RUMMAGING around in our archives at The Press, we came across a few old photographs of children playing at New Earswick Primary School.

They showed children playing in the school garden; dancing around a maypole; and sitting in a classroom.

There was no date on any of them. But judging by the children's clothes, and the sepia tone of the photographs, we reckoned they must date from a hundred years ago or more.

That is plausible. According to the Rowntree Society's history of New Earswick, the school was opened in 1912 by the then Minister of Education - though whether this was education secretary Jack Pease or one of his junior ministers, we're not sure.

We suspect our photographs date from not that much later.

We've dug out a few more photographs of New Earswick in its early years - including one showing Rowan Avenue being built in 1919; a photo of a milkmaid filling bottles in the White Rose dairy, which was set up on the recommendation of Seebohm Rowntree; and New Earswick villagers holding a street party in Sycamore Avenue in 1945 to mark the end of the Second World War.

We tend to forget these days just how revolutionary New Easrwick was when it was first planned and built.

A history of the village compiled by the Rowntree Society says the foundations of a 'Garden Village' were first laid down by Joseph Rowntree in 1901 when he bought 123 acres of land near the village of Earswick outside York.

In 1902, he commissioned Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin to become the architects for the village.

Rowntree insisted that he did not ‘want to establish communities bearing the stamp of charity’. Instead, the Rowntree Society says, he wanted residents of his model village to develop ‘a sense of civil responsibility’. In 1907, a village council was formed, to manage the Folk Hall and develop a ‘civic spirit’ in the village.

To oversee and fund the creation of New Earswick, Rowntree set up a Trust in 1904. New earswick was intended to be a 'model village' that set an example of decent (and affordable) housing.

House rents were fixed so that they would be within the means of working people while at the same time bringing in a modest commercial return on the capital invested. Tenancies in the village were not restricted to Rowntree employees but were open to anyone who worked. In the first phase of building, lasting from 1901 until 1915, 175 houses were built either in pairs or short terraces.

Each house had a garden with fruit trees and enough ground to grow vegetables. The green space around was safeguarded by the Trust Deed of the Village Trust. Roads in the village were named after trees and houses were built of local brick from the nearby brickworks. The Folk Hall was completed for use as a community centre in 1908, and the Primary School opened in 1912.

Building continued in New Earswick after the First World War. Various innovative schemes were tried out or introduced, such as building bungalows or creating cul-de-sacs. In 1950, the brick ponds used for early phases of building were developed into a nature reserve.

Today, there are more than 1,000 homes in New Earswick, together with two schools, sports facilities, the folk hall, and local shops. And, more than 100 years after it was first -planned, it still stands as a fine example of what decent quality housing should be.

Stephen Lewis