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Pedestrianised shopping centre (photo Dec 2007)
Pedestrianised shopping centre (photo Dec 2007)
Shown within Essex

Shown within Essex
Country United Kingdom
Const Country England
Region East of England
Ceremonial County Essex
 • Leadership Alternative - Sec.31
 • Control  
 • MP Bill Rammell
 • District 11.79 sq mi (30.54 km2)
 • District Ranked
 • Ethnicity[1] 92.5% White
2.5% Asian
1.8% Black
1.6% Chinese or Other
1.5% Mixed
ONS code 22UJ
Website http://www.harlow.gov.uk/

Harlow is a former new town and now a borough town and local government district in Essex, England. It is located in the west of the county and on the border with Hertfordshire, on the Stort Valley, The town is near the M11 motorway and forms part of the London commuter belt. The district has a current population of 78,768 (2005 estimate).[2]



There is some dispute as to where the placename Harlow derives from. One theory is that it derives from the Anglo-Saxon words 'here' and 'hlaw', meaning "army hill", probably to be identified with Mulberry Hill, which was used as the moot or meeting place for the district.

The other theory is that it derives from the words 'here' and 'hearg', meaning "temple hill/mound", probably to be identified with an Iron Age burial mound, later a Roman temple site on River Way.

The original village, mentioned in the Norman Domesday Book, developed as a typical rural community around what is now known as Old Harlow, with many of its buildings still standing.

Early history

There was a Roman fort or settlement dating from around the 3rd century[citation needed] Archaeological excavations during the 1970s unearthed a Roman temple and a mosaic floor, itself built on top of an earlier Iron Age temple.

The new town

The new town was built after World War II to ease overcrowding in London at the same time as the similar orbital developments of Basildon, Stevenage, and Hemel Hempstead. The master plan for the new town was drawn up in 1947 by Sir Frederick Gibberd.[3] The development incorporated the market town of Harlow, now a neighbourhood known as Old Harlow, and the villages of Great Parndon, Latton, Tye Green, Potter Street, Churchgate Street, Little Parndon, and Netteswell. The town is divided into neighbourhoods, each self supporting with their own shopping precincts, community facilities and pub. Harlow has one of the most extensive cycle track networks in the country, connecting all areas of the town to the town centre and industrial areas. The cycle network is composed mostly of the original pre-new town roads.

The town centre is notable being the location of Britain's first pedestrian precinct,[4] and first residential tower block, The Lawn,[5][6] constructed in 1951; it is now a Grade II listed building. From 1894 to 1955, the Harlow parish formed part of the Epping Rural District of Essex.[7] From 1955 to 1974, Harlow was an urban district.[8]

The town centre, and many of its neighbourhood shopping facilities have undergone major redevelopment, along with many of the town's original buildings. Most of the town's buildings, built at a time when concrete was widely used in construction, now suffer from conditions relating to this, both practical and aesthetic. Subsequently, many of the original town buildings, including most of its health centres, the Staple Tye shopping centre, and many industrial units have been rebuilt. The most notable of these has been the demolition of Gibberd's original town hall, a landmark in the town, and its replacement of a new civic centre and shopping area.


The town has already experienced expansion. The first of which was the "mini expansion" that was created by the building of the Sumners and Katherines estates in the mid to late seventies to the west of the existing town. Since then Harlow has further expanded with the Church Langley estate completed in 2005, and its newest neighbourhood Newhall nearing completion. The Harlow Gateway Scheme is currently underway, with the relocation of the Harlow Football Stadium to Barrow's Farm in early 2006, and the building of a new hotel, apartments, and a restaurant adjacent to the railway station being complete. The next stage of this scheme involves the completion of the 530 eco-homes being built on the former sports centre site, and the centre's relocation to the nearby former college playing field site.

Other major developments under consideration include both a northern and southern bypass of the town, and significant expansion to the north, following the completed expansion to the east. The Harlow North[9] plans, currently awaiting permission, involve an extension of the town across the floodplains on the town's northern border, into neighbouring Hertfordshire. The plan is supported by MP Bill Rammell, all three political groups on Harlow Council, and the East of England Regional Assembly. It is opposed by Hertfordshire Council Council, East Herts Council, Mark Prisk, MP for Hertford, and Stortford in whose constituency the development would be and all the parishes concerned. The opposition is coordinated by a local group based in neighbouring East Hertfordshire.[10] An attempt to have Harlow North designated an "Eco Town" was rejected by the Minister for Housing, Caroline Flint, MP in April 2008

The south of the town centre also underwent major regeneration, with the new civic centre being built and the town's famous water gardens being redeveloped, a landscape covered by English Heritage. With this came a range of new shops, a major superstore, and several restaurants and cafés. It is likely that this development will be continued throughout the rest of the shopping district, with plans awaiting planning permission to be granted.


Harlow was originally expected to provide a majority of employment opportunities in manufacturing, with two major developments of The Pinnacles and Templefields providing the biggest employers in the region; as with the rest of the country, this manufacturing base has declined and Harlow has had to adjust.

The original manufacturing took the form of a biscuit factory, on the Pinnacles. Owned and run as a Co-Op, it provided employment to the town for over 50 years, before closing in 2002. It has since been demolished and the site is now small industrial units. At its peak, the factory employed over 500 people. At the time of its closure, the owner was Burton's Foods Ltd. An £8million production line – installed in 1999 – was left to rust in the car park upon the closure of the factory.

It is also the 2nd most important town for research[11] after Cambridge, with major employers including Raytheon and GlaxoSmithKline both having large premises within the town. Nortel also had a large site on the eastern edge of the town, acquired when STC was bought in 1991, and it was here that Charles K. Kao developed optical fibre data transmission. Nortel still has a presence, but it is much reduced.

Unemployment is frequently around 10%, higher than the national average in the UK. Harlow also has a large number of people in social housing, almost 30%[2] of dwellings being housing association and local authority owned, and many more privately rented.

Harlow Chamber of Commerce is a thriving group of local businesses that are committed to helping business grow.


See also: Harlow (UK Parliament constituency), Harlow local elections

Labour MP Bill Rammell was reelected in the 2005 general election, with a majority of only 97 after considerable gains by the Conservative Party since the 1997 and 2001 elections. Prior to the 2008 Council elections, no party had overall control of the local authority, which was run by a coalition of Liberal Democrats and Labour Party councillors. However, since the elections, the authority is under Conservative control.



Harlow is served by two railway stations, which are both on the West Anglia Main Line, running from Liverpool Street station in London to Cambridge. Harlow Town railway station is the main station with frequent trains to Cambridge, London, and Stansted Airport. The reasonably rapid connections to the capital allow Harlow to be part of the London commuter belt, and has helped Harlow's growth and its shift towards a commuter town for London. The second station is Harlow Mill railway station serving part of the eastern area of the town. Train services at both stations are provided by National Express East Anglia.


Harlow is reached from junction 7 of the M11 motorway, which runs from London to Cambridge, placing it within a short distance of Stansted Airport and the A120 and the orbital M25 motorway. Running through the town is the A414, a major road from Hertford to Chelmsford and linking the town with the A10 to the west. This road is often a cause of major congestion to the town and is awaiting a decision of both a southern and northern bypass to the town, with the Harlow North proposal including the latter as part of its bid to secure planning permission for 8,000 homes to the North of the town. It is unlikely to be built in the near future however. Another major road running from Harlow is the A1184, which also leads to the nearby town of Bishop's Stortford.


Bishop's Stortford is the closest large town to London Stansted Airport, though Harlow is only a short distance away from this major hub, and therefore benefits hugely from its presence. The government has indicated it still wishes to see a second runway built at this airport by 2012 despite local and national opposition, with Harlow being in the main flightpath to it.


Harlow bus station

Harlow has an extensive bus network and serves as a regional hub for the local area. Major routes include the 510 service linking it to Stansted Airport through Bishop's Stortford, the important Greenline 724 Route linking it to Heathrow Airport through Hertford, Hatfield, St Albans, and Watford. Route 501 takes the long serving route to Brentwood (and further on to Warley), as well as the 500 which previously went all the way to Romford, but was recently cut back to just Ongar due to low passenger numbers.Route 59 is another route which provides another vital link, it connects to Chelmsford through villages such as Hatfield Heath, Sheering and The Rodings, the route was recently upgraded with brand new Optare Versa buses.
You can also see the List of bus routes in Essex.

Future Transport Plans

Harlow First Avenue Multi-Modal Corridor

Harlow First Avenue Multi-Modal Corridor
Harlow developments.png
Developments in and around Harlow.
Location Essex
Proposer Essex County Council
Cost estimate £4.4 million (2008)
Completion date February 2010
Geometry KML

Essex County Council is involved in development to Harlow's First Avenue, which is intended to reduce congestion and create better transport connections between the Newhall housing developments. The scheme was implemented in two phases, each phase focusing on developing First Avenue on either side of Howard Way. Phase two has an estimated cost of £4.4 million and is due to be completed in early 2010, phase one is already complete and is listed as having had £3.6 million of funding from the Community Infrastructure Fund (CIF).[12] The scheme includes construction of a shared use cycleway and development to the bus service along first avenue and into the Newhall development site where 'high quality bus' services between Harlow town centre and Harlow Town Railway station are listed as part of the development.


Harlow is served by Princess Alexandra Hospital, situated on the edge of The High, which is the main Town Centre area of Harlow.

There is also a private hospital called The Rivers, which is located on the outskirts of Harlow

Famous present and former inhabitants

Twin towns


Harlow contains six secondary schools, most of which now have specialist status, and one College.

Brays Grove closed down in 2008 due to falling numbers of school aged students in the town. Once this site is vacated, a new school is to be built for Passmores who are relocating to the Brays Grove site.[19]

In the 1980s a further two secondary schools were closed, Latton Bush (now a commercial centre and recreational centre) and Netteswell (now forms part of the Harlow College Campus)[20] is a major further educational centre, covering GCSE's, A-Levels, and many vocational subjects including Hair & Beauty Therapy, Construction, Mechanics, ICT, and a new centre for Plumbing due to open. The college is currently under major regeneration and is due to open a new university centre in partnership with Anglia Ruskin University, covering mostly Foundation degrees in a variety of subjects relevant to local employers needs.

Memorial University of Newfoundland also has a small international campus located in Old Harlow.

Leisure and entertainment

  • The Square
  • The Harlow Playhouse
  • The Harvey Centre
  • Harlow Rugby Club
  • Liquid (club)
  • Harlow Skate Park
  • Quazar
  • Harlow Sports Centre

The Square, located near Princess Alexandra Hospital, is a popular rock music club, situated close to the town centre. It has in the past hosted gigs by the likes of Oasis, The Subways, Blur, Supergrass, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine (USM), the Supernaturals, the Candyskins, and Republica to name a few. It remains a mainstay on the gigging circuit of the southeast of England.

Harlow Rugby Football Club play their home games at Ram Gorse in the town. The first team plays in the London & South East Division III North East league.

The town's football team Harlow Town F.C. play in the Ryman Division One North. In October 2006 they moved into their new stadium at Barrows Farm, and their old ground at the Harlow Sportcentre is being demolished to make way for new housing facilities as part of the Gateway Scheme, which will also see a brand new sports centre complex built in the centre of the town, on the former Harlow College playing field.

The town was the site of the UK's first purpose-built sports centre, Harlow Sports Centre, in 1960. The building is due to be replaced in January 2010 by the state-of-the-art Harlow Leisure Park, built near Harlow College as part of the Gateway Project.

There has recently been a new skatepark built in Harlow next to Burnt Mill School the project has been funded by investment of over £300,000, largely coming from Harlow Council with £57,500 coming from Sport England. The park also has many security features such as 24/7 CCTV coverage, and is floodlit at night. The 650sq metre park is made entirely from concrete, and has a bowl as well as a street course which contains quarter pipes, flat banks, rails and steps. It is suitable for people of all ages as well as skateboards, inline skates, scooters and BMXs.

Art and Culture

Harlow is the home to a major collection of public sculptures (over 100 in total) by artists ranging from August Rodin to Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Many of these are owned by the Harlow Art Trust, an organisation set up in 1953 by the lead architect of Harlow Frederick Gibberd. Gibberd had idealist notions of the New Town as a place where people who might not normally have access to art could enjoy great sculptures by great artists on every street corner. Consequently almost all of Harlow's sculpture collection is located in the open air, in shopping centres, housing estates and parks around the town.[21]

In 2009 Harlow Council voted to celebrate Harlow's collection of sculpture by branding Harlow as 'Harlow Sculpture Town - The World's First Sculpture Town'. Harlow Sculpture Town began as an initiative from Harlow Art Trust, this will see Harlow present itself to the world as 'Sculpture Town', in a similar way to Hay-on-Wye's presentation of itself as Booktown.[22] A complete catalogue of the Harlow Art Trust's sculpture collection is available at Harlow Art Trust.

As part of the 'Sculpture Town' branding, Harlow is also home to the Gibberd Garden, the former home of Frederick and Elizabeth Gibberd, which is a managed twentieth-century garden, and home to some of the Gibberd's private sculpture collection. The garden is open to the public and owned by the Gibberd Garden Trust see Gibberd Garden.

Harlow is also the location of The Playhouse Theatre The Playhouse and an art gallery, called the Gibberd Gallery, located in the Civic Centre, containing a very good collection of twentieth-century watercolours and temporary exhibitions. [2]


A major feature to the new town is its green wedges, with over 1/3rd of the town being parkland or open space. Harlow Town Park is one of the largest urban parks in Britain, and occupies a large chunk of the central town. Each estate is also separated by open space (spitting distance).

The town is in a very dry area of the UK, with nearby Maldon being the driest area in the country. In 2006 the entire South East of England was affected by drought, with Harlow covered by a water restriction order, preventing unnecessary use of water. Snowfall caused chaos in early 2006 and 2007, as it did in 2003. The heatwave of the same year also saw the UK hit its highest ever recorded temperature, a short distance away in Gravesend, Kent. The area is generally much milder than most other parts of the UK.

The summer of 2006 also saw flash floods hit many parts of the town, causing major roads through the town to become temporarily impassable, and severe damage to many properties around the town. As a result, the council is reviewing its flood defences and drainage systems.


  1. ^ Resident Population Estimates for Harlow
  2. ^ a b Harlow District Council - Harlow: A Comparison with Essex 2001 Census
  3. ^ Gardens Guide - Frederick Gibberd
  4. ^ Memorial University - Department of Geography - Harlow's History and Geography
  5. ^ English Heritage - Images of England - The Lawn
  6. ^ BBC News - Redeveloping Essex's fallen utopia
  7. ^ Vision of Britain - Harlow parish
  8. ^ Vision of Britain - Harlow UD
  9. ^ Ropemaker Properties Limited - Harlow North
  10. ^ Stop Harlow North Campaign Group
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ "Harlow, First Avenue, Multi-Modal Corridor, Phase 2" (PDF). 2008-11. Retrieved 2009-10-14. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  13. ^ Mark Hall School
  14. ^ St Marks School
  15. ^ Burnt Mill School
  16. ^ Stewards School
  17. ^ Passmores School
  18. ^ Harlow College
  19. ^ Harlow Star - Passmores move given go-ahead. 12 March 2008[dead link]
  20. ^ Harlow College
  21. ^ Gillian Whiteley, Sculpture in Harlow (Harlow: Harlow Art Trust, 2005)
  22. ^ Harlow Herald (newspaper), 31 March 2009

External links

Coordinates: 51°46′44″N 0°07′41″E / 51.779°N 0.128°E / 51.779; 0.128