So, what’s with the sculptures, and why Harlow? Old Harlow is ancient. Like, older than the doomsday book, so, no one can really be sure when – but definitely founded by the early medieval age. So, proper ancient.
Just called “Harlow” prior to the new town coming into existence in 1947, in the Old Town you’ll find Victorian town buildings and some choice country pubs, like The Crown and The Chequers (Est 1662). It’s rammo with history, including Harlowbury, a de-settled monastic area containing the remains of a scheduled ancient monument. Good Old Harlow.
Harlow New Town was built, along with other new towns like Basildon, Stevenage and Hemel Hempstead, after World War II. The town was carefully designed and planned from the outset to respect the existing landscape. Nice.
Drawn up in by master planner Sir Frederick Gibberd (one of the leading architects of the day who also designed London’s Heathrow Airport and Liverpool’s Catholic Cathedral) it is known as ‘The Sculpture Town’, and no surprises, it’s down to the impressive population of sculptures. You can’t walk around Harlow without bumping into a naked ceramic torso or some geometric concrete art. And if that sounds a little intense, how’s this for reassurance; thousands of school kids come to Harlow, to the Gibberd Gallery each year, to learn about sculpture. So it’s literally ‘child’s play’.
Art had always been central to Gibberd’s plans for the town, but with other pressures sculpture was not a high priority in the early years – but, a bit of time travelling later, Harlow Art Trust was formed (thanks to a donation from the Elmgrant Trust to provide ‘Art for the Town’). An early trustee was Patricia Fox Edwards (later Lady Gibberd), was tireless in seeking out new pieces for the collection. Over the years that collection has grown to almost 100 works, almost all located in the streets, shopping centres, parks and housing areas of Harlow, giving the Town the highest percentage of public sculpture per head of population in the country.
The Gibberd Gardens, the Gibberd’s home gardens, (also home to Curious Yellow), were lovingly created by Sir Frederick and Lady Gibberd. They were left to the people of Harlow to enjoy. Now managed by a trust, the incredible landscaped gardens contain many outstanding pieces of sculpture, architectural artefacts and, as well as being of national significance, the garden was created to encourage exploration. So we really mean it when we say; ‘Welcome to the garden, we hope you get lost’. In the nicest possible way.