Category Archives: Talking New Towns

New town travel: cars


car brochures
Car brochures from the late 1950s / early 1960s.

When planners designed Stevenage new town only 1 in 10 families owned a car. Although they planned for some growth, they didn’t predict the explosion in car ownership that meant it doubled in the 1950s alone. By 1970, as the newer neighbourhoods were built, half of households owned one or more cars and today four in five have at least one car. What that meant for local residents was that parking and garages were always in short supply and still are today.

Building in safety

Did you know that Eric Claxton, the engineer who helped plan the town, wanted above all to make it safe, and a big part of that was preventing accidents:

“Behind all this was my experience of the terrible carnage of wartime, and in my heart I, I’d made up my mind that if I could possibly help it, nobody should ever be injured again.  So, Stevenage sets out, and it set out from its very beginning to be as safe as I could create it.”

To do this, he thought very carefully about the road layout:

  • He separated cars, bikes and pedestrians and built over 26 miles of dedicated cycleways.

    The roundabout at the junction of Six Hills Way and Monkswood Way, showing the pedestrian and cycle ways alongside the roads.
  • He designed the bigger roads to be straighter, helping traffic flow.
  • In contrast, residential areas had roads that twisted and turned, to force cars to travel more slowly.
Road layouts
Bedwell neighbourhood, showing a typical new town road layout.
  • Some later neighbourhoods were built using the Radburn Plan, a layout inspired by an American planner, where cars access houses from service roads behind, with gardens, footpaths and shared green spaces at the front to be enjoyed without worrying about traffic.

Road accidents

Meanwhile, in the early years of the new town, the Great North Road (A1) still went through Stevenage, cutting off the industrial area of Gunnels Wood Road from the new homes to the east. Every morning and evening hundreds of workers had to cross the road, traffic was fast and lighting was poor. Local people highlighted the danger in the Stevenage Residents’ Federation newspaper, The Stevenage Echo, but nothing was done and eventually someone was killed. A protest was organised and people took a coffin for a slow walk where the accident had happened, causing traffic jams as the country’s main east coast artery was clogged. They demanded a safe way of crossing the road.

In response, a footbridge was erected where Broadhall Way now crosses the road and the Stevenage by-pass (A1M) was finally opened in 1962.

The newly completed by-pass in 1962, looking north from what is now junction 7.

Petrol stations

Along with the hunger for cars came the petrol stations to fuel them. If you are local you may remember some of these!

Don’t forget the children!

And finally  . . . just because they are great photos, here are some younger residents getting up close to cars.


We’ve previously posted a link to Talking New Towns, our oral history website, and this post will focus on two of the helpful resources available there; education packs for Stevenage and Hemel Hempstead named ‘Thinking New Towns’. These provide a range of fun activities and information enabling children (and adults!) to learn about the history of the new towns through subjects such as PSCHE, history and geography.


As someone who was a pupil in Stevenage in the recent past, it is very interesting to see the history of the new town from the perspective of those who were there at the start, and to compare the childhood experiences of those who moved to the new town during its formation after the Second World War with my own – I’m sure current pupils will also find it fascinating.

I can see the ‘DIY oral history’ activity as being particularly exciting given that many of those who moved to Stevenage soon after it became a new town still live in the area and can be interviewed by today’s children. However, the pack is not just for learning about Stevenage – it links to topics including the Second World War, future post-war governments, and even the Soviet Union! It can also serve as a useful launch pad for a deeper look into the history of Stevenage new town through the main Talking New Towns website. These packs bring an important section of Stevenage’s rich and exciting history to life for today’s children.

Thinking New Towns education pack

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund

Chris Day, volunteer

Making Histories

We were placed at Stevenage Museum due to a university module, which was called Making Histories. The first time we both visited we was given a brief tour around the premises, and introduced to all the staff.

We were both tasked to do different activities relating to the Talking New Towns Project organised by Grete who was the head of the project.

The first day Luke helped produced a timeline, throughout the rest of the placement he looked newspaper clippings, scanning them and seeing if they were suitable for the website.

The first day Lauren came to the placement she had too help Grete listen to an interview, and help edit it to put on the website. Throughout the rest of the placement this was what I had to do. Eventually putting some work up on the website, which was of a man called Mr Richard Edleston.

When we was both on the placement together, we had to go on a walk around Stevenage, using a special route that the Museum had created, which was then put onto an app which had to be downloaded.

While we were both here, we had the pleasure of the BBC coming in to look at the New Towns’ Project. This was a manic day, but also very exciting because Twiggy was coming in to present the show and also many interviews were taking place. This was something neither of us had ever experienced before if we had never come to Stevenage Museum.

Luke’s Overall Experience

I thoroughly enjoyed my time working at Stevenage Museum, the work was quite monotonous, but it was very interesting at the same time, and all of the staff were very friendly and approachable.

Lauren’s’ Overall Experience

I really enjoyed my placement at Stevenage Museum. The people were so lovely and really helpful and approachable. Being at the Museum opened me to experience different avenues. I have never had to transcribe interviews before coming here, I have also never had to use technology that I have here before either; such as Audacity, a scanner, and wordpress. The experience has really opened my eyes into the world of public history and where my degree could potentially take me. I would just like to thank Grete and Jo for having me and making my experience here so joyful and worthwhile.

Written by: Lauren Faires and Luke Senior

Talking New Towns

Our oral history collection now has it’s own website, supported by the HLF and in partnership with Welwyn Hatfield Museum Service and Dacorum Heritage Trust. The website is a place to share existing interviews and for you to get in touch if you would like to contribute memories.

You are also welcome to ask questions to the oral history collection like:

What was it like to go dancing at the Mecca?

Or who decided for Stevenage to have the biggest street lamp ever?

We have lots of answers that we can then publish on demand. We will be adding content through the summer so keep checking on the newest stories .

Talking New Towns logo

Click the logo to go to the website!

Purpose: Illustrating a diverse community

The Development Corporation Quarterly Journal, Purpose, charts the growth of the new town from 1955 to 1966 and was preceded by a bulletin, which began in 1951.

50 years on, the issue of Summer 1964 is a delight to read; its accessible tone and relatable stories show us today the innovative project that was the building of the New Town.

Purpose summer 1964 front cover
Purpose, Summer 1964


This issue has a two page spread highlighting ‘what’s new’ and includes the new premises of Taylor Instruments, the annexe of Trust Houses Ltd, the improvement of facilities at the athletics arena at Ridlins Wood, the main hall at The Chells Community Centre, one of the new underpasses on Six Hills Way and the opening of the Bridge Restaurant over Queensway, the third Chinese Restaurant in Stevenage.  All teamed with photographs, this illustrative and visual account is a fantastic overview of the innovative changes happening at this time. Although today these improvements to the Town Centre may seem common, such changes taking place were fascinating to local Stevenage residents, those intending to visit or were generally interested in the changing nature of Stevenage.

Purpose 1964 summer 64 What's New
‘What’s New’ in Purpose, Summer 1964


However, it is the Front Cover image of this publication which really caught my eye! This delightful stone polar bear was a firm favourite among children passing by the new estate office at the Chells neighbourhood centre. In our collection, not only do we have a photograph of the bear itself but also a photograph, taken by Mr G Blake, of Mark Harvey sculpting the bear in his workshop at Aston End. You may remember another of Mark Harvey’s sculptures just off Chertsey Rise, best known as ‘The Monster of Bandley Hill’ too.

Mark Harvey carving the polar bear in his workshop on Aston End


Children playing by another Mark Harvey sculpture known as ‘The Monster of Bandley Hill”


Other articles on town landscaping, planned road works and improvements, the near completion of the ‘Mormon Church’ on Monkswood Way and a biographical account of Deputy Chairman of Stevenage Development Corporation, P. B. Martineau, also feature in this issue. The scope and variety of its content shows not only the diverse audience in Stevenage at this time and still today, but also shows the expanding nature of the Town and the huge impact the New Town had on Stevenage residents.

So, how better than the end the publication with a delightful story titled ‘The Young Modelmakers’ who were a class of young children at Peartree Spring Infant’s. They made a model of the town square as a classroom art project during the summer of 1964. Forty children took part in the project which involved a visit and sketching of the site. the children were then each assigned a building or section of the model to complete. Taking them most of the term to complete, they displayed it with pride at an open evening. Sadly, the model was dismantled. However, the children took home the pieces they had made as a keepsake.

Purpose summer 64 back cover
Back page story of Purpose, Summer 1964


Hannah Martin-Merchant, Museum Assistant

Christmas in the New Town

People experienced their first Christmas in Stevenage in the 50′ before the town centre was built trying to keep mud abay and shopping in the mobile shops:

Two students at Barnwell School making Christmas cakes in cookery class
Two students at Barnwell School making Christmas cakes in cookery class
Travelling to London on Christmas eve on a motorcycle with a side car:

I can remember quite often, at Christmas, we’d wait till he’d finished work. We’d all be in our pyjamas, and we’d all be bundled into the side car in our pyjamas. And we’d stop in ‘ -my uncles ‘, in-laws lived in Welwyn Garden City, in those days. So we’d stop there for a cup of tea on the way, I mean-you don’t even think about it now, its thirty miles. But it was a long journey on motorbike and side car on the…type of roads we had then. So we’d stop in Welwyn Garden City for a cup of tea and then we’d go on to my grandma’s which was in east London . And we’d all be asleep in the second part of the journey, you know, in the side car. Mum and dad would be on the motorbike … we loved it when we were kids, you know. Now I’d be…  you know, I’m not sure I wanna’ go that way. But, when you’re kids it’s just a big adventure, it’s lovely. ‘ Taylor.

Christmas traditions on the job:

Christmas was always a bit of a performance there, it did get out of hand at times, I can remember one year, and I pretty sure it was the fifties, where the technical publication department, took the doors of their department made bat wing doors and called it the wild west saloon. So eventually the management crackdown ‘cos it did go on, and I remember it was only 2 days Christmas those days, and if it happened in the middle of the week you just got the two days!

And that was It, none of this fortnight holiday at Christmas and  New Year wasn’t a holiday then you see, so you did make the most of it. Eventually they clamped down on it and I can remember the sheet metal workers who were always the militated bunch, great guys. They built this; they made this big coffin painted it black and painted on the side “the sprit of Christmas”, and walked all round the plant with it.  So well that, , that, really put the tin hat on the sort, on all the wildness there, it was wild at times believe me, it did get wild! Severn.

A pre-Christmas visit by Russian scientists:

So that was the beginning of  being a pioneer in the New Town. Another time my, my husband had to take lots of visitors round from all over the world and he had a party of Russians.

They were the first Russian scientists to come to England after the war and they wanted to see the New Town. So he’d showed them round some of the factories and some of the streets and they wanted to go into an ordinary house, a dwelling house.

And of course he hadn’t planned that, didn’t know who to take them in so he thought the only place, house you could take them into was his own and I was in the butchers van with my apron on, I was getting some meat and John who was the butcher said ‘Didn’t know you’d got a funeral outside your house Mrs Hampson’ and I said ‘no I haven’t’ so he said ‘who are those men in limousines and black hats?’

I thought ‘Oh my God, it must be the Russians’. Of course I rushed round the back and tore off my apron and welcomed them in and among the party was a member of the supreme Soviets, which is their higher parliament ,a man came called Nezmienov. Among there were two lady scientists and they were the most interested in the living quarters and the fire, which had an unusual, at least I call it unusual, bar that you turned on the gas and lit it and it helped to light the fire.

And I was doing some Christmas presents too on the sofa because I was getting ready for Christmas and she was interested in that but Nesmienov never went round the other parts of the house, he stood in the doorway so he could watch all the party and keep on eye on them. Well that was the first experience of mine with Russians; they were very pleased I think then off they went to Cambridge . Hampson.

A school revisited

In May Grete Dalum-Tilds and volunteer Jackie Noonan interviewed Derek Bradnick and Susan Church for the Talking New Towns oral history project managed by Stevenage Museum and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. In the process of the interview we discussed schools and swimming lessons, Sue mentioned that her Dad used to contribute to the pool at Barnwell School, but that she never swam in the pool.

Swimming pool at Barnwell School
Swimming pool at Barnwell School

“Cos there were no pools in Stevenage. Barclays School had a pool, but obviously they weren’t going to lend it to other schools, were they? But Barclay school had a pool, that was the only pool in the town. My Dad paid sixpence a week towards the pool, that they were building at Barnwell and I never even put my big toe in it.
I often feel like going back and saying my Dad paid sixpence a week for this pool.”
Susan Church
And so she did:
Sue Church in swimming pool at Barnwell School
Sue Church in swimming pool at Barnwell School

She kindly invited me to come along and take a photo, and so I did.

I think I can forward a thanks to Barnwell School for making this happen, and thanks for sharing the moment.


Talking New Towns logo
Talking New TownslLogo

Mrs Hampson, Pioneer

Return to Meeting Mary Tabor

Oh yes, yes the majority of them thought we were all slums and I had to say that “my husband was a great deal better educated than some of you and a lot of people” that were there. But it was an overspill for the bombed out in London and these people had never had a proper house before and they were, they were so pleased to come and have a proper house with a garden. This was what they liked and there was a lot of goodwill between the corporation and the, the people of Stevenage, the new people.

Mr Hayward, Emergency Service

Return to Meeting Mary Tabor

Joined ambulance service in 1948 which was the start of the Health Service. Stationed in Basil Road in the Old Town. Married in 1951, and moved into Stevenage in 1952. Offered house as emergency services. House was in Broadview top of Sish Lane, one of the first houses. Sish Lane was still a track, not a proper road. Very little existed other than some hostels in Sish lane.

Mary Tabor, Housing Officer

Return to Meeting Mary Tabor

“So when the job as housing manager at Stevenage came out, I mean I didn’t leave Holborn because I was unhappy there, except I was unhappy we couldn’t do much.

I remember this rather depressing time when all you had to let was an occasional vacancy you know going through agonies as to who this two rooms with a sink on the stairs was going to be let to and saying if only I could have a terrace of nice little houses with gardens.

And I kept diary that had terraces and terraces anyway so I got the job in 1951 when before apart from a few staff houses, before the houses started.

I was the first housing manager from the housing point of view I saw it from the very beginning.”

Audio not available.