So what is interesting about Letchworth? Ah, if you aren't from England, you probably haven't a clue. So I was really thrilled to go to my trusty Wikedpeia and learn this...
The United Kingdom's first roundabout on The Broadway in Letchworth Garden City
Letchworth, officially Letchworth Garden City, is a town in Hertfordshire, England.
The town's name is taken from one of the three villages it surrounded (the other two being Willian and Norton) – all of which featured in the Domesday Book. The land used was purchased by Quakers who had intended to farm the area and build a Quaker community. The town was laid out by Raymond Unwin as a demonstration of the principles established by Ebenezer Howard who sought to create an alternative to the industrial city by combining the best of town and country living. It is also home to the United Kingdom's first roundabout, which was built in 1909.
As one of the world's first new towns and the first garden city it had great influence on future town planning and the New towns movement; it influenced Welwyn Garden City, which used a similar approach and inspired other projects around the world including the Australian capital Canberra, Hellerau, Germany, Tapanila, Finland, and Mežaparks in Latvia.)
In 1898, the social reformer Ebenezer Howard wrote a book entitled To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (later republished as Garden Cities of To-morrow), in which he advocated the construction of a new kind of town, summed up in his Three Magnets diagram as combining the advantages of cities and the countryside while eliminating their disadvantages. Industry would be kept separate from residential areas—such zoning was a new idea at the time—and trees and open spaces would prevail everywhere. His ideas were mocked in the press but struck a chord with many, especially members of the Arts and Crafts movement and the Quakers.
According to the book the term "Garden City" derived from the image of a city being situated within a belt of open countryside (which would contribute significantly to food production for the population), and not, as is commonly cited, to a principle that every house in the city should have a garden.
The concept outlined in the book is not simply one of urban planning, but also included a system of community management. For example, the Garden City project would be financed through a system that Howard called "Rate-Rent", which combined financing for community services (rates) with a return for those who had invested in the development of the City (rent). The book also advocated a rudimentary form of competitive tendering, whereby the municipality would purchase services, such as water, fuel, waste disposal, etc., from (often local) commercial providers. These systems were never fully implemented, in Letchworth, Welwyn or their numerous imitators.
A competition was held to find a town design which could translate Howard's ideas into reality, and September 1903 the company "First Garden City Ltd." was formed, Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin were appointed architects, and 16 km² of land outside Hitchin were purchased for building. In keeping with the ideals only one tree was felled during the entire initial construction phase of the town, and an area devoted to agriculture surrounding the town was included in the plan – the first "Green Belt".
|Shortly after the birth of the Garden City, Letchworth was home to two experimental housing exhibitions in 1905 and 1907.|
In 1905, and again in 1907, the company held the Cheap Cottages Exhibitions, contests to build inexpensive housing, which attracted some 60,000 visitors and had a significant effect on planning and urban design in the UK, pioneering and popularising such concepts as pre-fabrication, the use of new building materials, and front and back gardens. The Exhibitions were sponsored by the Daily Mail, and their popularity was significant in the development of that newspaper's launching of the Ideal Home Exhibition (which has more recently become the Ideal Home Show) – the first of which took place the year after the second Cheap Cottages Exhibition.
Built in 1907, Howgills is one of Letchworth Garden City’s most distinguished and unique early buildings
Opened in 1913, superseding the temporary wooden station built by Great Northern Railway in 1905, this booking hall is produced in a fine Arts and Crafts design, in contrast to the more utilitarian platform buildings.
A railway station was opened in 1903 a few hundred yards west of its current position and railway companies often ran excursions to the town, bringing people to marvel at the social experiment and sometimes to mock it: Letchworth's founding citizens, attracted by the promise of a better life, were often caricatured by outsiders as idealistic and otherworldly. John Betjeman in his poems Group Life: Letchworth and Huxley Hall painted Letchworth people as earnest health freaks.
The Settlement, formerly Skittles Pub with no beer
One commonly-cited example of this is the ban, most unusual for a British town, on selling alcohol in public premises. This did not stop the town having a "pub" however – the Skittles Inn or the "pub with no beer" which opened as early as 1907.
Despite the ban it is not entirely true to say that there were no pubs in the Garden City. Pubs that had existed from before the foundation of the Garden City continued – including the Three Horseshoes in Norton, The George IV on the borders with Baldock, and the Three Horseshoes and The Fox in Willian – continued to operate (as they do to this day), and undoubtedly benefited from the lack of alcohol to be had in the centre of the town, as did the pubs in neighbouring Hitchin and Baldock. New inns also sprang up on the borders of the town, one such example being the Wilbury Hotel which was just outside the town's border.
This ban was finally lifted after a referendum in 1958, which resulted in the Broadway Hotel becoming the first public house in the centre of the Garden City. Several other pubs have opened since 1958, but to this day the town centre has fewer than half-a-dozen pubs – a remarkably low number of a town of its size. One effect of this is that the centre of the town is normally a noticeably quiet and peaceful place in the evenings.
|The Spirella building - also seen in top left of post card|
One of the most prominent industries to arrive in the town in the early years was the manufacture of corsets: the Spirella Company began building a large factory in 1912, close to the middle of town and the railway station that opened the next year. The Spirella Building, completed in 1920, blends in despite its central position through being disguised as a large country house, complete with towers and a ballroom. During the Second World War, the factory was also involved in producing parachutes and decoding machinery. Because corsets fell out of fashion, the factory closed in the 1980s, and was eventually refurbished and converted into offices.
Another significant employer in the town was Shelvoke and Drewry, a manufacturer of dustcarts and fire engines which existed from 1922 until 1990; as was Hands (Letchworth), James Drewry joining them in 1935, who manufactured axles, brakes and Hands Trailers. Letchworth had a very diverse light industry, including K & L Steel Foundry, often a target for German bombers in World War II, the Letchworth Parachute Factory, J M Dent and Son (also known as The Aldine Press, Garden City Press).
The biggest employer was British Tabulating Machine Company, later merging with Powers-Samas to become International Computers and Tabulators (ICT) and finally part of International Computers Limited (ICL). At one time the "Tab" as it was known had occupancy of over 30 factories in Icknield Way (the original pre-Roman Road), Works Road and finally in Blackhorse Road. Blackhorse Road was built on what was the continuation of the original "Icknield Way". Upon building the new ICL building the remains of a large Roman camp was found, many articles being found and saved for display in the Letchworth Museum & Art Gallery. In WWII a number of early computers were built in what became known as the ICL 1.1 plant.
|First Garden City Heritage Museum|
Many of the photos shown above came from the town's site: http://www.letchworthgc.com/
Some of the photos wouldn't copy, so check out the modern view of Broadway Here.