History Centre Heroes: Sir Patrick Abercrombie

Sir Leslie Patrick Abercrombie (1879-1957) was born in Greater Manchester and trained as an architect. He held the posts of Professor of Civic Design at Liverpool’s School of Architecture and Professor of Town Planning at University College London in the early part of his career.

Sir (Leslie) Patrick Abercrombie by Elliott & Fry
Sir (Leslie) Patrick Abercrombie by Elliott & Fry

He made his name and reputation with award-winning designs for Dublin’s city centre and the re-planning of cities such as Hull, Bath, Bournemouth, Edinburgh, Hull and, of course, Plymouth which suffered heavy bombing during World War II.

As a result of his ‘A Plan for Plymouth’ (1943) which was prepared in conjunction with City Engineer James Paton Watson, Plymouth has been described as ‘the foremost English example of post-war reconstruction on the grand scale, laid out to the designs of the most influential urban planner of the day’.

© Western Morning News
Colin Campbell, Abercrombie, Lord Astor, Paton Watson and Deputy Modley with a model of the plan for the reconstruction of Plymouth, 1944 © Western Morning News

Abercrombie worked on the plan at the same time as he was working on the reconstruction plan for London. It was implemented between 1945-62 and, although compromises were made, it led to a bold and ambitious programme. The end result was the complete redesign and construction of Plymouth’s city centre and the development of a number of new neighbourhood areas which expanded the city far beyond its pre-war boundaries.

An illustration from 'A Plan for Plymouth'
‘A Plan for Plymouth’ illustration

Abercrombie was involved in the founding of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (CPRE) and served as its Honorary Secretary for a time. He was also the first president of the International Union of Architects (UIA).

During the rest of his career he published plans for the Clyde Valley and the redevelopment of Warwick, was commissioned by the British government to redesign Hong Kong and by Haile Selassie to draw up plans for Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

He was knighted in 1945 and received the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Gold Medal in 1950. Today, the UIA awards an annual Sir Patrick Abercrombie Prize for excellence in town planning, while the University of Liverpool’s Department of Civic Design gives an annual Abercrombie Prize to its top-performing student.

 

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