History of the Town of Harlow

Memorial University of Newfoundland established the Harlow Campus in 1969. Since then thousands of students have had the opportunity to study there. Sadly, many returned home with little or no knowledge or appreciation of the town or the history that created it. This website was created in 2004, and has been modified several times since then, most recently in 2016, to take account of changes in the townscape. It is intended to provide an introduction to the town’s long history, and to demonstrate that the townscape of Harlow contains visible traces of many of the major events of English history. This website provides only a brief overview. It is not intended to take the place of the many books which tell the complete story of Harlow and of the New Town that was grafted on to its western side beginning in 1947. Those interested in the details of the story should consult the sources listed below and, if possible, pay a visit to the Museum of Harlow.

The Origins of Harlow and the Evolution of the Townscape

Celtic people were living here long before arrival of the Saxons in the 5th century. They probably lived on scattered farms, rather than in a nucleated settlement, but there appears to have been a concentration of activity near Ealing Bridge on Gilden Way, south-east of Harlow, and another north of Harlow Mill station. The most important site was the hill known as Stanegrove, located in the midst of the buildings of the Temple Fields Industrial Estate on the northern edge of the New Town, which was a site for worship by the 1st century B.C. More than 230 Celtic coins, some of them in mint condition, and 96 bronze brooches have been recovered from the site - presumably left as votive offerings.The site of the Temple has been thoroughly excavated, and its designation as an Ancient Monument will protect it from destruction. There is not much to see from ground level - it is more visible when viewed from above, but it is worth a visit.  Most visitors to Harlow are completely unaware of its existence, and access to the site isn't obvious to the uniniated. A path, marked by a sign, leads south off River Way, in the midst of the Templefields Industrial park.

Origins of Harlow

The traditional explanation for the name of the town is that it derives from two Old English words: 'hlaw' or 'hlaew' meaning 'hill' and either 'here' meaning an army or host or 'her' meaning 'holy' or 'sacred'. The people of each Hundred needed a place to meet. In the case of Harlow, the Moot, or meeting hill may have been either Stanegrove, or the hill behind the Green Man pub at Mulberry Green . If it was the latter it might explain the name of this crossroads - as 'moot-bury' or meeting place could easily have became corrupted to 'Mulberry'.There is no evidence of a Romanized town in the immediate vicinity, but around A.D. 80 a simple flint and mortar Romano-British temple dedicated to an unknown deity (but probably Minerva) was erected on the hill. In time it was improved and expanded and in the end was a masonry building with painted walls and a large courtyard. The temple was either destroyed, or simply allowed to decay, during the reign of Constantine in the early 4th century A.D. One hundred and fifty-nine Roman coins, dated between 15 B.C. and 390 A.D, have been recovered from the site.

The first written record of the town's name appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 where it appears as 'Herlaua'. All towns are feminine in Latin, so the Norman scribes added the customary feminine ending of 'a'. In Norman deeds the town is spelled 'Herlaue' (where the 'Her' would have been pronounced 'Har', as in Hertford, and the 'au' would have been pronounced as 'o'). This was the regular form of the name until the 13th century when a 'w' reappears, and by 1430 'Harlowe' had become the most common form. The final 'e' was dropped during the Georgian era.


Aldridge, Meryl (1979) The British New Towns: A Programme Without A Policy. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Aldridge, Meryl (1996) 'Only demi-paradise? Women in garden cities and new towns'. Planning Perspectives 11: 23-39.

Alexander, Anthony (2009) Britain's New Towns: Garden Cities to Sustainable Communities. London: Routledge

Anonymous (1967) 'Factory Fresh!'. House Beautiful For Young Homemakers. October: 3, 44-49.

Attfield, Judy (1989) 'Inside Pram Town: A case study of Harlow house interiors, 1951-1961'. In J. Attfield and P. Kirkham (eds.) A View From The Interior: Women and Design. London: Women's Press.

Clarke, Peter (2004) Hope and Glory. Britain 1900-2000. London: Penguin

Bateman, Linley (ed.) (1969) History Of Harlow. Harlow: Harlow Development Corporation.

Beard, Douglas (2005) People and Places of Harlow 1900 - 1975. Harlow: Museum of Harlow.

Bowyer, Michael J.F. (1979) Action Stations I: Wartime Military Airfields of East Anglia 1939-1945. Cambridge: Patrick Stephens.

Collins, Larry and Dominique LaPierre (1975) Freedom at Midnight. London: Book Club Associates.

France, N.E. and B.M. Gobel (1985) The Romano-British Temple at Harlow. West Essex Archaeological Group.

Gibberd, Frederick (1980) The Design Of Harlow. Harlow: Harlow District Council.

Gibberd, Frederick, Ben Hyde Harvey, Len White et al. (1980) Harlow: The Story Of A New Town. Stevenage: Publications for Companies.

Grindrod, John (2013) Concretopia:  A Journey Around the Rebuilding of Postwar Britain. Brecon: Old Street Publishing. 

Harlow District Council (1994) The Way We Worked: Memories of first years at work in and around Old Harlow 1920-1945.


Hubbard, Phil (2010) "Darren Hayman & The Secondary Moderns' 'Pram Town' ". Cultural Geographies 17: 407-414.

Jones, Ian (1992) The Book Of Harlow. Baron Birch.

Jones, Ian (1988) Domesday Book and Harlow. Harlow Museum Occasional Paper No. 2. Harlow: Harlow District Council.

Kelly's Directory of Essex (1874, 1878, 1882, 1890, 1908, 1922, 1933) London: Kelly's Directories Limited.

Lake, Hazel (1996) The Arkwrights of Harlow. Harlow: The Friends of Harlow Museum.

Lake, Hazel (ed.) (2010) A History of Mark Hall Manor: The Site of the Museum of Harlow. Harlow: The Friends of Harlow Museum.

Lloyd, T.O. (2002) Empire, Welfare State, Europe. History of the United Kingdom 1906-2001. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marwick, Arthur (2000) A History of the Modern British Isles 1914-1999 Oxford: Blackwell.

Priest, Jim (1980) Parndon Recollections. Harlow: Harlow Development Corporation.

Schaffer, Fred. (1970) The New Town Story. London: McGibbon Kee.

Smith, Graham (1996) Essex Airfields in the Second World War. Newbury, Berks.: Countryside Books.

Sparke, Penney (1995) As Long As It's Pink: The Sexual Politics of Taste. New York: Harper Collins.

Taylor, George (1995) Harlow. The Archive Photographs Series. Chalford, Gloucestershire: Chalford Press.

Verrells, Johanna (ed.) (1994) The Way We Worked: Memories of first years at work in and around Old Harlow, 1920 - 1945. Harlow: Harlow District Council.

Victoria History of the Counties of England (1983) A History of the County of Essex. University of London Institute of Historical Research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wellings, Rosemary (1984) Harlow In Old Picture Postcards. Saltbommel, Netherlands: European Library.


Creation of this website would have been impossible without the expertise, generosity and enthusiastic support of Mr. David Devine, former Local History Officer at the Museum of Harlow. He has been patiently answering my questions and providing me with maps and photographs since the first time I taught at the Harlow Campus in 1986.

The revision of the website during my sabbatical leave in 2010-2011,  a second revision in 2016-2017, and a third in 2019-2020 were undertaken under the tutelage of David Pippy, Online Student Recruitment Coordinator in the Office of Student Recruitment, Memorial University of Newfoundland. His willingness to devote hours of his personal time to what must have seemed the impossible task of teaching me how to use SiteBuilder surpasses understanding.

Zachary Wheeler of the Internationalization Office of Memorial University and Tyrel Jennings in the Marketing and Communications Division provided additional technical support.

Valuable insights were provided by the late Mr. Vince Dunn, former publican of The Marquis of Granby. Vince introduced me to Mr. Robert Mead, another fount of useful and interesting information.

The staff of MUN UK has always provided assistance to this project. Dawn Bird cheerfully scanned a large collection of new images for me – above and beyond the call of duty. Jacqui Blythin was always been happy to share with me her inexhaustible store of memories of Harlow. In the wake of her retirement, Sandra Norris has become my new 'in-house' source of local knowledge. 

My wife and I are grateful to Sandra Wright, Manager of the Harlow Campus, for always finding a way to accommodate us in a flat on the campus. Thanks to her, we continue to enjoy Harlow as our second home.

Michael Dyke and Colin Porcher, Old Harlovians, helped me understand the past history of St. John's House and Cottage. Mike Jury gave me permission to use the photographs he took of Reed's Malthouse in 1965. Additional background material, and some pictures, were provided by Mark and David Scott, Adrian and John Whittaker, Kay and Greg Holmes, Dave Morgan and John Graham, the architect responsible for the conversion of The Maltings and St. John's House and Cottage. 

In May, 2019, I became aware of the treasure trove of photographs and reminiscences on the Photos of Harlow: Old and New website, many of which were featured at the Museum Of Harlow during an exhibition in the summer of that year.  I am most grateftul to all those responsible for the creation and maintenance of this incredible archive, especially Barry Lawrence. 

To all of you, many thanks.

Chris Sharpe
Shelburne, Nova Scotia, Canada
18 October, 2021