Dr Mervyn Miller to research Garden City creator

Architect, town planner and historian Dr Mervyn Miller has been appointed Parker Scholar to research the life and work of Barry Parker, one of the creators of Letchworth Garden City.

The Garden City Collection has appointed Dr Miller to write a book drawing on the Collection’s extensive archive which includes Parker’s design drawings as well as  unpublished family correspondence, including some held by  Mr Parker’s grand-daughter.

Dr Mervyn Miller   

Dr Miller’s career has included a 40-year involvement with Garden Cities and the emergence of Town Planning, encompassing research on Letchworth Garden City, Hampstead Garden Suburb and the international influence of Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin on community planning.

He has written several books and was appointed a Visiting Fellow at Oxford Brookes University in 1997. Qualifying as an architect in the 1960s, he studied urban planning in the United States. As Principal Conservation Officer for North Herts District Council in Letchworth from 1974-87 he took the opportunity to pore over Barry Parker’s drawings and those for the pioneering pre-1914 period of the earliest development of Letchworth, which formed the basis for the Letchworth Garden City Conservation Area.

Dr Miller said: “Garden Cities have been revived and Barry Parker was one of their prime architect-planners, though still undervalued, together with his partner in practice, Raymond Unwin.  Parker was largely responsible for that distinctive ‘Letchworth look’: the Arts and Crafts cottages with their enduring appeal, which set housing standards for the twentieth century.

“Having access to Barry Parker’s papers and correspondence is adding a new dimension to my knowledge culled from the drawings and construction press. I believe that looking at what he did, why and how, will help the creative planning of new Garden City communities today.”

Barry Parker (1867-1947) was an Arts and Crafts architect and town planner, who together with Raymond Unwin, created the master plan and housing for Letchworth Garden City.  Parker was a holistic designer, whose range spanned jewellery, textiles, Arts and Crafts furniture, individual houses and gardens, housing estates, community halls and churches to the complete Garden City.

Dr Miller said: “Barry Parker has been undervalued, compared to Raymond Unwin who achieved a more high-profile public role. A sense of frustration is evident in family correspondence. During the First World War, Parker’s international career and influence blossomed. In 1915 he planned a new civic square in the centre of Oporto, Portugal. In 1917-19 he was resident in Sao Paulo, Brazil, planning a series of garden suburbs, development of which continued through the 1920s and 1930s, and influenced the adoption of Garden City planning in Latin America.”

An initial instalment of Dr Miller’s research has been published in The Orchard, Journal of the Voysey Society. CFA Voysey was a key pioneer of Arts and Crafts architecture in the 1890s, who influenced the work of Parker and Unwin, and also the furniture designs of Barry’s younger brother Stanley. Dr Miller will travel to California to address the Society for American City and Regional Planning History in November. He plans to produce a book on Barry Parker’s life and work in time for the 150th anniversary of his birth in 2017. This will complement a major retrospective on his work produced by the Garden City Collection.

The Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation run the Garden City Collection as a charitable service to preserve the archive of the world’s first Garden City and the Garden City Movement, with master plans, photographs, architectural plans, an art collection, beautiful Arts and Crafts furniture, and more. 

Vicky Axell, Curator of the Garden City Collection said: “We are really pleased to have appointed Dr Miller as one of the leading authorities on the Garden City Movement and the work of Parker and Unwin.  It is part of our commitment to raise awareness about the important role that Parker played in town planning and architecture. The Parker Collection is an Arts and Crafts gem and we look forward to providing more access to it as the project evolves.”