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Welwyn Garden City

Commission for the New Towns - Welwyn Garden City

Author: (anon)

Published: 1970 by Commission for the New Towns

Format: Paperback 8¼" by 6" with 16 pages

Cover photo: Parkway, Welwyn Garden City
(click image to enlarge)

This is one of a series of booklets which were published by the Commission for the New Towns in the 1970s which reported on the progress of the New Towns. The booklet is illustrated with an outline plan of the town, and twelve photographs in black-and-white or a greenish monochrome, mostly of housing and street scenes in the town. There is a pocket inside the back cover which originally held a fact sheet which had numeric information such as population, numbers of houses, factories and schools etc. The sheet is missing from my copy. Below are the text and illustrations from the booklet.


Commission for the New Towns

Sir Henry Wells CBE (Chairman)
Sir Harold Banwell (Deputy Chairman)
Dr W A J Chapman
Mr S R Collingwood JP
Mr G D Hitchcock
Mr R May
Mrs B F R Paterson JP
Mr J D Russell

Secretary: Mr F Schaffer

Welwyn Garden City Local Committee

Mr S R Collingwood JP (Chairman)
Mr W F Hodson
Mr F J Jordan
Mr A E Luddington
Mr D Newton
Mrs M M Vick
Mr R S Walton

Manager: Brigadier M W Biggs CBE





by Sir Henry Wells CBE FRICS
Chairman, Commission for the New Towns

The new towns of Britain - there are now 27 of them at various stages of development - represent a major achievement in town planning, an achievement which is recognised and acclaimed throughout the world.

This booklet describes briefly the development of Welwyn Garden City - a new town started by private enterprise in 1920, and in 1970 marking its Golden Jubilee with a series of events and special functions which include a visit by H.M. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

Welwyn Garden City was the forerunner of the new towns to be established under the 1946 Act and is now one of the four substantially completed towns in which the assets of the former development corporation have been transferred to the Commission for the New Towns. The Commission own most of the houses, factories and shops in the town and their task is to act as enlightened landlords in the management of this property. In carrying out these functions, the Commission work in close co-operation with the local authorities, statutory undertakers and other bodies concerned in the affairs of the town; a local committee has been appointed who are responsible for the management of the housing assets on behalf of the Commission.

Welwyn Garden City is a thriving community. Most of the people who live there work in the factories, shops and offices that have been built in the town. The photographs in this booklet give some idea of the care that has been taken to provide pleasant and attractive surroundings which are so vastly different from the overcrowded areas of London from which many of the Welwyn Garden City inhabitants have come. Even more important, however, are the happiness and prosperity of the people of Welwyn Garden City. These are the most worthwhile assets any town can possess.

Already, houses have been built in the new towns for half-a-million people and by 1981, with the many more new towns now to be established, it is estimated that one person in twenty may be living in a new town. There is much yet to be done to eliminate the overcrowding in our cities but the early new towns, which started as a bold experiment, have pioneered the way. The experience that has been built up, and the skill and devotion to an ideal of those who have been responsible for the planning and development of the new towns, have firmly established the new town movement in Britain as an effective instrument of social progress.




Historical Background

Welwyn Garden City was the brain-child of Sir Ebenezer Howard. Following the success of his pioneering town planning achievements at Letchworth - the first garden city - he formed a new company in 1919 to foster his ideas on garden city planning. The site chosen for his new venture was an open stretch of Hertfordshire countryside near the village of Welwyn, some 20 miles north of London.

The problems facing the development company in the building of a self-dependent industrial town were enormous and the early years of the development of the town were by no means easy. But the company managed to overcome the difficulties that beset it and by 1939 Welwyn Garden City had become a widely acclaimed example of modern town planning. After the Second World War it was decided to arrange for the town to be completed under the machinery for building new towns. Accordingly, the original company was wound up and the further expansion of Welwyn Garden City was carried out by a development corporation set up under the New Towns Act 1946. In 1966 the assets of the Welwyn Garden City Development Corporation were handed over to the Commission for the New Towns.




The Master Plan

The site for Welwyn Garden City covers an area of 4317 acres. The original conception was that the town should have a population of 36,500, but in November 1954 this figure was increased to 50,000. The population reached 41,500 in 1967 and it is expected that the ultimate figure will be reached towards the end of the 1970s.

The town is divided into four sectors by the Edinburgh-King's Cross railway and the branch lines to Luton and Hertford. The most suitable site for the industrial area was on the east side of the main railway line where the ground is relatively level. The south-west sector was the first to be developed and it is here that the town centre is situated. The north-east sector comprises development which has been completed since 1948; the largest sector is in the south east - this had a population of about 9,800 in 1948 which has grown to about 21,000.





It has always been the aim to cater for all types of housing need. Private ownership of houses is encouraged. A number of houses have been built for sale on long leases and over 250 plots of land have been made available to people wishing to build houses to their own design. The majority of the houses, however, are let on weekly or monthly tenancies.

The number of dwellings to each acre varies according to the type of development but in general privately-owned houses are at about six to the acre, monthly tenancies at 10 to the acre, and weekly tenancies at 12 to the acre. Overall, including weekly rented houses owned by the Urban District Council, the net density for the town is approximately 10 dwellings an acre. ('Net' in this context means residential land only, excluding main roads, open spaces, and schools.)




Town and Unit Centres

In addition to the town centre there is one major unit centre of 30 shops and eight minor unit centres, varying in size from three to 15 shops. These unit centres are intended to provide day-to-day shopping facilities for residents living nearby. In addition, each of the larger unit centres also includes a church, community buildings of some kind, and a public house. The town centre consists of administrative buildings for local and national government offices, cultural, educational and recreational buildings, including a college of further education and a central library; and commercial buildings such as shops, banks, hotels, offices, licensed premises, restaurants, cafes, petrol-filling and service stations, and a number of flats. It is hoped that the main part of the town centre will eventually become a pedestrian area, and provision for car parking, including a multi-storey park, is being made round the edge of the central area.





Over 100 firms have established factories at Welwyn Garden City. The largest concern is the divisional headquarters and research organization of Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd., Plastics Division. Murphy Radio Ltd. (now Rank Bush Murphy Ltd.) had its beginnings in the early days of the garden city, and is now the second largest employer in the town, occupying a new factory of over 300,000 square feet built by the development corporation. The next largest firms employ under 1,000 workers and vary from manufacturing and research chemists to abrasive manufacturers and breakfast food makers. Most of the firms, however, employ under 500 workers; their activities also include chocolate making, light engineering and printing. It is estimated that about 18,000 people are employed in industry in Welwyn Garden City, about 3,000 of whom travel in daily from outside the town.

Most of the factories have been built by the firms to their own requirements. A number of sectional factories have been built for letting to small firms.





Shops provide the main commercial development of the town. The original policy of the development company was to run its own department store in the town centre with branches in the unit centres; a few shops to let were also built. This policy resulted in a very limited variety of shops and a number of schemes were later undertaken to widen the shoppers' choice. The original department store has survived, however, and flourishes in a much expanded form. Welwyn Garden City has now become a shopping centre for an area which extends far beyond the confines of the town.

Provision has also been made for all other aspects of commercial life. At one time it was felt that the number employed in industry was abnormally high in relation to those in commerce. Firms were therefore encouraged to move from the London area and take office accommodation in the town, thereby also helping to provide a greater diversity of employment for young people. Several nationally known firms now have their administrative headquarters in Welwyn Garden City - Polaroid UK Ltd, IBM, and the Danish Bacon Company, for example.




Health Services

The hospital and specialist medical services are administered by the North West Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board through the Mid-Herts Group Hospital Management Committee. The Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, the first general hospital to be built in England since the war, was opened in July 1963 by Her Majesty the Queen, and has 315 beds. An additional psychiatric wing of 100 beds has since been constructed. The hospital is situated on the south east edge of the town and serves Hatfield and the surrounding district as well as Welwyn Garden City.

All other health and day nursery services are operated by the Hertfordshire County Council. There are three health centres, one in the Woodhall unit centre, at Gooseacre, one at Harwood Hill, on the northern side of the town, and one in Parkway, within five minutes walk of the town centre. Sites are reserved for other centres, should they become necessary.





School building has always aimed to keep pace with the residential development, and the town now possesses one County Council nursery school (a number of others are run privately), five infant schools, nine junior mixed and infant, and five junior mixed. There are eight secondary schools, with further ones planned or under construction, which will form the basis for a comprehensive system of education. There is one private school, catering for children from four to 18 years, and a College of Further Education in the town centre.

A training centre for mentally handicapped children was completed in 1965, and a hall, originally built by the Church of England, has been bought by the County Council and is now used as an adult training centre.




Places of Worship

In general it has been the aim to include at least one church building group, comprising church, church hall and minister's house, at each unit centre; other additional church sites have been allocated in residential areas. All the main religious groups are represented in the town.




Community Development

Welwyn Garden City is particularly well endowed with facilities for social, recreational and cultural pursuits. Buildings where meetings can be held have been provided and a great deal of emphasis has been placed on ensuring that newcomers to the town are made aware of the wide range of activities in which they can participate.

Apart from the conventional activities, there are a number of enterprises of particular interest. In the course of the development of the town, two large houses were purchased because their grounds were needed for building. One of these houses, Hall Grove, now houses the Ludwick Family Club and has been extended by the addition of a hall and other rooms. This club has a resident warden and a long list of people waiting to join. The other building was leased to the Hyde Association and is open to any groups wishing to use the premises. The structure of Hyde House has, however, deteriorated in spite of extensive maintenance and repair, and the Association, with the help of the Department of Education and Science, the Hertfordshire County Council, the Urban District Council and the Commission, has now built its own premises within the curtilage. Another venture was the conversion of some old farm buildings to provide a small hall, a committee room and a kitchen for the encouragement of community group activities. The group so formed, the Vineyard Barn Association, has now taken over the administration of a new community hall at Shoplands.

Another old building houses the Digswell Arts Trust. The purpose of the Trust is to enable all types of artists - painters, sculptors, potters, and weavers, for example - to live and work in congenial surroundings. Digswell House, originally a country mansion and subsequently a school, was converted into studios with living accommodation. The Digswell Arts Centre was officially opened in May 1959 and there are now some 20 artists in occupation. The Trust has also taken the lease of a large house in the town centre and, after conversion, opened it in October 1964 as the Gordon Maynard Gallery. Here artists from Digswell House and from other parts of the country can exhibit their work.

Another unusual venture is that of the Digswell Lake Society: a private society which leases an area of approximately 17 acres, including a natural lake, from the Commission. This is an area of particular beauty which serves as a nature reserve and a place of tranquillity. Membership is open to anyone on payment of a subscription which entitles the member to a key. The funds from the subscriptions are used towards the cost of maintaining the area.




Open Spaces

A total of 1507 acres (equivalent to 30 acres per 1000 population) has been allocated for open spaces, mainly in the form of playing fields, parklands, woodlands, small play spaces and other open areas contiguous to residential development, allotments, and agricultural land. There is an 18-hole golf course on the western edge of the town, playing fields in the south-west and south-east, woodlands in the north-west and south-east, and allotments and play spaces in developed areas. There is an open-air swimming pool on the south-west boundary of the town, owned by the Urban District Council, which has recently been extended and improved and is now heated.

In July 1959 the Gosling Stadium was officially opened. This was provided by the Development Corporation with the help of voluntary contributions, mainly in the form of a Memorial Fund which was launched to commemorate the first Chairman of the Development Corporation, Mr R G Gosling, and contributions from the County Council and the Urban District Council. The stadium has a particularly fine cycle track, together with a running track and facilities for other athletic and field events. In October 1962 the Welwyn Gosling Stadium Athletic and Sports Association was formed, taking a 99-year lease of the whole stadium area, on which a club house had then recently been erected. A new lounge bar extension was opened in February 1966, and plans are in hand for the provision of facilities for squash, tennis, rugby, netball, hockey, and cricket, plus an artificial ski slope.

The Commission operate nursery gardens and a tree nursery and undertake all new landscape work and the maintenance of existing public gardens and woodlands; a most important feature in the Garden City.





With its development more or less complete, Welwyn Garden City will now settle down to becoming a 'normal' town. A certain amount of immigration will continue, though on a much reduced scale, and some financial help may still be required to provide more amenities in the town. However, the main object now will be to cater for the town's own internal needs, particularly with regard to housing the new generation which is growing up and reaching marrying age.




Welwyn Garden City - outline plan

(click image to enlarge)



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Howardsgate - another view

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The Howard Memorial and the Coronation Fountain

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Hollybush House - one bedroom and bed-sittingroom flats

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Factory premises of Rank Bush Murphy Ltd in Bessemer Road

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Factory premises of Roche Products Ltd in Broadwater Road

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Digswell House, now the home of Digswell Arts Trust

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Sherrards Wood - 180 acres have been preserved for public enjoyment

(click image to enlarge)


Haldens adventure playground

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Archery at the Gosling Stadium

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Published by the Commission for the New Towns, Glen House, Stag Place, London SW1.

Printed by The Furnival Press, London EC4.

February 1970