Tribute to pioneering geography professor and former Broadstairs resident Alice Coleman

Professor Alice Coleman

Former Broadstairs resident Professor Alice Coleman passed away at Kings College Hospital, London, on May 2. She was 99 years old and just five weeks from turning 100.

Alice was born in Paddington Hospital to parents Bertie and Elizabeth on 8th June 1923. She was brought up in Broadstairs .

Alice was a student at Clarendon House School in Ramsgate. She then qualified as a geography teacher. Whilst still teaching, she received a First-Class Honours Degree at Birkbeck College. The following year she began her masters at University College London, subsequently graduating with a distinction.

Alice became an assistant lecturer at King’s College London in 1948 and the lecturer in 1951 before eventually becoming a professor in 1987 – the first female member of staff promoted to this position.

Alice was noted for directing the 1960s Second Land Use Survey of Britain – the first comprehensive attempt to map the use of British land since the 1930s.

Alice had a long term interest in cartography and teaching, and she responded to a request by the Geographical Association to compile a land use map of her local area, which she completed with Kenneth Maggs. In 1960, encouraged and supported financially by Sir Dudley Stamp, who had directed the First Land Use Survey, Alice soon set about recruiting geography teachers and sixth formers to compile land use maps of their local area.

Alice herself mapped land use in over 1500 square miles in fifteen different counties. Her drive and commitment to the project were rewarded: three thousand volunteers, together with many of her own students at King’s, helped to map land use across England and Wales, eventually leading to the publication of 120 separate maps.

This immense contribution to understanding the rapidly changing post-war British landscape, which also drew Alice into mapping urban areas and derelict land, brough recognition from the Royal Geographical Society, which awarded her the Gill Memorial Medal in 1963 not merely for the huge effort that a project of that scope entailed but also because it was completed with the ‘minimum of official assistance’ – testament to the passion and commitment so typical of everything that Alice undertook to achieve.

Utopia on Trial

In 1985, Alice researched the relationship between housing design and social malaise, forming the basis of her book Utopia on Trial. Her findings prompted a private audience with the Prime Minister and significant government investment under Alice’s direction.


Utopia on Trial attracted widespread attention, including from Prince (now King) Charles III, and led to invitations to advise on housing estates in Canada, the Netherlands, Australia and other parts of the world. Perhaps most significantly, the ideas attracted the attention of Margaret Thatcher, whose administration at the time was struggling to deal with the problems of inner city crime and urban decay.

This  laid the basis for the Design Improvement Controlled Experiment (D. I. C. E.), a major project on the redesign of British public housing estates funded by a £50 million grant from the government. The project ran from 1988, the year that Alice officially retired from King’s College, until 1994, by which time a new Conservative administration was in power more sceptical of the impact of design on crime and anti-social behaviour.

Generous and gregarious

Her other interests included her love of language, literacy and graphology – the analysis of handwriting – inspiring her to write acclaimed and respected books on all these subjects.

Alice will be lovingly remembered by three generations of her family, and her students, colleagues, and friends, all of whom, she has been a powerful inspiration to. She was generous, gregarious, and excellent company, to her very last day.

A service to celebrate her life will be held at Thanet Crematorium, Margate, at 12.15pm on Friday, 30th June. Donations in memory can be made to RNLI through H Noble Funeral directors, Broadstairs. Tel. 01843 862503 or online at

With thanks to Andrew Coleman and David Green