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.

The Woodcarver’s Cottage

The woodcarver's cottage in Woolmer Green
The woodcarver’s cottage in Woolmer Green

People get in touch every week with enquiries about all sorts of things. One gentleman recently wrote asking for photographs of the Woodcarver’s cottage he had seen as a boy, to illustrate an article he was writing to share with his family and his cycling club. He kindly agreed to share what he had written with us. We really enjoyed reading it and hope you do to.

“The date 5th June 1942 represents the start of a whole new life for me. This was the date on which I received my first bicycle. Of course, it was not new – there was a world war raging, and all means of production were under government control with a view to winning the war. I had to make do with a collection of refurbished bits and pieces on a frame with no name, steel rims and wartime tyres of poor quality. Nonetheless it was mine – I no longer had to borrow other people’s bikes, and I could go outside the town without the guardianship of my elder sister, always going only where she wanted to go.

One of the favourite destinations of my school friends was the Royal Air Force (RAF) airfield at Hunsdon, where we could see the aircraft returning from daylight raids over France, and dream of the day when could join them beating up the Huns. Not the finest ambition for 14 year olds, but that was life then. Another destination was Hatfield, where we could see the streamlined A4 pacific locomotion at the speed on the East Coast main line. This was another new experience for me. Although, as we lived near Kings Cross station I had seen many of those locomotives, I had only seen them gently backing into the platforms to join their trains and then starting up with clouds of steam and smoke and plenty of noise. At speed they were even more magnificent. But I was not interested in cycling merely as means of transport – I enjoyed exploring the countryside, and this was particularly interesting in wartime. With the very real threat of invasion in 1940 all signposts, milestones and other means of indicating where one was and how to get anywhere were removed to Council yards. Maps could not be bought and none were printed (shortage of paper) and all public maps were hidden so that any parachutists would not know where they were – and neither could schoolboy cyclists! Finding one’s way there was one thing. Finding the way home another. An inhabitant of Newgatestreet refused to tell me where various roads out of the village led to. When I said Hertford he pointed to the road and said “that’s the way back to Hertford” and so I deliberately took the road I thought led to Cheshunt – and I was right.

And so in 1943 – aged 14 – I set about finding my way around east Hertfordshire. I knew which road led from Hertford westwards to Hatfield and I knew which road led northwards to Stevenage and Hitchin. And so I worked out that the road out of Hertford to Bramfield should lead to the Great North Road somewhere between Hatfield and Stevenage. I was correct, of course and emerged at Woolmer Green – not that I knew it – but the road looked like the Great North Road and I duly turned left and so to Hatfield – eventually. But this was not before I stood absolutely astonished at a sight I had never seen before and the like of which I have not really seen since. This was a cottage, and the thing I recall most clearly was that the garden gates were carved of wood and painted like a peacocks displaying their marvellous feathers. The building was covered with carved and painted animals and birds, and we had the faces of Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt the U.S. President, looking down on us. Inside the garden were carvings of all sorts of animals – too many to count and remember. The whole thing was an absolute riot of fantasy and colour, and I had to stand and stare for some minutes at the whole colourful display – a complete contrast to the rainy afternoon around me. I could hardly believe my eyes , and I still find it difficult to find describe my feelings. It was like something out of Walt Disney except that I doubt he ever had anything like this.

A carving by Mr MacDonald held at Stevenage Museum
A carving by Mr MacDonald held at Stevenage Museum

I had no idea what the place was and when I spoke to people in Ware, where I was l was living and Hertford where I was at school, nobody had any idea of what I was talking about. Remember, if a bus did not go from your town or village to a particular place then you simply did not get there unless you walked or cycled, which few people did. Cars were an expensive luxury for the few in the 1930s and during the war petrol was rationed, so if you did not qualify for a petrol ration you laid your car up for the duration – it was as simple as that. And so it was a good time for cycling – even better than before the war as regards traffic.

Mr MacDonald's cottage. How many different carvings can you see? Double click on the image for a bigger picture.
Mr MacDonald’s cottage. How many different carvings can you see? Double click on the image for a bigger picture.

I have never forgotten about the woodcarver’s cottage but by the time I got around owning a car and taking my children there in the late 1960s it was a shadow of what it had been. I think the woodcarver had retired or died and his son was running the garden as an attraction for visitors on payment of a few coppers – tourism had hardly been invented then. Although it was interesting (and the children enjoyed it) to have animals popping up when you trod on some sort of levered plate set in into the path, the general air was of neglect and I was disappointed. I recall that there was a local protest later when it was proposed to demolish the place and to build on the site, but this did not last. I imagine nobody wanted to smarten the whole lot up and run it, and so it all disappeared and new buildings were constructed.

However, my interest was rekindled when I bought a picture book of Stevenage some year ago, and to my intense pleasure this included a picture of the cottage and the woodcarver. Apparently the owner was a joiner who, when business was slack, spent his time designing and creating the carvings to advertise his business and displaying them for a few coppers to augment his earnings. From my point of view, this is the sort of item I look out for on a ride, especially if I am describing the ride for others. What could be a better incentive to get children out on their bikes, or to keep them going a bit further (without protest) than to have something like the Woodcarvers Cottage to entice them on?

Other places which come to mind and were featured in various editions of my book “Twenty Cycle Rides in Hertfordshire” (now out of print and out of date) are the canal side inns on the Grand Union Canal in and around Hemel Hempstead like the Fishery Inn at Boxmoor which displays canal mileages and the pub in Pimlico which used have a helicopter and A.A. gun in the garden, the farrier’s shop in Knebworth (now closed), the memorial to two Royal Flying Corps officers at Willian, the grave of Jack O`Legs in Weston churchyard, the sources of the of the rivers Rhee at Ashwell, Hiz at Preston and the Maran at Whitwell, the Myddleton memorial at Great Amwell and the balloon stones at North Mymms and Standon Green End. These are the sort of things waiting to be discovered by the intrepid cyclist with his or her map and open eyes, and I am still on the look-out for them – even after 72 years of cycling. Not sure the sat-nav will ever include them, though.”

by John Hession, transcribed by Jamie, Museum Volunteer

The Christmas Truce – a local story

I’ve heard a lot about the Christmas Truce but until last week I didn’t know that local Stevenage men were there.

Frank Dymoke shared his memories with The Comet newspaper in December 1971. Last week a member of his family kindly brought a copy in to the museum and told us a bit more about the man behind the story.

War 1

Frank enlisted in the Bedfordshire regiment in October 1911. He served for the whole war, finishing in January 1919 as a company sergeant major. Before he joined up he had been a groom for a family at Chesfield and when the war started his old employers sent him a pair of duelling pistols along with the request that he kill a few Germans for them! Unfortunately the pistols were stolen when he was injured. He suffered three injuries and had fever four times but survived the war and came home.

He played for Stevenage Town Football Club and in this team photograph you can see him in the back row, third from the right.


You can read the whole article (just double click on the newspaper clipping to open a bigger version) but here is a slightly shortened version of his story:

Christmas morning was very cold with a hard frost and about three inches of snow. As it got light we saw two Germans standing up head and shoulders above their trench. On our right were the Gordon Highlanders, and all at once one of the jocks was through the wire and going towards the Germans. He got halfway and called out: “Come on, you buggers.” They met and shook hands, and after that we and the Germans were swarming out like a big football crowd.

We exchanged sweets and smokes and played football with a rag ball. It seemed as if the war was over.

One very large German got a lot of us round him and he said: “What are we fighting for? We should be on the same side, for we are of the same blood as you.” Another said we should get the heads of our nations round in a ring and let them fight it out, the best man to win and call it a day.

Not a shot was fired for two weeks. No Germans were allowed in our trenches but our officers used to go and have dinner in their dugout.

When they heard they were being relieved, they told our officers to let us know to keep our heads down in the trench. We knew it, too, for the newcomers started firing bullets and shells. we had the chance to see our late friends again, for in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle we took 52 of them prisoners. I helped to take them back of the line, and some of them said: “Hello, Bedfords. This is different from Christmas.”

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

Mr Fox

Enjoying the sun in the museum garden
Enjoying the sun in the museum garden

Visitors to Stevenage Museum may have noticed that we have a large stuffed animal (taxidermy) collection in our Natural History gallery. Taxidermy is the art of preparing, stuffing and mounting animal skins and has been practised for many years by taxidermists, the earliest examples having been recorded in the Middle Ages. It is a method of preservation and has been used mostly by hunters to show off their most impressive kills and natural historians so that they can study increasingly rare species. It was also popular in the Victorian times, as people thought they were a stylish decoration in their homes. Though it is less common to see taxidermy on a household level now, some pet owners will have their beloved cats and dogs treated in this way as an homage to their existence!

Mr Fox is a figure I remember from when I was a child, visiting Stevenage Museum with my mother and sister in the 1990s and early 2000s. Though my sister and I found the gallery a little scary at first, we were delighted by the small furry animals and loved the fact that we could stroke the top of Mr Fox’s head. We weren’t the only ones either, poor Mr Fox has had a number of operations over the years to patch up small injuries after visitors played a little too roughly with him!

Mr Fox was donated to the Museum by a Mr Colin Bladon in October 1968 and understandably, after over forty years of service, has gone into retirement, so you can’t see him in the galleries any more. However, if you ask the staff at the museum shop whether you can meet him, they will happily oblige. I think he must get a bit lonely in the store room now after all of the attention he used to get…

Richard Carpenter’s Dolls’ House (1928-1937)

Richard Carpenter’s dolls’ house is one of our star items; its delightfully miniature nature draws a great deal of attention as it slowly revolves, allowing you to see it from all angles.

Richard Carpenter was born in Stevenage in 1890 and in 1903 he began work at the Educational Supply Association (ESA) as an apprentice joiner, cabinet maker and polisher. Trading began here in 1883 on Fishers Green Road and was the first factory in the town, offering an alternative to the otherwise largely agricultural work available. The ESA was known for providing low cost but good quality furniture and was the leading supplier for folding classroom partitions.


The dolls’ house itself is based on a housing design by Mr. Leonard who worked in the drawing office at the ESA with Mr. Carpenter. His design for a school table and chair became a symbol of the post-war classroom. His innovative designs spread wider to homes and housing projects, but can be seen very clearly in the image of this modern and practical furniture design.

It was Mr. Carpenter’s daughter, Yvonne, who inspired the building of this delightful house; its execution was so perfect however that it never became a plaything. The dolls house took nine years to complete, including building and furnishings, by which time his daughter had grown to be thirteen years old.

The dolls’ house illustrates the design principles that inspired Mr Leonard throughout his career. You can see the simple shapes, clean lines and minimal surface decoration in both the house and its furnishings.

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.