Saturday, December 16, 2017

Evacustes Phipson & the origins of Letchworth Garden City

The Cock Inn, St Albans
The previous post, on The Peaceful Path has remined me of Edward Arthur Phipson who is already recorded on my web site as a water colour artist. He went round the country painting pictures of historically interesting buildings in the early 20th century. However he was also a radical socialist who knew Ebenezer Howard and was clearly interested in the foundation of Letchworth Garden City. A few years ago I started to investigate his early history and the following is a brief summary of his very interesting radical past.
E A (Evacustes) Phipson came from a well-to-do Birmingham factory-owning family, and may have been articled to an architect. He became a socialist and had contacts with William Morris. He failed in an attempt to found a socialist colony south of Sydney, Australia, in about 1884. He then became the London agent for Topolobampo, an attempt to establish a socialist community in Mexico. In 1893 he was treasurer of the Nationalization of Labour Society at the time when Ebenezer Howard was one of a committee set up to consider the formation of a co-operative land colony in England. Later the same year he was talking about the possibility of setting up a colony at Champions Farm, Woodham Ferris, near Chelmsford, but this apparently came to nothing. He clearly found Howard's plans for Letchworth not socialist enough, but in 1903 he corresponded with Albert Kinsey Owen and urged the American to offer his services in the building of Letchworth and the following year wrote a letter about the Australian plans for a Federal Capital saying "Having studied for many years the subject of ideal cities, and taken part in the founding of several, from Topolobarapo, on the Gulf of California, to the Garden City now building 60 miles from London ..."  In 1907 he wrote in the February Edition of Garden City comparing Letchworth with the English Fairhope. However it was said that he has spent most of his inheritance on the Australian project and his paintings may well have been to provide additional income, starting in 1894.
Several years ago I started to research this aspect of Evacustes' life and prepare some draft notes with a view to posting much fuller details on my web site, but had a long list of research still to do - particularly in connection with Letchworth Garden City. It is now clear I am unlikely to have time to finish this research and will try and put a tidied up version of my draft notes online sometime next year.

In the meantime if anyone has any information on his links with Letchworth (and perhaps later Welwyn Garden City) I would love to hear from you. In addition I suspect there are a number of his Hertfordshire paintings in private hands and I would love to be able to include details in my draft biography. As he concentrated on painting historic buildings it would be of particular interest if he ever did a painting of Letchworth Garden City.

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