Suffrage stories, Stevenage and North Herts

Stevenage Museum, working with North Herts Museum, Knebworth House, the Garden City Collection and YC Hertfordshire, have received National Lottery support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for Stevenage and North Herts Suffrage Stories: 100 years of votes for women. Made possible by National Lottery players, the project focuses on the local stories of women’s campaign for the vote.

The project will look at key players in the national movement who have links with the area, like Lady Constance Lytton of Knebworth House, alongside other local women of all ages and backgrounds who joined the fight for the right to vote: Elizabeth Impey of Hitchin, and Rachel Peace, who used the alias Jane Short and lodged in Letchworth are just two of the fascinating stories that will be explored . There will be exhibitions at North Herts. Museum and Stevenage Museum, with many related events.

Young people aged 14-24 will have the opportunity to get involved in research including trips to Knebworth House archive, the Museum of London and the Women’s Library at the London School of Economics over the summer. They will write exhibition text and articles and share their findings via social media. In the autumn they will work with an artist to devise an installation what will light up the town centre in Stevenage and the Town Hall in Hitchin, the latter a building that hosted many public meetings calling for votes for women; speakers like Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst addressed the audience while outside police horses held back an angry crowd who were opposed.

Wczesne powiązania Stevenage z Polską

Stevenage Muzeum badało polaczenia miasta z Polską i obecnie gości wystawę „Polskie Wycinanki” z Muzeum Horniman (do 3 Marca 2018).

Shephalbury Manor w krótkim czasie po zbudowaniu w 1865r.

Podczas II Wojny Światowej, Shephalbury Manor był domem rekonwalescencyjnym dla Polskich oficerów. Po wojnie, w 1950 r., został otwarty jako szkoła z internatem aby edukować i być domem dla Polskich osieroconych dzieci. Z czasem dzieci Polskich uchodźców również zaczęły uczęszczać do tej szkoły.

Klasa w Polskiej szkole Shephalbury w 1954r.

Szkoła była prowadzona przez Komitet ds. Edukacji Polaków w Wielkiej Brytanii i była finansowana przez Ministra Edukacji. Kiedy szkoła została otwarta 1go Marca 1950r, trzydzieścioro dzieci w wieku od 5 do 11 lat zostało przeniesionych z National Assistance Board Camp (Narodowe Asystujące Obozy) dla sierot wojennych w Cheshire. Do 1954r uczęszczało tu 93 dzieci. Wszystkie lekcje przeprowadzane były w języku angielskim łącznie z przedmiotami takimi jak pisanie, matematyka i historia i wielu uczniów uczęszczało później do szkoły gramatycznej. Jednakże, jak wyjaśnił dyrektor szkoły Pan Jaworski, postęp akademicki nie był jedynym obowiązkiem szkoły: „Musimy dać tym dzieciom dobre serce i ciepłą atmosferę”, powiedział, „To ma być nie tylko dobra szkoła, and również ma być dobrym domem”.

Grupa dzieci w Polski Szkole, Shephalbury Manor, znanych jak Krakowscy Tancerze, zdjęcie zrobine we wczesnych latach ’50.



Polish connections

The museum is currently hosting an exhibition of Polish Papercuts from the Horniman Museum (on until 3 March 2018) and we’ve been exploring the town’s Polish connections.

Shephalbury Manor soon after it was built in 1865.

During the Second World War, Shephalbury Manor was a convalescent home for Polish officers. After the war, in 1950, it opened as a boarding school to house and educate Polish orphans. Later the children of Polish refugees also attended the school.

A classroom at the Polish School in Shephalbury in 1954.

The school was run by the committee for the Education of Poles in Great Britain and financed by the Ministry of Education. When the school opened on 1 March 1950 thirty children aged 5 to 11 were brought from a National Assistance Board camp for war orphans in Cheshire. By 1954 93 children attended. All lessons were conducted in English with subjects including writing, arithmetic and history and many of the children later went on to grammar schools. But as the head teacher Mr Jaworski explained, academic progress was not the school’s only duty. “We must give the children good heart and a warm atmosphere” he said. “It must not only be a good school, it must be a good home, also.”

The Polish school closed in the late 1950s and it seems Mr Jaworski succeeded as many of the children who attended have happy memories of their time at the school. The house became a boarding school for children from London with behavioural problems, then  it stood empty for a while before the Coptic Church took it over.

A group of children at the Polish School, Shepalbury Manor, known as the Krakov Dancers, taken in the early 1950s.



Fairlands Valley and Lakes

We recently answered an enquiry from a local resident who is leading a walk in Fairlands Valley Park as part of a Festival of Walking. He wanted to know more about the history of the park. Here is what we found out for him.

Everyone in Stevenage (and beyond) has made use of Fairland’s Valley and Lakes, whether for picnicking, sports, or even Dragon Boating. But what’s the history of Fairlands? It wasn’t always the public space as we know it today!

The Valley had initially been farmland, and although it was owned by many different families, the last family to work on the farm was the Marriotts family. The Marriotts’ farm provided milk to the residents of Stevenage. As the site was designated as parkland, the last sale of cattle was in 1957, and its last harvest in 1968. The barns stayed in place until 1973 when they were finally demolished, but the farmhouse is still there and was used until recently by local artists from the Digswell Arts Trust.

The Valley was designated as parkland in 1966, as proposed in the Master Plan and work began to develop the valley and the lakes in 1971. The work included building a dam across the valley to help create the lakes. Did you know the lakes are filled with rainwater? The water in the lakes depends entirely on rainfall! The lakes were then opened in 1972 in by Sir Alec Rose, only one year after work began.

Although it is easy to enjoy Fairlands, there are a few rules to follow when making use of the spaces:

  • Remember to take all litter home or use bins provided
  • Make sure dogs are kept under proper control
  • Make sure to read and comply with the bylaws displayed in the park and can be seen at the Sailing Centre Clubhouse

And most importantly, as noted in the first guidebook for the valley: Do not play transistor radios too loudly!

If you enjoy the lakes and other outdoor spaces why not take a look at to find local walking festivals.


Who is Gordon Craig? Exhibition Opening

February 10th saw the official opening of our newly curated exhibition on Edward Gordon Craig in Stevenage, the town of his birth.

Granddaughters of Edward Gordon Craig, Marie Joy Taylor and Ellen Terry May Craig joined the town’s Mayor, Councillor John Lloyd, in cutting the ribbon.

Supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, the exhibition runs at Stevenage Museum until June 3rd 2017.

Who is Gordon Craig? An Exhibition



International theatre director, designer, writer, thinker, artist and lover.
Discover the light and dark of this pioneer and rule-breaker, both on and off the stage.

11 FEB – 3 JUNE 2017

When it came to naming Stevenage’s new town theatre, his name jumped off the pages of theatre history. One of the most radical and influential forces on the world’s stages was born less than a mile away.

Son of actress Ellen Terry, the “uncrowned queen of England”, Edward Gordon Craig grew up on the London stage alongside Henry Irving at the heart of the 19th century’s theatrical elite.

But Craig was harbouring a revolutionary reaction to conventional theatre-making; the visionary was already hard at work…
A new theatre for a new century was to be born.



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

Filming at Eton College Library

As part of the Who is Gordon Craig? project, we’re making a short film on the Edward Gordon Craig collection held at Eton College Library. We took a film crew, three of our volunteers and a lot of their questions to Eton on the 5th Jan 2017.

Kitty Butterworth (14, studying at Nobel School), Amy Shields and Maisie-Jane Betts (17 and 16, at Hitchin Girls’) interviewed Eton’s keeper of rare books and expert on Craig, Michael Meredith, whose connection with the collection and Eton College library spans 50 years.

Our team quizzed Michael on the theatre before and after Craig’s impact on it, how he expressed his ideas, his relationship with Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and other key people in his life and what he wanted to achieve with his school, founded in Italy before the First World War. Michael’s energy and enthusiasm for Craig’s work was clearly on show!

The film will be on show as part of the upcoming exhibition at Stevenage Museum, Feb 11th to June 3rd 2017, and also available as part of our resources for teachers of theatre and drama at key stage 5.

You can read more about Eton College Library here.

Our thanks to Michael Meredith and Sally Jennings at Eton College Library and Tony at Hitchin TV.

Exploring Eton College Library’s Craig Collection

Stevenage Museum’s team of volunteer co-curators on the Who is Gordon Craig? project visited Eton College Library’s extensive archive of Edward Gordon Craig’s books, designs, artwork and correspondence on Monday 24th October.

Our volunteers, a diverse group of Stevenage locals, viewed and selected items for display in Stevenage Museum’s forthcoming exhibition on Gordon Craig’s life and work, opening in February 2017. Eton’s Michael Meredith, an expert on Craig and rare books, was on hand to answer the team’s questions and to help them explore the collection, much of which is rarely viewed by the public.

Craig, a significant and radical modernising presence in 20th century theatre, died in 1966 after a long and prolific life. He left a profound legacy in the history of theatre, art and printing.

For more information about the project or to get involved, email:

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Smallhythe Place Research Visit

We’ve been working hard on a new exhibition on the life and work of Edward Gordon Craig. Stevenage Museum’s research team, made up of staff and volunteers, visited Smallhythe Place in Kent on the 10th August 2016.

The property, now owned the National Trust, was the home of Ellen Terry (Craig’s mother) from 1899 until her death in 1928. The following year, her daughter, Edith Craig, transformed the house into a museum which now displays a fascinating personal and theatrical collection that reflects Ellen’s extraordinary career and unconventional private life.

Susannah Mayor, house steward, gave a guided tour of the beautiful 16th century property before inviting the team behind the scenes to view their extensive collection of artwork, books, letters, photographs and costumes related to this fascinating family.

Items in their collection pertaining to Edward Gordon Craig can be viewed here and the broader collection at Smallhythe is accessible here.

A database of the correspondence of Ellen Terry and Edith Craig, prepared by Professor Katharine Cockin can be found here.