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Brentham: A History of the Pioneer Garden Suburb 1901-2001

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By Aileen Reid. Brentham Heritage Society, 2000. 260pp. £25. (Available in bookshops and direct from Brentham Heritage Society, 47 Meadvale Rd, London W5 1NT )

This new book on the London suburb of Brentham is an excellent case study of one of the most important contributions Britain made to the history of Western architecture - the Garden City, writes Julian Holder . Often such studies enthuse about the genius loci and the community's jammaking ability but fail to put the settlement in its international context. That does not happen here.

As this copiously illustrated and fascinating history explains, Brentham has a good claim to be the first development of its kind. Begun in 1901, it comes after Ebenezer Howard wrote his theoretical outline of the Garden City in 1898, and yet before the more famous experiments at Letchworth (1903) or Hampstead (1906). The subtitle of the book - 'a history of the pioneer garden suburb' - is thus no hyperbole, while all three developments are united by the work of Parker and Unwin.

If more studies like this - bridging academic and local interests - were produced, suburban conservation areas might get the backing they deserve from residents and local authorities.

'Homes fit for heroes'may have developed after the First World War, but without the example of Brentham and its central figure Henry Vivian they would have probably never happened.

In time, if they survive, they will become as essential an element of our national self-image as the castle, the half-timber house, the country estate, and the red telephone box. We may not be ready for coach-trips to suburbia yet - but you can be sure that they are coming.

Julian Holder is co-ordinator of the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies

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