Stevenage is a town and borough in Hertfordshire, England. It is situated to the east of junctions 7 and 8 of the A1(M), and is between Letchworth Garden City to the north, and Welwyn Garden City to the south.
Stevenage is roughly north of central London. Its population has increased significantly over the last century: the population was 1,430 in 1801, 4,049 in 1901, 79,724 in 2001 and 84,651 in 2007. The largest increase occurred in the 1950s and 1960s, after Stevenage was designated a new town under the New Towns Act of 1946.
Two films were set in and around Stevenage, Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush and Boston Kickout. Spy Game was partly filmed in Stevenage but set in Washington, D.C. The BBC sitcom Saxondale was set in Stevenage but filmed almost entirely in Watford.
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. Similar settlements sprang up in Chells, Broadwater and Shephall.
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.
In 1281 Stevenage was granted a twice weekly market and an annual fair. Both were probably held in the wide part of the present High Street to the north of Middle Row. The High Street is closed for an annual fair even today.
Around 1500 the Church was much improved, with decorative woodwork within, and with the addition of a clerestory.
It was in the 16th century (1558) that Thomas Alleyne, most probably a former monk, founded a free grammar school for boys, Alleyne's Grammar School, which had an unbroken existence (unlike the grammar school in neighbouring Hitchin) till 1989. Francis Cammaerts was headmaster of the school from 1952 to 1961. The school (now a mixed comprehensive school) 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 has proposed the scrapping of 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.
This slow growth continued until, after the Second World War, the Abercrombie Plan called for the establishment of a ring of new towns around London. It was designated the first New Town on 1 August 1946. The plan was not popular with local people who 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. Ironically, although the New Towns Commission declared the Old Town would not be touched, the first significant building to be demolished in it was indeed the Old Town Hall, in which the opposition had been expressed.
In 1949 the radical townplanner Dr. Monica Felton became Chairman of the Stevenage Development Corporation. She was sacked within two years. A number of reasons explain her dismissal by the government. There was a lack of hands-on town planning leadership and her political stance during the Korean War, for which she was later awarded the Stalin Peace Prize ruined her reputation.
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. Next to be built and occupied by the London 'overspill' was Bedwell in 1952 – The Twin Foxes pub was Stevenage's first "new" public house and is still situated in the Monks Wood estate. The public house was named after local notorious identical twin poachers (Albert Ebenezer and Ebenezer Albert Fox). Next came Broadwater and Shephall (1953), then Chells in the 1960s and later Pin Green and Symonds Green. Another area to the north of the town is modern development of Great Ashby – this is still under construction as of 2014. The Government gave almost £2 million for a purpose-built homeless shelter, which will serve a large part of Hertfordshire.
At least three other public houses are worth mentioning, for they have a direct relationship to local history: the name of the pub "Edward the Confessor" (closed 2006) could have a connection to the time in which the St Mary 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 strong bond to local history seems to be the "Our Mutual Friend" in Broadwater, for the name of the pub is the title of a novel by Charles Dickens. Dickens was at some occasion guest to Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton in nearby Knebworth House, and for that reason he knew Stevenage very well. The Pied Piper in Broadwater is the only public house in the world to be opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Multi-million pound plans to redevelop Stevenage town centre were scrapped due to the recession and the lack of interested private sector partners. Stevenage Borough Council announced 24 May 2012 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 were 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; enhanced office space; 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), have also disappeared from Stevenage's town centre.
The town has a large central library located 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 the High Street in the Old Town. There is also a public library in nearby Knebworth, located in St Martin's Road.
Next to the Town Gardens, 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 by the Bishop of St Albans, 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 about 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 Elepant' by Andrew Burton was commissioned in 1992.
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 of 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 the 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 well-known rock concerts since 1974. The house was once home to Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Victorian English novelist and spiritualist, who, as reported by one of his visitors, was so deep in the belief of spiritual realities that he sometimes thought himself to be invisible while others were around.
In 1999 a millennium countdown clock was mounted on the town centre clock tower, displaying the time remaining until the year 2000. The artwork on the clock was designed by Nicola Reed, a pupil of Fearnhill School, Letchworth.
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 has for some decades (as part of British Aerospace and its predecessors) manufactured spacecraft, both as prime contractor and 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.
The town is still growing. It is set to expand west of the A1(M) motorway and may be further identified for development depending on the outcome of the Examination In Public of the Regional Spatial Strategy. The main area of more recent development is Great Ashby to the northeast of the town (but actually situated in North Herts District). A considerable amount of in borough development has been undertaken at Chrysalis Park - situated on the old Dixon's Warehouse site adjacent to the Pin Green Industrial Estate.
Stevenage holds a number of annual events, including Stevenage Day and Rock in the Park. In past years, Stevenage Carnival has also been held, with a number of attempts to revive it.