Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens are a National Disgrace

The Water Gardens, designed for Hemel Hempstead New Town, are decaying. They should be Listed as a Grade 1 landscape and garden design.

The Water Gardens, designed for Hemel Hempstead New Town, are decaying. They should be Listed as a Grade 1 landscape and garden design.

The very best of Britain’s First Generation New Town plans was Geoffrey Jellicoe’s design for Hemel Hempstead. He was invited back to design the Water Gardens. Susan Jellicoe did the planting plan and they both saw it as their most successful project. I went there last year and again this week. The Water Gardens are in terrible condition and it is very depressing. The beds are full of weeds. The pleached limes are unclipped. The benches are smashed up. The canal is so over-stocked with ducks that the edges have eroded. The concrete bridges are crumbling. Some idiot has painted the steel railings green, instead of ‘Festival of Britain’ white.
Though I can’t find it, I wrote an article about New Towns for the TCPA Journal (c1980) and described the Hemel Hempsted Water Gardens as the space which best captures the spirit of the British New Towns. They used  the photograph on the front cover of the journal. If writing another article on the New Towns I would re-take the photograph and used it lament the sad demise of an excellent idea. The Landscape Institute should gird its loins and call for the New Towns Act to be brought back into operation. It is a much better way of managing urban growth than constant expansion of villages into small towns, of small towns into large towns and of large towns into conurbations. The fact that Gordon Brown’s Eco-Towns policy came to nothing demonstrates the need to do things properly, by bringing the New Towns Act back into use.

14 thoughts on “Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens are a National Disgrace

  1. Tom Turner Post author

    I am not sure if they were moved but the Harlow Water Gardens look much as they did before the shopping centre was built. See http://www.francisfrith.co.uk/harlow/photos/water-gardens-c1965_H22121/ The main change is that the greenspace in which they were set is now a shopping centre. William Mitchell’s sculptures are still there: http://www.william-mitchell.com/harlow.htm. The Harlow Water Garden is Grade II listed on the English Heritage register – but the design is not nearly as interesting, or as beautiful, as Jellicoe’s design for the Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens.

  2. Pete

    whoops. my mistake. I live in the town but i’ve never been to the water gardens centre. can’t think why I thought they had gone! then again i’ve never been to the Gibbard Gardens

  3. Tom Turner Post author

    For the current proposal to develop the Jellicoe Water Gardens, see these links (kindly provided by Annabel):
    When I went back to Hemel Hempstead after a 10 year gap, last year, I was delighted to see signs reading ‘To the Water Gardens’ but then discovered that this is the name Dacorum Borough Council has given to one of their car parks! The 2020 development proposal seems to be mainly about building above the car parks. This illustrates how a small crime can so easily lead to a larger crime (though the car parks are ghastly and the proposed buildings could be better).

  4. Peter Lowe

    Can you explain why Hemel Hempstead is listed but neither of the Garden City’s are? Are they too idealistic may, be or is it because the residents really care about their heritage and strive to protect it.

  5. Tom Turner Post author

    English Heritage maintains a Register of Parks and Gardens http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.1422 You have to go to Swindon to see it, for some extraordinary reason, and I do not go there very often. But I believe Harlow Water Gardens are listed on the Register and Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens are not listed – and I think Harlow Water Gardens were listed because they were threatened with being destroyed to make way for a shopping centre.

  6. Jenifer White, English Heritage

    Hemel Water Gardens are now registered. The site was added to the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Hitsoric Interest in England on 1st February 2010 as Grade II. Copies of the register entry can be ordered from English Heritage’s Customer Services 01793 414600.

    The Water Gardens, 1957-9 by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, at Hemel Hempstead are recommended
    for designation for the following principal reasons:
    * As a major, and relatively early, commission by of one of the foremost landscape
    designers of the C20
    * For the way Jellicoe integrated this civic design with his earlier, 1947-8, town
    masterplan for Hemel Hempstead
    * As an increasingly rare and largely intact example of a town centre water garden,
    created during the era of post-war renewal and new town developments
    * As an early instance of Jellicoe using landscape design to explore allegory and the
    sub-conscious, a theme that increasingly featured in his later schemes

    Gibberb’s Harlow Water Garden has been redeveloped so is no longer on the Register. The

    For more information on the Register of Parks and Gardens please see http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.1410

  7. Tom Turner Post author

    Wonderful. Thank you very much for posting the information.
    Can you tell me if it is for reasons of privacy that the English Register of Parks and Gardens is only available for consultation in Swindon. It would be convenient if it was available for online access.

  8. Pingback: Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens are getting worse and worse and worse | Garden Design And Landscape Architecture Blog – Gardenvisit.com

  9. Kate Harwood

    Letchworth Garden City town centre IS rightly on the EH Register, as is Howard Gardens both of which have benefited from HLF Grants. Welwyn Garden City gardens are not (why not?)but are beautifully maintained; both vistas and planting. Stevenage new town has just spruced up its town centre gardens with HLF money. Hemel Hempstead is increasingly looking like the poor relation, and yet it is by the most famous landscape architect of the lot.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Do you know if the Water Gardens in Harlow are on the EH register? Though designed by Frederick Gibberd they do not approach the quality, design interest or historical importance of the Water Gardens in Hemel Hempstead – which are of particular interest as a stage in the devlopment of Geoffrey Jellicoe’s approach to the role of the subconscious in landscape design. I once wrote an article on the landcape planning of new towns for the Journal of the Town and Country Planning Association. They put my photo of the Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens on the front cover and the point I made was that it was the place which most fully encapsulated the spirit of the new towns movement. They have to be restored.

  10. Jenifer White

    Harlow Water Gardens were de-registered in 2003 when the site was redeveloped. The gardens have been re-created on a new site and include many of the original structures.

    The Register of Parks & Gardens (descriptions and maps) and other designations can now be viewed online at http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/protection/process/national-heritage-list-for-england/ You can also apply online for sites to be registered http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/protection/process/online-application-form/

    Jenifer White
    Gardens & Landscape, English Heritage


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