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Stevenage Town Centre
"The heart of a town lies in its people"
Stevenage shown within Hertfordshire
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Region||East of England|
|• Type||Non-metropolitan district|
|• Governing body||Stevenage Borough Council|
|• Mayor||Councillor Margaret Notley|
|• MP||Stephen McPartland|
|• Total||25.96 km2 (10.02 sq mi)|
|• Total||87,700 (Ranked 273rd)|
|• Density||3,081/km2 (7,980/sq mi)|
| • Ethnicity |
(United Kingdom estimate 2005)
1.8% Mixed Race
1.2% Chinese or other
|Time zone||UTC+0 (Greenwich Mean Time)|
|ONS code||26UH (ONS)|
|OS grid reference|
|Ambulance||East of England|
Stevenage (// STEE-vən-ij) is a town and borough in Hertfordshire, England, 28 miles (44 km) north of London. Stevenage is east of junctions 7 and 8 of the A1(M), between Letchworth Garden City to the north and Welwyn Garden City to the south. In 1946, Stevenage was designated the United Kingdom's first New Town under the New Towns Act.
The name was recorded as Stithenæce, c.1060 and Stigenace in 1086 in the Domesday Book.
Stevenage lies near the line of the Roman road from Verulamium to Baldock. Some Romano-British remains were discovered during the building of the New Town, and a hoard of 2,000 silver Roman coins was discovered in 1986 during new house building in the Chells Manor area. The most substantial evidence of activity from Roman times is Six Hills, six tumuli by the side of the old Great North Road – presumably the burial places of a local family.
A little to the east of the Roman sites the first Saxon camp was made in a clearing in the woods where the church, manor house and the first village were later built. Settlements also sprang up in Chells, Broadwater and Shephall (though before the New Town Shephall was a separate parish and Broadwater was split between the parishes of Shephall and Knebworth).
In the Domesday Book the Lord of the Manor was the Abbot of Westminster Abbey. The settlement had moved down to the Great North Road and in 1281 it was granted a Royal Charter to hold a weekly market and annual fair (still held in the High Street).
The earliest part of St Nicholas' Church dates from the 12th century but it was probably a site of worship much earlier. The known list of priests or rectors is relatively complete from 1213.
The remains of a medieval moated homestead in Whomerley Wood is an 80-yard-square trench almost 5 feet wide in parts. It was probably the home of Ralph de Homle, and both Roman and later pottery has been found there.
Around 1500 the Church was much improved, with decorative woodwork and the addition of a clerestory.
In 1558 Thomas Alleyne, a rector of the town, founded a free grammar school for boys, Alleyne's Grammar School, which, despite becoming a boys' comprehensive school in 1967, had an unbroken existence (unlike the grammar school in neighbouring Hitchin) until 1989 when it merged with Stevenage Girls' School to become the Thomas Alleyne School. Francis Cammaerts was headmaster of Alleyne's Grammar School from 1952 to 1961. The school, which has been since 1989 a mixed comprehensive school and is now an Academy as of 2013, still exists on its original site at the north end of the High Street. It was intended to move the school to Great Ashby, but the Coalition government (2010–15) proposed scrapping the move owing to budget cuts.
Stevenage's prosperity came in part from the North Road, which was turnpiked in the early 18th century. Many inns in the High Street served the stage coaches, 21 of which passed through Stevenage each day in 1800.
In 1857 the Great Northern Railway was constructed, and the era of the stage coach had ended. Stevenage grew only slowly throughout the 19th century and a second church (Holy Trinity) was constructed at the south end of the High Street. In 1861 Dickens commented, "The village street was like most other village streets: wide for its height, silent for its size, and drowsy in the dullest degree. The quietest little dwellings with the largest of window-shutters to shut up nothing as if it were the Mint or the Bank of England."
In 1928 Philip Vincent bought the HRD Motorcycle Co Ltd out of receivership, immediately moving it to Stevenage and renaming it the Vincent HRD Motorcycle Co Ltd. He produced the legendary motorcycles, including the Black Shadow and Black Lightning, in the town until 1955.
Slow growth in Stevenage continued until just after the Second World War, when the Abercrombie Plan called for the establishment of a ring of new towns around London. On 1 August 1946, Stevenage was designated the first New Town under the New Towns Act.
The plan was not popular and local people protested at a meeting held in the town hall before Lewis Silkin, minister in the Labour Government of Clement Attlee. As Lewis Silkin arrived at the railway station for this meeting, some local people had changed the signs 'Stevenage' to 'Silkingrad'. Silkin was obstinate at the meeting, telling a crowd of 3,000 people outside the town hall (around half the town's residents): "It's no good your jeering, it's going to be done." Despite the hostile reaction to Silkin and a referendum that showed 52% (turnout 2,500) 'entirely against' the expansion, the plan went ahead. The first significant building to be demolished to make way for a gyratory system was the Old Town Hall, in which the opposition had been expressed.
In 1949 the radical town planner Dr Monica Felton became Chairman of the Stevenage Development Corporation but she was sacked within two years. There were a number of reasons for her dismissal by the government but a lack of hands-on town planning leadership and her opposition to the Korean War (for which she was later awarded the Stalin Peace Prize) sullied her reputation. Felton was replaced first by Allan Duff and later Thomas Bennett, who carried the project to completion. Gordon Stephenson was the planner, Peter Shepheard the architect, and Eric Claxton the engineer. Claxton took the attitude that the new town should separate bicycles from the automobile as much as possible.
In keeping with the sociological outlook of the day, the town was planned with six self-contained neighbourhoods. The first two of these to be occupied were the Stoney Hall and Monks Wood 'Estates', in 1951. The Twin Foxes pub, on the Monks Wood estate, was Stevenage's first 'new' public house and was named after local notorious identical-twin poachers (Albert and Ebenezer Fox). It closed in 2017. At least two other public houses have a direct relationship to local history. The name of the pub "Edward the Confessor" (closed 2006) could have had a connection to the time at which St Mary's Church in nearby Walkern was built, for King Edward ruled from 1042 until his death in 1066. Walkern's village church dates from this time. The second pub with a possible link to local history is the "Our Mutual Friend" in Broadwater. The name of the pub is the title of a novel by Charles Dickens. Dickens was an occasional guest of Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton in nearby Knebworth House and knew Stevenage very well.
Next to be built and occupied were the neighbourhoods of Bedwell in 1952, and then came Broadwater and Shephall (1953), Chells in the 1960s and later Pin Green and Symonds Green. Another new development to the north of the town is Great Ashby. As of 2014[update] it was still under construction. The Government gave almost £2 million for a purpose-built homeless shelter, which will serve a large part of Hertfordshire.
The pedestrianized town centre was the first purpose-built traffic-free shopping zone in Britain, taking its inspiration from the Lijnbaan in Rotterdam, and was officially opened in 1959 by the Queen. By the clock tower and ornamental pool is Joyride, a mother and child sculpture by Franta Belsky. Although revolutionary for its time, the town centre is showing signs of age and, in 2005, plans were revealed for a major regeneration to take place over the next decade. Details are still being debated by the council, landowners and other interested parties.
Next to the Town Garden, the Church of St Andrew and St George is an example of modern church design and has housed Stevenage Museum in its crypt since 1976. The church is a cathedral-like Grade 2 listed building. It is also the largest parish church to have been built in England since World War Two. Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother laid the foundation stone in July 1956 and was also present at the consecration of the Bishop of St Alban's, the Right Reverend Michael Gresford-Jones, on Advent Sunday 27 November 1960. The frame is constructed from a continuous pour of concrete into moulds, creating interlacing arches and leaving no apparent joints. There are twelve Purbeck-marble columns around the high altar and the external walls are clad in panels faced with Normandy pebble. The campanile houses the loudspeakers for an electro-acoustic carillon. A popular sculpture, 'The Urban Elephant' by Andrew Burton, was commissioned in 1992.
Adjacent to yet separate from the residential parts of the town is the Industrial Area. For many years British Aerospace (now MBDA) was the largest employer in the town but now GlaxoSmithKline has a large pharmaceutical research laboratory complex (which is known as 'The Palace' to many of its inhabitants). A smaller but interesting enterprise is Astrium, which for some decades (as part of British Aerospace and its predecessors) has manufactured spacecraft, both as prime contractor and as equipment supplier.
There are many small- to medium-size firms as well. Stevenage BioScience Catalyst, a new science park aimed at attracting small and start-up life-sciences enterprises, opened in 2011 on a site next to GSK.
In 2016, Stevenage celebrated its seventieth anniversary as a New Town.
Multimillion-pound plans to redevelop Stevenage town centre were scrapped owing to the financial crisis of 2007–08 and the lack of interested private-sector partners. On 24 May 2012 Stevenage Borough Council announced that a £250m scheme for the shopping area has been pulled by Stevenage Regeneration Limited (SRL) because of the continuing adverse economic conditions. The plans, which included realigning streets, moving the bus station and building a new department store, cinema, hotel, restaurants, and flats, had been given council planning approval in January 2012.
The Town Centre Regeneration Strategy (2002) called for better-quality shops (including a major department store), improved public transport with a combined bus and rail interchange, high-density town-centre living, substantially improved civic facilities, increased office space and an improved 'public realm'. YMCA Space Stevenage (a youth and community centre) was evicted and replaced by Paddy Power (a betting shop). Other well-known stores, such as Maplin Electronics, and Marks & Spencer have also disappeared from Stevenage town centre.
The town has a large central library in Southgate, at the southern end of the pedestrian precinct, with facilities including printing, fax and photocopying, children's events, study space, a carers' information point and a large public computer suite, as well as a small branch library at the northern end of the High Street in the Old Town. There is also a public library in nearby Knebworth, located in St Martin's Road.
The town is still growing. It is set to expand west of the A1(M) motorway and may be further identified for development. The main area of more recent[when?] development is Great Ashby to the north-east of the town (but actually in North Hertfordshire District). A considerable amount of in-borough development has been undertaken at Chrysalis Park on the old Dixon's Warehouse site adjacent to the Pin Green Industrial Estate.
|Climate data for Stevenage|
|Average high °C (°F)||7
|Average low °C (°F)||2
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||45.1
The population of Stevenage increased significantly during the 20th century. Little more than a large village at the start of the 19th century, the population in 1801 was 1,430. By 1901, Stevenage opened the 20th century with a population of 4,048.
After Stevenage was designated a new town under the New Towns Act of 1946, the population exploded in the 1950s and 1960s. By the start of the 21st century, the 2001 population had grown to 79,715 reaching 83,957 a decade later (2011). As of 2016[update] the population is estimated at 87,100.
Stevenage has a King George's Field named in memory of King George V, which boasts cricket and a bowls green, which is used by Stevenage Town Bowls Club. The field was the original pitch that Stevenage F.C. used to play on. The cricket ground is called Ditchmore Lane. The Stevenage Leisure Centre contains the Gordon Craig Theatre and many facilities for sports. The nearby Stevenage Leisure Park has a multiplex cinema, clubs, and restaurants. The main shopping area is around Queensway and the Westgate. At the south of the town, there is a retail park called Roaring Meg, which takes its name from a stream (a tributary of the river Beane) that runs under it. The river can be seen along the western edge of the area. There is also shopping in the Old Town. The Roaring Meg had an ice rink and bowling alley, but these were demolished in 2000 to allow the construction of more stores.
Stevenage F.C., formerly known as Stevenage Borough, is the town's major football team, playing their home matches at Broadhall Way. Founded in 1976, the club were promoted to the Football Conference, the highest tier of non-league football, in 1994. After sixteen seasons in this division, Stevenage won the Conference Premier title during the 2009–10 season, having previously been denied promotion to the Football League due to insufficient ground facilities in 1996. During Stevenage's first season as a Football League club, they secured back-to-back promotions to League One, the third tier of English football, after beating Torquay United 1–0 in the 2010–11 play-off final at Old Trafford. The club also won the FA Trophy in 2007 beating Kidderminster Harriers 3–2 at Wembley Stadium in front of a crowd of 53,262. It was the first competitive club game and cup final to be held at the new stadium. Stevenage reached the final again in 2009, beating York City 2–0. The club has also enjoyed several runs in the FA Cup, raising the town's profile in the process. During the 1997–98 campaign, Stevenage held Premier League side Newcastle United to a draw at Broadhall Way, before losing the replay 2–1 at Newcastle. The club would go one better in 2010, securing a 3–1 home victory over Newcastle in the third round of the competition — the first time the club had beaten first tier opposition. The following season, Stevenage held Tottenham Hotspur to a 0–0 draw at home in the fifth round, before losing the subsequent replay 3–1 at White Hart Lane.
The town also has a number of other successful sports clubs, including a women's football team (Stevenage Borough Ladies FC) and Stevenage Town Rugby Club. Many top class sporting heroes have come from Stevenage, the most notable being Kevin Phillips, Ashley Young, Lewis Hamilton and Ian Poulter. Fairlands Valley is a large area of parkland with boating lakes. The town is a very green town, with avenues of trees (typically Norway Maple) throughout but also large woods such as Monks & Whomerley Wood, which is ancient semi-natural woodland. Indeed, the Woodland Trust ranks it as one of the best places in the UK for ease of access to large woodland, with 99.9% of the population having access to woodland over 2 hectares (5 acres) within 4 km (2.5 mi), only slightly behind those living in the Forest of Dean or New Forest. There are also many playing fields (e.g. St. Nicholas playing fields near Ripon Road). The town's schools all have a substantial amount of ground; key examples are Ashtree Primary School, Moss Bury Primary School, Longmeadow Primary School and Barnwell.
Stevenage also has a basketball team: Stevenage Scorpions.
The town is surrounded by the Stevenage Outer Orbital Path (STOOP), a 27-mile (43 km) circuit walk established by the North Herts Ramblers Group in 2008. The circuit provides an informal, active recreational leisure amenity readily available to the residents of Stevenage and the surrounding villages. The STOOP is split into several sections, accessible via a series of links from the town. The route passes through Graveley, Walkern, Beane Valley, Datchworth, Woolmer Green, Knebworth Park, St Ippolyts and Little Wymondley. It was launched on 20 September 2008.
A small community arts centre is located in the Roaring Meg Retail Park. The Boxfield and Foyer Gallery is situated in the Gordon Craig Theatre, which forms part of the large central Leisure Centre. Stevenage Museum is located under the St. Andrew and St. George's church on St George's Way
North of Stevenage Old Town, near St Nicholas' Church, lies Rooks' Nest ("under the big wych-elm"), home of the novelist Edward Morgan Forster from 1884 to 1894. Forster used Rooksnest and the surrounding area as the setting for his novel Howards End. In the preface to one paperback edition of Howards End there is a lot to be found about landmarks of Stevenage and their relationship to the story of the novel, such as Stevenage High Street and the Six Hills. The land north of St Nicholas' Church, known as Forster Country, is the last remaining farmland within the boundary of Stevenage borough. Forster was unhappy with the development of new Stevenage, which would, in his words, "fall out of the blue sky like a meteorite upon the ancient and delicate scenery of Hertfordshire".
Also close to Stevenage is Knebworth House, a gothic stately home and venue of globally renowned rock concerts since 1974. The house was once home to Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Victorian English novelist and spiritualist.
A distinctive feature of Stevenage is its urban landscape. It has many roundabouts, few traffic lights, a network of completely segregated cycleways, and some of the tallest street lights in Britain. Eric Claxton was chief engineer of Stevenage from 1962 to 1972, and the comprehensive separate cycle network was planned and implemented by him during that period. Despite this network, the bike mode share is 2.7%. Claxton was also of the view that Stevenage should contain as few traffic lights as possible, hence his preference for roundabouts to regulate traffic flow. He was so adamant about roundabouts that he had a house built for himself on the gyratory system in the Old Town.
Stevenage is served by the A1(M) motorway. The old Great North Road passes through the centre of the town, and the High Street in the Old Town has several pubs that were coaching inns on this road; it is mostly now classified as the B197. Stevenage is also served by the A602, connecting the town to Hitchin, Watton-at-Stone, Hertford and Ware.
Many schools were built in the 1950s/60s due to an influx of Londoners to affordable terraced housing in areas such as Shephall, Broadwater, Chells and St Nicholas. The town has around 23 primary schools (see below). Some go to the surrounding villages of Aston, Benington, Walkern, Datchworth for their schooling. Stevenage also has a number of secondary schools and the central campus for North Hertfordshire College.
Stevenage has an active network of Christian churches of many denominations. Many of the churches work together for town-wide projects under the banner of "Churches Together in Stevenage". Stevenage also has a mosque and a Liberal Jewish Synagogue. Alongside "Churches Together in Stevenage", Stevenage also has an "Interfaith Forum" dedicated to dialogue between different religious presences in the town.
Some of the places of worship include:
In November 2014, a pictorial tribute to the town's sports superstars was unveiled along the pedestrian walkway through the Arts and Leisure Centre. This was completed in 2015 to include famous faces from the worlds of theatre, film, art and literature.
Stevenage was the setting for two feature films, Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1967) and Boston Kickout (1995). Stevenage was the filming location, though not the on-screen setting, for two other films, Serious Charge (1959) and Spy Game (2001), standing in as the Washington, D.C. area for the latter film. The 2018 Channel 4 comedy series, Lee and Dean, is filmed and set in Stevenage.
|Ingelheim am Rhein||Germany||1963|
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