six-lane inner ring road, but was abandoned in 1973 having in the meantime resulted in planning blight. Trained at the University of Liverpool as a civil engineer, Sir Wilfred Burns (1923-1984) became a planner at Coventry which was seen as being at the forefront of post-war planning thought in Britain, through traffic management and pedestrianization, before in 1960 become head of planning at Newcastle upon Tyne, where he applied a radical philosophy, ripping through the centre with an urban motorway, and sacrificing important aspects of its Georgian townscape for a new shopping centre and roundabout. From 1968 he was a civil servant, during a period when the system of planning which he had implemented, was dismantled.  In 1958 Geoffrey Copcutt (1928-1997) joined the development corporation of the third of Scotland’s post-war new towns, Cumbernauld, to the north-west of Glasgow, and was group leader for the planned town centre, and produced a futuristic vision for a decked concrete structure, eight storeys high, with indoor shopping malls. It received an architectural award in 1967 but by 2005, when parts had already been demolished, it was voted Britain’s ‘most hated building’.

Notes for Editors:

The Oxford DNB is the national record of men and women who have shaped British history, worldwide, from prehistory to the year 2015. From February 2019 the Dictionary includes biographies of 63,261 individuals, written by over 10,000 contributors. It is freely accessible to members of most public libraries. www.oxforddnb.com/ Biographies in the online edition of the Oxford DNB now include people who died in or before the year 2015. No living person is included. People who died in later years will be added by calendar year in online updates each January, and in periodic printed supplements.

Most libraries across the UK subscribe to the Oxford DNB, which means you can access the complete dictionary for free via your local library. Libraries offer 'remote access' that enables you to log in at any time at home (or anywhere you have internet access). Elsewhere the Oxford DNB is available online in schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions worldwide. Full details of participating British public libraries, and how to gain access to the complete dictionary, are available here.

For further information please contact:

Until 17th Feb 2019
Peter Dunn, Director of Press and Media Relations, University of Warwick
Tel UK 024 76523708 office 07767 655860 mobile
Tel overseas: +44 (0)24 76523708 office +44 (0)7767 655860 mobile/cell
email p.j.dunn@warwick.ac.uk 

From 18th Feb
Tom Frew – Senior Press and Media Relations Manager
(0)24 7657 5910 email: a.t.frew@warwick.ac.uk

 

19th February 2019 PJD

For further information please contact:

Until 17th Feb 2019
Peter Dunn, Director of Press and Media Relations, University of Warwick
Tel UK 024 76523708 office 07767 655860 mobile
Tel overseas: +44 (0)24 76523708 office +44 (0)7767 655860 mobile/cell
email p.j.dunn@warwick.ac.uk 

From 18th Feb
Tom Frew – Senior Press and Media Relations Manager
(0)24 7657 5910 email: a.t.frew@warwick.ac.uk