MORE than 100 years ago, Joseph Rowntree’s model ‘garden village’ of New Earswick set a new standard for decent, affordable housing for working people.

As we reported on Monday in a piece on the history of New Earswick, he didn’t want to create a community that bore the sometimes oppressive stamp of charity. His plan was for a vibrant, self-governing community with its own village council, a Folk Hall for public meetings and events - and houses that allowed the human spirit to flourish.

Rents were set so as to be affordable for working families, while giving a modest financial return to investors. Each house had a garden with fruit trees and enough ground to grow vegetables. The green space around the village was safeguarded by a deed held by the Village Trust.

The first phase of homes at New Earswick were built between 1901 and 1915. Today, Rowntree is rightly celebrated in this country for his pioneering approach to housing. And as this remarkable photograph shows, his garden village was also renowned across Europe at the time it was being built.

You may not be able to read the German writing which stretches across the top of this extraordinary, decorative archway. But what this photograph shows is the street decorations put up at New Earswick in July 1909 to welcome the visit of the German Garden City Association.

In a few short years, Britain and Germany would be at war. But when this photograph was taken,there was clearly a spirit of optimism abroad - and apparently an international movement to create better housing for working people.

We could do with some of that spirit today...

Stephen Lewis