Harlow Family Group 1954-55 (LH 364)


Hadene stone
height 164cm

photo: Graham Portlock

In 1947 Harlow was designated the second of the eleven post-war new towns. It was seen as a pioneering and modern place to work, attracting practitioners at the vanguard of planning, architecture and garden design. Leading this group of creative pioneers was Harlow’s master planner Sir Frederick Gibberd

In 1953, with the endorsement of the Harlow Development Corporation, Gibberd established the Harlow Art Trust. The trust was to carry out his vision of using art to embellish the town’s design by acquiring and commissioning contemporary sculpture for Harlow’s neighbourhoods and shopping precincts. Its first 20 years of activity was prolific, and by the 1970s the trust had amassed a collection comprising sculptures by many of the country’s leading artists, including Barbara Hepworth, Elizabeth Frink, F.E. McWilliam, and Lynn Chadwick. However it was the sculpture of Henry Moore, and in particular the Trust’s first commissioned piece, Harlow Family Group, for which Harlow would become best known.

Moore was approached in 1954 and was an obvious choice as he was one of the country’s leading contemporary artists, living only eight miles from Harlow in Much Hadham. He had shown an interest in the development of the town, and was a close friend of the Chairman of the trust Sir Philip Hendy, who was also Director of the National Gallery, London. Moore chose to depict a family group, which seemed particularly appropriate at the time as Harlow had a large population of young families.

The Harlow Family Group was unveiled by Sir Kenneth Clark in May 1956, almost immediately becoming the town’s unofficial emblem. Most locals felt that the sculpture related to Harlow’s adopted name of ‘Pram Town’. Prior to the unveiling, a rumour had spread amongst residents that the sculpture depicted obscene imagery. This encouraged the local ‘purity squad’ to turn up to protest at the unveiling. Needless to say they came away disappointed. The sculpture was originally sited outside St Mary of Latton Church in Mark Hall. It has since been moved on several occasions for conservation reasons and is currently on display inside the new Civic Centre.