Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, UK Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, UK

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The Howard Shopping Centre, Welwyn Garden City.

Welwyn Garden City might seem like a New Town (towns which were built after the Second World War to help solve the housing problems caused by the Blitz) but it dates from two decades earlier than the New Towns and was one of the two Garden Cities that were the inspiration for New Towns. Despite the name of 'city', it is a town; the 2001 census records the population as 98,000, and the name comes from the village of Welwyn, a few miles away to the north. It is located in Hertfordshire between Hatfield and Stevenage, to the east of the A1(M). The town can also be reached by rail from Kings Cross and Moorgate1 stations in London. It is a terminus for slow trains, but it is also served by through trains to other destinations, which can make journey times quite fast.

Town Development

Welwyn Garden City was developed in the 1920s by Sir Ebenezer Howard, and is his (and Britain's) second Garden City - the first is Letchworth. The streets are tree-lined and laid out among parkland, and the town centre was designed in a neo-Georgian style. A modern shopping centre with more than 50 shops opened in the town in 1990. The idea of a Garden City is that it brings together the economic and cultural advantages of both city and country living: a self-contained community living within green belt or agricultural land to discourage the city from sprawling into the surrounding areas, its size planned in advance, and limited. The idea for the city was to ease the overcrowded areas of London and bring together industry and pleasant living conditions. These ideas have had an effect on modern town planning.

Local History

Despite being less than a century old, it does have some history. Roman baths were excavated before the A1(M) was built and are preserved in a steel vault in an embankment under the road. The area was being dug by archaeologists in the 1960s when a local archaeologist found some Roman tiles in the bank of the river. The Welwyn Archaeological Society was formed and the baths were uncovered over the next ten years. The archaeologists left the site for the winter, and on their return found a white marker in the middle of the site. The A1(M) was coming - straight through the middle of the dig.

They lobbied hard for the site to be saved, and eventually a solution was found. A tubular steel vault with a corrugated roof was constructed around the bath house to protect it, and the motorway was constructed right across the top, 30 feet above the vault. The bath house was once part of a 3rd Century Roman villa called Dicket Mead. It has not been fully excavated, but it had at least four buildings. The layout of the baths is preserved, with the cold, warm and hot rooms, and the under-floor hypocaust heating system.

The baths are only open during school holidays, bank holidays and weekends on afternoons only. Visits may be arranged during term-time if there is a school visit on the premises; contact the museum for details.

Nature Reserves

The River Lea passes the town to the south, on its way to Hertford, and flows through 126 acres of parkland known as Stanborough Park. The park has two large, manmade lakes, one for boating and the other for water-sports such as sailing and windsurfing. The area supports many wild bird species, and the nearby Stanborough Reed Marsh Reserve is managed by the local wildlife trust.

Claims to Fame

  • Nick Faldo learnt to play golf on the town's golf courses.

  • The BBC production Superstars (1976 - 83) was filmed here.

  • The town is home to many well known businesses; to name a few, Tesco, Xerox and Roche have Head Offices here. Shredded Wheat is made in the town, and fills the air with its cooking smells.

1Except at weekends, when all services start from King's Cross.

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