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Welwyn Garden City


Hertfordshire Countryside Vol 25 No 136 August 1970
Special Welwyn Garden City jubilee number

Editor: Leslie Bichener

Published: 1970 by Letchworth Printers Ltd. (Printed and published monthly)

Format: Magazine 10½" by 8¼" with 78 pages

(click image to enlarge)

 
 
 

The photograph captions and credits shown are those that appeared in the magazine.

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother met some of the early pioneers of Welwyn Garden City when she visited it in connection with the golden jubilee celebrations on May 30.

Photograph by courtesy of the New Towns Commission.

(click image to enlarge)

Pages 31 to 61 of this issue of Hertfordshire Countryside magazine contain twelve articles celebrating the golden jubilee of the founding of Welwyn Garden City in 1920. The articles in the supplement are illustrated by monochrome photographs from the Town. The first half of the supplement is printed on blue paper- hence the appearance of some of the photographs below.

1  Hippopotamus on the doorstep - The Advent of Welwyn Garden City Sir Frederic J. Osborn (click here)
2  The town that stopped London Anthony Wigens (click here)
3  Welwyn Garden City - the organization town Dr. D. A. Lewis (click here)
4  On foot around Welwyn Garden City E. M. Bavin (click here)
5  A home for artists in Welwyn Garden City E. V. Scott (click here)
6  Matchless Welwyn Rev. Eric R. Littler (click here)
7  A health service for a penny a week Dr. G. Miall-Smith (click here)
8  The real importance of the garden city W. A. Allen (click here)
9  Music-making in Welwyn Garden City Anna Falchikov (click here)
10  The Shredded Wheat Factory (author not credited) (click here)
11  A new life for an ancient barn - Welwyn Garden City's unique theatre Roy Brewer (click here)
12  The Eylure story
 
Treena Price (click here)

The Louis de Soissons memorial garden (dedicated to the architect of Welwyn Garden City), which was declared open by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother when she visited the garden city on May 30 in connection with the golden jubilee celebrations.

Photograph by courtesy of the New Towns Commission.

(click image to enlarge)

 
 

 

 
 

Hippopotamus on the doorstep - The Advent of Welwyn Garden City
(by Sir Frederic J. Osborn)

As one of three young disciples of Ebenezer Howard, the father of the garden city movement, the author played a large part in the birth of Welwyn Garden City. He recalls that the proposals for a second garden city were not received with great enthusiasm by everyone.

Hertfordshire now figures in history and geography books as, among other glories, the county in which the first two garden cities were born and brought up.

It cannot be said that either birth was hailed with rapture by the natives. I was not on the scene at the time of Letchworth's foundation in 1903-4, but I recall that when I went to work there in 1912 the first garden city was regarded by neighbouring Hitchin rather as a little joke than as a serious menace; its population, then 8,000, was not expected ever to grow enough to disturb the county's social equanimity.

But when in 1919 Ebenezer Howard bought at the auction of the Panshanger estate four farms and a manor house in the very core of Hertfordshire for a second garden city intense alarm was raised. This was an area that had been, from the days when it was part of the great Forest of Waltham, a happy hunting ground of kings and feudal lords, and many of its great estates had been retained by ancestral families or leased as residential parks to wealthy business tycoons, including some American and colonial millionaires. Whether these immigrants had been fully "integrated" with the indigenous aristocracy I do not know (it would be an interesting study), but they were in 1919 all "county" in their lack of welcome to the scheme for an industrial town in the heart of Hertfordshire. Not unnaturally, they shuddered at the prospect of an invasion into their Arcadia of a horde of cockney yahoos, and I can well believe the reports that they rounded severely on Lord Desborough for having offered the land to any bidder at an auction sale instead of selling it to tenant farmers or some other approved purchasers by private treaty.

If the second garden city project was a crime against Hertfordshire I would have to admit being one of the culprits, for I was one of the three young disciples of Howard who encouraged him in 1917-8 by forming the National Garden Cities Committee, and I wrote a little book, New Towns After the War, which was published in 1918 and aroused some public interest. In the autumn of 1918 Howard took two of us (the late C. B. Purdom and me) for a day's walk over the site, which he had often noticed from the train on his journeys between Letchworth and London and had long considered ideal for the next garden city. Purdom and I did not want another voluntary experiment; we were advocating a national policy of new-town building with government sponsorship. Howard did not think the time was yet ripe for that, but he kept his own counsel. In April 1919 he wrote a personal letter to the late (fourth) Marquess of Salisbury, within whose Hatfield estate he thought most of the site lay, asking if he would be willing to sell such part of his land as would be required for a second private-enterprise garden city. Lord Salisbury replied immediately and in a most friendly way to say that he would give the matter careful consideration, but that while he had contemplated some residential development of part of his estate he had felt that the land to the south of Hatfield was more suitable for this than the land to the north that Howard had in mind, much of which was in another ownership.

Howard replied with a very good argument for the northern area as a site for a complete new town, and Lord Salisbury reiterated his willingness to consider the matter if a proposal were made by the business leaders of the garden city movement as a body, and not only by Howard as its very distinguished and respected pioneer. It is evident from the tactful and kindly terms of this letter that his lordship took the same view of the old man, then in his seventieth year, as we all did - a lovable and noble character with a wonderful record as the founder of a great movement but no longer a force for positive practical action.

It was some weeks after the start of this correspondence that the most extraordinary coincidence occurred. Posters on the railway stations announced the forthcoming sale of part of Lord Desborough's Panshanger estate, but Howard did not notice them until, in the middle of May, his attention was drawn to the matter by Edgar Simmons, the Letchworth estate agent. The land offered included most of the very area that we had walked over and seen as the ideal site for a garden city. Howard at once consulted some of his wealthy friends, induced them to lend him money to pay a deposit, instructed an agent to bid for this land, and committed himself to the purchase of 1,458 acres for £51,000. As soon as the news came through on the telephone he informed Purdom and me of his success, and appointed me to take steps to form a company and attend to the other necessary details. When we and the subscribers to the deposit looked at the plans we saw at once that the land was insufficient for a complete new town, and that it was essential to acquire a large area of adjoining land in the ownership of Lord Salisbury.

It was necessary first to draft a prospectus for the scheme and to recruit a board of directors of the weight required by Lord Salisbury, which we proceeded to do under Howard's dynamic leadership. On July 19, 1919, I wrote him a formal request, as secretary to a "provisional board" of seven members, among whom were Howard, Lt.-Col. (later Sir Francis) Fremantle, of Essendon, Capt. R. L. Reiss, Walter (later Lord) Layton, J. R. Farquharson (a wealthy business friend), and Bolton Smart (a director of First Garden City Ltd.). Definite negotiations followed, and in the end Lord Salisbury agreed to sell 694 acres for £40,000, which was a very moderate price, taking no advantage of the fact that the marriage of this land to the Panshanger land produced an estate of very considerable development value centred on a railway junction on the main line from London to the north. He made provision in the contract for fair compensation to the tenant farmers who would be wholly or partially dispossessed, and for the right of repurchase of his land if the company failed to raise the capital required.

A residential landscape in Welwyn Garden City that tugs at the heart-strings.

Photograph by Colin Westwood, reproduced by courtesy of the New Towns Commission.

(click image to enlarge)

I never met the fourth marquess myself but as the company secretary I carried on the negotiations with him and with his agent, Mr. McCowan, a tough but fair-minded Scot and I must testify that the whole transaction was conducted with courtesy and a notable sense of the public importance of the scheme if it could succeed as to which they were rightly sceptical. In this they differed from the "county" gentry at large, who not only resented the project but were quite certain it was crazy and would fail.

Most of the tenant farmers on the estate were even more hostile. One disposed of his holding as soon as possible, and two others, after driving hard bargains for tenant rights on the take-over of the first development areas, barricaded themselves in their farmhouses and would have nothing to do with the incomers to the town. A shining exception was the Horn family of Handside and Brickwall farms, who at once took the most friendly and lively interest in the beginning of the new community. County Alderman W. B. Horn, a grand old gentleman whose father had reclaimed much of the land from primeval forest in the nineteenth century, was really interested in our invasion and our plans, and more than once he drove me in his little pony-trap over the fields and told me a lot about its recent history and personalities, including a being whom he called a "mufrodite" who had lived in an ancient cottage near Handside Corner. His two sons, the late W. C. and J. B. Horn, and their sister, Miss Mildred Horn (still with us at the age of eighty-eight), entered into the social activities of the new community. W. C. Horn became a member of the new parish council and later the first chairman of the urban district council and a civic director of Welwyn Garden City Ltd., and his wife called systematically on all the early residents and entertained us at delightful tennis parties at Upper Hand- side Farm.

Another exception to the general hostility, and a vitally important one, was the attitude of the powerful firm of Longmores, the solicitors who administered the county for the elected council and exercised great influence on its policy. Sir Charles Longmore, then clerk of the county and of the peace, and his son, Elton Longmore, then clerk of Welwyn Rural District Council, gave us the most generous cooperation in all local government affairs and rapidly put through a reorganization of local boundaries to create, from parts of four parishes in three rural districts, a single parish entirely in the rural district of Welwyn. Elton Longmore, a charming and amusing personality of great ability, showed me, as a novice in these matters (I doubled for some years the offices of estate manager to the company and clerk of the Welwyn Garden City council), how to set up the rarely used machinery of a parochial committee of the rural district council and attended its meetings regularly in the early days when we were engaged in difficult negotiations for the first housing schemes and other public services. I would give much credit to the Longmores for the fact that the county council, though representing an electorate that did not like us at all, did co-operate, though cautiously, in the provision of schools, road works and other services under its powers.

So, with similar hesitancy, did the Hatfield and Welwyn rural district councils, despite their natural fear of what some local wit named "a hippopotamus on the doorstep." At a public meeting in the ancient village of Welwyn, at which Sir Theodore Chambers, chairman of the promoting company, explained its intentions and asked if the village would like the garden city named after it, the social leaders expressed strong opposition to the idea, but when a vote was taken there was a large majority for it. This is a reminder that in a county or a nation the articulate establishment is not the populace. Wage-earners see a new town as promising a wider choice of jobs, retail traders hail the prospect of more customers, and local officials see a hope of a rise in status and salaries. The same division of attitudes was evident later at Stevenage and other areas where new towns have been designated.

More surprising to me was the adverse reaction of Letchworth. The company of that town for some time regarded Welwyn as a dangerous competitor for the industry and population it wanted for itself, and at one point issued a four-page leaflet in the same format as ours telling the world that the first garden city was the genuine article and warning it to accept no substitutes. 1 treasure my copy of this spirited document.

As a matter of historical fact, Welwyn proved the turning point in the national acceptance of the garden city principle, of which Letchworth was the pioneer exemplar. We enhanced the unshakable international prestige of Letchworth, and it is to the credit of that town that we benefited by its example while improving upon it.

Hertfordshire had mixed feelings, and still has, about the great increase of its population. In 1920 it was just under 330,000; in mid-1970 it is about 910,000, of which about 230,000 are in the five towns of Letchworth, Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield, Hemel Hempstead and Stevenage, which together have grown by 190,000 of the total county increase of 580,000. Passionate countryside preservationists may deplore any form of population growth, but more and more they are recognizing that concentration in a few planned towns is far less injurious than unplanned scatter and sprawl all over the place. Moreover, it lessens the increase of pressure on road and rail communications to the capital city. Of the occupied residents of Welwyn Garden City only about six per cent commute daily to London, whereas from the diffused developments at an equal distance out the percentage is far larger, probably more than double or treble.

In fifty years the composition of the county population has radically changed, and with this its attitude to the garden cities. The present Marquess of Salisbury said at a dinner of the Hertfordshire Society in November 1967: "We have a great deal to be proud of in this county, for this is the birthplace of the garden city ideal, and I am sure I am not the only Hertfordshire man who drives through Welwyn Garden City and the beautiful countryside with a sense of pride and pleasure."

 
 

 

 
 

The town that stopped London
(by Anthony Wigens)

Some thirty new towns have been built in Britain to date, but visitors still come to Welwyn Garden City to see the "most successful" of the new towns.

There are two main approaches to Welwyn Garden City which lead through to Parkway and the Campus at the green heart of the town. When the golden jubilee year is over, at each approach there will be a memorial to the half-century of London's first satellite town.

As you drive up the Al from London and turn towards Welwyn Garden City at Stanborough the south approach will be marked by a fountain, a huge jet of water rising to 120 feet, with eight smaller jets, out on the northern lake of the new Stan- borough park. Five hundred gallons of water per minute pumped through a 1½-inch jet: this is how the urban district council has marked the jubilee - an impressive companion to the elegant fountain which it commissioned in Parkway for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

From the north, travellers along Digswell Road reach the white bridge and from there can admire what Sir Frederic Osborn has called "one of the unforgettable sights of England," a view across the Campus and along Parkway which is numbered among the finest examples of formal landscape gardening in Europe.

Just below the bridge, where the traffic diverges, the Commission for the New Towns has built a garden as a jubilee memorial to the town's principal architect, the late Louis de Soissons. Here one can sit and admire the beauty of this garden city.

When Ebenezer Howard came to Hertfordshire it was to create a town from the ideas expressed in his book Garden Cities of Tomorrow. Letchworth was his first garden city. But Howard realized that private enterprise alone could not create sufficient garden cities to deal with Britain's housing problem following World War I. His predicament, and the typical solution to it, is recollected today by Sir Frederic Osborn, the only surviving member of Howard's early pioneers.

Sir Frederic is eighty-five and still lives in Welwyn Garden City, as energetic as ever in advocating garden cities to solve the world's urban congestion. He has said that he was originally "bribed" to live in Letchworth at the age of twenty-seven by the offer of a promising job and a salary of £150 a year.

As housing manager at Letchworth he shared Howard's dream that the Government might be persuaded to build 100 new towns and that all would be garden cities.

"But," says Sir Frederic, "the Government didn't play, and old Ebenezer Howard, rather to our astonishment, went and bought the land for Welwyn Garden City off his own bat, without any money to pay for it.

"On the day he went to the auction sale and had the land knocked down to him he came to me and said 'You are going to get your new town.'

"I said 'What new town? I am not asking for another new town; I am asking the Government to go in for building new towns on a large scale.'

" 'My dear boy,' he said, 'if you wait for the Government you will wait until you are as old as Methuselah.'

"So that's how I got here" says Sir Frederic, sitting in the Guessens Road house that was built for him in Welwyn Garden City forty-five years ago. "Not my own wish at all, simply the will of old Ebenezer Howard, who just went off and committed us to building this town. So I spent the first seventeen years here as estate manager."

Welwyn Garden City Limited was formed on April 29, 1920, with a capital of £250,000. In May of that year the first brick was laid, and in December the first house was occupied in Handside Lane.

The town grew up on fields where few houses had stood before. Its boundary included part of Digswell Water, part of the village of Hatfield Hyde and Handside hamlet. Howard had seen this site from the train as he travelled to work in London from Letchworth and crossed the Mimram valley by Digswell viaduct. This beautiful view is preserved to this day, and Digswell lake alongside the Mimram is a nature reserve.

Howard was right when he suspected that government reaction would be slow. He did not live to see Lewis Silkin's New Town Act of 1946 passed through Parliament, or to see the earlier Greater London Plan of 1944 make provision for accommodating overspill population from the metropolis in satellite towns. Stevenage was the first to be designated, but in 1948 Welwyn Garden City too was designated a new town under the 1946 Act, and became London's first satellite.

Some thirty new towns have been built in Britain to date, but visitors still come from all over the world at the rate of fifty a month to see Welwyn Garden City. The editor of Finland's journal National Planning says that he considers Welwyn Garden City to be the most successful new town in Great Britain.

The same opinion is voiced nearer home by Sir Frederic Osborn, who says "Welwyn Garden City still stands as the most human, probably the most beautiful and the best planted of all the new towns. In fact I am disappointed that the later new towns have not made great improvements on it."

Flats, maisonettes and a house in glorious surroundings at Knightsfield Welwyn Garden City. The architects were Louis de Soissons and Partners.

Photograph by courtesy of the New Towns Commission.

(click image to enlarge)

The town's chief planner and architect, Louis de Soissons, is mainly credited for the outstanding success of the town. An architect who worked with de Soissons in the thirties, Mr. W. A. Allen, of Ashley Close, Welwyn Garden City, says of him: "He really was a street designer, and a pretty good one. He was always exploiting landscape. He would develop around a tree, make use of it in every way he could. I think he regarded houses as back ground to the street - they helped to form the street for him.

"But that romanticism all stops when you come to the centre of the town. There he followed a classical concept, with great symmetry and balance. It's a little piece of Versailles. I don't think any town designer today would do that. I think it produces an overall discipline of respectability in the town centre which is perhaps the one thing that has prevented it being the place we would want it to be today - a place of gaiety. It has a middle-aged respectability about it."

Self-criticism is valuable, and Welwyn Garden City has never become complacent. The often-voiced complaint of the young that there is little for them to do can now be answered in part at least by a list of existing or planned amenities that many towns would envy. The fine sports stadium and artificial ski slope are used by sports men from all over the county. Near the Campus the site has been largely cleared for a £450,000 social amenity centre, a model of which has been exhibited in the town's jubilee exhibition.

Aptly for European Conservation Year, two nature reserves have been added to the town's amenities. At Lemsford water cress beds, secured by the urban district council to ensure a spring water supply for the two lakes of Stanborough park, the new owner is to be the Hertfordshire and Middlesex Trust for Nature Conservation. Snipe, green sandpiper and water pipit regularly winter here.

At the other side of Stanborough park, and separated from a fishermen's footpath by the River Lea, the trust will have management rights over Stanborough Reed marsh. The marsh is particularly noted for its wealth of bird life, and bitterns and bearded tits have been seen there in most recent years.

In its celebrations the town has tried to be all things to all men. The key to the year is provided by a calendar which was distributed to every house and showed every known event planned by the 200 organized societies. This programme proved just how much there is going on all the time.

On May 30 Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother unveiled the memorial to Louis de Soissons, visited the three marquees of "Contact," the regular convention of town activities which has been held each year since 1966, and then saw the exhibition named from the town motto, "By wisdom and design."

Industry was on show from July 16-18 at the Mid-Herts college of further education. The new towns festival of sport takes place in Welwyn Garden City on September 12, and on September 19 bands, displays and a gala display of fireworks will turn all eyes to the completed Stanborough park.

Like any proud householder, Welwyn Garden City is not content just to enjoy its own good environment; it wants the world to admire it too. In 1970 it will not be disappointed.

 
 

 

 
 

Welwyn Garden City - the organization town
(by Dr. D. A. Lewis)

More than 200 clubs and societies in the town provide the driving force for the continuing development of the community.

In fifty short years Welwyn Garden City has developed from the idealistic but essentially practical collective ambitions of a handful of dedicated men to a thriving, prosperous town of 40,000 people.

Our concern in this our golden jubilee year is not with the bricks and mortar, concrete and asphalt that constitute our material environment. It is with the people who, as a community, make the town what it is.

Welwyn Garden City is pleasant, green and superficially serene. As a community it hums with activity, much of it on a voluntary basis. As with any other town, this activity involves a minority of the population, but in our case it is a substantial minority.

We are proud of our voluntary organizations (there are over 200 clubs and societies in the town), for it is they, along with the churches and schools, industry and commerce, etc., who provide the driving force for the continuing development of the community. On looking through the detail of organized activity in Welwyn Garden City one cannot but be amazed at the rich variety of interests that are catered for. The "A B C" of Welwyn Garden City runs something like this: archæology, art, badminton, bowls, cage birds, drama, English folk dance, football, good neighbours, etc., through the alphabet to vegetarianism, wine-making, yoga and zoology.

The voluntary organizations fall into a number of distinct groups: sporting, hobbies and specialized interests, music and drama, uniformed youth, social and welfare, youth and family clubs, and charity support groups. There is, of course, quite an overlap between some of these categories, particularly in the social and welfare area, where many of the town's organizations are involved. Many also have direct contact with the major components of the community - the churches, schools and statutory bodies.

The focal point of Welwyn Garden City - the coronation fountain at Parkway.

Photograph by courtesy of the New Towns Commission.

(click image to enlarge)

I feel that I should mention Welwyn One World, which was formed in 1967 following upon some initial groundwork carried out jointly by the local branches of the Society of Friends and the United Nations Association. It is an international family club with a membership of 1,300 adults and children. It is non-political and non-sectarian, and contains members of over forty nationalities. Its activities include talks, rambles, dances, suppers, and so on.

The many organizations referred to above are the "grass roots" that form the solid foundation on which the voluntary effort of the town is established. However, at the next organizational level we have a number of "umbrella" organizations whose job it is to co-ordinate and to support and encourage the activities of the town's clubs and societies. Examples are the Welwyn Garden City Sports Council, the Old People's Welfare Committee and the Welwyn Garden City Council of Social Service.

The Old People's Welfare Committee consists of representatives from the four old people's clubs and from other bodies, such as the W.R.V.S., the British Red Cross Society and the Salvation Army, as well as representatives from the relevant statutory bodies.

The Council of Social Service was constituted only two years ago, and as chairman I have had the opportunity to see and learn at first hand the extent to which the statutory effort in the town is supplemented by dedicated voluntary work to make good the gaps that still exist in the statutory services.

As one of its aims the C.S.S. seeks to encourage and support co-operation between statutory and voluntary organizations. It is most pleasing to record the very good relationship that has been established between the C.S.S. and its affiliated organizations (viz. all the voluntary bodies in the town) and on its welfare committee with representatives of the county and local health and welfare services.

St. Bonaventure's Roman Catholic church in Parkway, Welwyn Garden City.

Photograph by courtesy of the New Towns Commission.

(click image to enlarge)

A unique feature in the Welwyn Garden City annual calendar of events is "Contact" (Convention of town activities). This is a one-day exhibition in which all of the town's voluntary organizations are invited to display their activities, either by way of "static" exhibits with photographs, charts, diagrams and all forms of visual aids or by demonstrations of particular activities such as yoga, karate, netball, etc. The first exhibition was "Contact 66," held in 1966, at which forty-three organizations were represented. This has become an annual event, culminating in this year's "Golden Contact 70," at which no fewer than 105 organizations were on show and which was honoured by the presence for nearly two hours of the Queen Mother, who visited the town on May 30 to participate in the golden jubilee celebrations, of which "Golden Contact 70" was an integral part.

The basis of "Contact" is just that - to establish contact not only between the people and the organizations in the town but between the organizations themselves. No "Contact" passes without many people commenting to me "I did not know that so much went on in Welwyn Garden City."

I have heard it said that there are so many organizations in Welwyn Garden City that there is a danger that we may become over-organized. I accept that this is a very real danger in that there may be duplication of effort and a general dilution of the limited resources of finances and manpower that are available. However, provided we can draw in a greater proportion of the people of the town and ensure that we are making the best use of our resources Welwyn Garden City has nothing to worry about.

We have our share of problems just like any other town - problems of youth, old people, loneliness, housing, traffic, etc. In particular I feel that our young people have had a very raw deal. The emergence of the prevalence of drug-taking by a small number of youngsters in both Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield was seized upon by the national press, radio and television to give a grossly false impression of our young people. A tiny minority only are affected; the vast majority lead decent lives, and I think their social awareness and willingness to help are much under-estimated and underrated. We have a great many young people in clubs, in other organizations and as individuals who are actively pursuing community aims with as much enthusiasm as their elders, if not more.

Welwyn Garden City is a young town not only because as a town it is barely middle-aged but because it has a very high percentage of young people. Previous generations and our own have certainly made mistakes, but if the lessons can be learned I know we can rely upon these young people to enrich the quality of life tomorrow. After all, this is what Ebenezer Howard's original concept was all about.

 
 

 

 
 

On foot around Welwyn Garden City
(by E. M. Bavin)

Within ten or twelve miles of Welwyn Garden City there are extensive parklands and woodlands, broad sweeps of undulating fields and meadows, placid streams, commons and chalk uplands with magnificent views.

Many people visiting Hertfordshire for the first time are surprised to find how much of the county, away from the main roads, is still remote and unspoilt and still offers many miles of footpaths for the rambler. This observation applies to a great deal of the countryside in the immediate neighbourhood of Welwyn Garden City, and within fifteen or twenty minutes walk of the railway station one can be in completely rural surroundings.

Walking is really the only way to see the county properly in all its detail, and we are fortunate in the garden city to have so great a variety of scenery so comparatively near at hand. Within ten or twelve miles there are extensive parklands and woodlands, broad sweeps of undulating fields and meadows, placid streams, commons and chalk uplands with magnificent views. There are quiet villages and tiny hamlets, ancient churches and great houses. All of these are accessible by public footpaths, with occasional assistance by bus or car, but it is true, nevertheless, that one meets only a few other walkers on these paths. Walking is not the popular pastime it was when Charles Lamb, a lover of Hertfordshire, wrote "Walking, walking even till I fairly walked myself off my legs," but it is growing in appeal to many who want to escape for a while from the hustle and bustle of the twentieth century.

It was recently estimated (Michael Holroyd, Rucksack, winter 1970) that there is a total of 1,665 miles of footpaths and bridleways in the county. On a basis of miles of footpaths per square mile Hertfordshire is seventeenth among the counties of England and Wales.

The fact that comparatively few people at present use the footpaths means that many of them become overgrown or otherwise obstructed and difficult to follow, and Hertfordshire County Council in Hertfordshire Countryside Appraisal 1969 estimates that fifty-five per cent of the paths are in good condition and clearly defined, twenty-five per cent are difficult to distinguish and twenty per cent are ploughed up or otherwise obstructed. Nevertheless, the first group is still sufficiently big to offer a great variety of attractive routes and the second and third groups offer a very distinct challenge to the expert map-reader.

The "golf-course path" - Welwyn Garden City to Lemsford.

Photograph by C. G. Chinn.

(click image to enlarge)

In an article of this length it is not possible to describe in detail a number of footpath walks, but it is hoped to indicate the most rewarding routes and points of access from the garden city.

Sherrardspark Wood, accessible from Bridge Road, Pentley Park or Knightsfield, is itself a delightful woodland area covered by a network of paths. Northwards these lead to further paths to Digswell, Welwyn, Harmer Green, Tewin, etc. North-westwards from Sherrardspark Wood more footpaths lead to Ayot St. Peter, Ayot St. Lawrence, Codicote, etc.

A second well known rural exit from Welwyn Garden City is at Lemsford through Brocket Park Public paths through this delightful park lead to the picturesque river crossing at Waterend and on by the River Lea to Wheathampstead. Another path through the park is a start of a foot path route to Coleman Green (with memories of John Bunyan), Sandridge and St. Albans.

Black Fan Park, on the eastern side of the garden city, is a very attractive stretch of parkland leading by footpaths to Tewin, Panshanger Park and Hertingfordbury. A short train journey to Welwyn North gives easy access to paths leading to Lockleys Park, Harmer Green, Burnham Green, Datchworth, Bramfield and as far afield as Hertford.

Finally, to the south of the garden city Mill Green (easily reached by Green Line coach) gives access by footpaths to Essendon and Little Berkhamsted and a train to Brookmans Park is a very easy way of reaching the surprisingly unspoilt area between North Mymms and South Mimms.

Again, it is not possible to list all the worth-while viewpoints in the area, but a few personal favourites can be mentioned: the view of Brocket Hall and the lake from the white bridge over the River Lea; the panorama from the footpath between Burnham Green and Tewin; the view from the path across Lockleys Park; and the view from Datchworth church; farther afield, the country around St. Paul's Walden and the vista of the Bury seen from the avenue (a grove of trees on the hillside above Whitwell); the view from the Weston Hills on the outskirts of Baldock; and the view across the Bedford plain from Telegraph Hill, one of the highest points in Hertfordshire, near Hitchin. All these views and many more will reward the user of Hertfordshire footpaths.

Maps, of course, are essential for the proper enjoyment of footpaths and the countryside and the most comprehensive ones are the one-inch Ordnance Survey maps (sheets 147 and 160 cover the Welwyn Garden City area). These now show most of the footpath rights of way by means of red dotted lines, but their scale does not allow them to show all the details often required to follow accurately the course of a footpath. The two-and-a-half-inch Ordnance Survey maps are probably nearer the ideal for footpath users, but, of course, more maps are required to cover the same area. Sheet TL21 covers the area immediately adjacent to the garden city and other sheets can be obtained as required. For the enthusiast the six-inch definitive maps are essential. Photostat copies can be obtained from the county surveyor at County Hall Hertford at 2/- per sheet. Each sheet covers only one-quarter of the area of the two-and-a-half-inch sheet, but all rights of way are clearly shown, together with almost every detail of the countryside.

Sherrardspark Wood - 180 acres of woods preserved for the benefit of all who wish to ramble.

Photograph by courtesy of the New Towns Commission.

(click image to enlarge)

Very complete details of a series of walks around the garden city are given in a recent book published by the Mid Herts Footpaths Society Footpath Walks around Welwyn Garden City price 4/-, and anybody who wishes to become really familiar with footpath routes in Hertfordshire is well advised to become a member of one of the local footpath societies These are centred on Welwyn Garden City, Stevenage, St. Albans and Potters Bar. The walks planned by these societies are varied to suit all categories of walkers, and the newcomer is quickly made to feel at home and equally quickly will find himself or herself developing a real desire to pursue the exploration of this still delightful county.

Our footpaths are a heritage, for our use and our enjoyment. The more they are used the more accessible they will become, now and in the future. If you have never strayed far from the roads and streets of Welwyn Garden City try a walk on some local footpaths, either solo or in the company of one of the above societies. All you need is a reasonably stout pair of shoes, clothes which will stand wear and tear, and a mackintosh. Thus equipped, and with the country code in mind, you are ready to tackle everything that may befall you in remotest Hertfordshire.

 

COUNTRY CODE
 

 

Guard against all risks of fire.
Fasten all gates.
Keep dogs under proper control.
Keep to the paths across farm land.
Avoid damaging fences, hedges and walls.

 

Leave no litter-take it home.
Safeguard water supplies.
Protect wild life, wild plants and trees.
Go carefully on country roads.
Respect the life of the countryside.

 
 

 

 
 

A home for artists in Welwyn Garden City
(by E. V. Scott)

Digswell House has had an eventful life, but it has never been put to better use than it is at present.

Digswell House has been a home for artists for just over ten years, and during that time scores of artists have passed its imposing portals. Some have stayed for a few weeks, some for months, some for years, for the trustees of Digswell House make no stipulation as to the duration of stay.

Digswell House is a huge rambling residence, built in 1805 by the Hon. Edward Spencer-Cowper, whose family has had ties with the village of Digswell since the eighteenth century. Digswell House has had a pretty eventful life. It has been a nobleman's residence, a nursing home and hospital for war wounded, a school, an office block and a conference house, but it has never been put to better use than its present one - as a home for artists.

The imposing façade of Digswell House.

Photograph by Ronald S. Pickersgill.

(click image to enlarge)

When I was shown round the house recently there were ten artists (some with families) living in the house itself and five others in cottages in the grounds. For the weekly contribution (rent) that they make I can only describe the accommodation as being amply generous, especially if one considers that nearly every one of these units is self-contained. Naturally, some units are small and some large, but whatever their size a studio room is always included. It is this latter accommodation that artists find most attractive, though they are also supplied with some essential equipment, such as an etching press, said to be worth £1,000 and one of the largest in the country. A potter's kiln is also provided.

Most of the artists use the house as a jumping-off ground to bigger things. Here they can find their feet. The Digswell Arts Trust helps them to sell their works and the Gordon Maynard gallery in Parkway is their shop window, exhibitions being held there regularly. The trust makes no rules or regulations except that artists, all of whom have qualified from art schools and colleges, will generally help to foster an appreciation of the arts in Hertfordshire by giving lectures and talks should their services be sought by any association or society.

One very tangible way in which senior "tenants" show their willingness to lend a hand is by taking under their wings young and inexperienced students. George Stevens, a potter and a fellow of Digswell, has one such "apprentice" in his care at present. In the pottery room at Digswell I found Stevens working hard on some pots which will eventually find their way to a shop in St. Albans. On the shelves were numerous examples of ceramic tableware and decorative bottles, and in his spacious quarters I was interested in some most unusual sculptural table lamps.

Stevens spent five years at Loughborough college of art, gained a national diploma in design and followed with a postgraduate course for one year. A fellow of Digswell, he teaches part-time at the St. Albans school of art and shared in an exhibition at the St. Albans city museum. He has, of course, exhibited at the annual fellows of Digswell exhibition at the Gordon Maynard gallery.

Maggie Humphries, his former "apprentice," is now a fellow of Digswell. She had spent a year in Greece and it was obvious that she had not shaken off the influence of her visit there, for lying on the shelves were intricate house cartoons, resembling dolls' houses, in clay, and figures on which the Grecian stamp was all too evident.

In another corner of the mansion I found Mary Jane Hall, a weaver from Norwich, bent over her own loom, worth about £60 and made in Sweden. The trust does not supply looms. It is very much a personal possession, the weaver's indispensable "tool." Mary was in the process of completing a reversible rug measuring ten feet by twelve feet, a most complicated technique, which she is doing for a private customer. All the skeins of wool, she told me, are from Yorkshire, but the time spent on the job, which can take up to ten weeks, is hardly compensated by the selling price, £200. Weaving is the least remunerative of the arts. She left Farnham school of art last summer after completing a three-year diploma course in art and design, specializing in textiles.

"Bather," a figure in artificial marble designed to be sited at the edge of a pool. It is by Robert Mitchell.

(click image to enlarge)

Robert Mitchell, a tenant with a long tenure at Digswell (four years), is a sculptor. He has a lofty, spacious studio teeming with models and unfinished objects. At the present stage of his career, Mitchell said, it was doubtful whether he could afford accommodation which would give him also suitable studio space. Married, with two children, he earns his livelihood by teaching, like all the rest of the Digswell fellows. A London man, he teaches for two days at the Kennington school of art, and takes a sculpture class at the Mid-Herts college of further education on Fridays, devoting the time that is left to work in his studio on abstract and traditional subjects (portrait busts for instance) and other commercial commissions.

The nine huge panels painted as a tribute to Vincent Van Gogh, the Dutch artist. Painter Anthony Slinn is in the foreground.

Photograph by Dennis Williams.

(click image to enlarge)

Anthony Slinn, a lecturer on the history of art at Luton college, is probably the most significant painter at Digswell. Educated at Liverpool college of art and at the Slade school, Slinn uses colours dramatically. His wife, Rosemary, a sculptor herself, showed me round the studio, which is crammed with canvases, nearly 1,000 of them, for Slinn is a prolific painter. While in London he bought a houseboat moored at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, and owing to restricted space had to paint small. Later these paintings were grouped together in one frame. This tendency to panels, big or small, has not been forgotten. A fervent admirer of Van Gogh, he recently embarked on a monumental undertaking of nine huge panels as a tribute to the Dutch painter. He is a restless, highly creative person and is only thirty-three. His paintings have been displayed in a number of places, but he is a hoarder. His nest-egg is in his studio.

Slinn, Mitchell, Mary Jane Hall and Stevens represent a cross-section of the present residents of Digswell House, a mansion that has been converted to good use. May it long stay that way.

See also the 1965 Digswell House exhibition brochure, entitled "Twelve Artists" via my WGC book menu link at the top of this page, or just click here for the brochure.

 
 

 

 
 

Matchless Welwyn
(written and illustrated by the Rev. Eric R. Littler)

Early in the 1930s two Belgian safety-match companies set up factories in Welwyn Garden City, but within a short time they sold out to a group of English business men. Within two years the factories were closed, as profits were disappointing, but the companies are not forgotten, for their labels are eagerly sought by phillumenists.

Welwyn Garden City at one time had two active match companies of its own, with a production of something in the region of 20,000,000 matches a day. Older residents of the town will remember the many companies that came to Welwyn for a time and then left, often leaving no trace. Some will certainly remember the match factories in Broadwater Road, but few if any will realize the fascinating history that lies behind the Welwyn Match Manufacturing Company and the Southern Match Company.

Just two of the many match-box labels issued by the Welwyn match manufacturing companies.

(click image to enlarge)

In 1931 Britain came off the gold standard, and among the many people who were likely to suffer financially was a match importer, Mr. W. A. Kuffall, of Talbot Court, London. He was the British agent for two Belgian match companies, and had at this time matches or contracts on hand to the value of about £600,000. The effect of coming off the gold standard meant a drop in value of about thirty per cent - for Mr. Kuffall about £180,000, which he and the manufacturers and retailers could not face on their own. Together the loss was covered, and the Belgian companies decided that to save the risk of such a loss in the future they should have their own factories in England. Mr. Kuffall, as their agent, toured various sites in Gateshead-on-Tyne, King's Lynn, Slough and Welwyn Garden City, and it was Welwyn Garden City that was finally chosen.

With the help of Mr. F. J. Osborn (now Sir Frederic Osborn), secretary of the Welwyn Garden City Company, a site was acquired in Broadwater Road (now occupied by Unistrut Ltd.) for the main factory, which was to be known as the Welwyn Match Manufacturing Company, while the lower floor of an existing building on the corner of Broadwater Road and Hyde Way (now Devices Ltd.) was to be the factory for the Southern Match Company. Each company was to be separate, though both were under the guidance of Mr. Kuffall, who was known as the administrative manager, and who also acted as sales agent for both firms from his offices in Talbot Court.

One of the match factories at Welwyn Garden City. Note the dray with its load of match-box cartons.

(click image to enlarge)

Both factories started production in January 1932, with a total staff of about 100 men and girls. Though the machinery in the Welwyn Match Manufacturing Company's factory was of a very modern design each box of matches was still hand checked by girls, who just stood and shook match-boxes all day. If any rattled they were rejected for later refilling. A representative of each of the two parent Belgian companies was at the factories - Mr. Merckx at the Welwyn Match and Mr. Mary at the Southern Match.

Early in the life of the companies they were the prosecutors in a lawsuit in London. A small firm of sundriesmen had obtained matches from the factory and paid for them with a cheque that "bounced." The sum involved was about £471, quite a sizeable sum for a new company to lose. The case dragged on over five weeks in the Highgate police court before being referred to the Old Bailey, where the defendants received stiff sentences.

Like most of the early garden city companies, the Welwyn Match Company took part in the carnival processions, and in its first year took second prize in the motorized section. It had one of its lorries fitted out to look like a fireside scene with some of the girls from the factory sitting round the "fire." Among the girls was Alice Kuffall, the thirteen-year-old daughter of the administrative manager, who had begged to be allowed to take part. The whole scene was to illustrate and advertise their matches, called "Home Fires."

The Welwyn match factory before the name-plate was put on. In the doorway is Mr. W. A. Kuffall, one of the directors, and standing by the car is another director, Mr. E. Mercx.

(click image to enlarge)

Late in 1932 the two Belgian companies relinquished their interest in the two English factories and sold out to a group of English business men, headed by Mr. Salmon, an associate of both Salmon and Gluckstein (the tobacconists) and J. Lyons and Company. At the same time both factories were amalgamated as the Welwyn Match Company Limited.

Both factories had a number of fires at one time or another, though only three were of any real consequence. The first, in July 1933, was caused by spontaneous combustion. The fire was brought under control by the local fire brigade under its chief officer, Mr. J. Dougherty. A later fire in March 1934 was a more serious affair, and during it the deputy chief fire officer, Mr. J. Barnes, climbed on to the roof to smash in the wired glass skylights so that water could be poured on to the centre of the fire. As he did so 5,000,000 matches on a match machine or piled nearby burst into flame.

Six months later the fire brigade was called again. This time, though the damage to the building was less, one of the employees, James Brown, of Lemsford, was badly burned and was taken to the cottage hospital, where he was still in a serious condition six days later.

The company ran its own sports club, and in September 1934 organized an outing, paid for by the directors, to Southend-on-Sea, calling en route on James Brown in the hospital to wish him well.

In the 1920s and 1930s many grocers and tobacconists had their own special match- boxes produced, and the Welwyn company made many of these, though it also had a number of its own general production brands, which included "Old Peter," "Mop," "Lagoon" and "Welwyn." This last label had been designed in the early days of match-making in the garden city by Mr. Kuffall, and though it went through a number of changes the basic design remained the same - the centre was filled by a drawing of a village on a hill, with arrows showing that it was 400 feet above sea level. This was, of course, the emblem of the garden city, and was used by permission of Welwyn Garden City Company.

Towards the end of 1934 the new English directors were not pleased to find that they were not making as big a profit as they had hoped. In their other lines of business larger profits were forthcoming, and therefore they decided to close down the match company despite the pleas of Mr. Kuffall to keep it going or to allow others to take it over. The factories were closed and the staff was dispersed just before Christmas 1934, the main building being taken over by Lincoln Electric Company.

These companies are not forgotten, for matchbox label collectors search for their labels for their rarity value and interest.

 
 

 

 
 

A health service for a penny a week
(by Dr. G. Miall-Smith)

A doctor's memories of her early days in Welwyn Garden City

The author of this article was the first doctor to start a practice in Welwyn Garden City, forty-eight years ago. She and her late husband, Dr. H. J. B. Fry, helped to set up the cottage hospital in 1929. Together they played a big part in placing the health services of the town on a firm footing.

If you visited Welwyn Garden City for the first time today it would be hard for you to imagine what it was like forty-eight years ago when I first came here. Then the population was under 1,000 and there were no doctors or health services of any kind. Now the population is somewhere near 45,000 and there are some fifteen practising doctors, a large general hospital, three health centres and the appropriate number of health visitors, district nurses and midwives.

My husband, Dr. H. J. B. Fry, and I came here in March 1922. I had just been dismissed from a public health post in London for getting married, in spite of the recent passing of the Sex Disqualification Removal Act, so Captain R. L. Reiss, one of the original directors of the Welwyn Garden City Company and an old school friend of my husband, asked us to come here and start a medical practice.

We took the only furnished house avail able in the place while we had our own house built. We had been in the house for only half an hour when the first patient arrived to inquire whether the lady doctor had arrived yet. And so my practice began. My husband had a full-time job as pathologist to a London hospital, but used to help with the practice in the evenings and at weekends.

We had already visited the garden city and heard Lord Dawson of Penn give an inspiring address on the development of a health service in the town, emphasizing the preventive side. Soon after we arrived, with the help of other enthusiastic people who were interested in health matters, the health council was formed, with two sections - a maternity and child welfare committee and a first aid and hospital committee.

The first infant welfare clinic, at which I acted as medical officer, was held in May in a hut on what is now the Campus, which had been used during World War I for German prisoners doing forestry work. This hut was also used for church services, lectures, concerts, dances and other public gatherings. Clinics were held fortnightly at first, and later, as the work grew, weekly. We were fortunate in having the voluntary help of a qualified health visitor and other voluntary helpers. The necessary equipment was bought and record cards were obtained from the Hertfordshire County Council.

The first cottage hospital, Welwyn Garden City.

A photograph taken in the 1930s.

(click image to enlarge)

In the meantime my husband had arranged a first-aid post at another hut, which was the barber's hut, and provided it with two stretchers and the necessary dressings and drugs. The employees of Welwyn Garden City Ltd. had agreed to pay a penny per man per week towards first-aid services.

Some nurses started a nursing home in the town and one of their number was appointed as half-time health visitor and district nurse to the health council and registered as midwife with the county council.

The next step was to arrange for hospital treatment for those needing it, so letters at £4/4/- were obtained for admission to the Hertford hospital and Welwyn cottage hospital.

To finance these activities members of the health council were recruited and asked to pay a penny per head per week. Subscribers would pay the district nurse 1/6 per visit and non-subscribers would pay 3/-. Collectors were organized for this work and Welwyn Garden City Ltd. and other firms made grants.

At the first annual general meeting of the health council in April 1923 Lord Dawson again paid us a visit and expressed admiration at the progress we had made.

About this time the temporary water supply, with its pump in Handside Lane, broke down and we were without water for about twenty-four hours. Work to complete the pipes from the permanent pumps in Digswell to the reservoir in Sherrardswood was rushed on to deal with the emergency. At that time a number of houses in Valley Road were being built but were not occupied, so we used to go round with buckets and jugs and collect water from their rainwater butts until the supply was re-established.

About this time the Ministry of Health recognized our infant welfare clinic for purposes of grant, but the total amount we had received from the county council towards the nurse's salary for the first six months was £6/8/-. No wonder financing these services was a problem. However, the county council did appoint a local doctor to do school medical inspections.

Dr. Miall-Smith and her late husband Dr. H. J. B. Fry, with their one-year-old son.

A photograph taken in 1924.

(click image to enlarge)

Arrangements were made by the health council for a qualified dispenser to be appointed at the Welwyn Stores, then a very small concern, so that patients did not have to go all the way to Hatfield for their medicines. They also arranged for the registrar of births and deaths to attend in the town once a month.

The next step was to transfer the first-aid service to the Hollies nursing home, so that it could be under the supervision of nurses.

About this time the child welfare clinic, which was now recognized by the Ministry of Health and affiliated to the National Association of Infant Welfare Centres and the Hertfordshire County Nursing Association, moved to the Lawrence hall, our first public hall. Certain foods and drugs for babies were kept there and later tea and a biscuit were provided for mothers attending the clinic.

As the work grew the health council arranged for an extra two rooms to be built on to the Lawrence hall. These rooms were lent to the British Red Cross Society to hold a massage clinic. Health council members were granted special terms.

In 1924 ante-natal clinics were started and our first full-time health visitor, nurse and midwife was appointed at a salary of £200 per annum. She would also supervise a nursery school that had just been opened. A dental clinic for schoolchildren and infant welfare mothers and children was started at the Lawrence hall the same year. There were small grants of £7/l0/- each from the Ministry of Health and the county council, but the health council provided most of the money for running it.

The building of a hospital for Welwyn Garden City and the provision of an ambulance were discussed in the early days. In the meantime temporary arrangements were made to use the laundry van as an ambulance. The method of getting it and a driver was very complicated - different people had to be telephoned depending on whether the call was in the daytime, at night or at the weekend.

In 1925 an attempt was made to start a home help. She was to be paid eightpence an hour, but funds were not sufficient, even at this low rate, to start the service immediately. We were the first place in the county even to consider a home help service.

Another direction in which we were ahead of most places was in suggesting to the Ministry of Health as early as 1925 that instruction in the use of contraceptives should be given. In the same year a second full-time nurse, health visitor and midwife was appointed.

In 1926 a contract was signed allocating two beds in the nursing home for the use of members of the health association, as it was now called.

The central civic fund was formed to collect joint subscriptions to various organizations in the town, one of which was the health association, so we were henceforth relieved of the burden of collecting our own subscriptions.

The population was 5,000 in 1927 and the east side of the town had developed so much that a second infant welfare clinic and, later, an ante-natal clinic were started in that area at the Peartree clubhouse.

My husband was elected to the first urban district council in 1927 and took part in the work of the public health committee, whose first task was to appoint a medical officer of health (part time) and a sanitary inspector.

Diphtheria immunization was recommended by the health council, but no grant for it could be obtained from either the Ministry of Health or the urban district council.

The question of a hospital for the town was again discussed and a hospital building fund begun. In 1928 this amounted to over £200. My husband put forth various possibilities for getting a hospital at a meeting of the health council, one of which was by a local authority, which could levy a penny rate for a general as well as an infectious diseases hospital. For the present, however, the only practical scheme was to take over the nursing home and run it as a hospital. This was agreed to in 1928. In the same year a renewed effort was made to start a home help scheme, this time successfully. Home helps were paid £1 per week. The county council was asked repeatedly for a grant, but always refused. By now the work had increased so much that four nurses were employed.

About this time my husband founded the St. John Ambulance Brigade in the town and gave the members regular first-aid lectures. He also obtained an ambulance for the town. All this time I acted as medical officer to the child welfare and ante-natal clinics, whose work increased steadily. We held an educational "baby week" each year and entered for the National Baby Week competitions, in which we came first three times and second once. The voluntary workers took a large part in these successes. A nursing division of the St. John Ambulance Brigade in the town was now formed.

In January 1929 the cottage hospital was inaugurated at the Hollies nursing home, Elm Gardens, and an honorary specialist staff was appointed. My husband was the first chairman of the hospital committee. An extra penny per week subscription would entitle members of the health association to hospital benefits - a bed at 5/- per week. Non-subscribers would pay 12/6 per week. Following an inspection of all our work by a Ministry of Health official in 1931 we were told that its standard was higher than in any other place in the county. In the same year the work of the dental clinics was taken over by the county council, which hitherto had only given grants. We now had five nurses in the health service. Up to now they had done their rounds on bicycles, but now it was decided to get a secondhand car for the nurse doing midwifery work.

The maternity and child welfare committee (now known as the health association) and the hospital committee were now working as separate organizations. In 1935 a birth control association was formed and a clinic started. An additional health visitor was appointed in 1938, making six nurses in all. By this time four child welfare clinics were held weekly, two to five home helps were employed and a grant was at last received from the county council.

Throughout the years private medical practice and the number of doctors working in the town steadily increased, until now there are about sixteen doctors in practice.

In the early days we had to contend with various difficulties. For instance, before the white bridge over the Luton branch line was built in 1925 it was sometimes necessary to cross the railway line to visit patients in the original houses and cottages, even though Welwyn Garden City had not begun to develop in that area. To get to what is now the Digswell area the only way was either to drive six or seven miles round by road or to cross the Luton or Hertford branch line by one of several gates and drive across fields and tracks. One of these gates would not remain open by itself, so, as I was invariably alone, I had to take off a belt or scarf, tie open the gate while I drove through and then untie it again. Some of the original cottages, such as the ones at Black Fan, now taken down, were very primitive, with no electric light, main water supply or drainage.

My husband and I started an insurance scheme for our patients in 1924. They paid an annual sum which included necessary treatment and a regular medical examination. This was abandoned at his death in 1930.

In 1939 the county council agreed to build a new health centre in Welwyn Garden City in the near future, but unfortunately this scheme had to be shelved owing to the war.

Various schemes over the years for getting a hospital for Welwyn Garden City were discussed, including combining with Old Welwyn, which was starting a new cottage hospital, adapting the hostel in Handside Lane and building a new hospital on various sites. We also had consultations with the hospital committee of the urban district council. The Ministry of Health had agreed to a loan for this purpose in 1937. In March 1938 the site and architect for a new hospital had been settled, but here again the plan had to be abandoned on the outbreak of war.

This brought many changes in the health services of Welwyn Garden City. Our medical officer of health was called up immediately in the R.A.F. and I was asked to do his work in Welwyn Garden City for the duration. Consequently I arranged for another medical woman to take over some and later all of my clinics.

The cottage hospital, which had been at the Hollies nursing home, was transferred to bigger premises at Fretherne House, which had been a school. The Peartree boys' hostel was taken over as an emergency maternity home for evacuees and I acted as its medical officer for the whole of the war years. The Peartree club house was converted into a first-aid post and the clinics that had been held there were transferred to the community centre at Woodhall.

Two extra nurses were taken on to deal with schoolchildren of two evacuated secondary schools from London and evacuated children of pre-school age and to take the place of one of our nurses who was working at the Peartree maternity home.

An additional infant welfare clinic to deal with evacuated children was also started. The doctor who ran this subsequently developed it into a clinic for problem children and hence child guidance work began in Welwyn Garden City.

One of our nurses was allocated for service with the mobile first-aid unit if required. Soon after the beginning of the war an intensive campaign for diphtheria immunization of schoolchildren and children under five was started and this led on to the subsequent schemes for regular immunization which have continued ever since.

The hut that served many purposes. It was used as the welfare clinic in 1922.

(click image to enlarge)

After the war, in April 1946, the county council took over all the infant welfare and ante-natal clinics, but there was no alteration in the organization. The number of nurses was now seven. In 1947 the Peartree maternity home was closed for evacuees, but later it was reopened for local mothers under the county council. In the same year the home help scheme was taken over by the county council.

Then in 1948, as everyone knows, the National Health Service came into being and all health services, both curative and preventive, were taken over by the Government. From then on the health association had no further worries about raising money, although it carried on organizing the voluntary work for a while until it was finally wound up later in the year.

Since then three fine health centres housing the clinics have been built in Welwyn Garden City, and in 1963 the large general hospital, which at present has over 400 beds, was opened by the Queen and named after her.

To watch these developments from nothing to the comprehensive health service that now exists in Welwyn Garden City has been of the greatest interest and to have taken part in the early stages most rewarding.

 
 

 

 
 


The real importance of the garden city

(by W. A. Allen)

Welwyn Garden City could be described as the first production model of a new town. The lessons learned from it have given confidence and inspiration to post-war town planners.

To people all over the world whose function in life is town-making Welwyn Garden City is several sorts of important things. It is most obviously the best working model of what the garden city movement had in its mind's eye. It is a laboratory for a particular type of town planning. It is a statement of the collective genius of a group of personalities that fortunately included Louis de Soissons. It was the example to clinch the argument that the making of new towns and cities was a feasible and desirable way of handling new urbanization, even in a democracy. It is a fine piece of urban landscape. Above all, but least obviously, it provided the original reference model for the human machinery needed to make new towns and cities. The process has proved more important than the product.

Although it is the best working model of the garden city idea, this was swallowed up by de Soissons's personal concept of the proper nature of a modern town, which, strictly speaking, was classical. I do not want to confuse this with his Georgian formula for popular housing or civic buildings, if people take "classical" to mean "Georgian," because this is a relatively superficial thing. I am speaking here of principles.

He saw the central part of a town as a formal thing, a symbol stating that one was at the point of authority and administration of a community, and with equal directness he viewed the residential areas as places of informality, tugging frankly at the heart-strings to generate affection. A great many successful towns and cities of antiquity assert the success of this idea.

There is a problem of linking the formal and the informal, but it gave de Soissons no difficulty, for he gathered his residential street network together in a way that could allow him to make major entries to the centre in a formal axial manner. He achieved it at the north and south ends of Parkway and at the west end of Howardsgate, which is the crossing axis. The east entry he never achieved, unfortunately. The idea he had in mind was to span the railway at the station, but the railway company, or money, or something else (he was never quite clear with me what it was), defeated him. This is a great pity, for apart from the merit of symmetry in classical layouts this was what was needed more than anything else to unify the two sides of the town. Perhaps some day it will be done, for the logic of it is compelling, though the difficulties are considerable.

The entry from the north to the formal and classical central area, the Parkway. No photograph seems to do justice to this exhilarating view.

Reproduced by courtesy of the New Towns Commission.

(click image to enlarge)

The centre of a town in our day is, of course, a more commercial thing even than in classical times, and I do not think he ever had insights about commerce to match his mastery of other planning matters. Shops form the real community centre of a town, and in putting them into the strait-jacket of his Georgian formula I think he imposed upon their collective character a restraint that is too respectable, too middle-class and too middle-aged. It cannot respond sufficiently to reasonable demands of gaiety and competition, which includes some vulgarity, and by this limitation it has so far failed to give focus to legitimate teenage needs - a great pity, for as one of the end-points of the Morris movement, with its left-wing overtones of puritanism, I think the town reveals a shortcoming in this general area of urban philosophy. If competition in shopping is restrained it depresses service; but competition needs to be extrovert in display and attraction if it is to flourish. Welwyn's department store is the salvation of the town's shopping and is the real community centre.

De Soissons's idea of industry also was not strongly perceptive. It was based on a persisting suspicion (shared then by many town planners) that in spite of being in a nice clean town it might itself continue to be dirty and smelly, and should therefore be put on a planning alignment where the prevailing wind would keep dirt and smell in the industrial zone and away from housing. And since it also had to have access to rail transport it naturally got laid out in a thin wedge orientated on a north-east/south-west axis alongside the main line railway. This wedge helps to sever the east and west sides of town, and with the failure to connect them by the east axis entry to Howardsgate it left the town plan with a flaw that was as disappointing to de Soissons as it has been to some of his uncomprehending critics. The lack of the link is really more fairly a criticism of those who subsequently had the power to correct it and might have found the necessary finance if they had perceived the need.

Fortunately, what was probably de Soissons's greatest strength was in the matter that most concerns ordinary people in everyday life - at least as far as people's needs can be satisfied by the efforts of town makers. This was in the quality of the residential environment. There he had a most successful collaborator in Malcolm Sefton, looking after what in modern terminology is called the "software" of towns, i.e. the planted environment as distinct from the built environment.

Redevelopment of an old lane and hedgerow. Ordinary housing made into a marvellous environment.

Photograph by Colin Westwood.

(click image to enlarge)

As a designer of the "hardware" - the houses - de Soissons had a formula that was inexpensive, possessed popular appeal, and had an external quality that speculative builders of the l920s and l930s miserably failed to match. Few want to emulate it today - it is too restrictive - and he had far less sensitivity to internal facilities than he could and should have had; but the general environment that he and Sefton put together is altogether outstanding. The immense pleasure one gets simply from moving around the town is due to this. It is probably the main reason for the extrovert feeling and much of the friendliness in the town. It is very American in its openness.

Recent housing with freshly made landscape featuring a couple of fine old trees.

Photograph by courtesy of the New Towns Commission.

(click image to enlarge)

So much, then, for the quality of the product, which is the extent of most people's interest in the town. But, as I said, the greatest significance of Welwyn is as an example of a process, and in this sense the value of the product is to justify the way of doing it and to demonstrate what can be done by doing it in this way.

Here one enters into modern history. Letchworth was the prototype, one might say, both of process and of product. Welwyn was, hopefully, the first production model - though production was precarious enough at times. What it was demonstrating, mostly to unseeing eyes, was the fact that experience was being obtained in the kind of machinery needed in order for modern society to be able to build and rebuild towns and cities at the pace and to the quality which the age demanded and finds possible. Previously when whole towns had been conceived and built de novo it was mostly by some form of benevolent authority. Here was a process viable in a democracy and compatible with modern society's newly developing capacity to organize and carry out large projects.

A residential landscape design of superb quality on what had been bare fields.

Photograph by courtesy of the New Towns Commission.

(click image to enlarge)

It was this that gave the confidence and inspiration needed for Abercrombie and post-war British governments to embark on programmes of new towns and large-scale urban renewal. Today no one sees any difficulty in visualizing new communities of 25,000 as Welwyn was originally aiming to be, and we confront the making of cities ten or more times the size of Welwyn with more equanimity than de Soissons, Howard and the Garden City Company faced their project fifty years ago. This is the real measure of the achievement.

 
 

 

 
 


Music-making in Welwyn Garden City

(by Anna Falchikov)

In the early days "everyone joined in everything" and music in the foundling town began to flourish. People had to make their own amusements, for their satisfaction and for the pleasure of others.

In these days of piped music in the supermarket, transistors in the park and radio in the car it is difficult to imagine the enthusiastic do-it-yourself music-making that went on in Welwyn Garden City fifty years ago. Being myself an upstart of a mere thirty years' residence in the town I have no personal recollections of the early days, but reading articles in old newspapers and diaries and listening to the memories of early residents have given me a picture of warmth and enthusiasm, of a certain fortitude even, in the face of unmade and unlit roads. Again and again I was told "We made our own amusements in those days"; "Everyone knew every one"; and "Everyone joined in everything then."

Of the survivors of the pioneering days the Welwyn Garden City Music Society still functions today, and it has the honour of being the oldest society in the town. It was founded in October 1921 by Sydney Shepherd, and with the town's population at only about 400 it drew a membership of fifty. Practices were held at the meeting house near where the Cherry Tree now stands - a meeting house I have heard referred to as "those sheds where every thing took place."

No question of nipping down there in the car; you had to tramp over an unmade farm track wearing gumboots and carrying a torch. Looking through the programmes of those early days one finds that the society ran both professional and amateur concerts. Entries for the autumn of 1922 read: October 9, chamber concert by the Kendal Quartet (professional); December 19, Elgar's "From the Bavarian High lands," songs by Miss Stevens, Brahms's violin concerto played by Mr. Colson with Mr. de Jongh at the piano (all local residents). This pattern was to continue for some time. The favourite musical war-horses were given regular airings down the years: "Hiawatha's Wedding Feast," "Merrie England," "Elijah," "The Creation," "Messiah," "Blest Pair of Sirens" and the rest.

In 1925 an offshoot, the Eclogues, was formed for informal music-making in each other's houses, and by January 1926 a separate women's choir known as the "shrieking sisterhood," "the shriek" for short, was functioning. The society's Christmas party, "the frivol," combined music and fun with competitions for limericks and so on, some of them highly personal caricatures.

By March 1928 yet another musical group, the Welwyn Garden City Operatic Society, was doing "The Mikado" and the music society's concert was now being given in the theatre. In 1931 two societies, the music society and the theatre society, held a joint social at the Parkway café to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their foundation, the music society being the older by two days.

An example of good landscaping penetrating the industrial area; the entrance of a large pharmaceutical plant in Welwyn Garden City.

Photograph by courtesy of the New Towns Commission.

(click image to enlarge)

Regular concerts were being given, both amateur and professional, some to raise funds for the library and for the hospital. There were orchestral and string quartet successes in competition festivals at Hertford and Ware, a small orchestra was provided for an Elizabethan play at Hatfield Old Palace, and there were even more ambitious occasions in 1937-8 when the choir and orchestra joined with others from Knebworth and Hitchin to give Bach's B minor Mass in Hitchin parish church.

A Hertfordshire Rural Music School founders' day concert at Hitchin town hall in June 1937, in which players from Welwyn Garden City took part, was conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, and at another joint concert the following year the St. Matthew Passion was given, conducted by the music society's own conductor, Miss Mary Ibberson. So by now music of all kinds was flourishing, ranging from "at homes" and chamber music to full orchestral and choral concerts.

No doubt standards varied, and mishaps there certainly were. There are adverse comments from time to time such as (1924) "low æsthetic values." For a performance of "Elijah" in 1925 the famous soprano Agnes Nicholls was engaged. One diarist commented "Not very pleased with the singing of Agnes Nicholls." I was told of a 'cellist who was always late for rehearsals; he even arrived late for the concert, pushing his way through the orchestra, which was already playing the first item. Having reached his place, quite unconcerned, he proceeded to tune up, loudly.

At the performance of "Messiah" in 1923 (I quote) "the professional trumpeter, who had had too much to drink, lost his place in the duet with the bass; otherwise no blemishes." Trumpeters were in trouble again in a performance in 1937 of Handel's Dettingen Te Deum (I quote again): "Went well, except for a trumpeter (imported) coming in too soon in one place." In 1933 a new orchestra gave its first concert at the Barn theatre; my diarist writes: "Only stayed for two items, as it was too painful and excruciating."

Another entry for that year tells of a certain Mozart piano concerto where the pianist suddenly missed out twelve bars and the orchestra dried up. Undaunted, the conductor, Miss Alice Hare, sang the missing music till contact was re-established and "eventually we all got in again at the next tutti." Stirring days those must have been. Even the earliest programmes show the variety of music given. One for February 1928: "Bach piano concerto, madrigals, Brahms's ‘The Dustman’ [sic]." For "Dustman" read "Sandman" I fancy.

Alas, all this activity was brought to a standstill by World War II. After a period of stunned adjustment a need began to be felt for some kind of entertainment, some thing that we could all enjoy together and that would help to re-establish the sense of community shattered by wartime conditions and blackout. Largely through the initiative of Sir Frederic Osborn and Mr. John Eccles the Parkway Mondays were started. They were not exclusively musical evenings, and many well-known artists entertained us. Joyce Grenfell, Peter Pears, Benjamin Britten, the pianist Maria Donska and many others in various fields visited us. During the war Welwyn Garden City had as a resident a most distinguished refugee, the violinist Professor Arnold Rosé. Rosé, who was Mahler's brother-in- law, had been for many years leader of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and had his own string quartet. Welwyn Garden City was fortunate in hearing the Rosé quartet at a number of Parkway Mondays.

Hollybush House, one-bedroomed and bed-sitter flats, in Woodhall Lane, Welwyn Garden City.

Photograph by courtesy of the New Towns Commission.

(click image to enlarge)

When towards the end of the war the V-bombs began the Mondays had to be abandoned, but as soon as it was safe to start gathering in public again a fresh musical activity was launched. The Welwyn Garden City Music Club, now in its twenty- seventh season, was the creation of a remarkable woman, herself a concert pianist and a famous teacher, Miss Dorothy Hesse, who came to live here early in the war. She realized that a need had been revealed by the Parkway Mondays for people to meet and enjoy something together; out of that need and of Miss Hesse's initiative grew the music club. It ran a series of first-class recitals and chamber music concerts at a reasonable subscription.

Travel to London had become almost impossibly difficult and sometimes even hazardous. Here on our doorstep we were provided by the club with a monthly concert at the Parkway restaurant. Myra Hess gave the opening recital and for several seasons the series was over-subscribed. People flocked to hear such artists as Solomon, Elizabeth Schumann, the Griller quartet, the Boyd Neel chamber orchestra and many more of equal fame and status. But many of the artists who came were not well known in this country. Some would be young artists at the thresh old of their careers, for Miss Hesse had an almost uncanny gift for finding young musicians who were to make the grade later. Among these was Kathleen Ferrier, who was almost unknown when she came to us, and there were others well known in their own countries but as yet unheard over here; Wilhelm Kempff and Annie Fischer gave their first public concerts in this country at our club.

No account of music in Welwyn Garden City would be complete without mentioning the Welwyn Garden City Male Voice Choir, the amateur choir that has achieved professional status. Founded in 1935 by the late Mr. J. L. Bebb, it used to consist mainly of Welshmen. In the great depression of the l930s many men came here from Wales in search of work on the building sites, and they formed their own choir. Now, I am told, there is a shortage of Welshmen and "foreigners" are having to be included. The choir meets twice a week for rehearsals and the subscription is only 10/- a year. New members are admitted on three months' probation and then it is "in or out." The special quality of this choir, besides its superb tone, is its extraordinary versatility; it does every thing from cabaret to celebrity concerts with such artists as Heddle Nash and Campoli, and has sung many times at the Royal Festival Hall and the Royal Albert Hall. It, too, had to disband soon after the outbreak of war but was re-formed in 1945. The choir has made innumerable appearances on television and radio and is well known all over southern England. It is still going very strong.

What of music today and in the immediate future? The many schools in the town all have their own orchestras and the best of these young players come together in the holidays to play in the Hertfordshire Youth Orchestra, whose concerts are always vivid and lively affairs and give great pleasure to large and appreciative audiences; but too often these young people leave the town for good after their student days are over.

The "shriek," the "frivols" and the Eclogues are all gone. A number of women's choirs conducted by various people have come and gone since the "shriek." Today the women's choirs are mainly those formed by the Townswomen's Guilds, together with a choir of long standing, now run under the county, which has been conducted for many years by Mme Marguerite Crowther. The music society, combining choir and orchestra, carries on under its conductor, Roy Budden, as does the male voice choir, supreme in its own special field under Gordon Williams. The Thalians give us an annual performance of a musical or an operetta, and for the serious music-lover the music club continues to provide first-class chamber concerts throughout the winter months, sometimes drawing people from as far away as Birmingham.

Three years ago music in the town suffered a great loss when Dorothy Hesse died, but under the chairmanship of her sister, Miss Emmie Hesse, the music club carries on her policy of "nothing but the best."

A casualty sunk without trace is the gramophone society which flourished for several years; sunk perhaps because nowadays so many people have their own hi-fi systems and flawless recordings.

It may be that the cheerful do-it-yourself standards of the early days would not be acceptable today, for innumerable professional concerts are available throughout the year in London and on radio and television in people's homes. Yet perhaps something has been lost - something of that first fine careless rapture of music making in a new town where "everyone knew everybody" and "we all joined in."

 
 

 

 
 

The Shredded Wheat Factory
(author not credited)

Countless millions of breakfasts have started with this popular cereal product made in Welwyn Garden City.

An American lawyer, Mr. Henry Perky, first got the idea that was to lead to a health-giving cereal product - Shredded Wheat, now purchased by millions of people.

For sixty years countless millions of breakfasts have started with Shredded Wheat - made in Welwyn Garden City, where over 12,000,000 of this popular cereal are produced every week at the Bridge Road East factory.

The Shredded Wheat company - it was taken over in 1929 by the American biscuit company from which the present name of the firm, Nabisco, is derived - was the second large industrial firm to move into Welwyn Garden City, where in 1924 a new concept in residential/factory areas was being planned.

The present company secretary, Mr. W. F. Dick, who joined the company in 1925, remembers those early days. "Welwyn Garden City seemed ideally suited for the company's needs. It not only offered good housing accommodation but was near our main market of London."

So in 1926 a factory covering some seven acres was established and full production got under way. It was the largest factory in the garden city. In 1960 another four and a half acres were acquired and premises in Broadwater Road then known as Cromac House were purchased and are now being used for warehousing, sales department, research and development and mechanical development departments.

A familiar landmark in Welwyn Garden City. The group of silos at the Nabisco factory.

Photograph by Frank H. Meads.

(click image to enlarge)

Mr. Dick remembers the building of grain silos. The first eighteen, in groups of three, were built in 1927-8 and the second group in 1939. Another event in the history of Shredded Wheat was the installation in 1939 of the then modern Webster ovens, which baked and evaporated the moisture from the wheat in one operation. Within twenty years these ovens too were replaced by more modern equipment.

In 1925 about 100 people were employed, including office and factory staff. Today the company employs well over 1,000 people working in shifts round the clock to keep families at home and overseas supplied with one of their most popular breakfasts.

Nabisco is one of the most mechanized food-producing factories in the country. From shredding the grains of wheat that make the shredded wheat to packaging the finished wheat biscuits machines are at work, tended by skilled production staff, backed up by quality control at every stage and the laboratory resources of the food technicians.

Approximately 400 tons of wheat, most of it from Australia, are used every week to produce Shredded Wheat at the rate of 900 every minute. A million Shredded Wheat biscuits are produced every eight-hour shift.

The origin of Shredded Wheat can be traced back to 1890 and a dyspeptic lawyer named Henry Perky. Mr. Perky could seldom find food that really agreed with him, but while in a country tavern trying to make up his mind what to eat he saw another man making a hearty meal of boiled wheat mashed with cream. This man, too, suffered from indigestion. Mr. Perky tried the boiled wheat and found that it solved his problem of dyspepsia. From this brief encounter sprang an idea that was to lead to a health-giving cereal purchased by millions of people.

With the aid of a food expert Mr. Perky set up machinery that would draw the wheat grains into long fine shreds, and it was from this that the name of Shredded Wheat was derived.

The first shredded wheat biscuit was brought out in 1893 and exhibited in a grocers' convention in Boston, U.S.A. By 1895 Mr. Perky was ready to venture into producing and marketing his biscuit and organized the Natural Food Company.

The first supply of Shredded Wheat arrived in this country in 1908 when the Shredded Wheat company was formed in Great Britain, with offices at Aldwych.

The company has a large number of long-serving staff with it - men like Sam Street, departmental foreman in the wheat house, who receives the Australian wheat as it arrives in rail trucks in the company's own sidings alongside the factory. He has been in the milling trade all his life and can quickly spot top-quality wheat when it arrives in the rail trucks. It is loaded into silos towering nearly 100 feet high at the rate of forty tons an hour.

Then the wheat has to go through an elaborate series of cleaning processes. During these processes dust is extracted, it is washed, placed in large spin dryers, and then sent by enclosed conveyors to the cooking section, where it is cooked in large steam kettles.

After cooking it is stored in bins and kept for twenty-four hours for curing, after which it is ready for the next operation, the shredding.

Once in the production area it is the responsibility of works manager Mr. Jon Creen and production superintendent Mr. George Rowe, with forty years' service, and his staff. The final product goes for packaging to Mr. Jim Fenwick, who has worked for Nabisco for twenty-three years, and his staff.

The shredding operation involves feeding the wheat by gravity into the shredder rollers. These rollers are solid metal about five inches in diameter and five inches in length and run in pairs. One roller runs clockwise and the other anti-clockwise: one has a groove around its circumference and the other is smooth. When the wheat is forced between these rollers it emerges in long thin shreds. On the shredder unit at Nabisco there are twenty-nine pairs of these rollers. A cutter divides it into individual biscuits, which are cut and sealed, so producing the pillow form.

Then the long line of uncooked biscuits starts its journey through the ovens. The cycle takes twelve minutes and the ovens are approximately 175 feet long, with the baking done by gas.

After leaving the ovens the Shredded Wheat goes to the wrapping and packing units, which are all mechanized. The biscuits are automatically sorted into sets of three.

While Shredded Wheat still forms a major part of the company's total production, Nabisco has steadily expanded its activities. Welgar Shredded Wheat was registered in 1941, which gave the company even more affinity with the town, but today it also produces three varieties of cereal plus cake mixes and several cracker biscuits.

Part of the success of the Shredded Wheat story is its achievement in the export field. It exports to fifty countries, even to Australia, which supplies the original wheat for 12,000,000 breakfasts weekly.

 
 

 

 
 

A new life for an ancient barn - Welwyn Garden City's unique theatre
(by Roy Brewer)

The curtains of the Barn theatre were rung up for the first time in 1932. Since then, with the exception of the war years, it has been used to stage all types of plays and musicals.

The unknown man who built Handside barn - now Welwyn Garden City's Barn theatre - has been dust for some 300 years, but much of his roof and wall timbering still stands, although not on its original site. When the barn was first built it formed part of the vanished hamlet of Handside, somewhere near the junction of Handside Lane and Brockswood Lane. The Old Cottage - No. 39 Brockswood Lane - is the only relic of this ancient settlement.

A few stories of life in this very remote corner of the county, handed down by word of mouth, survived until garden city days. Mostly they came from the long memory of the late W. C. Horn, who lived just across the road from the present site of the Barn theatre until well into the 1930s.

About the time of Waterloo a new farm house was built in Handside Lane, and the barn was moved piecemeal a few hundred yards to its present site. William James Horn, who farmed the surrounding land, was born at the farmhouse in 1837, and his son W. C. Horn, succeeded him until the Welwyn Garden City Company acquired his land in 1920.

Hearsay stories, recounted by W. C. Horn, tell of fervent nonconformists travelling miles to hold prayer meetings at the original "great barn," and of Sir Charles Bunbury stabling his racehorses nearby, including the immortal Eleanore, who won both the Derby and the Oaks in 1801.

Even in pre-theatre days the barn had connections with the arts. Thomas Bayly, an early Victorian playwright and song writer who had some connections with Brocket Hall, is said to have held "little concerts" in "the great barn at Handside Farm," while later in the century Tom Sayers is rumoured to have used the barn for training sessions in the noble art while working as a mason on building Welwyn viaduct.

With the advent of the garden city in 1920 the barn buildings became the head quarters of the dairy farming subsidiary of Welwyn Garden City Company, and for about a decade they served as a milk distribution centre. In 1929 the main barn, then known as "the old barn," was acquired by the staff association of Welwyn Department Store as a clubroom, and it was in fact this body that put on the first play to be staged in the barn within memory. The store's staff production "Tilly of Bloomsbury" was presented in the present auditorium of the Barn theatre in February 1930, on an improvised little stage erected at what is now the back of the auditorium. Hard seats on a flat floor accommodated an appreciative audience, and contemporary press reports spoke of the possibilities of "the old barn" for future dramatic activity.

The Barn Theatre, Welwyn Garden City, showing the original main building, with various later additions which are used as scene dock, stores, etc. The old forage silo has also been converted into a storehouse.

Photograph by H. J. Stull.

(click image to enlarge)

The late Dr. Leonard Gray, a director of the original Welwyn Garden City Company, was the man whose vision and energy turned the hopes of 1930 into reality. Although Welwyn theatre - now the Embassy cinema - had been opened in 1928 Gray realized that this large building - part cinema and part theatre - was far from ideal as the home for a small but ambitious drama movement. What was needed was a small, intimate place in which amateurs could experiment, and which they could regard as their own, without the heavy expenses of a large building.

During 1931 plans were drawn up by Dr. Gray and representatives of the four active local drama groups. Many hours of voluntary labour and the generosity of Gray himself enabled the Barn theatre to ring up the curtain in January 1932, roughly in the form in which we know it today. The audience capacity, as today, was just under 150 and productions were scheduled to run for a week at prices of 1/3 and 2/6. The opening performance was of four one-act plays, presented by the Theatre Society, Welwyn Folk Players, Welwyn Thalians and Welwyn Stores Staff Association, and this was followed a few weeks later by H. A. G. Baker's production for the Theatre Society of G. B. Shaw's "Misalliance."

The Barn theatre ran without interruption, though always battling against costs, until 1940. Although overhead expenses were comparatively low there was the constant problem of balancing production costs - electricity, stage equipment, etc. - against very cheap admission prices. From the outset the intention was to make the theatre a real amenity for the town and not just a centre for a little coterie.

Over the eight pre-war years the town population did not rise above 15,000, but four separate drama groups each managed to put on three or four shows a year. The last production before the close-down in 1940 was "The School for Scandal," produced by Alex Reeve, a very talented local amateur who afterwards went on to gain fame as the professional producer at Northampton repertory theatre and as drama director at a Texan university.

There were a number of "British premieres" during this period - Ernst Toller's "The Blind Goddess," Nordhal Grieg's "Atlantic Flight," Kaj Munck's "The Word" (translated from the Danish by a member of one of the local societies) and T. B. Morris's "The Beautiful One."

In 1934 there was an attempt to merge the three main town drama societies to form one strong group that would take over responsibility for the theatre from Leonard Gray. In the event it was not until 1969 that this attempt was fulfilled, but the 1934 scheme brought the formation of Welwyn Drama Club, born out of the old Theatre Society plus a handful of far sighted enthusiasts from other societies. The new club took over the lease of the theatre from Gray and ran it until the war.

The flat-roofed structures to the left of the original Barn theatre are later additions, used as dressing rooms. A recently completed entrance foyer still has its permanent main doors to be added.

Photograph by H. J. Stull.

(click image to enlarge)

Early in 1940 the theatre was requisitioned by Army authorities. It suffered heavily through several short occupancies by different units, and when the military finally surrendered it the lighting board had been wrecked, the heating boiler had burst, and even the beautiful orange velvet curtains had been torn down. Barely had the Army gone when the Navy stepped in, to use the place as a cadet training centre. The Sea Cadets treated the old building gently, but their special needs involved removing the floor rake to build a large "boat" in the middle of the floor !

When the theatre came back into civilian use in 1946 the town's population was over 20,000 and Welwyn Garden City Ltd. was anxious to re-equip it as a town's "little theatre." Some cash compensation for war damage, intensive begging of materials from local firms and above all much voluntary labour brought the Barn theatre back into use in November 1946. This represented a considerable triumph, for the theatre was not only reopened but materially improved. The erratic old heating system was replaced, the floor rake restored and improved, and a lighting projection box built at the back of the auditorium.

During succeeding years the theatre was run by the Barn Association, representing all the main local societies and holding a lease of the building from the Welwyn Garden City Company. Productions averaged ten or more each season, classic, modern and indescribable, but one outstanding feature, foreshadowing the future, was the readiness of societies to combine in order to stage complex and large-scale productions.

In 1963 the Barn Theatre Association turned itself into a company limited by guarantee, with representation from Welwyn Drama Club, Welwyn Folk Players, I.C.I. Dramatic Club, Welwyn Thalians, Welwyn Festival Association and the Barn Theatre Club.

The last-named body was set up in 1958 as a centre for supporters and active participants in the theatre movement of the town. The following year an appeal was launched with a £1,500 target, partly to cover essential work on the building such as draught-proofing and reseating, and particularly to help provide a clubroom which could serve as headquarters for the Barn Theatre Club and a meeting place and social centre for all local theatre lovers. A substantial donation from Sir Frederic Osborn - consistently an excellent friend of all local theatre activity - plus support from local residents, firms and organizations enabled the target to be reached quickly and for voluntary work to start on converting a dilapidated scene store into a clubroom.

The clubroom was opened in 1961, and by 1962 the club was able to give its members the use of comfortable, intimate club premises, with a licence, also priority booking for all Barn theatre productions.

A scene from Robert Bolt's "Flowering Cherry," a Barn theatre production in 1968.

(click image to enlarge)

Details of subsequent progress and productions are too long to tell here, but the peak of the story undoubtedly lies in 1969 - the most significant year since the theatre was first opened. Following several months of informal discussion and negotiation between representatives of the main societies using the theatre a scheme was agreed by all concerned for the amalgamation of these societies into one corporate body. Welwyn Drama Club and Welwyn Folk Players - each with a history practically as old as the garden city - were joined by the Barn Theatre Club to form a new body - the Barn Theatre Club Limited.

Provision was made in the scheme for occasional lettings to other groups that had not wished or found it possible to join the amalgamation scheme.

A long lease was granted to the new body by the ground landlords, the Commission for the New Towns, giving the club security of tenure well into the 1980s.

Another event of major importance last year was the acquisition of the entire complex of buildings adjoining the theatre, including the former "Welco" social club premises, which had been for some time semi-derelict. This has added to the original theatre two separate rehearsal rooms, a "green-room," scenery, costume and property stores and an office.

This summer is seeing once again voluntary labour working long hours on reconditioning and decorating the entire premises, improving the stage equipment - notably by the installation of a very modern "finger-tip-control" lighting system - and even giving a "face-lift" to the cosy Barn clubroom. All this work follows a most successful opening season, during which seven full-length plays were given, each running for a week. Membership of the Barn Theatre Club already exceeds 500, including a very active junior section.

A pre-war Barn theatre success was T. S. Eliot's "Murder in the Cathedral" in 1938. Becket was played by the Rev. R. Parkin, then vicar of Kings Langley.

(click image to enlarge)

As the old barn moves into its fifth decade of use as a theatre its members face both great opportunities and great responsibility - opportunities for exercising their love of the theatre under companionable and well-equipped conditions, and responsibility for continuing to provide their fellow citizens with a wide range of live entertainment.

Inevitably, as an old building, the barn is reputed to have its ghost - unseen and unauthenticated, but firmly believed in by hard-headed scene builders who have "felt a presence" while working late on set building. Perhaps it is the shade of the man who first put the barn timbers together wandering around bewildered at all the goings-on in his building.

 
 

 

 
 

The Eylure story
(by Treena Price)

A family concern in Welwyn Garden City has been making false eyelashes since 1947.

Twenty-three years ago two young professional film make-up men had an idea. So confident were they in the potential of their idea that they formed their own company and spent every spare moment perfecting what was to become the biggest news in beauty aids since lipstick - false eyelashes.

The Aylott brothers - David and Eric - can well recollect those early days when their workroom was the family sitting room and their customers were the screen actresses they worked with, but in a very short space of time demand increased and beauty salons and department stores took interest.

Eylure's first premises - "the shack" - on the site of the Gosling stadium, Welwyn Garden City.

(click image to enlarge)

Eylure moved in 1947 to its first official premises - "the shack" as they affectionately called it, which stood on the site of the present Gosling stadium, Welwyn Garden City.

Until the late 1950s the brothers worked on film sets by day and ran Eylure part-time; some of the films they worked on are now appearing on our television screens. They include "Look Back in Anger," "Road to Hong Kong," "The Millionairess" and "The Journey."

The real break-through for the company came with the introduction of ready shaped and trimmed lashes, which were mounted on curved platforms shaped to the natural contour of the eyelid. With the addition of self-adhesive fixative this meant that Eylure lashes could be fixed straight from the pack - making them the most instant make-up ever and bringing the film-star look within the reach of the average woman.

In the early 1960s Eylure had grown to such an extent that the Aylott brothers had to make the big decision to give up their studio work and really get down to the business of running the company. By this time the company had moved to its present head office in Bridge Road East, Welwyn Garden City, and was producing several types of false lashes, fingernails and eye make-up products.

The year 1966 was a real milestone in the Eylure story; the Aylott brothers were presented with one of the very first Queen's Awards to Industry for export achievement.

Eylure is today the world's leading manufacturer of quality lashes, and the small enterprise of twenty-three years ago now employs over 1,000 staff at factories in Welwyn Garden City and Cwmbran, Monmouthshire. Eylure lashes are exported to over seventy countries throughout the world and production units have been set up in Brussels, Malta and New Zealand.

The Aylott family have lived in Welwyn Garden City for many years. Unhappily, last year Dave Aylott senior died at his home in the town. He had played an active part in the early days of the company and was originally a movie director and film make-up man.

David (left) and Eric Aylott checking model girl Linda's make-up.

Photograph by John Adrian.

(click image to enlarge)

Despite the present size of the business the brothers have not lost contact with any aspect. However, in February this year a new managing director was appointed, which will enable the brothers to concentrate more easily on the development of new ideas and techniques for their beauty business and to travel to Eylure outlets throughout the world.

Eylure's London make-up centre is a regular spot for visitors to London, and women of all ages - famous faces too - clamour to see everything that is new in the world of make-up and lashes.