Area Guide: Britain’s first New Town, Stevenage
PUBLISHED: 12:00 10 July 2018 | UPDATED: 20:57 10 July 2018
Sometimes known for lacking aesthetic value, the beauty of Stevenage lies not in its looks, but in its versatility. Spencer Caminsky found out more...
Until the 1940s, Stevenage had been a farming town housing 6,000 people.
However, following the second world war and the ensuing housing crisis, the new Labour government passed the 1946 New Towns Act.
The law advocated for the creation of new towns to combat the crisis, moving those living in the cramped, unsanitary conditions of inner city London, to more rural communities, taking advantage of the additional space.
While locals opposed the move, former city-dwellers started moving into their homes, and Stevenage became Britain’s first ever New Town.
Stevenage was constructed radically differently to other towns in the area. The famous pedestrianised town centre was the first of its kind in Britain, opened by the Queen in 1959.
Following increased house and infrastructure building in Stevenage, the town is seen as split into two areas: ‘Old Town’ and ‘New Town’.
Old Town is known for its charm, and rural landscape. Its period homes are expensive, but attractive, typically featuring houses with large gardens, high ceilings and fireplaces.
The character of the rest of Old Town matches the character of its homes. The high street, occupied by small shops and historical inns and pubs, is smaller, but prettier than its counterpart. Beyond the High Street is St Nicolas Church, which is surrounded by countryside.
In contrast, New Town looks and feels like an urban jungle. Built between 1946 and 1980, the area has a more expansive high street with its pedestrian-only areas, and a range of more affordable housing options for families.
Recently, Hertfordshire LEP announced plans to invest in the regeneration of Stevenage. The £34m project is set to deliver 800 homes, new retail units, a library and council offices to the city.
Stevenage is dominated by roundabouts and cycleways. The cycle network was implemented in the 1960s and ’70s while the town was in its earlier development stages.
Transport options to and from Stevenage are plentiful. Stevenage station connects the city to major locations such as Cambridge, Leeds and London, King’s Cross a 25-minute journey from the station.
The A1(M), which runs to the west of the town, connects Stevenage to London and the north.
Most schools in Stevenage were built in the 1960s, to accommodate the influx of families and children coming from London.
Notable primary schools in the area include Woolenwick Infant and Nursery School and Letchmore Infants’ and Nursery School, which were both rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted at their last inspections.
‘Good’ secondary schools include The Thomas Alleyne Schoo, Marriots School and The John Henry Newman Catholic School (‘good’).
The city also has a further education and higher education college, North Hertfordshire College, which is located on Monkswood Way.
Sports and Leisure
Stevenage is home to a range of sports clubs and facilities.
Stevenage FC compete in league two, the fourth tier of English football. The city also boasts a successful women’s football club and a rugby club, as well as boating lakes.
Locals can also take advantage of the King George V Playing Fields, where regular community events and sports are held.
For a more comprehensive fitness experience, Stevenage Leisure provides a variety of fitness-related activities to locals around the city, such as golf, swimming, badminton and activities centred on the gym. Notably, at Fairlands Valley Park (a centre which is part of the trust), watersport activities such as kayaking, climbing and windsurfing are available.
The main shopping area in Stevenage is the Westgate Shopping Centre, housing popular shops such as H&M and River Island. The more high-brow high street in Old Town is home to over 50 businesses, where every Wednesday and Saturday, over 100 stalls are put up for market day.
For an artsier leisure experience, The Gordon Craig Theatre hosts regular drama and dance productions, while Knebworth House has been used for rock festivals since 1974, hosting groups such as Pink Floyd and Queen.
In Pop Culture
A range of well-known individuals have called Stevenage their home, including England football player Ashley Young, golfer Ian Poulter, racing driver Lewis Hamilton, novelist E.M. Forster and performance poet John Cooper Clarke.
The city also acts as the set for 2018 comedy series Lee and Dean, aired on Channel 4.
The local view
Daniel, a Stevenage resident for the last five years, said “The retail parks and numerous supermarkets are handy and we are lucky enough to live close to Fairlands Valley Park which has got a beautiful lake and children’s activities. We love living in an area with so much greenery and still with close links to London.”
With its range of living arrangements, shopping and fitness centres, and good transport links, Stevenage is a commuter town offering a sizeable amount of choice for young families having to commute to the capital for work, and older couples wanting to settle down. Old Town and New Town vastly differ in character, yet this historic city manages to provide them both.