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Welwyn Garden City
Published: *1974 by The British Publishing Company
Format: Paperback 8¼" by 6"
with 96 pages.
The text in the guide is not attributed. The guide is
illustrated with 29 well-reproduced black-and-white photographs and 3
in colour (credited in the contents page to Peter C. Brown),
10 line drawings (by Ronald Maddox), a colour sketch
of the armorial bearings, and 4 maps including a large fold-out one, glued
in the back, which covers the whole of the Welwyn Hatfield District from
Woolmer Green in the north to Cuffley in the south, and which has a street
index on the back.
Introducing Welwyn Hatfield District
WELWYN HATFIELD DISTRICT is unique in Britain in that it brings together two New Towns in one District authority. It embraces a large, contrasting area of Hertfordshire, including the industrial and residential centres of Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield and Welwyn, together with parts of the Lea and Mimram valleys, farmland, and delightful stretches of wooded country.
Three former local government authorities - the Urban District Council of Welwyn Garden City and the rural district councils of Welwyn and Hatfield - merged in April 1974 to form the new administrative District which is one of ten such units in Hertfordshire.
The Welwyn Hatfield District has a population of about 94,000 and covers almost 50 square miles, stretching from Woolmer Green in the north, to flank, on its southern boundary, Enfield Chase in the Greater London area. The District is within easy travelling distance of London and has two vital central spurs - the A1(M) trunk road and the main railway line (Kings Cross to the North).
THE NEW TOWNS
The two New Towns, Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield, were developed at different times and form an interesting study in contrasts. One of the pioneers of its kind, Welwyn Garden City was planned and developed after World War I and its centre of straight, broad thoroughfares and neo-Georgian style buildings differs from Hatfield, where the central road sweeps around a pedestrian precinct and where the architecture is more strikingly modern.
Both these principal towns are close to their older and historic counter parts which achieved a measure of fame because of their sites on the Great North Road. Old Hatfield is across the railway from the New Town and flanks the great Hatfield House, a gem of Jacobean building whose chequered history is associated with some of the country's greatest figures.
The village of Welwyn, to the north west of Welwyn Garden City, has no single great house to add an illustrious story, but it is nevertheless an attractive and historic place which has grown in popularity as a residential district in recent years.
Elsewhere the District includes residential developments - such as Brookmans Park, Welham Green and Cuffley - and compact villages that still retain a surprisingly rural quality such as Essendon, Northaw, Lemsford, Ayot St. Peter and Ayot St. Lawrence. The latter was the home of George Bernard Shaw for many years and his house, Shaw's Corner, is open to the public.
Although the District is a popular place of residence and a farming area, it is an important business centre and boasts major industries which, in the main, are centred on Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City. Indeed, these industries not only provide full local employment but draw daily hundreds of workers from adjacent towns.
The Welwyn Hatfield District offers every modern amenity within a pleasing country environment.
There are major shopping centres at Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City as well as neighbourhood shopping areas, and each village has its own shops. Education facilities range from nursery schools to the Hatfield Polytechnic and the whole area is extremely fortunate in its range of leisure and cultural activities, entertainment and sporting amenities.
Welwyn Hatfield District Council's armorial bearings, the work of heraldic designer Mr. H. Ellis Tomlinson, M.A., F.H.S., and approved by the College of Heralds, are depicted on the plate opposite [below]. The design comprises a complete achievement of shield, crest, supporters, badge and motto. The shield depicts the topography and constitution of the new District. The crest represents Hatfield, the supporters indicate Hertfordshire, Welwyn and Welwyn Garden City; while the badge symbolises the union of the three former authorities in the new District Council.
The central blue wave on a gold background represents the River Lea. The narrower parallel wave represents the River Mimram and superimposed on this are the two willow trees from the insignia of the former Welwyn Garden City Urban District Council and the former Welwyn Rural District Council in reference to the origin of the place name. The oak tree at the base of the shield is from the crest of the former Hatfield Rural District Council's armorial bearings.
The shield is surmounted by the closed helm common to civic arms, with its crest-wreath and decorative mantling in the gold and blue of the shield. The crest refers particularly to the District's associations with Hatfield. At the base are the eight Tudor roses from the former Hatfield Council's shield referring to the many associations of the period with Hatfield House, including the sojourning of the young Elizabeth and her presence there in 1558 on learning of her accession to the throne of England. Behind the five roses visible stands the gold wheat-sheaf from the crest of the Cecils of Hatfield - and symbolising the agricultural livelihood of the area - flanked by two blue wings alluding to the aircraft industry at Hatfield.
The supporters are 'harts royal' like those of the County Council, and a reference to the county name, Hertford. Each is charged with an additional emblem; one with the two dividers shaped like a letter W from the arms of the former Welwyn Garden City Council emphasising its character as a planned development, and the other with the Roman urn from the device of the former Welwyn Rural Council typifying the historic antiquities of that area.
The motto is By Wisdom and Design.
From the Romans to the New Towns
THE ROMANS were the first to feature largely in the history of the area and although subsequently it was Hatfield and its house that stole the limelight, it was at Welwyn that Roman - or even pre-Roman - settlements were established. The River Mimram was forded near Welwyn by a Belgic track and it is possible that Belgic tribes men had a settlement on the slope of Danesbury. The Romans, ever economical, used this ancient track, metalling it over to make a road for their own journeys. They established a community of some size that extended along the Mimram valley and up the slopes on either bank.
The Saxons re-established a settlement at Welwyn (whose name is a reference to the willow trees that were a feature of the valley) and here they founded a small college of priests as well as a church for the surrounding area. The rector served both church and college and he was also the Lord of the Manor. Although the college did not survive into Norman times, the rector retained the manorial role and this office holds good today.
In medieval times Welwyn derived importance from its position as a road centre. It was a self-contained village occupied with farming but lacking a market. As the Great North Road, which passed through it, rose to 'popularity' as a trunk road, Welwyn began to cater for travellers and wayside inns arose. The road, too, enabled local farmers to send their produce to the London markets. Through the 17th and 18th centuries coach traffic increased and the village not only flourished but saw its population increased by wealthy Londoners who came to live at Welwyn to escape the rigours of City life. By 1801 Welwyn was recorded (at the first census) as having 1,015 inhabitants with slightly more people noted as being 'in trade' than 'in agriculture'.
The history of Hatfield has been rather more colourful than that of Welwyn. 'Hetfelle', as it was referred to in Saxon times, was given in 970 by Edgar, King of Mercia, to the monastery of Ely. (The parish church is dedicated to the Saxon princess Etheldreda, who was the patron saint of Ely).
In the Domesday survey it recorded that Hetfelle (or Heathfield as it was also known) was the property of the Abbot of Ely with as much arable land as could be ploughed with 30 ploughs. There was a parish priest, 18 villeins, 18 bordarii, 12 cottagers and six serfs. In 1108 the Abbey of Ely was converted into a bishopric and Hatfield became one of the residences of the bishops of Ely, hence the title 'Bishops Hatfield' which is still retained as the name of the ecclesiastical parish.
During Edward II's reign, in 1318, the Bishop of Ely obtained permission for a weekly market and an annual fair to be held. The fair took place in October on the feast day of St. Etheldreda (or St. Audrey as she was popularly known). So many cheap trashy articles were sold at these St. Audrey fairs that 'tawdry' became an epithet for any worthless finery.
THE BISHOP'S PALACE
At the end of the 15th century Cardinal Morton, Bishop of Ely and famed counsellor to Henry VII, built himself a palace at Hatfield. It was constructed of red brick on four sides of a courtyard with a Great Hall, a solar and all the other rooms and features of a great house of that time. In its heyday it was a splendid residence for the bishops but, with the coming of the Reformation, it was sequestrated to the Crown in whose possession it remained for 70 years. During that period it was used by the king both as a residence and as a royal place of detention. At one time, during Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, Princess Mary was detained here.
The young Elizabeth, too, featured in the Hatfield story at this time. She was here during the reign of her brother, Edward VI, and it was rumoured that she was having a love affair with Thomas Seymour, the Lord High Admiral. The scandal resulted in Seymour's execution and Elizabeth was in great danger. She was later detained 'honourably' at Hatfield in Mary's reign and was there when her sister died. The traditional story is that she was sitting beneath an oak tree on the estate (the remains of the tree still survive) reading her Testament when she received the news that Mary was dead and she, Elizabeth, was Queen.
The Bishop's Palace was, but for one wing, pulled down at the beginning of the 17th century. The surviving wing contains the magnificent Great Hall where Elizabeth, as Queen, held her first Council and met Lord Burghley who became her faithful counsellor. Hatfield was to become the family home of Lord Burghley's descendants - and it still is, after 350 years. Lord Burghley's son, Robert Cecil, actually acquired the house in exchange for Theobalds, another Hertfordshire house that King James I much admired.
Robert Cecil demolished three wings and with the bricks built himself the new and magnificent Hatfield mansion we see today. Apparently no architect was employed, but the house was built on traditional lines incorporating separately purchased drawings for the north and south facades. The welding together of these was a joint work of Robert Cecil and his Clerk of Works, Thomas Wilson. Commenced in 1607, the house was ready for occupation in 1612 - and it cost under £10,000.
The house has been altered and restored at various times and in 1835 suffered a disastrous fire that destroyed the west wing. The 2nd Marquess of Salisbury rebuilt the wing and he also changed the gardens and provided a suite of rooms for Queen Victoria's visit. In the days of the 3rd Marquess, Hatfield House saw great and splendid celebrations and formal occasions. Three times Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury entertained ambassadors, statesmen and crowned heads. Lord Salisbury was fascinated by new inventions and he installed electric light in 1881, thus making Hatfield the first private house to be so equipped. He also installed, in 1877, a telephone and fitted plate glass to the windows.
Hatfield House was a convalescent home during World War I and a hospital during World War II. It is now still Hatfield's great showplace and one of the finest houses in the country.
A CHANGING SCENE
The advance of the 19th century saw gradual changes involving both Hatfield and Welwyn. The coming of the railway was the most dramatic development and one that led to the decline of the Great North Road - at least until the motoring era of the 20th century. The Great Northern Railway pushed north from London and gave this area one of its more notable landmarks - the long graceful Digswell Viaduct across which such great expresses as 'The Flying Scotsman' have thundered. Branch lines - now no more - were thrust out from Hatfield to both Hertford and St. Albans, so that for many years this was a busy junction.
The railway brought new residents to the area and both Hatfield and Welwyn began to develop as residential towns. Yet progress was not swift and even in the 1860's both places were still country towns. A gazetteer of the period presented this 'pen picture' of the towns:
Of Welwyn it stated:
The note on Hatfield is rather longer:
The reference to Hatfield New Town refers, of course, not to the town we see today but to a 19th century development to the west of the old Hatfield that had grown up by the gates of the great house. It was, however, an early portent of what the 20th century was to bring.
THE NEW TOWN ERA
As the twentieth century advanced, so Welwyn and more especially, Hatfield, developed. Other villages in the area also grew and as the rail services improved and more people from London moved out into the countryside, developments such as Brookmans Park grew up.
The man behind the concept of Welwyn Garden City, Ebenezer Howard, had, as far back as 1898, ideals and principles for creating 'satellite towns' to relieve the congestion in the large and over-populated cities. In 1921, following his development of Letchworth, Howard acquired another site between Hatfield and Welwyn, and here he began to develop Welwyn Garden City. In that year it was constituted a civil parish and became an Urban District six years later.
THE MASTER PLAN
The first town plan, to provide for 50,000 residents, was adopted and work started on houses in Handside Lane and Brockswood Lane. By the end of 1921 Welwyn Garden City had a population of 767, a restaurant and shop and an electricity supply. The new residents formed their own societies and clubs; a newspaper was started; a railway station opened and churches, schools, halls and factories were provided. By 1927 the population was 5,000. The national depression saw the project set back, but between 1934 and 1939 over 700 houses were built as well as many factories.
After World War II, Parliament passed a Bill to establish satellite towns and in 1949 Welwyn Garden City Limited, the company which had been developing the town, with all the real estate and other assets, accrued to the Development Corporation for £2,800,000. At that time the population was 18,500. The Corporation planned to develop a designated area of 4,317 acres to accommodate a total population of 36,500, but so great was the need by overcrowded London that this figure was amended in 1954 to 50,000, Howard's original target.
The Master Plan of 1949 proposed the completion of the south-west area; large extensions to the north-west and south-east and a completely new neighbourhood in the north-east.
These four areas were, in fact, separated by the cross-pattern of the main and branch railways. Closely linked with the residential development were improved road systems and the construction of more factories, schools, churches, halls, shopping centres and public buildings, and the provision of car parks, playing fields and recreational areas.
By the early 1970's Welwyn Garden City's population had reached the 40,000 mark. By that time over 70 factories, nearly 200,000 square feet of office space and well over 150 shops had been built, together with more public buildings, schools and churches.
At the end of World War II Hatfield's population was 8,500 and it was the largest parish of the Hatfield Rural District. The town was, in 1948, selected as a site for one of London's eight New Towns and an area of 2,340 acres was designated, partly in Hatfield and partly in North Mymms parishes. A new town centre was to be developed and around it various 'neighbourhoods' were to be formed on the Welwyn Garden City principle. Unlike We'wyn Garden City, where new industries had had to be established to provide employment, Hatfield's primary task was to build houses and provide the necessary amenities for the workers at already existing factories on the fringe of the area.
Work proceeded swiftly and by March 31st 1966, when the New Town was substantially completed, its population was 24,000. The building of houses was accompanied by the construction of churches, schools, shopping centres and factories. Playing fields were laid out and an indoor swimming pool built.
In 1966 the Development Corporations of both new towns were dissolved and the assets vested in the Commission for the New Towns, a body that controls New Towns throughout the country. As established by Parliament, the Commission maintains and enhances the property it holds and, in co-operation with the District Council, carries out additional development as required.
Although a sizeable town, Hatfield remained a parish within the Hatfield Rural District. Welwyn Garden City, however, had attained urban district status in 1927 when it had been separated from Welwyn Rural District. All three authorities merged on April 1st 1974 to form the Welwyn Hatfield District with a population of about 94,000 and a rateable value in excess of £16,000,000.
DISTRICT COUNCIL HOUSING
The District Council has a forward looking building programme and, while presently responsible for about 7,500 properties, it is hoped that the housing stock will total approximately 10,000 properties within the next few years.
The latest housing projects under takenby the Council are at Panshanger and Guessens Road, Welwyn Garden City, and at Millwards and Glebelands, Hatfield.
Current housing policy is designed to incorporate, wherever possible, in all schemes some single person accommodation, more warden-care schemes for old people and generally more mixed development.
The Council has a vigilant maintenance programme as well as an enlightened modernisation policy for properties as they become older.
[The places below can be located on the district map which is reproduced at the bottom of this webpage. A.C.]
Ayot St. Lawrence
In the north-west corner of the district is Ayot St. Lawrence, a small village set amid country lanes between the Lea and Mimram valleys. It has sev eral houses of age and interest including a 16th century inn (The Brocket Arms), and the village centres on the ruins of its old church and the remarkable quality of its successor.
Tradition has it that Sir Lionel Lyte began to pull down the old church as he had decided that a new building was needed. The Bishop, however, got to hear of this and stopped further demolition at once. The damage was not repaired and the church remains as a picturesque ruin of a 13th century building. The 'new' church, commissioned by Sir Lionel, is a quite extraordinary building. It was built in 1778-9 to the designs of Nicholas Revett and has a Grecian façade which, at that time, was a rare architectural feature. With its columned portico and its flanking colonnades, the building has the appearance of a temple rather than a parish church. It contains a small original organ and in aedicules on either side of the building are the burial urns of Sir Lionel Lyte and his wife.
Ayot St. Lawrence has some interesting houses, including Ayot House, Bride Hall and Shaw's Corner.
Ayot House, adjacent to the churches, was built in the early 18th century although additions were made in 1850 and 1933. Alongside is the original manor, a Tudor building with a front renewed in the 17th century. Ayot House is now the home of the Lullingstone Silk Farm which is open to the public.
Bride Hall is a brick-built Jacobean manor house with a projecting wing and hipped roof. Handsome weather- board barns flank the hall.
Shaw's Corner is far more modern than the other buildings mentioned. It was the home of George Bernard Shaw from 1906 until his death in 1950. It is owned by the National Trust and is a 20th century house standing in 3 acres of wooded grounds. The contents of the house remain as in Shaw's lifetime. The house is open daily (except Tuesdays, Good Fridays and the period from mid-December to mid-January) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5.15 p.m. (or dusk if earlier). [n.b. this was written in 1974.]
Ayot St. Peter
Not far from Ayot St. Lawrence, the very small village of Ayot St. Peter includes the charming Ayot Green and, at the junction of three country lanes, an elegant church that was built in 1875. Of red and blue brick construction, the interior is a very fine example of church furnishing of the late 19th century. The font with its mosaic work and the west window are especially notable.
Half a mile from the church is a small cemetery, the only link with Pearson's parish church of 1863. This church in turn replaced a building of 1732 and is a reminder that Ayot St. Peter has had no less than four parish churches.
Ayot Place is a modernised farmhouse of 1615, a partly half-timbered house complete with a minstrel gallery. Ayotbury is a rather fine house, part of which dates from 1672. Near Ayot Green is the Red Lion, an inn that dates from 1830 in its present form, but was originally constructed in 1716.
This residential area is in the North Mymms parish. It has a modern shopping centre near the station, a golf course and much open country, some of which reaches to over 400 feet above sea level. Here stood Gobions, the mansion home of Sir Thomas More. The house was pulled down in 1836 by the owner of Brookmans (a mansion destroyed by fire in 1891) who wished to extend his own estate. The bricks of Gobions were used to build The Hook, a house located close to Northaw. The Folly Arch, however, survived and is an 18th century sham medieval archway close to the Hawkshead Road.
A large and still expanding residential village within the Northaw parish, Cuffley is adjacent to the District's eastern boundary. The building of the railway to Hertford North and the opening of the station here led to Cuffley's development as a 'dormitory' area for those working in London. The population has, in fact, more than doubled in the past quarter of a century. Cuffley is entirely modern and adjoins Northaw Great Wood.
Cuffley is where the first German Zeppelin was shot down in the 1914-18 war.
A leafy village between Welwyn and Welwyn Garden City, Digswell is situated on the banks of the Mimram. Digswell has been considerably built up over the years, but Digswell Water, alongside the river, retains quite a deal of rural charm.
The Norman parish church, altered in 1811, has some 12th century features, several outstandingly fine medieval brasses and, in the south aisle window, stained glass by Kempe. Close to the church is Digswell House, an early 19th century mansion with a vast portico of unfluted Ionic columns. It was re-opened in 1959 as the centre for the Digswell Arts Trust.
Digswell is, of course, dominated by the great viaduct that carries the main railway line over the Mimram valley. Built in 1848-50 to the designs of William Cubitt, the viaduct has 40 arches, is 1,500 feet long, and at its highest point is 100 feet above the valley.
Essendon parish extends south from the River Lea and flanks the east side of Hatfield Park. It has a great deal of farmland interspersed with belts of woodland, small villages and hamlets.
Essendon village, on the B158 road, has grown in recent years, but it still is very much a country place with some delightful cottage homes and, to the north at Essendonbury, a mill beside the river. The parish church dates only from 1883 although it contains brasses from an earlier structure and has, as its most beautiful possession, a font of black basalt-ware exquisitely shaped by Josiah Wedgwood and given to the church in 1780.
South of the village is Essendon Place, an early 19th century house in a well wooded park approached through handsome iron gates; across the road is Bedwell Park, also in an estate thick with trees; a mile to the south nestles Camfield Place, an estate of 400 acres, while along the lane to Newgate Street is the oddly named Cucumber Hall. These houses and their estates are clustered close together south of Essendon. To the west are the hamlets of Woodside and Wildhill, while another hamlet, in the centre of the parish, is West End - quite remote and unspoilt.
On the east side of Welwyn this pleasant area extends through wooded countryside close to the main railway. Welwyn North station is situated nearby at Digswell. Here the railway, having crossed the Mimram on the long viaduct, plunges into tunnels that take the line through Harmergreen Wood. This is a public open space of considerable charm.
Hatfield is a place of contrasts. The older part of the town is to the east alongside the Great North Road and the railway, and adjacent to Hatfield Park. To the west, beyond the St. Albans road, is the industrial area around the Hawker Siddeley aircraft works and Hatfield Garden Village, the first early residential development. In between these two extremes is the post-war New Town with its modern shopping centre, public buildings, schools and housing estates, that extend south past Roe Green and Oxlease to South Hatfield and almost to Welham Green.
Visitors, of course, make for Old Hatfield where the great house stands in historic splendour with the ancient parish church nearby. The church, whose origins and dedication go back to the early days of ownership by the monks of Ely, is mostly 13th century, although the western tower is later, as are the chapels. There are interesting memorials and tombs here including one to an unknown 13th century knight and others to various earls and marquesses of Salisbury.
Hatfield House, the home of the Marquess of Salisbury, dominates Old Hatfield's skyline and is, as previously described, one of the finest mansions in England. In the West Gardens stands the surviving wing of the former Royal Palace of 1497, and here the superb medieval banqueting hall is used as a restaurant. Hatfield House and West Gardens are open daily (except Mondays but including Bank Holidays) from late March to early October from 12 to 5 p.m. Guided tours of the house take one hour. The park is open from 10.30 a.m. to 8 p.m. throughout the same months. [n.b. this was written in 1974.]
The older part of Hatfield is a good example of a small Georgian town with quite a number of half-timbered and Georgian houses. Of interest is the 17th century Eight Bells inn and the 18th century East Indian Chief, once a public house. Prominent now in this old town is a circular Roman Catholic church, a modern building that fits surprisingly snugly into its surroundings.
Hatfield New Town, developed since 1948, extends west from the railway and manages to retain an astonishing amount of open space between its houses and around the schools and shops. An elaborate system of underpasses ensures that pedestrians do not encounter traffic on the circulatory road system. The main pedestrian shopping precinct is formed, like a cross, round a central paved square and with a large department store at one end. Beyond a large car park is Hatfield's fine indoor swimming pool, and next to it the town's magnificent Leisure Centre, built for the District Council (opening 1975).
This is a small village on the edge of Welwyn Garden City close to the River Lea. Just beyond is Cromer Hyde, a hamlet extending along a quiet lane away from the main road.
Lemsford's parish church stands at the village cross roads. It was built in 1850, but in the Early English manner. A south chapel with a lierne-vault was added in 1930.
Adjoining both Lemsford and Cromer Hyde is Brocket Hall in an extensive landscaped park through which the Lea flows over a series of waterfalls. The mansion is a rather plain red brick building which was designed by James Paine and built between 1755 and 1780. It is remarkable for the magnificence of its rooms, and the saloon, with its coved and gilt ceiling, is a splendid feature. Two Prime Ministers - Lord Melbourne and Lord Palmerston - died at Brocket Hall.
This residential area is on the southern boundary of the District. Of interest in the area is Morven Park, a National Trust property consisting of a Victorian house and 37 acres of ground. The house is used as an old people's home, but the gardens are open from 2 to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from April to September. [n.b. this was written in 1974.]
Half a mile north of Cuffley and on the very eastern edge of the District is Newgate Street, an expanding village amid higher and well wooded country (at 419 feet this is the highest point above sea level in the area). On the north side of the village is Ponsbourne Park and close by is the Ponsbourne tunnel through which runs the London to Hertford North rail route. This is one of the longest tunnels in the Home Counties.
This name applies to the parish that extends from South Hatfield to the boundary at Potters Bar. North Mymms itself is a small development close to the Al road and North Mymms Park.
North Mymms House is one of the best examples of late Elizabethan building in the county, although it has been greatly altered by later extensions. Original work survives, however, including a door flanked by Tuscan columns with a triglyph frieze. The grounds, which include a splendid rose garden, were designed by Sir Ernest George.
In the park stands the parish church, a 600 year old building with a fine 17th century vicarage. The church contains notable 15th and 16th century brasses (including one to an early vicar, Thomas de Horton) and an Elizabethan pulpit.
In the south-east of the District, Northaw stands on the Cheshunt to Potters Bar road and has, along its southern edge, the Greater London boundary and the historic area of Enfield Chase. On its north side is Northaw Great Wood, some 500 acres scheduled for preservation as an area of scientific interest. The wood, which has some splendid oaks, is open to the public. Located nearby is Hertfordshire's schools' camp site.
Northaw village centres round its green and the church built in 1882. Several houses in and around the village are of interest, including The Old Vicarage which is Georgian; Northaw House which was built in 1698, and Northaw Place which dates from 1690 and has a staircase wall painted in the style of Thornhill. Another house, close to the London boundary, is The Hook which was built in 1839 of stones from the demolished Gobions at Brookmans Park.
Stanborough is just off the A1(M) midway between Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield. The River Lea is only a few yards away on the east. To the west is farmland which extends to Symondshyde Great Wood, an extensive belt of trees on the District’s western boundary.
This residential area has grown up in recent years in the North Mymms parish and it adjoins the south side of Hatfield. It extends west from the railway as far as Water End and it is flanked, beyond the railway, by Millwards, a wooded area on the southern side of Hatfield Park.
A pleasant place on the banks of the Mimram, Welwyn is an attractive blend of old and new. It has many reminders of its past, but also has a thoroughly modern Civic Centre which is the hub of its social life. Its residential areas are modern and, intermixed with trees and fields, Welwyn has a sizeable shopping centre, several schools and places of worship.
Welwyn's Parish Church, reconstructed in 1910 and 1952, dates in its present form from 1870 although there were earlier buildings on the site. The fire destroyed several features, but of interest is a monument to Edward Young who was author of 'Night Thoughts' and rector here from 1730 to 1765.
The Old Rectory dates from 1450 although it has been much altered in more recent years. There are several other houses close to the church including Tudor Cottage of 1450 and Wendover Lodge, a late Georgian house of interest. Holly Hall dates from 1783 and Ivy Cottage was once a school where, in 1876, the sister of Vincent Van Gogh taught. New Place was built in 1880 by the well known architect Philip Webb for his brother, and also of interest is a group of cottages that were originally built in 1750 as an Assembly Rooms - at a time when Welwyn was trying to make a name for itself as a Spa. Also of interest is Lockleys, a large brick house built in 1717 - with Doric columns at the door - now used as a school.
Not surprisingly for a town on the Great North Road, Welwyn had many old coaching inns of which several survive. The White Hart is Georgian and it was the seat of local petty sessions for many years prior to 1900 and here, in 1823, the body of Lord Byron was rested en route to burial. The Wellington Hotel (originally the Swan founded in 1352) has a half-timbered frontage (1725) and has had Samuel Pepys, Dr. Johnson and David Garrick as guests. The Rose and Crown dates at least from the mid-l7th century and was used, in 1740, as the local post office.
Welwyn Garden City
Created just after World War I as a pioneering example of landscaped town planning, Welwyn Garden City has now matured although, of course, development still goes on. The town extends on either side of the railway and is set between the rivers Lea and Mimram. On the south it flanks the Lea where, at Stanborough Park, are sailing and boating lakes and an open-air swimming pool. A sports stadium is close at hand.
The central part of Welwyn Garden City is on the west side of the railway and meets the natural open space of Sherrardspark Wood. The industrial belt is just east of the railway and beyond that the extensive post-war housing estates reach out to Hatfield Hyde, Hall Grove, Haldens and the Panshanger area, where the final phase of the town's main urban development will take place.
The railway station, with a pillared portico onto the road, faces down Howardsgate which is the main east-west thoroughfare of the town. Lined with shops and banks in a neo Georgian style of architecture (as is all the original town centre), this is a broad road with grass and flowers down a centre avenue and a lively fountain closing the vista at the far end. Tree-lined Parkway crosses at right-angles and in the angle formed by their junction is a shopping area away from the traffic with the town's department store and the bus terminal point close at hand. Just beyond is The Campus where civic buildings - Welwyn Hatfield District Council offices, Mid Herts College and Campus West Leisure Centre, are located. The whole area retains a clean, open appearance and attractively blends red brick, grass, shrubs, trees, flowers and sparkling water. Few town centres in Britain are so refreshing and provide such quiet peaceful places in which to shop.
In the very north of the District, Woolmer Green is a growing residential area close to the railway and only a mile from Knebworth. It is an attractive place still retaining the village pond (complete with ducks) that is said to have given the place its name. When all this was forest, wolves came to drink at the pond, which became known as 'Wolves mere' - shortened to Woolmer. It was at Woolmer Green that, on March 26th 1945, one of the last flying bombs of World War II fell.
The parish church dates from 1899 and is not remarkable externally although the interior has a panelled wagon roof and a well carved rood screen.
SITUATED as it is in the very heart of the county, Welwyn Hatfield District is well placed as a centre from which to explore nearby places of interest in Hertfordshire.
Only a short distance to the north of Welwyn is Knebworth, a small town but an interesting one, for adjacent to it, at Old Knebworth, is Knebworth House and park. The mansion, renowned for its magnificent banqueting hall, was built between 1492 and 1540, but in 1843 was greatly changed by Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton. Knebworth, which mirrors five hundred years of history, stands in a park where deer still roam and where, as new features, have been provided a bird garden, picnic areas, riding stables and a miniature railway.
Beyond Knebworth is Stevenage, one of the largest of English New Towns, while farther north and forming a contrast with it is Letchworth. This town, which still draws interested visitors from all parts of the world, was the first Garden City, the dream of Ebenezer Howard. From Letchworth's basic ideas of spaciously developed residential areas around an imposing town centre developed the later Garden Cities and New Towns, and it is of great interest to compare Letchworth not only with Stevenage and Hatfield, but also that other pioneer, Welwyn Garden City.
Closely grouped around Letchwortlh are Hitchin and Baldock, the former a busy market town with several half-timbered buildings and a fine church; the latter a hosiery manufacturing town on the ancient route of Icknield Way.
In the pleasant country on the eastern side of Welwyn Hatfield District are the towns of Cheshunt, Broxbourne, Hoddesdon and Waltham Abbey, an old-established town famed for its abbey church.
Beyond Hoddesdon at Great Amwell is the famous Haileybury and Imperial Service College, a splendid building whose dome can be seen above surrounding trees. Two towns of interest close by are Ware and Hertford. Ware, standing beside the Lea, has long been a malting centre, and the buildings themselves, many of them of great age, give a special character to the riverside.
Hertford, the county town, has had a long history and, despite modern changes, manages to retain quite a number of its older buildings. These include the medieval parish church, Christ's Hospital Girls' School, the remains of the castle and, out at Bengeo, a very fine Norman church.
Hatfield's western neighbours are of equal interest. Near London Colney, in the parish of Ridge on the outskirts of St. Albans, is Salisbury Hall, a small manor house surrounded by a Norman moat still full of water. This 'island' site has indeed been inhabited since A.D. 800. The house has much of beauty and interest and, as a reminder of its use as a design centre in the last war, it shows the prototype of the Mosquito aircraft.
St. Albans, Hertfordshire's cathedral city, stands on the site of the Verulamium of the Romans and it was here that Alban, in 303, became the first Christian martyr in Britain. The cathedral is part of the great abbey that King Offa built. The cloister foundations survive as does the abbey's 14th century gateway which is now part of St. Alban's School, one of the very few English schools that have survived the Norman Conquest.
St. Albans has several churches of interest, a number of half-timbered buildings and, close to the river, a little inn called Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, reputed to be the oldest licensed house in England.
Western Hertfordshire is pleasant to visit. Away from the larger towns and Ml motorway, which crosses the county here, are quiet lanes and wooded hills. Hemel Hempstead is another of the county's New Towns and one that successfully merges the new with the old.