Letchworth Garden City
Letchworth Town Hall - geograph.org.uk - 106326.jpg
(c) Robin Hall, CC BY-SA 2.0

Letchworth Town Hall
Letchworth Garden City is located in Hertfordshire
Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right, CC BY-SA 3.0
Letchworth Garden City
Letchworth Garden City
Location within Hertfordshire
Population33,249 (2011 census)
OS grid referenceTL215325
  • North Hertfordshire
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townLetchworth Garden City
Postcode districtSG6
Dialling code01462
AmbulanceEast of England
UK Parliament
  • North East Hertfordshire

Letchworth Garden City, commonly known as Letchworth, is a town in Hertfordshire, England, noted for being the first garden city. The population at the time of the 2011 census was 33,249.[1] The town lies on the Bedfordshire border and is the administrative headquarters of North Hertfordshire.[2]

Letchworth was an ancient parish, appearing in the Domesday Book of 1086.[3] It remained a small rural village until the start of the twentieth century. The development of the modern town began in 1903, when much of the land in Letchworth and the neighbouring parishes of Willian and Norton was purchased by a company called First Garden City Limited, founded by Ebenezer Howard and his followers with the aim of building the first "Garden City", following the principles Howard had set out in his 1898 book, "To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform". The aim was to create an alternative to the industrial city by combining the best of town and country living.[4]

The town's initial layout was designed by Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker.[5] It includes the United Kingdom's first roundabout, Sollershott Circus, which was built c. 1909.[6][7]

As the world's first garden city, Letchworth has had great influence on town planning and the new towns movement; it influenced Welwyn Garden City, which used a similar approach, and inspired other projects around the world including the Australian capital Canberra, Hellerau in Germany, Tapiola in Finland and Mežaparks in Latvia.[8] There is an account of Lenin having possibly visited the town in 1907 when he visited England for a congress of the Russian Bolshevik party, then banned in Russia.[9][10]


Before the Garden City: Old Letchworth

St Mary's Church, Letchworth

The area now occupied by Letchworth has been inhabited since prehistoric times. A late Bronze Age hill fort, thought to date from c. 700 BC, stood on Wilbury Hill, beside the ancient road of Icknield Way. The hill fort was refortified c. 400 BC in the Middle Iron Age, and appears to have been occupied until the Roman conquest of Britain.[11] Evidence for Bronze Age, Romano-British and late Iron Age settlement has also been found in the fields between Norton village and the A1.[12]

By the time of the Norman Conquest, Letchworth was established as a village. The name is derived from the Old English "lycce weorth", meaning a farm inside a fence or enclosure.[13] It appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as "Leceworde", when it was described as having nine households of villagers, four cottagers, one slave and one priest. The presence of the priest suggests that Letchworth was by that time a parish.[3] Letchworth's parish church was built in the 12th century, but likely on the site of an earlier building. The original dedication of the church is unknown, but it was rededicated to St Mary during the First World War.[14][15] The village was along the road now called Letchworth Lane, stretching from St Mary's and the adjoining medieval manor house of Letchworth Hall (a hotel since 1904) up to the staggered crossroads of Letchworth Lane, Hitchin Road, Baldock Road and Spring Road.[16] Letchworth was a relatively small parish, having a population in 1801 of 67, rising to 96 by 1901.[17]

The early days of the Garden City

Howard's depiction of the choice of town design as a contest between three magnets (select image for transcript)

In 1898, the social reformer Ebenezer Howard wrote a book entitled To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (later republished in 1902 as Garden Cities of To-morrow), in which he advocated the construction of a new kind of town, summed up in a diagram called "The Three Magnets", showing how the mixed advantages and disadvantages of town or country living could be combined into a third option, labelled "Town-Country", offering the advantages of both cities and the countryside while eliminating their disadvantages. Industry would be kept separate from residential areas—such zoning was a new idea at the time—and trees and open spaces would prevail everywhere. According to the book the term "garden city" derived from the image of a city being in a belt of open countryside, which would contribute significantly to food production for the population. Howard saw this surrounding band of countryside an integral part of the garden city concept, providing land not just for agriculture, but also for children's homes, asylums, new forests and brickfields. The agricultural belt formed part of the total land area that needed to be purchased in order to deliver the garden city as a whole. Echoes of this idea of a protected rural belt were later taken up more generally in town planning in Britain from the mid-twentieth century as the Green Belt.[18][19]

The concept outlined in the book is not simply one of urban planning, but also incorporated a system of community management. Howard proposed that the Garden City project would be financed through a system he called "Rate-Rent", which combined financing for community services (rates) with a return for those who had invested in the development of the city (rent). The 1898 edition of Howard's book included a diagram (omitted from the 1902 edition) called "The Vanishing Point of Landlord's Rent", illustrating how as the town matured the money originally borrowed would be repaid and the amount available to spend for the benefit of the town would increase. The book also advocated a rudimentary form of competitive tendering, whereby the municipality would purchase services, such as water, fuel, waste disposal, etc., from (often local) commercial providers. These systems were never fully implemented in Letchworth, nor in the later Welwyn Garden City or their numerous imitators.[19] Howard's ideas were mocked in some sections of the press but struck a chord with many, especially members of the Arts and Crafts movement and the Quakers.[20]

After examining several possible locations for establishing a garden city, the garden city pioneers settled on Letchworth as the chosen site. The Letchworth Hall estate had come up for sale, and whilst it alone was too small, secret negotiations with fourteen adjoining landowners allowed an estate of 3,818 acres (1,545 hectares) to be assembled and purchased for £155,587. A company called First Garden City Limited was established on 1 September 1903 to purchase the land and begin building the garden city.[19]

A competition was held to find a town design which could translate Howard's ideas into reality. The winning layout was prepared by Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker. The company adopted the layout plan on 11 February 1904, and the following month Unwin and Parker were appointed as consulting architects. In keeping with the garden concept, most of the pre-existing trees and hedgerows were preserved in the layout. Unwin took the alignment of the town's main avenue (Broadway) from three old oak trees which stood on the central plateau of the estate and were incorporated into the central square (Broadway Gardens).[21][22]

A temporary railway halt was built in 1903 on the Great Northern Railway's Hitchin, Royston and Cambridge branch line, which crosses the middle of the Garden City estate. Initially services were irregular special trains for excursions and construction workers. A more substantial (but still temporary) wooden station was opened in 1905 with a regular passenger service. The current railway station was built in 1912 a little to the east of the wooden station, in a prominent location at the end of Broadway, the town's main avenue.[23]

The first new houses were occupied in July 1904. The following month First Garden City Limited held a vote amongst shareholders and residents on what name the new garden city should take. Several options were proposed, including "Garden City", "Homeworth" and "Alseopolis". The chosen name was "Letchworth (Garden City)".[24] The company adopted this as its name for the town, but adoption of the name was not universal. The legal name of the civil parish and (after 1919) urban district remained simply "Letchworth". First Garden City Limited also gradually dropped the "(Garden City)" suffix from the name, partly reflecting common usage, and partly taking the view that as the town matured it should not permanently be seen as an experiment. Similarly, the town's railway station was initially called "Letchworth (Garden City)", but was renamed "Letchworth" in 1937.[25]

Mrs Howard Memorial Hall, opened 1906

Ebenezer Howard's wife, Lizzie (Eliza Ann Bills), died in November 1904 in London, shortly before she had been due to move to a new house on Norton Way South in Letchworth with her husband. As a memorial to her a public hall was built, paid for by public subscriptions. The Mrs Howard Memorial Hall opened in 1906 and was one of the town's first public buildings.[26]

In 1905, and again in 1907, the company held "Cheap Cottages Exhibitions", which were contests for architects and builders to demonstrate innovations in inexpensive housing. The 1905 exhibition attracted some 60,000 visitors. The exhibitions had a significant effect on planning and urban design in the UK, pioneering and popularising such concepts as pre-fabrication, the use of new building materials, and front and back gardens. The popularity of the exhibitions was significant in leading the Daily Mail to launch the Ideal Home Exhibition (which later became the Ideal Home Show), in 1908.[27][28] One possible visitor to the fledgling town was Lenin, who was reputed to have visited during May 1907 whilst attending the Fifth Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in London. Contemporary evidence confirming the visit is lacking, but the claim was published in the Daily Mail and the Daily Sketch in November 1916 as part of articles accusing the town of being a haven for communists and conscientious objectors—claims which the town denied.[10][29][30]

Howgills, the Quakers' Meeting House of 1907

For the first few years the new town's Anglicans had to travel out to the old parish churches at Letchworth village, Willian or Norton on the edges of the estate. Many of the town's pioneers had non-conformist leanings, in keeping with the radical spirit of the early town. The first new place of worship to be built was the Free Church, built in 1905 (later rebuilt in 1923). It was followed in 1907 by 'Howgills', the Meeting House for the Society of Friends.[31]

The Skittles Inn, opened 1907. Became "The Settlement", an adult education centre, in 1925.[32]

Letchworth's founding citizens, attracted by the promise of a better life, were often caricatured by outsiders as idealistic and otherworldly. John Betjeman in his poems Group Life: Letchworth and Huxley Hall painted Letchworth people as earnest health freaks. One commonly-cited example of this is the ban, most unusual for a British town, on selling alcohol in public premises. This was initially decided by a public vote in June 1907, in which 54% voted against allowing a licensed public house. This did not stop the town having a "pub" however – the Skittles Inn or the "pub with no beer" which opened in March 1907.[33][34]

Despite the ban it is not entirely true to say that there were no pubs in the Garden City. Pubs that had existed from before the foundation of the Garden City—including the Three Horseshoes in Norton, and the Three Horseshoes and the Fox in Willian—continued to operate (as they do to this day), and undoubtedly benefited from the lack of alcohol to be had in the centre of the town, as did the pubs in neighbouring Hitchin and Baldock. New inns also sprang up on the borders of the town, one such example being the Wilbury Hotel which opened in 1940 just outside the town's border.[35] The ban was finally lifted after a referendum in 1957, which led to the opening of the Broadway Hotel in 1962 as the first public house in the centre of the Garden City. Several other public houses have opened since then, but to this day the town centre has only about half-a-dozen pubs, a remarkably low number for a town of its size.[36]


(c) Ruth Sharville, CC BY-SA 2.0
The Spirella Building

One of the most prominent industries to arrive in the town in the early years was the manufacture of corsets; the Spirella Company, an American business, founded its British subsidiary in the town in 1910. In 1912 they built the first phase of a large factory, the Spirella Building, designed by Cecil Hignett in the Arts and Crafts style. It was completed in 1920. The building's prominence in the town led to it being nicknamed "Castle Corset". During the Second World War, the factory was also involved in producing parachutes and decoding machinery. Because corsets fell out of fashion, the factory closed in the 1980s, and was eventually refurbished and converted into offices.[37]

The town attracted and developed a diverse range of industries. Other significant early businesses included:

  • J. M. Dent and Son, publishing house, moved to Letchworth from London in 1907.[38]
  • Kryn & Lahy Steel Foundry founded in 1915 by Belgian refugees, and which was a target for German bombers in World War II.[39]
  • Irvin Great Britain, a parachute factory established in the town in 1926 as the British subsidiary of an American company.[40][41]
  • Shelvoke and Drewry, a manufacturer of dustcarts and fire engines which was founded in the town in 1922 and traded until 1991.[42][43]
  • Westinghouse Morse Chain Company, making parts for engines, set up in Letchworth in 1920, later becoming part of Borg-Warner after the Second World War.[44]

The biggest employer for a number of years was the British Tabulating Machine Company, which moved from London to Letchworth in 1920. In 1958 it merged with Powers-Samas to become International Computers and Tabulators (ICT) and finally became part of International Computers Limited (ICL) in 1969. At one time the "Tab", as it was known, occupied over 30 factories in Icknield Way, Works Road and finally in Blackhorse Road. Upon building the new ICL building, evidence for extensive Neolithic and Iron Age occupation was found, the excavation being carried out by John Moss-Eccardt of Letchworth Museum & Art Gallery. Some of the artefacts are now on display in North Hertfordshire Museum, in Hitchin. In the Second World War, a number of early computers were built in what became known as the ICL 1.1 plant.[45]

During the 1970s and 1980s many of the town's large manufacturing businesses closed. The Kryn and Lahy Steel Foundry closed in 1979.[46] Spirella and ICL both closed their factories in 1989. Borg-Warner also closed its factory during this period. The town went through a period of relatively high unemployment in the early 1980s. Some of the vacated factory sites were redeveloped as business parks and serviced offices, and the town's economy shifted away from a small number of large manufacturing businesses to a large number of smaller office-based businesses.[47]


217 Icknield Way: Winner of best £150 cottage competition at the 1905 Cheap Cottages Exhibition.[48]

Early housing development in Letchworth largely followed Unwin and Parker's masterplan. Much of the town's early development was contained between two pre-garden city east-west roads across the estate: Norton Road / Wilbury Road in the north and Hitchin Road / Baldock Road in the south (which became the A601 when roads were numbered in 1923, and was reclassified as the A505 in 1935). The first houses built after the founding of the garden city were a group of six houses called "Alpha Cottages" at 22–32 Baldock Road, where the first residents moved in during July 1904.[49] The Cheap Cottages Exhibitions of 1905 and 1907 saw many individually-designed and often experimental homes built. The 1905 exhibition was mostly held in the area between the railway and Norton Common, along a road called Exhibition Road (later renamed Nevells Road) and the adjoining roads. The 1907 exhibition was mostly to the south of the town in the area around Lytton Avenue and Souberie Avenue.[50][51]

Prior to the First World War much of the town's other housing development was to the north-east and east of the nascent town centre, within walking distance of, but separated from, the main industrial area on the eastern edge of the town. To the north-east of the town was an area which had been known as Glebe Fields, stretching up to the edge of Norton village. This area was developed from 1905 onwards, mostly with modest workers' cottages, with the focal point for the new community here being Common View and Cromwell Green, which were laid out in 1907. To the east of the town centre was another area of modest housing around Hillshott, Rushby Mead and Ridge Road, laid out between 1906 and 1914. Much of this area was built by the Howard Cottage Society in an informal Arts and Crafts style, with many of the houses being finished with cream painted rough-cast render, green doors and drainpipes, and red clay-tiled roofs. To the south-west of the town centre was an area of larger individually-designed houses along Broadway and Sollershott towards Letchworth village, which were mostly built for the upper middle classes and were furthest away from the industrial area.[51]

In the interwar period housing was built to the east of the town in the Pixmore area (taking its name from the moor of the Pix Brook, the main watercourse in the town), the Westbury area to the west of the town, and the Wilbury area to the north-west of the town along Bedford Road, taking its name from the Bronze Age hill fort.[52]

After the Second World War the focus for new development was on large council estates. To the north of the town work began on the Grange estate in 1947. The estate included its own primary schools, recreation ground, public house and a neighbourhood shopping centre on Southfields. The land for the estate was compulsorily purchased from First Garden City Limited by Letchworth Urban District Council.[53][54]

In 1959 an area to the south-east of the town was also compulsorily purchased by Letchworth Urban District Council from First Garden City Limited, with funding provided by London County Council as the area was to accommodate London overspill. This became the Jackmans estate, taking its name from an old wood called Jackmans Plantation which had already lent its name to the nearby street of Jackmans Place, built in the 1920s.[55][56] The Jackmans estate was developed on the "Radburn principle" which had been pioneered in Radburn, New Jersey, a town which was itself inspired by the garden city movement. The main road on the Jackmans estate is called Radburn Way in acknowledgement of its inspiration. The idea was to minimise the impact of traffic by having houses face onto pedestrian-only green lanes and open spaces, with parking and servicing provided in garage courts behind the houses. The estate included two primary schools, a secondary school called Willian School (this area had been in Willian parish prior to boundary changes in 1908), and a neighbourhood centre at Ivel Court with shops, a community centre, a public house and a library.[57] In some cases the housing on the Jackmans estate varied in quality as—perhaps harking back to the Cheap Cottages Exhibition 60 years before—various different construction methods were tried, including the pre-fabrication of some houses at a shipyard in Sunderland. This resulted in dwellings with relatively generous internal space, influenced by the Parker Morris standards, but of variable build quality. Other parts of the estate used more traditional construction methods.[58] Over time, increased mobility and changing age profiles reduced the need for the Jackmans estate to have its own facilities. The shops and community centre remain, but Willian secondary school closed in 1991, the public house (initially called the Carousel, later the Gatehouse, finally the Sportsman) closed in 1998, and the public library closed in 2006. By 2007 the two primary schools on the estate were both running at under 50% capacity, and so the county council closed Lannock, the smaller of the two, in July 2009. The other, Radburn primary school, remained open but was renamed the Garden City Academy in 2012.[59][60][61][62]

Private housing resumed more slowly after the Second World War, partly due to the tight controls on building materials and licences which were imposed and remained in force until 1954.[63] As these restrictions eased work was able to resume on developments which had been started before the war but halted for the duration, such as the area around Bowershott, to the south of the town. Nearby, Howard Drive and the adjoining streets were built through the 1950s and 1960s. This area south of the town was significantly enlarged by the Lordship estate, begun in 1971, which took its name from the old farm in Willian to which the fields had belonged. The Lordship estate included a small parade of shops and a primary school. The nearby Manor Park Estate, to the south-west of the town adjoining Letchworth village, was also begun in 1971. Following the completion of these developments in the 1980s, most new housing in the town has been on previously-developed land, as sites vacated by closed schools and businesses have been redeveloped.[64][65]

Letchworth today

First Garden City Heritage Museum, Letchworth

A hostile takeover of First Garden City Limited in 1960 led to the creation of a public body, the Letchworth Garden City Corporation, which took over the estate in 1963 to protect the original ethos of the garden city. The corporation was in turn replaced by the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation in 1995. The garden city estate eventually started yielding a surplus which could be used for the benefit of the town in 1973.[66] This led to investment in a number of town amenities: a working farm tourist attraction opened at Standalone Farm in 1980, the North Herts Leisure Centre and Plinston Hall theatre opened in 1982, and a free hospital (the Ernest Gardiner Day Hospital) opened in 1984.[67] The Broadway cinema was extensively refurbished in 1996, and the Heritage Foundation has also supported several projects to enhance the town centre.[68]

On 1 October 1995, the 'Foundation day' event took place, marking the handover of the estate from the Letchworth Garden City Corporation to the new Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation. Markets and stalls ran throughout the day, whilst a fun fair was erected in Norton Common, where tribute bands performed and a fireworks display was held.[69]

As the town approached its centenary, there was a campaign to change the name officially from Letchworth to "Letchworth Garden City", this time without the parentheses of the 1904 version of the name. Proponents of the change argued that as the later Welwyn Garden City incorporated the "Garden City" within its official name, so too should the first garden city at Letchworth. (The reason that the full name Welwyn Garden City had stuck for the second garden city was to distinguish it from nearby Welwyn which remained a separate village, unlike Letchworth village which had been subsumed within the first garden city.) The Letchworth campaign was successful, with the name of the railway station being changed in 1999 and the SG6 post town changing from Letchworth to Letchworth Garden City in 2003, the town's centenary year.[25]

The Heritage Foundation marked the town's centenary in 2003 by building a landscaped path for walkers and cyclists. The path, known as the Greenway, forms a 13.6-mile (21.9 km) loop around the town.[70]

In 2011 and again in 2012 a George Orwell Festival was held in Letchworth and Wallington, the nearby village where George Orwell lived from 1936 until 1940 and then intermittently until 1947. Whilst living at Wallington he wrote works including Homage to Catalonia and The Road to Wigan Pier, and the village matches the description of the fictitious "Willingdon" where he set Animal Farm, which he may also have written in Wallington.[71][72][73]


In addition to the usual local government bodies, Letchworth is unique in having a private charity, the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, which is responsible for the management of many aspects of the town (or the "Garden City estate"), having some planning and grant-making functions similar to those normally associated with elected public authorities. These functions derive from the Heritage Foundation's ownership of the estate and do not replace the usual local authority functions and responsibilities, but operate in addition to them.[74]

Local government

Letchworth was an ancient parish in the hundred of Broadwater. The parish also had a detached portion at Burleigh Farm, between Langley and Knebworth, some 6 miles (9.7 km) to the south of the rest of the parish.[75]

The parish of Letchworth was included in the Hitchin Poor Law Union from 1835.[76] Under the Local Government Act 1894, the parish became part of the Hitchin Rural District. The 1894 Act also created parish councils, but Letchworth's population was below the threshold to be given one, and so it only had a parish meeting.[77]

Following the commencement of work on Letchworth Garden City in 1903, the area purchased for the new town straddled the parishes of Letchworth, Willian and Norton. An unofficial "Residents' Union" or "Residents' Council" for the town was established in June 1905.[78]

Letchworth Parish Council (1908–1919)

The civil parish of Letchworth was substantially enlarged on 1 April 1908 to take over all of Norton parish, which was abolished, and the northern part of Willian parish. The detached part of Letchworth parish at Burleigh Farm was transferred to Knebworth at the same time. A parish council was established to administer the enlarged Letchworth parish, which remained part of the Hitchin Rural District. The first election to the new parish council was held on 6 April 1908. Sir John Gorst, a barrister and former Conservative Member of Parliament, was elected the first chairman of the parish council.[79][80][81]

Letchworth Urban District Council (1919–1974)

Urban District
Letchworth Urban District Council coat of arms.jpg
Coat of arms
 • 192110,302
 • 197129,760[82]
 • Created1 April 1919
 • Abolished31 March 1974
 • Succeeded byNorth Hertfordshire
 • HQLetchworth
Contained within
 • County CouncilHertfordshire

On 1 April 1919 the parish of Letchworth was made an urban district, removing the parish from the Hitchin Rural District.[83] Letchworth Urban District Council was formed to replace the parish council, as well as taking over district-level responsibilities from the Hitchin Rural District Council. The first election to the urban district council was held on 9 April 1919. Fifteen councillors were elected – nine "all party", four Labour, and two independent. The first chairman of the urban district council was Charles Ball, a Conservative, who had been the chairman of the parish council since 1916. Seats were hotly contested in the early years, but by 1925 turnout at elections had settled down to less than 50%.[84][85]

In the early years, the urban district council met at the Mrs Howard Memorial Hall, whilst administrative office functions were carried out at Broadway Chambers, part of the same building as First Garden City Limited's estate office.[86][87] In 1935 the council built Letchworth Town Hall on Broadway to act as its meeting place and offices. The building stands in a prominent position overlooking Broadway Gardens in the centre of the town. The building was initially called "Council House", changing its name to "Town Hall" in 1960.[88][89] The urban district was enlarged on 1 April 1935, absorbing Willian parish, which was abolished (having already ceded part of its former territory to Letchworth in 1908). Smaller areas were transferred to Letchworth Urban District at the same time from the neighbouring parishes of Graveley, Great Wymondley, Little Wymondley, and Weston.[90]

The council was granted a coat of arms on 11 December 1944.[91]

Letchworth Urban District Council, and particularly its town clerk, Horace Plinston, played a pivotal role in the battle for control of the garden city estate in the early 1960s. The council galvanised support for legislation creating the Letchworth Garden City Corporation to take over the assets of First Garden City Limited, which had been acquired by a property company and was considered to be at high risk of asset stripping.[92]

Over the course of its existence, the urban district council built nearly 5,000 homes in the town.[93]

North Hertfordshire District Council (1974–present)

Along with all other urban and rural districts in England, the Letchworth Urban District was abolished by the Local Government Act 1972. It merged with the urban districts of Hitchin, Baldock and Royston and the Hitchin Rural District to become the new district of North Hertfordshire on 1 April 1974.[94] With over 30% of the population of the new district, Letchworth was too large to be given a successor parish, and so it became an unparished area, governed directly by North Hertfordshire District Council, with higher-order services being provided by Hertfordshire County Council.[95]

North Hertfordshire District Council inherited five sets of offices from the predecessor authorities across four different towns. In 1975, the year after the new council's creation, it consolidated most of its functions into a six-storey building on Gernon Road in Letchworth, which had been built as part of the Central Area (later Garden Square) Shopping Centre redevelopment. This was named Council Offices.[96][97][98]

Letchworth Garden City Council (2005–2013)

The new two-tier arrangement stayed in place until 2005. During 2003 a petition was organised by a group of people dissatisfied with how the town was being managed by the Heritage Foundation, proposing that a parish council should be established for the town.[99] North Hertfordshire District Council then held a postal ballot on the issue in December 2003. On a turnout of 33%, there was a majority of 62% in favour, representing 21% of the electorate as a whole. It was later claimed by opponents of the new council that many in the town had been unaware of this ballot.[100] The necessary order was made in December 2004 and a new civil parish called "Letchworth Garden City" came into being on 1 April 2005. The new parish council was officially "Letchworth Garden City Town Council", but chose to style itself "Letchworth Garden City Council", omitting the "Town" for simplicity.[101]

At the first elections to the town council all 24 seats were won by independent candidates. In August 2007 the town council's chairman, Philip Ross, adopted the title of mayor, as was the usual practice for a chairman of a town council.[102]

The creation of Letchworth Garden City Council did not change the legal status or role of the Heritage Foundation. The town council tried to use its position to stimulate a debate about how the Heritage Foundation and the town more generally should be managed. Others felt that the town council itself was an unnecessary layer of administration, in particular criticising the growing amount of money it was adding to council tax bills. For the 2008/2009 tax year the council increased its precept (the amount added to council tax bills) by 307% compared to 2007/2008. This compared to a 4.5% increase by North Hertfordshire District Council.[103][104] The opposing views about both the Heritage Foundation and the town council were put to a poll in April 2008, which asked two questions. One was "Should Letchworth Garden City Council be dissolved?", which resulted in over 76% of respondents voting in favour of its abolition on a turnout of 15.6%. The other question on the poll was on whether the board of the Heritage Foundation should be directly elected, which was supported by 65% on the same turnout. The Heritage Foundation took legal action trying declare the second question invalid, but was unsuccessful.[105][106]

Opponents of the town council organised themselves into a group called "Help Eliminate Letchworth Parish Council" (HELP).[107] At the June 2009 election, all seats on the council were contested by candidates from both HELP and the "Town Council Supporters". HELP won 22 of the 24 seats and then began the process of trying to get the council formally abolished.[108] Among those to lose their seats in 2009 was the mayor, Philip Ross. The incoming council chairman, George Ritchie, announced at the first meeting of the newly elected council on 17 June 2009 that he would use the title chairman rather than mayor. As such, Letchworth had a mayor for less than two years.[109]

Shortly before the 2009 election, the council had petitioned the College of Arms for a coat of arms, having found they were unable to use the former coat of arms of Letchworth Urban District Council. The incoming council was unaware of this application and, in the absence of any request to stop the process, the college issued the council's new arms in May 2010, which include the three magnets from Ebenezer Howard's diagram on a green background, and a black squirrel.[110]

The process of abolishing the town council took over three years, including legal action being taken and public consultation. On 22 November 2012, North Hertfordshire District Council voted unanimously to abolish the council. The parish of Letchworth Garden City and its town council were dissolved on 31 March 2013.[111][112] Since 2013 the town has therefore once again been an unparished area, directly administered by North Hertfordshire District Council, as it had been between 1974 and 2005.[113]

Management of the Garden City estate

The current arrangements have evolved from one of Letchworth Garden City's founding principles which, unlike any other British attempt at new town design, was that the profits from the town should be used for the benefit of the residents.[114]

First Garden City Limited (1903–1962)

Estate Office, Broadway: First Garden City Limited's offices, built in 1913.

First Garden City Limited was founded in 1903 with the objectives of purchasing the land, overseeing the development of the town and managing it on behalf of the community. Once the garden city was substantially complete it was envisaged that the estate would be transferred to a public body which would manage it on behalf of and for the benefit of the community. Prior to the formation of the company, the garden city pioneers had envisaged that this process would take seven years, but "when the company was formed... this period of seven years was omitted."[115] The company's original articles of association limited the amount of return it would pay to its shareholders to no more than 5% per annum, and committed to reinvest the rest of its profits to develop the town and ultimately for the benefit of the residents. This commitment made it a very unusual company, but it was otherwise legally an ordinary joint stock company, owned by its shareholders.[116][117]

Until the Second World War, First Garden City Limited largely ran the emerging town, leasing plots to citizens for building houses, to companies for developing businesses, to farmers for growing crops, and so on. Where the law dictated that approval from the local authority was required, First Garden City Limited developed close working relationships with the Hitchin Rural District Council and (after 1919) Letchworth Urban District Council which ensured that such approvals were given when the company requested them. The company's layout plan was not underpinned by any statutory town planning role, but was instead a statement of intent from a private landowning company laying out its land as it wished.[118]

The relationship between the company and the council began to change after the Second World War. Nationally, the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 gave councils a far greater responsibility for town planning in their areas, introducing the general requirement for planning permission to develop land, and transferring all development value arising from the grant of planning permission to the state through the levying of a development charge.[119] The company's role in providing local utilities also changed, with its electricity services being nationalised in 1948 and gas services in 1949.[120][121] Meanwhile, the Companies Act 1948 created a simpler mechanism for companies to change their articles of association. In September 1949 the company took advantage of this new mechanism and changed its articles of association. Whereas the 1903 articles had indicated that when the company was wound up any surplus would be applied for the benefit of the town, the 1949 version of the articles indicated instead that the benefit to the town was to be only 10% of any surplus, with the rest to be distributed among the shareholders of the company.[122][123]

The government's repeal of the development charge in 1953 restored the future development value of the estate to the company, but nevertheless the amount of surplus likely to pass to the town was further eroded through the 1950s. In 1956 limits on dividends to shareholders were removed, with the company chairman, Sir Eric MacFadyen declaring that "there is no binding obligation to carry out the original policy". By 1959 the dividends being paid represented a 23% return for shareholders on the original capital.[124][125]

In December 1960 a company called Hotel York Limited acquired a controlling interest in First Garden City Limited. Hotel York's chairman, Amy Rose (née Charles), became managing director of First Garden City Limited in January 1961.[126][127] Hotel York Limited had been founded in 1906 and had previously owned and run hotels in London, including the Berners Hotel. The Rose family had taken control of Hotel York in 1957, and by 1960 all its properties had been sold, leaving the company with large reserves of cash. The town feared that such asset stripping might now happen to Letchworth, and the likelihood of the town gaining the financial benefit that Howard and the pioneers had originally envisaged was rapidly decreasing.[128] Initial assurances from Mrs Rose about maintaining the integrity of the estate did not last long. During 1961 First Garden City Limited started auctioning freeholds of parts of the estate and the company proposed to the county council that much of the estate's agricultural belt could be developed, allowing the town to grow to 60,000 people rather than the 32,000 which had originally been envisaged.[129]

Letchworth Garden City Corporation (1963–1995)

In response to these actions of First Garden City Limited under Mrs Rose's control, the Letchworth Urban District Council began a campaign to try and restore the original ethos of the garden city to the estate. It enlisted the support of the local Member of Parliament, Martin Maddan, who sponsored a bill in Parliament which, despite much opposition from Hotel York Limited, became the Letchworth Garden City Corporation Act 1962. The act created a public body, the Letchworth Garden City Corporation. On 1 January 1963 the new corporation was to take over the garden city estate as it had existed on 20 July 1961.[130] The corporation's officers were appointed by the Crown, the county council and the urban district council.[131] As the bill progressed through parliament and it became clearer that it would succeed, the relationship between First Garden City Limited and the council descended into open hostilities. When the new corporation's management finally arrived at the Estate Office on 1 January 1963 to take over, they discovered that the building had been stripped of its furniture and stationery the day before; it took some weeks to get Mrs Rose to release them.[132][133]

Compensation had to be paid to First Garden City Limited, which continued to exist as a company after its assets were claimed by the act, effectively as a shell company controlled by Hotel York. Negotiations on the level of compensation took over three years to resolve. First Garden City Limited was finally wound up on 17 March 1966, and in July that year the company's liquidators and the corporation agreed compensation of £3,115,000.[134][135] Paying this compensation led to the Letchworth Garden City Corporation operating at a loss for its first few years, funded by loans from the urban district council. The debt was repaid in 1973 and the estate finally started to yield a profit that could be used for the benefit of the town as Howard had originally envisaged.[66]

Having recently taken over the freehold of the garden city estate, the corporation tried unsuccessfully to secure an exemption from the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, which gave long leaseholders of homes the right to acquire the freehold. A "scheme of management" was therefore introduced to allow the corporation to control changes which could be made to properties which had been acquired freehold (as well as retaining their control as landlord over land which remained leasehold). Such permissions under the scheme of management operate in addition to any requirement for planning permission from the council.[136] The scheme of management did not apply to the parts of the original garden city estate where the freehold had already been sold, notably including the Grange and Jackmans estates.[137]

Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation (1995–present)

By the 1990s the political tide had turned against "quangos" and it became policy of the then Conservative government to abolish them, wherever possible. As a result, in 1995 the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation Act 1995 replaced the public sector corporation with the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation (LGCHF) – an "industrial and provident society" registered with the Registrar of Friendly Societies with "exempt charity" status.[138]

The Heritage Foundation retains most of the former corporation's functions and responsibilities, and continues to operate the scheme of management for proposed developments on the estate. Its 2021 Strategic Plan says the organisation's vision is "to make Letchworth a great place for everyone who lives and works here".[139]

Although a private body, with a chief executive (Graham Fisher, appointed 2017) and a team of executive directors, the Heritage Foundation also has a degree of democratic accountability with the directors reporting to a board of management, which includes local authority representatives. Six of the thirty governors of the Heritage Foundation are directly elected by residents, and ten governors are nominated to be representative of various groups in the town. The other fourteen governors are appointed by the board of trustees.[140][139][141]

The original ground leases were typically written to last for 99 years.[142] Following the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 many residents took advantage of the right to acquire the freehold of their properties, although the cost of acquiring freeholds significantly increased where there was little time left on the original lease.[143] Whilst many residential properties have been sold, the Heritage Foundation remains the landlord of most of the town's industrial, office and retail premises and the surrounding agricultural belt.[144]

The Letchworth Garden City estate is therefore owned by a charity which is intended to act for the benefit of the town's residents. By holding most of the commercial buildings in the trust, the trust is able to raise income by leasing them out to businesses. In 2020 its assets were valued at £193 million. The net income is reinvested for the benefit of the community in accordance with the Heritage Foundation's charitable purposes. Such payments in 2020 totalled £6 million.[145]



Letchworth experiences an oceanic climate (Köppen climate classification Cfb) similar to almost all of the United Kingdom.

Climate data for Climate data from Letchworth
Average high °C (°F)6.7
Average low °C (°F)1.2
Average precipitation mm (inches)67.0
Average precipitation days12.19.410.
Mean monthly sunshine hours60.677.3111.7159.9193.9199.1207.1199.1143.7113.269.150.61,585.3
Source: [146]

Letchworth was struck by an F1/T2 tornado on 23 November 1981, as part of the record-breaking nationwide tornado outbreak on that day.[147]

The Garden City Greenway

The Greenway is a 13.6-mile (21.9 km) circular route that surrounds the Garden City estate. There are a variety of routes, open spaces and points of interest around the Greenway. Car parking at Radwell Meadows and Northfields Playing Field give access to disabled users and those with pushchairs as there are good sections of pathway from these access points. The Greenway received £1 million funding from the Heritage Foundation, to act as a permanent commemoration of Letchworth Garden City's first centenary in 2003.[70]

Sport and leisure

Sport has played an important part in the town's history from the very beginning, with open spaces and playing fields being incorporated into the town's layout and many of the early businesses in the town providing recreation facilities for their workers.[148]


A cricket field appeared on some of the very earliest plans for the town, and the Letchworth Garden City Cricket Club was established in 1905, within two years of the foundation of the Garden City.[149] Based for many years at Muddy Lane, the club moved to the former ICL sports field in Whitethorn Lane in 1996 as part of the Letchworth Corner Sports Club, which also hosts the town's hockey club, the Whitethorn Bowls Club and a weightlifting club.[150][151] The move allowed it to expand its junior section significantly, as has been recognised by the club being one of very few clubs in Hertfordshire to be named an ECB "Community Focus Club", following on its Clubmark accreditation (which recognises sports clubs who exhibit excellence in club organisation and have active policies relating to Equity, Child Welfare and Safety). There are five men's teams, which all compete in leagues, and several junior teams. A women's team also competed in leagues until 2014.[152][153] The growth of the club resulted in the opening of a second ground in 2006 – the restored former Fairfield Hospital cricket ground in nearby Fairfield.[154]


Road running

North Herts Road Runners (NHRR) is a Letchworth-based running club for all abilities, founded in October 1986.[155] The club competes in a winter cross-league, which it has won on a number of occasions, and a summer road race league. It hosts multiple events, including the Standalone 10K, the Greenway Challenge, the First Saturday of the Month 5K, Santa Canta and Run Round the Garden. It was awarded the prize of England Athletics Club of the Year in the Eastern Region in 2019.[156]


Freedom Tri is a triathlon club formed in 2009, based in Letchworth.[157]


Letchworth Hockey Club was founded in 1960 and is based at the Letchworth Corner Sports Club on Whitethorn Lane. It runs eleven adult teams: six men's and five women's XIs. In season 2004/2005 the Ladies' 1st XI joined the Women's National Premier League for the first time in the club's history. Despite getting relegated, Letchworth Ladies' time in the Premier League raised the profile of the club. The teams compete in the East Region Hockey Leagues. In the 2020/21 season the Men's 1st XI is in Premier A Division and the Women's 1st XI is in Division 1S. The club also has a "minis" section for boys and girls in varying age groups.[151][158]

Roller hockey

The North Herts Leisure Centre is the home of Letchworth Rink Hockey Club (formerly Letchworth Roller Hockey Club). The club competes in the National Rink Hockey Association's Division 1 in the 2021 season. The senior team were national division 1 champions in 2009.[159][160]


There are several bowls clubs in the town, including Letchworth Garden City Bowls Club (founded 1931) based on Norton Common, Willian Bowls Club (founded 1919) also based on Norton Common, Howard Garden Bowls Club (founded 1926) on Norton Way South, and Whitethorn Bowls Club (founded 1994), based at the Letchworth Corner Sports Club on Whitethorn Lane.[161]

Tennis, squash and croquet

Letchworth Sports and Tennis Club is based at Muddy Lane, having moved there in 2005 from nearby Paddock Close where the club had been founded in 1906. The Muddy Lane site had previously been occupied by the cricket and hockey clubs, whilst the tennis club's old site at Paddock Close was redeveloped with housing (Ralph Swingler Place). The club has developed Muddy Lane into a multi-sport site with indoor and outdoor tennis facilities as well as squash, gym and croquet. The club has around 1,000 members.[162]


Letchworth Garden City Croquet Club was founded in 1987 at the former Spirella tennis courts adjacent to Willian Way. Just two years later the club won the Longman Cup, the premier national handicap competition. The club moved to Muddy Lane to become part of Letchworth Sports and Tennis Club in 2006.[163]


Letchworth Golf Club was founded in 1905 with a nine-hole course in the grounds of Letchworth Hall. The course was extended in 1910 to become a 6,000-yard (5,500 m) eighteen-hole course, designed by Harry Vardon. Vardon's course was, however, considered to be a little short for modern purposes and work began to extend the course in 1999, with the extended 6,459-yard (5,906 m) par-71 course being opened in 2003.[164][165]

Another golf facility in the town is the Letchworth Par 3 Golf Centre at Willian Way, which has a nine-hole course.[166]


Swimming also had an early start in the town, with the first outdoor pool opening in 1908 in Howard Park. This was a rather basic amenity, being filled from the waters of Pix Brook and apparently it grew murkier as the summer went on. It was replaced by a lido on Norton Common in 1935, now called Letchworth Outdoor Pool. As well as a 55-yard (50 m), eight lane main pool with a large trainer pool alongside, the facility includes an extensive sun bathing area, and parking facilities.[167][168]

Letchworth Amateur Swimming Club was founded in 1934, shortly before the new outdoor pool opened. Today it provides teaching and competitive swimming for children up to the age of 19.[169]

The North Herts Leisure Centre on Baldock Road opened in July 1982 and includes an indoor leisure pool and learner pool, as well as other facilities including a sports hall, squash courts and gym facilities.[170][171]

Two other pools in the town – at the two independent schools – are also widely used by the community, including the Letchworth Adult Swimming Club.[172]

Recreation routes

The Icknield Way Path passes through the town on its 110-mile (180 km) journey from Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire to Knettishall Heath in Suffolk. The Icknield Way Trail, a multi-user route for walkers, horse riders and off-road cyclists also passes through the town.[173]

Rugby union

Letchworth Rugby Club was founded in 1924, and is based on Baldock Road. There are four men's teams, a women's team and several junior teams. In the 2021-2022 season, the men's first team is in the London 2 North West of London and South East Division, and the women's team is in the Women's NC 3 Midlands (Central) league.[174]


The town's football club is Letchworth Garden City Eagles, based at Pixmore Pitches on Baldock Road. Letchworth's previous semi-professional club, Letchworth Football Club (the "Bluebirds"), went out of business in 2002, after nearly a century of struggle and repeated name changes. That club's Baldock Road ground had also become the headquarters of the Hertfordshire Football Association in 1999, just three years before the club's closure. Hertfordshire Football Association continues to be based at Baldock Road, with the ground now called the County Ground and used to host various county-wide and other competitions.[175]

The first club to represent the town was Garden City Football Club, which began playing in 1906.[176] It lasted barely a season under this name before renaming itself Letchworth Athletic.[177] After the First World War the club became Letchworth Town. It gradually worked it way through county and regional amateur leagues before becoming Athenian League champions in 1975.[178][179]

The following year the club renamed itself Letchworth Garden City Football Club, a move which coincided with the start of a gradual decline for the town's team down the divisions, resulting in financial problems. The club changed its name to Letchworth Football Club in 1995, but eventually closed in October 2002.[180][181] Nearby Baldock Town had closed the previous year, leaving Hitchin Town as temporarily the only senior league team in North Hertfordshire.[182]

By 2008 a reformed Baldock Town had moved through the local leagues to reach the Premier Division of the Herts Senior County League. A search for a ground appropriate to their new status lead them to the County Ground in Letchworth, where they moved in August 2008 at the same time adopting the new name Baldock Town Letchworth F.C. (BTLFC).[183]

This development coincided with the formation of a new adult team at Letchworth Garden City Eagles, which began its first season one division below BTLFC, but won promotion to join them in the Premier Division for the 2010/11 season. The club plays at Pixmore Pitches, next door to the County Ground. The two clubs met in the first competitive "Letchworth Derby" on 20 March 2010 – Eagles winning the Aubrey Cup quarter final 2-1 – and there were three more "Letchworth derbies" in the 2010–11 season, all of which were also won by the Eagles. These were the last "derbies" - at the end of the season BTLFC announced that they were returning to Baldock, and reverting to their former name.[183][184][185]

The adult Eagles team grew out of the junior Letchworth Garden City Eagles, which had been established in 1979 as Westbury United. The name was subsequently changed to Letchworth Garden City Eagles and by 2010 the club has expanded to over 450 registered players between the ages of 6 and 18, boys and girls. The two adult teams were formed to provide an exit route for youth players. They compete in the Herts Senior County League. The boys and girls teams play mini soccer and full size. The club attracts good sponsorship and regularly picks up trophies, notably being Herts Senior County League Champions in 2019. Letchworth Garden City Eagles also now runs an adult ladies team.[184][185]

Powerlifting and weightlifting

The Hitchin and Letchworth Weightlifting Club is based at the Letchworth Corner Sports Club on Whitehorn Lane, catering for weight training and the sport of powerlifting. The International Powerlifting Federation East Midland's Powerlifting Championship is regularly held at the Hitchin and Letchworth Weightlifting Club. The club was founded in 1966 as the Hitchin Weightlifting Club and was originally part of the Hitchin Youth Trust, occupying a building at the Caldicott Centre, Highbury Road, Hitchin. When the Trust decided that they would sell the site the club was asked to find another venue. It moved to a new and larger building at the Letchworth Corner Sports Club in October 2001, and the club name was changed to the Hitchin and Letchworth Weightlifting Club.[186][187]

Other leisure activities


The Letchworth & District Astronomical Society has been meeting in the town since 1991, and has over 100 members. It has an observatory at Standalone Farm and holds regular meetings.[188]


The Broadway Cinema in 2017

Letchworth had one of the first purpose-built cinemas in the country, the Picture Palace (later the Palace Cinema) on Eastcheap, which opened on 4 December 1909 with a showing of "Juggins on his Motor Skates".[189] The Palace was refurbished in 1924.[190]

The Broadway Cinema opened on 26 August 1936 with a black tie gala screening of Follow the Fleet starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It was built in the Art Deco style at the corner of Eastcheap and Gernon Road. It was built by The Letchworth Palace Limited, which also ran the older Palace Cinema a short distance along Eastcheap.[191]

The Palace Cinema closed on 31 December 1977.[192]

In the mid-1990s, to ensure the continued prosperity of the Broadway Cinema, the sixty shareholders of The Letchworth Palace Ltd went into partnership with the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation. The Broadway Cinema closed temporarily at the end of February 1996 with a special screening of Windbag the Sailor starring Will Hay. The building then underwent a £2 million programme to revitalise the cinema, restoring its Art Deco foyer and exterior and changing from a single to a triple screen facility. It re-opened on 12 July 1996.[193]

In 2008 the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation took 100% control of the Broadway Cinema and refurbished the building again, adding a fourth screen.[194][195] The building was adapted in 2016 to allow the main screen to be used as a both a cinema and theatre, with dressing rooms and technical facilities incorporated into a new extension. In addition to showing some of the latest films, the cinema also screens live (as well as delayed or recorded) broadcasts from the Royal Opera House and the Royal National Theatre.[196]

The Broadway Cinema appears in the 2013 film The World's End, as a fictional pub named The Mermaid.[197]

Letchworth Arts and Leisure Group

The Letchworth Arts and Leisure Group (LALG) was founded in 1987 to provide year round leisure activities. Membership exceeds 1300 households in Letchworth and the surrounding areas. Members with specific interests run groups linked to the main organisation, which include wine appreciation, film, gardening, singing, theatre, games, sports, outings, walking, reading, language practice, music, quizzing, and more.[198]

Town twinning

Letchworth is twinned with:[199]


St Francis' College from Broadway in 2017

Letchworth has a mixture of private and state schools. There are two state secondary schools:

When work began on the garden city, there were pre-existing church schools in the villages of Willian and Norton. A "Garden City School" opened in November 1905 in temporary sheds near the railway. It transferred to a new building on Norton Road in 1909, becoming Norton School.[202][203] Pixmore School opened in 1913 on School Walk, followed by Westbury School on West View in 1925. These were elementary schools, catering for children from ages five to fourteen, which was the school leaving age at the time.[204] Letchworth Grammar School opened in 1931 in prominent buildings in the town centre, with the name carved in the stonework over its doors.[205]

The school leaving age was raised to fifteen under the Education Act 1944 and schools were gradually separated into primary and secondary schools. The secondary part of Pixmore School relocated to new premises on the Jackmans estate in March 1962, becoming the Willian School. The junior part of Pixmore School kept the name, but later moved from School Walk to Rushby Mead. The Highfield School opened in September 1965.[206]

With the move to comprehensive schools, Letchworth Grammar School changed its name to Fearnhill School in 1973 and moved to its current site on Icknield Way in 1976.[207][208] The former Grammar School building on Broadway was then used as offices by the county council. It briefly reopened as a school in 2014, becoming the Da Vinci Studio School, which closed in 2017.[209]

Willian School closed in 1991.[59] Norton School closed in 2002, having been run as part of The Knights Templar School in Baldock for its final year.[210] The Highfield School was rebuilt in 2016.[211]

The private schools in Letchworth include the St Christopher School and St Francis' College. The St Christopher School was founded in 1915 as "Arundale" by the Theosophical Educational Trust, which took over the vacated buildings of the short-lived private Letchworth School on Barrington Road, built in 1909. A new school building was built at the junction of Spring Road and Broadway in 1919, when the school assumed its current name, with the Barrington Road building then being used as accommodation for boarders. There is a visible cornerstone on the Broadway building lain by Annie Besant. The school consolidated onto the Barrington Road site in 1928. It is noted for its distinctive vegetarian and Quaker ethos.[212][213][214]

The site vacated by the St Christopher School on Broadway became St Francis' College, a girls' school, in 1934. Both private schools admit boarders and day-pupils.[215]

Black squirrels and other wildlife

Letchworth Garden City is home to one of the UK's largest colonies of black squirrels, which were first recorded in Letchworth in 1912. The origin of the colony is unclear, but a 2014 study at Anglia Ruskin University concluded that the squirrels are a variation of the common North American grey squirrel with a faulty pigment gene. The black squirrel is now a relatively common sight across Letchworth and the surrounding area.[216]

There are also muntjac deer in the town, living principally on Norton Common, but also seen elsewhere.[217]

Roundabouts and Green Belts: Letchworth's impact on town planning

Sollershott Circus, the United Kingdom's first roundabout

In 2007 architectural writer and broadcaster Jonathan Meades devoted a programme in his series Jonathan Meades Abroad Again to Letchworth. In "Heaven: Folkwoven in England" Meades suggested that many of the main features of British urban design in the twentieth century owed their origins to Letchworth Garden City – "a social experiment on a par with the Welfare State, a social experiment that affected us all and still does". Meades's thesis was not entirely complimentary ("its legacy is Britain's ubiquitous, banal sprawl") but it is a theme that other writers have supported. Many factors underlying British housing design, and also town planning, began in Letchworth. The popularity of Parker and Unwin's "country" style, plus the success of the Cheap Cottages Exhibitions of 1905 and 1907, inspired British urban architectural design for many decades – a style which, according to Meades "shunned urbanism to an extent otherwise unknown on this continent".[218]

Innovation in Letchworth was not confined to the design of buildings. The 1904 layout plan included a point on the main avenue where six roads converged, with the roads later being named Broadway (two arms), Spring Road (two arms), Sollershott East, and Sollershott West. Detailed plans drawn up in July 1908 proposed a circular traffic island at this point, influenced by the Place de l'Etoile in Paris, which Unwin wrote about in 1909. The Letchworth roundabout is known to have been in use by 1910. When first built traffic could circulate around the central island in both directions; the instruction to keep left was not added until 1921. It was named "Sollershott Circus" and is recognised as the first roundabout on a public road in the United Kingdom. Two signs were erected on the roundabout in January 2006 saying "UK's First Roundabout Built circa 1909".[219][220]

"Group of Slumless Smokeless Cities" (Diagram No. 7 from To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, Howard, 1898)

In addition the town was also the birthplace of the "green belt" in its modern form of an area of land surrounding a town, designed to constrain its outward expansion. It was an important feature of Howard's concept, although he called it the "agricultural estate". He saw a garden city as having a maximum population of 32,000. The agricultural estate was to be owned as an integral part of the garden city estate, and managed for the benefit of the town's needs, making the garden city self-sufficient in food.[221] After establishing the first garden city, Howard envisaged that other garden cities, each set within its own agricultural belt, could be established nearby. All were to be connected to each other by railways, forming what he termed "social cities" or a "group of slumless smokeless cities".[222] Green belt planning policies as introduced in Britain from the mid-twentieth century were clearly inspired by Howard's agricultural estate. Letchworth later came to be part of a set of new towns along the same railway in Hertfordshire. Letchworth and Welwyn Garden Cities and the new towns of Stevenage and Hatfield, plus the older towns of Hitchin and Baldock, form something like Howard's social city.[223] In addition Letchworth was also intended to be self-sufficient in gas, water and electrical power – an aim it achieved, exporting power to neighbouring towns and villages until the late 1940s when power and gas generation were nationalised. The originally coal-powered electricity station was first converted to gas power in the last quarter of the 20th century before eventually being decommissioned and demolished in the early years of the 21st century.

As the world's first garden city, Letchworth has had great influence on town planning and the new towns movement. It directly influenced Welwyn Garden City, founded by Ebenezer Howard in 1920 using a similar model to Letchworth,[224] and Hampstead Garden Suburb, founded in 1906 and also designed to a layout by Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker.[225] It also inspired other projects around the world including the Australian capital Canberra, Hellerau in Germany,[226] Tapanila in Finland and Mežaparks in Latvia.[227] Letchworth also influenced the Soviet-era Russian architect Vladimir Nikolaevich Semyonov, who worked extensively in Stalingrad (Volgograd).[228]

Electricity generation

Letchworth had two adjacent electricity generating stations known as Letchworth A and B which were built in the 1920s and 1930s. Both were coal-fired and used chain grate boiler stokers. The buildings were in redbrick with a single brick chimney.[229]

Letchworth A had a rated output of 8 megawatts (MW) and its oldest equipment was installed in 1930.[230] The boiler delivered 115,000 lb/hr (14.5 kg/s) of steam at a pressure of 200 psi and 354 °C.[231] By the 1960s the A station was generating less than 8 GWh per year of electricity, it was decommissioned in 1968. Letchworth B had a higher rated output of 13 MW and its oldest equipment was installed in 1942.[230] The boiler delivered 160,000 lb/hr (20.2 kg/s) of steam at a higher pressure of 300 psi and 454 °C.[231] The B station was decommissioned on 18 March 1974. Both stations used cooling towers to condense steam.[231] The electrical output in GWh from the B station over the period 1961 to 1973 was as follows:[231][232]

After the coal-fired stations were decommissioned a new gas turbine power station was built. This was adjacent to the railway and had two reinforced concrete chimneys.[233] The station had two 70 MW gas turbines, giving a total generating capacity of 140 MW.[231] The first turbine was commissioned in May 1978. The generating capacity of the gas turbine station in GWh was as shown:[231]

The high output for the year ending 31 March 1985 is in the context of the UK 1984–85 miners’ strike.

The gas turbine power station has since been decommissioned.[233] The power station was demolished in 2007.[234]

Notable residents

  • John Allison – comic writer
  • Jennie Bond – journalist at the BBC. She went to St Francis College and lived in Spring Road with her parents.
  • Edward Carpenter – philosopher
  • Samir Badre Carruthers – a footballer who plays as a winger for Milton Keynes Dons, and Republic of Ireland under-21 international
  • Bernard George Ellis, winner of the George Cross
  • Adrian Fortescue – Roman Catholic priest and scholar who founded the Church of St Hugh of Lincoln in the town. He is buried in Letchworth Cemetery.
  • William Henry Gaunt – English transport engineer, buried in Letchworth Cemetery
  • A. A. Gill – writer and critic. Gill was educated at the progressive independent St Christopher School and would later recall his experiences at the school for his books The Angry Island and Pour Me - A Life.
  • Harold Gilman – artist, founder member of the Camden Town Group. Lived at 100 Wilbury Road.
  • Spencer Gore – artist, first president of the Camden Town Group. Lived in Gilman's house (100 Wilbury Road) after Gilman had left it.
  • George Harris – actor who had roles in Harry Potter films, Black Hawk Down and many others
  • W. F. Harvey – horror writer. Died in Letchworth and was buried at St Mary's Church.
  • Jack Hobbs – international cricketer. Holder of world record for most centuries – played for Letchworth after his retirement from first class cricket
  • Shaun Hutson – horror author[235]
  • Annie Kenney – suffragette, lived in Letchworth for some years before her death in 1953[236]
  • Tom Killick – international cricketer, and rector of Willian[237]
  • Dave Kitson – footballer[238]
  • James Lovelock – scientist, author of the Gaia Theory, born in Letchworth[239]
  • James Mayhew – writer and illustrator of children's books[240]
  • Herbert Morrison – Labour Party politician; as a conscientious objector, he worked in a market garden in Letchworth in World War I where he met his wife, a handweaver and embroiderer
  • Frank Newman Turner – a pioneer in organic horticulture who moved here in 1958 and set up a practice in osteopathy, naturopathy and medical herbalism
  • Laurence Olivier (Lord Olivier) – actor; Olivier's father was Rector of Letchworth Parish 1918–1924[241]
  • William Ratcliffe – artist and member of the Camden Town Group
  • Hans Redlich, musicologist, founded the Letchworth Choral Society in 1941
  • Claire Rushbrook – actor, attended Fearnhill School in Letchworth
  • John Martin Scripps – serial killer who was born in the town
  • Jane Shortsuffragette and activist for women's rights
  • Morgan Simpson – drummer in the experimental rock band Black Midi
  • Philip Snow – author, cricketer, Assistant Colonial Secretary of the Fiji Islands[242]
  • Sgt Frederick Tees – one of the original Dambusters of 617 Squadron who was the sole survivor from his bomber. His plane was shot down when he was the rear gunner; he survived and was a POW. He ran a barber's shop in Station Road later in life.[243]
  • Carroll Thompsonlovers rock singer
  • Peter Underwood – parapsychologist and author, born in Letchworth[244]
  • Paul Van Carter – film producer, produced the film Churchill
  • Simon West – film director, directed the film Con Air[245]
  • Josephine Wiggs – bass guitar player of The Breeders[246]
  • Richard Wiggs – founder of The Anti-Concorde Project
  • Michael Winner – film director, restaurant critic. Attended St Christopher School, Letchworth[247][248]

Letchworth in popular culture


  • "The Lion and the Unicorn" In his polemic essay on wartime Britain, George Orwell said "The place to look for the gems of the future England is in light-industry areas and along the arterial roads. In Slough, Dagenham, Barnet, Letchworth, Hayes – everywhere, indeed, on the outskirts of great towns – the old pattern is gradually changing into something new". In The Road to Wigan Pier, chapter 11, he describes "two dreadful-looking old men", supposedly socialists, getting on a bus in Letchworth.
  • So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish In the fourth book of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, Ford Prefect complains about the difficulty of persuading telephone operators that he is calling from Letchworth when tapping into the British phone system from the Pleiades. Remarkably the coat of arms issued for the Garden City Council in December 2010, includes a motto "Share, Enjoy, Prosper" that is similar to the "Share and Enjoy" slogan of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation in The Hitchhiker's Guide.
  • Bigipedia (Series 1, episode 2) included reference to the "Letchworth Dog" - a fictional legend about a mysterious animal supposedly seen in the town in 1908.

The World's End (2013)

The film, The World's End, directed by Edgar Wright and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, was filmed between November and December 2012 throughout Letchworth.[249]

PlacenameAppears as
Wendy's Shop, Leys AvenueThe Good Companions[250]
The Three Magnets pub, Leys AvenueThe Trusty Servant[250]
The Platform pub, EastcheapThe Two Headed Dog[250]
Broadway CinemaThe Mermaid[251][252]
Thai Garden RestaurantThe Beehive[250]
The Arena Tavern, Arena ParadeThe King's Head[253]
Letchworth Railway StationThe Hole in the Wall[254]
The Gardner's Arms, now The WilburyThe World's End

See also

  • The Cloisters Letchworth
  • St George's Church
  • Church of St Paul, Letchworth
  • Letchworth Cemetery


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External links

Media files used on this page

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Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right, CC BY-SA 3.0

Map of Hertfordshire, UK with the following information shown:

  • Administrative borders
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Equirectangular map projection on WGS 84 datum, with N/S stretched 160%

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Flag of Norway. The colors approximately correspond to Pantone 200 C (deep red) and 281 C (dark blue).
Hertfordshire flag. The county flag of Hertfordshire registered by the Flag Institute
Spirella Building - geograph.org.uk - 988178.jpg
(c) Ruth Sharville, CC BY-SA 2.0
Spirella Building A view of this magnificent former corset factory, now a base for small businesses. To me this restoration shows how a great old building can be retained in all its glory, sympathetically modernised inside with high quality design, and thus serve a useful purpose in the twenty-first century.
Diagram No.1 (Howard, Ebenezer, To-morrow.).jpg
Howard, Ebenezer, To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd., 1898.
Letchworth Urban District Council coat of arms.jpg
Author/Creator: Letchworth Urban District Council, Licence: Fair use
Coat of arms granted to Letchworth Urban District Council 11 December 1944.
Mrs Howard Memorial Hall, Letchworth.jpg
Author/Creator: Richard Kelly, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
One of first public buildings in Letchworth Garden City (founded 1903), erected in memory of Eliza Ann Howard (1853-1904), wife of the town's founder, Ebenezer Howard.
Estate Office, Broadway, Letchworth.jpg
Author/Creator: Richard Kelly, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
Built 1913 as headquarters of First Garden City Limited. Became offices of Letchworth Garden City Corporation in 1963.
Letchworth Town Hall - geograph.org.uk - 106326.jpg
(c) Robin Hall, CC BY-SA 2.0
Letchworth Town Hall. Most functions have now moved out of here and are delegated and dispersed to other offices.
Letchworth Settlement, Nevells Road, Letchworth.jpg
Author/Creator: Richard Kelly, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
Built as Skittles Inn, a public house which sold no alcohol. Architects Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin. Became Letchworth Settlement, an adult education centre, in 1925.
Letchworth Roundabout 1909.jpg
Author/Creator: Jack1956, Licence: CC0
The United Kingdom's first roundabout (1909) on The Broadway in Letchworth Garden City
217 Icknield Way, Letchworth.jpg
Author/Creator: Richard Kelly, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
Won best £150 cottage, architect Percy Houfton. Grade II listed building.
Author/Creator: Andrew Thurman, Licence: CC-BY-SA-3.0
Letchworth Heritage Museum
Broadway Cinema Letchworth.jpg
Author/Creator: Jack1956, Licence: CC0
The art-deco Broadway Cinema in Letchworth
Diagram No.7 (Howard, Ebenezer, To-morrow.).jpg
Howard, Ebenezer, To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd., 1898.
Howgills Letchworth Garden City.jpg
Author/Creator: Jack1956, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
Howgills, the Meeting House for the Society of Friends built in 1907 in Letchworth Garden City