Welwyn Garden City

Welwyn Garden City

Welwyn Garden City, city (1991 pop. 40,665), Hertfordshire, E central England. It is a garden city, founded by Ebenezer Howard in 1920. Its industries produce a variety of products, including radio and television sets. Most of the local population, however, commutes to work in London. The city's growth was expected to alleviate London of overpopulation.
Welwyn Garden City is a town in Hertfordshire, England. Welwyn Garden City is also referred to in Council parlance as WGC or, less correctly, as "Welwyn" (the village of Welwyn is actually located a few miles northwest of WGC).

The principal historic significance of the town lies in its planning. It is an example of the physical, social and cultural ideals of the periods in which it was conceived (it has the unique distinction of being both a garden city and a new town). In planning terms its significance is global, attracting visitors from around the world.

History

Welwyn Garden City, as its name suggests, is a garden city, founded by Sir Ebenezer Howard in the 1920s following his previous experiment in Letchworth Garden City, and designed by Louis de Soissons. Following the establishment of Letchworth Garden City and prior to the commencement of Welwyn Garden City, Howard wrote:
A city will arise as superior in its beauty and magnificence to our first crude attempt as the finished canvas of a great artist to the rough and untaught attempts of a schoolboy.

Howard (nicknamed by close friend George Bernard Shaw as Ebenezer the Garden City Geyser, in recognition of his continual 'spouting forth' on the advantages of Garden City living) had called for the creation of new towns - of limited size, planned in advance and surrounded by a permanent belt of agricultural land - as a role model for lower-density urban development. Howard believed that such Garden Cities were the perfect blend of city and nature. The town has its own exclusive environmental protection legislation - The Scheme of Management for Welwyn Garden City.

The town centre is dominated by the central mall or 'scenic parkway', almost a mile long, named 'Parkway'. Prior to the erection of a police radio mast, the Parkway vista to the south viewed from the White Bridge had been described as one of the world's finest urban vistas.

The main shopping centre is known as The Howard Centre, after Sir Ebenezer Howard. Welwyn Garden City railway station also forms part of the centre.

One of the lesser-known ideas of the city's architects was that all the town's citizens would shop in the same store. Thus the Welwyn department store was established as a central landmark on the 'Campus' (a centrally-located green semi-circular area in the town). Commercial pressures have since ensured much more competition and variety, and the Welwyn Store is now part of the John Lewis Partnership group of stores (the original Welwyn Store was on the site of the current Rosanne House office building).

Until a mistake in 2005, there were no street names with the word "street" in the town. Ebenezer Howard is said to have planted an apple tree in the garden of every original house.

In 1948 The Times newspaper said: "Welwyn Garden City made The New Towns Act possible". Cambridge professor of architecture Andrew Saint said: "Welwyn Garden City is one of modern Europe's greatest success stories in town-making". The problems of metropolitan and regional development and urban sprawl, and the need for harmony and ecology are prompting a current resurgence of interest in the 'Garden City ethos' and the kinds of neighbourhoods and communities Howard advocated. In November 2006, a Japanese building company, NSCP, visited the town, were given a guided tour by the WGC society, and were so impressed that they decided to name a new 144-house development near Tokyo "Welwyn Garden Village".

Local government

Welwyn Garden City has, since local government reorganisation, been part of the greater Welwyn Hatfield District. While Hatfield has retained its own town council (albeit limited in responsibilities), Welwyn Garden City has not, and its position within the District is anomalous since the village of Welwyn also has its own parish council. However, there are indications that a change could be on the way with the establishment of Welwyn Garden City Council, so returning individuality and Garden City civic identity to the town.

Industry

Welwyn Garden City is well-known as the town where breakfast cereals Shredded Wheat and Shreddies were made, at the former Nabisco factory (now part of Nestlé). The factory closed (with production moved to Staverton, Wiltshire) in 2008. Nestlé said that the current site was too small. The former supermarket chain Fine Fare (now part of Somerfield) had its head office in the town at one time, as did ICI's Plastics Division until the early 1990s.

Tesco has a substantial head office site in the north of the town (the company's main headquarters are in Cheshunt), and a full-size supermarket mock-up used for staff training. Recent local news indicates that Tesco has bought the Shredded Wheat site to build a currently unknown development. They have however confirmed that no new super stores will be built on the site.

In 1929 Sir Henry Birkin built the first supercharged "Blower Bentley" at his engineering works in Broadwater Road, Welwyn Garden City. His famous record breaking red single seater Blower Bentley was also built and maintained at the works and took the Brooklands lap record to 137.96 mph in 1932 with Birkin at the wheel. The record stood for another two years before being beaten by John Cobb in his Napier Railton.

Welwyn Garden City retains a strong commercial base bringing much employment to the area with companies including: Argos Direct, Baxter, British Lead Mills, Carl Zeiss, Danish Bacon (DBC foodservice), Roche, IBM, PayPoint, Ratcliff Tail Lifts (now Ratcliff Palfinger), Schering-Plough, Threshers Group, Vega Group, Welwyn Tool Group (former Welwyn Tool Company), Xerox and many more.

The police headquarters for Hertfordshire Constabulary is located on the southern side of the town. The Constabulary's new 45m-high radio mast in the centre of the Parkway vista, erected contrary to Government and English Heritage guidelines, has been heavily criticized by heritage groups.

Education

Welwyn Garden City has the secondary school Sir Frederic Osborn School, a Specialist Sports College

Notable people

Current and former residents of Welwyn Garden City (in alphabetical order)

Popular culture

The Boulting Brothers' crime classic Brighton Rock starring Richard Attenborough, was made at Associated British Picture Corporation's Welwyn Garden City Studios (demolished in 2007 by the new owners, Tesco).

Popular television series filmed in Welwyn Garden city include: The Tweenies and BBC TV series Superstars (1970s-1980s).

References to Welwyn Garden City occur in popular culture, typically in a humorous context on account of its long and peculiar sounding name, or as an example of a typical suburban commuter town. Examples include Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell, as well as a sketch in Alas Smith and Jones. It is also mentioned in the shows Porridge, as the place where the prison psychiatrist worked previously to Slade Prison, and Strange, where Canon Black refers to a seedy nightclub as making "Sodom and Gomorrah look like Welwyn Garden City". The town name appears also in the lyrics of a song Billy's Line by the English band Red Box.

Singer-songwriter Edwyn Collins released a tribute to the town as a B-side to his UK Top 40 single, The Magic Piper Of Love.

References

See also

External links

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