My research is based in Wythenshawe, just south of Manchester. Today Wythenshawe is home to over 70,000 people, but at the start of the 20th century it was open countryside and farmland. What is now one of Europe’s largest areas of social housing was built entirely from scratch, mostly between the 1920s and 60s, to rehouse tens of thousands of Mancunians from inner city clearance areas like Hulme.
Wythenshawe isn’t any old area of housing: it was one of only a handful of garden cities to be built in the UK – the product of a revolutionary era in town planning. The garden city movement was about more than simply relocating urban workers from the cramped, smoggy slums of the inner city into newly-built housing on the edge of the city. The movement envisaged new, comprehensively planned cities surrounded by countryside. Garden cities would have a strictly set maximum population. They would be self-sufficient, supported by their own industry and agriculture and with their own cultural amenities. Houses would be large and well built, with their own gardens.
If you look closely at Wythenshawe today, you can see distinctive features of its garden city design: hexagonal street layouts designed to make more efficient use of land; a strip of greenbelt to separate ‘garden city’ from ‘city’ (although this has now been eaten into by golf courses), and a tree-lined parkway road to carry cars to and from neighbouring Manchester, carefully landscaped to be inviting to pedestrians (now a forbidding motorway).
The maps show Wythenshawe’s development between 1938, 1954, 1967, 1977 and 1996, and they chart the gradual relinquishing of the garden city principles on which Wythenshawe was designed. In 1938, the extent of the pre-war development can be seen, alongside the extensive area of countryside still to be built upon. In 1954, the post-war building has commenced to the west and south west. By 1967, the majority of Wythenshawe’s housing has been built and its maximum population reached. A corridor of open land to the west shows where the motorway extension to the Princess Parkway will run, and an empty triangular space in the centre indicates where the long-awaited Forum centre will be built, complete with shops, a library, a swimming pool and a theatre. By 1977 the Forum has arrived, along with the M56 motorway and its spur to the airport, which together cut Wythenshawe in two and begin to seal it off from the countryside to the south. By 1996, the dramatic expansion of Manchester Airport and the arrival of a new railway line have finally removed the direct link between Wythenshawe and the countryside: the ‘city’ and its ‘garden’.
Despite Wythenshawe’s finished form being a significantly watered down version of the garden city ideal, aspects of its design – in particular the living space afforded by its houses and gardens – stand in favourable contrast to many modern developments, a fact not lost on the Real Lives campaign which is fronting Wythenshawe’s regeneration as ‘Manchester’s garden city’.
Maps © Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited (2012). All rights reserved. Made available by the superb Digimap service, run by EDINA at the University of Edinburgh.