Born in Rotherham, Yorkshire, Raymond Unwin grew up in Oxford after his father sold his business and moved there to study. After graduating from Magdalen College School, Oxford, he moved to Manchester, taking a job as a draftsman at a cotton mill. In May 1887, he took a job as an apprentice engineer for Stavely Iron & Coal Company near Chesterfield. Here he designed industrial buildings and machinery and was also given the brief to construct housing for mine workers, albeit at minimum possible cost, to bye law standards, giving him first hand experience of the housing he would later strive to improve.
After forming a close friendship and formal partnership with Barry Parker, they worked together on private commissions and on site planning and residential layouts, not just at Letchworth Garden City but also at New Earswick, Brentham Garden Suburb and beyond. Raymond Unwin left Letchworth in 1906, to help plan Hampstead Garden Suburb, leaving Parker in charge of their Letchworth office.
Unwin published two influential books following his departure from Letchworth. ‘Town Planning and Practice in 1909 and in 1912, ‘Nothing Gained by Overcrowding’. Unwin joined the Local Governement Board as chief town planning inspector in 1914, and his influence later extended across the Atlantic where he was consultant to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in New York in 1936. He was then knighted in 1932.