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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
And so she did:
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
There was a sort of code in them days how everybody knew when a house was going to be ready because they actually screwed the number on the front door. Once they’d screwed the number on the front door you knew that you would hear within a few days that your house was available. And your friends who lived local would keep you posted.
Most people thought all the roughs from the top of the housing list in London were coming out to Stevenage, that isn’t so.
You could only come to Stevenage if you had a job and the people who were allocated their housing nominations in the firms were not going to give jobs to people who were going to sweep up, they wanted their skilled workers to come.
“We were the very first people in Fellows Way and it was the very first house to be finished because at that time Miss Tabor was friendly with mum and dad, and she rushed through, so we could get the house finished, and we had a choice of number three or five. And there was a chap working for the corporation named Harry Byatt and he came to see mum and advised her to take number five, because he had a good look and he said that number three was going to have problems with the floor. So she said right. So she decided on number five, so they quickly finished the house. And number three since has had the floor in the lounge cracked twice, so you know – one of those things.”
And the only one we didn’t have to go to a labour exchange was Stevenage, because at that time the Korean War was on and they were calling up the navy reserve. So I burnt me papers and this was the only, because at that time you went to the labour exchange you know they traced you back.
So, Stevenage one you didn’t have to go to a labour exchange. I came here and got a job straight away.