Before the arrival of Stevenage New Town the area, now known as the Town Centre Gardens, was a series of fields, that featured 'Bedwell Plash' - a natural spring that was used by local farmers at Bedwell farm to water their livestock.
The Original Concept
The town centre was initially designed with a traditional geometric layout – buildings arranged in rectangular blocks interspersed with small water parks.
The Town Centre Gardens were to envelop three sides of the town centre, with cultural buildings being located along the southern edge.
No pond is shown in the gardens plan which indicates that this is pre-Clifford Holliday (1949).
Greened Cultural Corner
Development of the town centre concept proposed a more modern layout.
The green space takes up a large proportion of the overall scheme. The offices to the north were to be fully integrated within the park, and a larger open space provided to the south.
The proposed cultural buildings were to be set within the Town Centre Gardens, and be detached from the main urbanised precinct.
The small water parks have been lost from the built area.
Town Centre Gardens, 1949
In 1949 the master plan was revised. It moved from providing lots of green space throughout the town centre to now providing it within just one location - the Town Centre Gardens. Other changes included fewer cultural buildings and more residential accommodation.
Holliday was the first to notice the spring at Bedwell Plash, and subsequently included a lake within the Town Centre Gardens scheme.
The Implemented Gardens, 1961
In 1955 the development of the town centre and Bedwell began. The pond, fed by the natural spring, was created. There was no formal plan for the Town Centre Gardens at this time.
However, in 1959 / 1960 the plans for the Gardens were finalised by local consultant landscape architect, George Patterson. In the summer of 1961 the Town Centre Gardens were completed.
The Gardens failed to fulfil the original concept for cultural and community potential.
Due to the relocation of St George’s Way, to the west of the site, the Gardens have not become fully intrinsic to the town centre. The swimming pool and youth centre were also isolated from the town centre area. The regeneration projects for the Gardens and the town centre will go someway to correcting this scenario.
The 1960’s and 1970’s
In June 1967 the Sensory Gardens for the Blind were opened by Dame Evelyn Denington, Chairwoman of the Stevenage Development Corporation, George Balderstone, Chairman of the Stevenage Urban District Council, and Harold Wilson, the then Prime Minister.
During the late 1960’s / early 1970’s St Georges Way was converted into a dual carriageway. Formal planted beds, between the road and the pond, were created at the time of the new road layout.
The Development Corporation commissioned William Mitchell, an internationally renowned sculptor, to provide artworks that were installed to the underpasses in 1973.
On 4 April 1977 the Town Centre Gardens was in the last package of land handed over, from the Development Corporation to the Borough Council. The exchange is agreed on the condition that the Gardens are protected against future development.
David Norris was commissioned for a sculptural water feature in the pond. Subsequently, in 1981, the ‘Women & Doves’ fountain was installed.
During the mid 1980’s the formal planting beds, along St Georges Way, were removed.
A play area was installed within the Town Centre Gardens in 1989/1990. It was sited close to the Brent Court flats in order to best serve the residents of the tower blocks.