Continuing our series exploring threatened or underappreciated buildings and architects, this week we look at Stevenage Town Centre.
Stevenage Town Council have put forward plans to regenerate the new town’s original town centre; designed by Leonard Vincent, chief architect to the Stevenage development Corporation; and built between 1956 and 1963. Vincent, alongside Clifford Holliday, based the new town centre on the centre of Rotterdam, known as the Ljinbaan. The Ljinbaan had been completed in 1953, replacing the old town centre destroyed by the Luftwaffe. The Dutch architects, Jo van den Broek and Jacob Bacema, designed the town centre as a traffic free zone, allowing pedestrians to shop without having to cross traffic. The town centre in Stevenage is arranged in an irregular grid with pedestrian only access, and a ring road and parking around the centre for cars. The main shopping street, Queensway, runs north to south, with other smaller streets running east to west. Public transport has access to the centre, with a bus station just off the central square. Vincent and Holliday also provided covered walkways to protect shoppers from the vicissitudes of the Hertfordshire weather.
The construction of the town centre began in 1956, with the first phase of shops opening in 1958. The town centre was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in May 1959, and the second phase of shops opened in 1963. The main buildings of the town centre area are plain looking two and three storey rows of shops, with offices and flats above. To liven up this rather austere looking area, a number of artworks and decorative finishes have been applied. Most prominent in the town centre is the Clock Tower by Vincent, now Grade II listed, with two fountain pools at the base. It is constructed of a concrete frame and clad in black Brazilian granite, with open panels above a commemorative plaque recording the Queen’s 1959 visit, a map of the new town and a relief of Lewis Silkin, Minister of Town & Country Planning.
On a platform opposite the clock tower is the sculpture “Joy Ride” by Franta Belsky (1959). The sculpture was commissioned by the Development Corporation to symbolise the arrival of a new generation of families to the New Town. Elsewhere around the town centre is a sculpture by Jose di Alberdi and a mural by G. Baijo. One of the underpasses leading out of the town centre features a mural by William Mitchell, who also designed mosaic for one of the town centre pubs, The Long Ship. Unfortunately pub and mosaic are both long gone.
Aside from the shopping buildings, there are a few other buildings of interest in the town centre. The curtain walled Development Corporation Headquarters (known as Daneshill House), designed by Vincent sits on Danestrete, next to the former Lorcano Dance Hall (1962), also by Vincent. Another Vincent building sits just to the west, the Arts and Sports Centre from 1976. This was designed with partner Raymond Gorbling, after they had both left the Development Corporation and set up in private practice, with a more horizontal emphasis than their earlier buildings. Like the Swimming Pool on the east side of the town centre, the Arts and Sports Centre has now been clad in white panelling. As well as the Arts Centre, the third phase of construction that took place post 1969 bought a number of supermarkets and a cinema to the town centre.To the south of the town centre are the Danestrete Health Centre and Central Library (both 1961) by the Development Corporation, opened together by writer Cecil Day-Lewis.
Around the perimeter of the ring road are a few other buildings of interest. The most prominent of these is the Grade II listed St. George’s Church by Seely & Paget (1956), featuring an open campanile, concrete parabolic arches and flint faced wall panels. North of this are two other buildings by Vincent, the Bowes Lyon Youth Centre (1964), featuring a concrete mural by P.J. Ellis, and the town’s Swimming Pool (1963), now unfortunately clad in white and blue panels. Aside from the underpasses mentioned earlier, the other exit from the town centre by foot are the wonderful concrete footbridges designed by chief engineer to the town, EC Claxton (1972). Claxton also designed the innovative cycle way that links the town centre to the various neighbourhoods.
Like the other new town centres at Hatfield and Hemel Hempstead, Stevenage is in the process of redevelopment. Its status as the first modern fully pedestrian town centre is something that should be celebrated and, as much as possible, preserved. Obviously times have moved on, and the town centre of 60 years ago needs updating for the 21st century. But Stevenage’s wholly pedestrianised town centre, which helped launch a thousand others around Britain and Europe, was designed as a balance between civic and commerce, leisure and work. Hopefully the town centres 21st century custodians remember that.
Hertfordshire- Nikolaus Pevsner and Bridget Cherry
The New Towns: The Answer to Megalopolis- FJ Osborn and Arnold Whittick
Stevenage 1946-1986: Images of the First New Town- Timothy Collings
Welwyn Garden City was founded in 1920, the second garden city after Letchworth based on the principles of Ebenezer Howard. Howard envisioned in the garden cities movement, a balance of city and country, allowing its citizens the advantages of both and disadvantages of neither. The town was to provide homes and work, as well as education and leisure. It is the first of these that we will explore, the varied housing of the garden city. Louis de Soissons was appointed the chief architect and planner of Welwyn. The style he used for the city was Neo-Georgian, the revival of Georgian architectural styles which became popular again in the 1920’s and still makes its influence felt today.
The first houses were built to the west of De Soissons’ town centre. Along streets such as Parkway, Guessens Road and Handside Lane you can find the oldest houses in the town, designed in Neo-Georgian and Neo-Tudor styles by De Soissons and his assistants C.H. James and A.W. Kenyon. Just off Handside Lane we find Meadow Green, a close that was used as the site of the Daily Mail Village in 1922. A range of houses were built to show off the newest and most economical building styles, and included steel and concrete framed houses. No.19 was the concrete framed house, now converted into flats, designed by De Soissons with a flat roof in an Italian villa style. De Soissons designed a pair of houses in a similar style on High Oaks Road, around the same period.
As well as James and Kenyon, De Soissons was assisted by others who would go on to make a name for themselves in later years, such as N.F. Cachemaille-Day, Felix Lander and Paul Mauger. Most of the housing stock in the interwar years was designed in the standard Neo-Georgian style laid down by De Soissons, but among the few to break with this stricture was one of Mauger’s designs. In the Pentley Park area of the town, there are three modernist influenced houses dating from the late 1930’s. Nos. 24 and 26 Pentley Park were both built in 1938, No.26 designed by Mauger and No.24 by emigre architect E.C. Kaufmann. Kaufmann moved to Britain from Germany in 1933 and worked on a variety of projects, along the way changing his surname to Kent. Both 24 & 26 are strongly influenced by the Central European international style modernism which was beginning to spread to Britain at the time. They are the only examples of the style from the interwar era in the town. Next door to these two is No.34 Coneydale designed by J.W.M. Dudding for Hugo Leakey. Dudding designed the house in a more modestly modernist influenced style than its neighbours, with a echoes of the surrounding Neo-Georgian softening the shock of the new.
Mauger went into private practice after the Second World War and carried on designing buildings for the town. He designed a large number of houses in the north western section of Welwyn Garden City, although none with the hard modernist edges of Pentley Park. More representative of his post war output are the six houses he designed in Reddings (Nos.18-24) in 1955, which won him a Housing Design medal that year, conventionally styled brick houses with steeply pitched tiled roofs. Other post war designs are also represented on Reddings, as well as nearby streets Ashley Close, The Glade and Roundwood Drive. The Architects Co-Partnership designed three houses in the area, Nos. 4 & 5 The Glade and No.38 Reddings, between 1951 and 1955. All three houses show the influence of Scandinavian modernism, with their simple designs in brick and shallow pitched roofs, a style which strongly influenced post war British modernism until the coming of Brutalism a few years later,. Unfortunately, No. 4 The Glade which was designed by Leo De Syllas for his father has had an unsympathetic extension in the last few years. In the same area there are also houses designed by a number of architects like John Bickerdike, William Allen, Gordon Nettleton and Michael Meacher, all in the restrained modernist style of the ACP houses.
Louis De Soissons influence was not just left to the interwar period. His post war firm of De Soissons Peacock Hodges Robertson & Fraser designed a large number of houses as part of the town's expansion in the 1960’s. No 82-102 Knightsfield are a group of houses, maisonettes and flats by the firm from 1956. The design of the dwellings follows on from De Soissons’ interwar work in the town, using the Neo-Georgian template to integrate the building into the town's fabric. The houses are built in yellow brick and feature concave metal window canopies. More contemporary were the houses designed by the firm a short distance away in Blythway (1964). A collection of houses, flats and bungalows in brick with shallow pitched or monopitch roofs. These, and others in Fern Grove and the Panshanger estate (both 1968), were designed after De Soissons death in 1962, possibly accounting for the change in styles.
The Panshanger estate was large housing area developed by the town in the 1960’s and 70’s. As well as De Soissons firm, houses were designed and built by the Commission for New Towns, which had taken over from the WGC Development Corporation in 1966. The architect for this project was Oliver Carey, who had previously designed a number of buildings for Hertfordshire County Council. For the estate, Carey designed houses with asymmetrical pitched roofs featuring clerestory dormers, mainly in brick and with timber cladding. The De Soissons houses on the estate are more conventional with pitched roofs and tile hanging. Also on the estate are a group of houses by the Panway Self Build Group. As the name suggests, the 10 houses are self built, with timber framing and brick infill. The building of the houses took 18 months with the self builders agreeing to put in at least 16 hours of work a week to get the project finished.
Although not as radical in design as the housing in some of the New Towns that followed, the houses of Welwyn Garden City are interesting for their ability to combine the conventional Neo-Georgian and Arts and Crafts influences with the more challenging modernist styles coming from Europe. The early exhibition houses used new techniques like steel framing, concrete and flat roofs, which would become de rigueur 40 years later. The town's development corporation also was a proving ground for architects like NF Cachemaille-Day and Felix Lander who would go onto to form a partnership with Herbert Welch and introduce the sun trap window and moderne style to London’s suburbs. Hopefully the new spate of 21st century garden cities will be as interesting architecturally in 50 years time as Welwyn Garden City.
See Also- Welch, Lander & Day
The Post War Houses of Hatfield
The architect Paul Mauger was not a famous name even in his heyday, which was from the 1930’s to the mid 1950’s. However, his designs form an important part of mid-century architecture in Hertfordshire, as well as for the Methodist church for whom he designed many buildings. Never an out and out modernist, Mauger incorporated the Arts and Crafts tradition and traditional vernacular designs into his work. Mauger was born on January 7th 1896 in Camden and attended the Friends School in Saffron Walden. After passing his architectural qualifications, he was assistant at a number of firms, including those of Easton & Robertson and Maxwell Ayrton. He also travelled to Europe extensively, and worked for 3 years in British Palestine.
Maugers first major works were for a number of houses in Hampstead Garden Suburb, and a little later he also designed some in Jordans, Buckinghamshire. Mauger moved to Welwyn Garden City at the end of the 1920’s and would spend the rest of his life there. He built a house for himself in the Pentley Park area of town in 1937, by far the most modernist building he designed. Situated next to a similarly designed house by E.C. Kaufmann (also known as EC Kent), No.26 Pentley Park takes its influence from the cubist Central European houses of the 1920’s and 30’s, and is one of the few inter war modernist houses in the town. More representative of his work are the 6 brick houses with steeply tiled roofs on Reddings, which won Mauger a Housing Design Medal in 1955.
Mauger and his firm, first known as Paul Mauger & Partners and later Mauger, Gavin, Mathers & Mitchell, would also design larger housing schemes for local councils. Among these were six small estates for Braughing RDC, the Chantry estate in Billericay, and many houses for Welwyn Hatfield UDC. The partnership also became known for its Methodist Halls and Friends Meeting Houses. Mauger was a Quaker, and the firm produced Friends Meeting houses in Hitchin (1957), Stansted (1958) and Slough (1962).The company designed many Methodist Churches in the South East; in nearby Digswell (1964), Hackney (1959), Bow (1951) and Harlow (1952) among many others. They also designed the Central Methodist Hall in Islington (1963) in an unusual wedge shape to fit the plot and features a patterned brick end wall. George Mathers handled many of the church designs for the practice. He joined the firm after meeting a visiting Mauger at Wormwood Scrubs, where Mathers was imprisoned for being a Conscientious Objector. Mauger offered Mathers a job after his release and he worked for Mauger until 1960 when he set up his own practice.
Mauger lived in Welwyn until his death in 1982, building another house for himself in Welwyn village, where he had also moved his office. Mauger and his firm weren't just limited to houses and churches. They designed sports pavilions, old people's homes, schools, nurseries and undertook restoration work. But it is the houses which have proved Maugers lasting legacy. From his individually detailed private houses to his sensitively landscaped public estates, Maugers domestic buildings have proved enduringly popular with their residents due to their combination of urban and rural. Largely unlauded when they were first built, Maugers houses are still inhabited throughout Hertfordshire and beyond.
An Introduction to the forgotten work of Paul Victor Edison Mauger by Oliver Bradbury
The Buildings of England: Hertfordshire by Nikolas Pevsner & Bridget Cherry
In the immediate post war period the county of Hertfordshire faced a drastic lack of schools. The county had been designated 5 new town areas, (Hatfield, Hemel Hempstead, Stevenage, Letchworth GC & Welwyn GC), that were to be populated largely by those dispossessed by the bombing of London. Thousands of children would need school places in these new towns and all over the county. The newly formed architects department (the county didn't have one until 1945) was lead by chief architect Charles Herbert Aslin and his deputy Stirrat Johnson-Marshall. Both had prewar experience at municipal level, Aslin as Borough Architect for Derby and Johnson-Marshall with Willesden UDC.
A lack of funds and need to build schools quickly led them to consider new building methods. The one they used was the Hills 8’ 3”prefab system. This system, developed by Hills & Co of West Bromwich, allowed prefabricated sections to be attached to a standardised steel frame. This way, windows, doors, and walls could be factory made and assembled on site, halving the man hours needed to build a school. Despite its set proportions, the system was flexible enough to allow different designs to be created within the system. This allowed the department to design schools that fit into their environments and responded to the needs of each school.
Johnson-Marshall recruited a team of young architects for the department, with the likes of David & Mary Medd, Bruce Martin, Oliver Cox, AW Cleeve Barr, Leonard Manasseh and Richard Sheppard among others, designing for the county. These designers looked with fresh eyes at not just the buildings there were creating, but at all the accessories of educational life. The design of desks, chairs, playgrounds and more were rethought in terms of the children's needs rather than be created from traditional forms. Artwork in the schools was also a big feature in HCC post war schools. The county’s chief Education Officer John Newsom was a strong believer that an environment filled with artworks would be beneficial for a child's education. Artists like Henry Moore,Julian Trevelyan, Mary Fedden and Malcolm Hughes all contributed works to schools as part of the Art for All programme that Newsom instigated.
The first school completed was The Burleigh Primary School in Cheshunt, with construction starting 1946 and the first buildings completed a year later, shortly followed by the village school at Essendon the same year. The Bruce Martin designed Morgan Road JMI in Hertford opened in 1949, and Aboyne Lodge in St Albans by Donald Barron in 1950. These buildings became the standard bearers for Herts new prefab system, visited widely by architects, bureaucrats and journalists from all over Britain, Europe and the wider world. Templewood school in the Pentley Park area of Welwyn Garden City opened in 1950. Designed by Cleeve Barr and featuring murals by Pat Trew, Templewood also became one of Herts flagship buildings, admired by Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, who reportedly said “c’est jolie” of it.
The building of schools was rapid, with first 100 post war schools in the county opened in January 1955, and another 100 opened by 1961. To help maintain this rate of output private firms were asked to produced designs. Yorke, Mardall & Rosenberg designed The Barclay School in Stevenage (1949), Richard Sheppard & Partners designed many, including Broxbourne Secondary Modern (1959) and Harrison & Seel produced schools in Hemel Hempstead and Baldock (1954). Johnson-Marshall left to become Chief Architect to the Ministry of Education in 1948, and the Medd’s followed a year later. Oliver Cox and AW Cleeve Bar also left to work for the London County Council Architects Department.
Floor plans of various Herts schools. 1. Monkfrith Infants School, East Barnet ; 2. Cowley Hill School, Borehamwood ; 3. Belswains School, Hemel Hempstead ; 4. Morgans Walk School, St Albans ; 5. Aboyne Logde Infants School, St Albans ; 6. Spencer School, St Albans ; 7. Warren Dell School, Watford ; 8. Templewood School, Welwyn Garden City. Image from histoire-education.revues.org
CG Fardell replaced Aslin as chief architect for the county in 1959, carrying on the school building programme, and introduced more variation in texture and colour for the prefabricated panels used. The department also expanded the scale of the campuses they were designing. Moving on from the smaller Primary, Infant and Junior schools, Herts started building more Secondary schools and Technical colleges. John Wakley designed the St Albans College of Further Education with five buildings spread over grounds off Hatfield Road. The first wave of building took from 1958-60, with further building between 1965-6. The design won a RIBA Bronze Medal in 1960. Ian Nairn was effusive in his praise for the building. He called it “an exceptional building” and “a purely British achievement and one that can stand comparison with the very best that has been done abroad”. The department also produced Dacorum College, in a similar spread out design as at St Albans, by John Bolton in 1962. Other architects continued to produce work for the county, with Oliver Carey designing junior schools in Tring and Wheathampstead, Stirling & Margaret Craig in Stevenage and Harpenden, and Crabtree and Jarosz designed primary schools in Welwyn GC and Dane End.
The Hertfordshire school building programme not only delivered hundreds of schools for thousands of children throughout the county in the austere post war years, but also influenced architecture at home and abroad for many years. The CLASP (Consortium of Local Authorities Special Programme), developed in 1957 by Aslin, brought together local authorities from all over the country to develop a prefab system that could be used to build schools up to four storeys tall. The department was also a proving ground for young architects, who joined fresh from university and then moved onto to the LCC, Ministry of Education or other local authorities. The Hertfordshire influence was also felt in private practice with firms like Twist & Whitely, Green, Lloyd & Adams and Barron & Smith being made up of Hertfordshire graduates. The HCC’s real legacy is of course the schools and colleges they built. Eight of them are now listed and the majority still in use, providing places to learn and explore for the children of Hertfordshire.
The golden mile on the Great West Road in Brentford is famous for its procession of art deco factory buildings, mainly designed by the firm of Wallis, Gilbert and Partners. After the vandalous demolition of the Firestone factory in 1980, many of the other factory buildings lining the road were listed and preserved. Another golden mile, much lesser know, but once full of modernist factories has not been so lucky. The idea of a designed town, perfectly balanced between work and leisure, city and countryside, was bought to live in Hertfordshire by Ebenezer Howard, first at Letchworth and then Welwyn. The garden cities aimed to be self sufficient, with industry providing work for its residents.
Welwyn GC’s industrial zone was located in the eastern sector of the town, separated from Louis De Soissons neo-Georgian town centre by the railway line, with industrial buildings springing up along Broadwater Road from the foundation of the the town. The idea of industrial zoning was, and still is, a novel one in Britain, but fully part of the Garden City ideal. Welwyn estate manager, Frederic Osborn, even wrote to architect Berthold Lubetkin, asking for advice after the architects spell working in the Soviet Union. His reply is unrecorded. Built in 1925, and still one of the town's most prominent landmarks, is the Shredded Wheat factory, also designed by De Soissons, now Grade II listed. Its white rendered concrete structure, stands out against the red brick Howard shopping centre, despite the dilapidated state it has fallen into since production was moved to Wiltshire in 2008. Tesco now own the site and have been submitting and re-submitting plans to turn the building into a residential and leisure centre, without success so far. Another survivor along this road is the Roche Products Factory (1940), designed by Swiss architect Otto Salvisberg in the international modernist style. The company's site grew in the post war period with a series of monolithic industrial buildings designed by James Cubitt & Partners (1961-69), all of which have now been demolished for housing. The only remains of the Roche site are the 1940 Grade II listed building and the 1977 James Cubitt designed offices opposite.
These are the last remains of the many factories that populated Broadwater Road from 1925 until the turn of the century. Many buildings came and went, with the occupants also changing frequently. Where now, a large barren space appears between the Shredded Wheat factory and the Roche building, stood a number of interesting industrial buildings. One of the first was Welwyn Studios, a film studio built in 1928 by British Instructional Films. The studio operated until 1950, producing a number of educational films, as well as some features, including The 39 Steps, Brighton Rock and two early Hitchcock films. The site was then sold to Ardath Tobacco and a factory designed by De Soissons was built around it. Next to this was a factory for Young, Osmond & Young (1939), manufacturers of electric heaters, by Wallis Gilbert & Partners designers of so much of the other golden mile. This factory did not live up to the high standards of their Great West Road work, and was demolished sometime in the early 21st century.
On the opposite side of the road where a couple of sectional factories, designed to accommodate smaller businesses, and premises for Murphy Radio. Murphy’s originally had a 1930’s factory, before a new, larger building was designed for them by CW Hutton and opened further north on Bessemer Road in 1961. Around the corner from the Murphy factory on Bridge East Road sat two more interesting interwar factories, one for Norton Grinding Wheel Ltd, and another for Barclay Corsets. The brick Norton factory (1931) was designed by the American firm of Frost, Chamberlin & Edwards and is still standing, now next to a B&Q. Opposite it was the Barclay Corset factory, now a car showroom, featuring a large, glazed central staircase tower and pink and black interior tiling. Another early occupant of Broadwater Road was Cresta Silks who had a factory on the east side of the road, a simple workshop style building with interiors designed by Canadian architect Wells Coates. The company's founder, Tom Heron, had employed Coates to design the interiors of the shops on Brompton St, London and elsewhere around the country, including Welwyn itself.
Over the junction where Broadwater Road crosses Bridge Road and becomes Bessemer Road, was the location for this golden miles most interesting post war factories. The garden city was designated a New Town in 1946, and expansion was made to the north and north east of the town centre, for housing in Panshanger and industry in Mundells. The most striking building of this period was the Smith Kline & French HQ (1964) designed by Arup Associates, a six storey brutalist block on stilts, with a brick podium below. This block towered over the other low rise buildings of the garden city until it was pulled down in 2003. The British chemical company ICI based its headquarters in WGC from 1938, at at its peak in the mid 1960’s employed around 4000 people at its 65 acre site. The site was built in phases from 1954 to 1963, using a variety of architects; J. Douglass Mathews & Partners, E. D. Jefferiss Mathews and Ronald Salmon & Partners; all contributing to the designs. The site even included a prototype plastic bungalow, unfortunately this, like the rest of the site has been demolished. One surviving post war building is the Rank Xerox Research Centre (1988) by Nicholas Grimshaw. Designed in his usual Hi-Tech style, with exposed service pipes, the building is now a business centre with an unfortunate cladding on the frontage.
If all the buildings we have mentioned had survived, it would be a truly golden mile, a survey of industrial building from the 1920’s right through to the 1990’s, taking in international style modernism, art deco, brutalism and hi-tech. Unfortunately, there are now only a handful of survivors, trying to avoid being demolished as well. The ideal of the garden city, balanced between living and work has also been burnished with more and more people commuting to London to work. With constant talk of building new garden cities, we can only hope that any new towns will give us as rich an architectural history as the golden mile of Welwyn Garden City.
2016 sees the 70th anniversary of the 1946 New Towns Act being passed by Parliament. The wartime bombing of London led to the 1944 Greater London plan by Sir Patrick Abercrombie, which called for 8 new towns to built around London. The post war Labour Government responded by setting up the New Towns Commission, which considered how to put this into practice nationwide. The resulting legislation allowed the government to designate areas as new towns and create development corporations to oversee their building. The new towns were to have a population up to 60,000, house single families in low density housing and be created around neighbourhood centres featuring schools, shops and leisure facilities. 25 new towns were created by the act, five of them in Hertfordshire; Hatfield, Stevenage, Hemel Hempstead and the garden cities of Letchworth and Welwyn.
Stevenage was the first of the ring of new towns built around London as originally recommended by the Abercrombie plan. Despite much opposition from residents of the small pre-existing town, Lewis Silkin, the housing minister, pushed through the plans for construction. Gordon Stephenson was the town's first chief architect, and along with Peter Shepheard, produced the town plan, including what would become Britain's first pedestrianised town centre. Leonard Vincent took over as chief architect in the early 1950’s and along with assistants like L.W. Aked, Clifford Holliday, D.P. Reay and E.C. Claxton designed many of the buildings that make up Stevenage today.
Hatfield had boomed in the interwar years after the De Havilland factory opened in 1930. Architect Lionel Brett created the plan for the new town, placing it on the opposite side of the railway tracks to the old town. Brett (later Lord Esher) and his partner Kenneth Boyd, designed much of the early housing, starting in the Roe Green area. Their reputation suffered when one night in November 1957, 28 houses lost their roofs in high winds with over 60 others also suffering damage. Housing was expanded into the Oxlease estate from the end of the 1950s, with a variety of architects designing dwellings, like Basil Spence, Andrew Renton, Richard Sheppard and Fry & Drew. Maxwell Fry also oversaw the new town centre plan from 1968, an area which is currently being redeveloped
Geoffrey Jellicoe drew up the plan for Hemel Hempstead, aiming to create "not a city in a garden, but a city in a park”. He planned the new town centre around water gardens, created by the River Gade. The administrative centre of the town was designed by the firm of Clifford Culpin and Partners, featuring the town hall, magistrates court, library and a health centre. Neighbourhood centres were designed as at other new towns with housing clustered around shops, medical facilities and churches. The first to be built was Adeyfield designed by HK Ablett, with Judith Ledeboer designing Bennetts End, and the firm of Fuller, Hall & Foulsham doing the same at Grove Hill.
Ebenezer Howard's vision of garden cities had led to the established of Letchworth and Welwyn in the first part of the century, and influenced the idea of new towns. The garden cities themselves were now designated new towns, with their development corporations adding large housing estates to the established towns. Geoffrey Jellicoe planned the Grange Estate to the north of Letchworth town centre, which was built from 1947, and the Jackmans estate was built to the west in the 1960’s to plans by Associated Architects. In Welwyn, expansion occurred to the north and west of the town centre designed in the 1920’s by Louis de Soissons. His post war firm of De Soissons Peacock Hodges Robertson & Fraser designed housing and community centres at Knightsfield, Shoplands and Blythway from the mid 1950’s onwards. A decade later Oliver Carey, working for the Commission for New Towns, spearheaded the Panshanger estate that still make up the eastern edge of the town.
With new towns and garden cities still on the national agenda, it's worth remembering why they were built. These new settlements, along with Harlow,Basildon and others, were supposed to provide integrated, progressive towns for the displaced populations of central and east London who had seen their homes destroyed in the war. The plans provided space for children to play and open plan schools to learn in, neighbourhood centres were built for help these new communities integrate and factories constructed to provide work. They may not have created Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land, but they provided badly need modern places to live. To celebrate the 70th anniversary, for the remainder of 2016 we will be exploring the modernist architecture of these towns, on this blog and on our twitter @mod_in_metro and tumblr modernism-in-metroland.tumblr.com pages. We hope you enjoy it!
Leonard Vincent is one of the few architects to have a whole town as his memorial. If they are lucky most architects will have a few buildings associated with them in posterity. Other more prominent architects will have catalogues of works pored over by acolytes and critics alike. Of the garden cities of Hertfordshire, Letchworth was laid out by Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin, and Louis de Soissons will forever be associated with his work at Welwyn. As for the post war new towns of the county, the architect as supreme being ideal was subsumed by the development corporation model with responsibility allocated to many designers. However at Stevenage one man left his imprint on the town. Vincent, who replaced Gordon Stephenson as Chief Architect to the Stevenage Development Corporation (a role Erno Goldfinger applied for), designed every type of building essential to the new town, from the town square, to leisure centres, factories, warehouses, homes, tower blocks, community centres and more.
Leonard Grange Vincent was born in 1914 in Ilford, Essex. His father was a postmaster, and Leonard had two brothers. He attended Forest House school and then moved to London to train as an architect. The Second World War interrupted his studies, as Vincent joined the Eighth Army through the North Africa and Italy. After the war he completed his studies and went into private practice in Essex. He joined the Stevenage Development Corporation in 1949 as Assistant Chief Architect, and within a few years had the top job himself. One of the first and most prominent projects Vincent completed, alongside Clifford Holliday, was the new Town Centre inspired by the Lijnbaan in Rotterdam. The pedestrian town centre features covered walkways as well as a variety of public art such as the central clock tower designed by Vincent himself. It was the first traffic free town centre in Britain and set a template for pedestrianisation in town centres that is still being followed today.
Vincent also designed within the town centre area, a range of buildings in different materials; the brick Locarno Dance Hall (1961), Daneshill House, the curtained walled Development Corporation HQ, (1961) and the concrete Gordon Craig Arts Centre (1976). Across St. Georges Way from the town centre lie the Vincent designed Bowes Lyon youth centre (1964), (featuring a concrete PJ Ellis mural) and the Swim Centre (1963). Further out in Stevenage's many neighbourhood areas, Vincent designed shopping areas, public houses and community centres, as can be seen in Marymead and Broadhall. Aside from the buildings he personally designed, Vincent used his team of architects and planners like Holliday, LW Aked, DP Reay, EC Claxton and Stirling Craig to design a range of progressive buildings and infrastructure for the new residents, such as the cycle network around the town designed by Claxton. Vincent and his family lived in the corporation housing when they first moved in before Vincent designed and built a house, Medbury, in Rectory Lane in 1958, which features a cylindrical tower staircase, alongside monopitch roofs.
The Development Corporation was nearly wound up in 1962, and narrowly saved to continue their work. Vincent saw the near miss as a sign of things to come and set up in partnership with Raymond Gorbling as consultants to the corporation. They also produced buildings and designs for other local authorities like Letchworth Garden City, Luton and Ipswich. Vincent was made a CBE in 1960, and carried on working until 1979 when he reached 65. Vincent spent his retirement studying Egyptology and painting, before passing away in 2007 aged 93. Vincent's name is not among the most prominent British architects of his age, but he may be among the most influential and impactful , having designed a whole new town where his buildings are an integral part of a thriving community.
Hatfield House was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil, the Earl of Salisbury and First Minister to King James I. It is a splendid example of a Jacobean great house, and has been the stopping place of monarchs such as Mary I, Elizabeth I and Edward VI. In the shadow of this great house are a number of other great examples of domestic architecture, Hatfields post war houses. Hatfield already had one notable modernist houses before its expansion in “Torilla” by FRS Yorke, (now Grade II* listed after nearly being demolished in 1993), but its post war houses show an fascinating snapshot of British domestic architecture from 1946 to the start of the 1980’s.
Hatfield new town was created in 1946 as part of the post war New Towns Act designed to create a number of new urban centres for those affected by the Blitz. The masterplan for the town was overseen by the architect Lionel Brett (later Lord Esher), which expanded on the Hertfordshire town which had been the centre of the De Havilland aerospace industry from the early 1930’s. The plan allocated 2,340 acres for expansion, with a target population of 25,000. A new town centre was placed to the west of the old town, in a slightly later separate plan by Maxwell Fry. To the south of the new town centre, a large area was designated for new housing, which was filled over the next 20 years by a host of famous post war architects, with Brett & Boyd, Stillman & Eastwick-Field, Maxwell Fry & Jane Drew, Sir Basil Spence and Tayler & Green all designing housing in Hatfield New Town.
Lionel Brett and his partner Kenneth Boyd designed the first section of housing in the Roe Green area, consisting mainly of terraced houses with some low rise flats. Other architects that designed housing in this area included William Crabtree and Richard Sheppard. Brett and Boyd also designed the first private house in the new town at 11 Cranborne Road (1954). In design terms their houses have an open plan ground floor with a kitchen/diner in one half and a living room in the other. The national shortage of bricks forced Brett and Boyd to use only the party walls as load bearing, with the front and back being merely lightweight insulated walls. Boyd also designed a number of long curving terraces along Bishops Rise and Hazel Grove (1957). Unfortunately for Brett and Boyd a number of housing problems damaged their reputation, not least when on the nights of 3rd and 4th November 1957, over 90 houses were damaged in high winds, including 28 who lost their roofs completely.
Further to the southeast, the Oxlease estate begun in 1957 featured a range of housing by numerous famous post war architects. Sir Basil Spence designed houses in Woods Avenue and Briars Lane (1959) featuring tile hanging and ironwork balconies. Spence’s assistant Andrew Renton produced a number of detached houses in Larks Rise and Bishops Rise (1961), near Boyd’s terraces. The partnership of Stillman and Eastwick-Field produced a terrace of houses with split pitched roofs in Deerswood Avenue (1958). Maxwell Fry and wife Jane Drew designed a number of mono pitched terrace rows off Oxlease Drive (from 1957), similar to their work in Harlow, as well as White Lion House overlooking Fry’s town centre plan. The partnership of Tayler and Green, renowned for the social housing work in Norfolk, produced 234 houses and 96 apartments in between Northdown and Southdown Roads (1965), including eye catching studio flats on stilts. The new town also featured a few tower blocks, such as Goldings House, a 14 storey point block designed by Woodroffe Buchanan and Coulter, who also designed the surrounding streets of houses and maisonettes.
However the most interesting post war housing in Hatfield is the Cockaigne development along The Ryde (1963) in the north of the town. Designed by the firm of Phippen, Randall and Parkes, these one storey houses were built as part of a cooperative housing scheme founded by Michael Baily, Shipping correspondent of The Times. The design of the houses took the form of courtyard houses with open plan interiors. They were fitted with sliding, folding wood doors inside allowing rooms to be created at will. The estate was Grade II listed in 1998.
As the years went on the responsibility for Hatfields development was passed from the Hatfield Development Corporation to the the Commission for New Towns and then to Welwyn Hatfield Council. Later developments did not match the high water mark produced at The Ryde, but interesting housing was built at Crop Common by Lewis and George in the late 1970’s and Redhall Close by David Irving in the early 1980’s. The post war houses of Hatfield are not as spectacular as those found in Hampstead and Highgate or as forward looking as some of those in Milton Keynes, but do show an interesting variation and great examples of some of Britain's post war domestic architectural work.
This is an amended version of an article published in The Modernist issue 11 "Domestic" July 2014.