History of Fairlands Valley Park
It is believed that Fairlands takes its name from the Fairlane which used to run almost due south linking Shephall with Pin Green.
The earliest known documented reference to the name Fairlane, is found in the Westminster Abbey Survey for 1315. Fairlane was part of the Abbot’s memorial land by this date. As the water table would have been much higher then, it is considered possible that the occupants of the nearby moated homestead site in Whomerley Wood used the valley water meadows for grazing their animals.
During the Tudor times, the Hyde family of Fayrelane was farming the land. However, by 1684 the farm was owned by Sir William Lytton of Knebworth and then consisted of 369 acres of land.
In that year, the tenant farmer, William Titmouse (or Tyttmus), died and the lease was transferred to his wife Rebecca and his son William for a rent of £100 per year. An inventory for the farm, dated 28 January 1685, indicates that the Titmouse family was probably one of the wealthiest in Stevenage.
John and Jemima French were farming at Fairland in 1841. By 1871, the 359 acres at ‘Fairland’ were being farmed by William and Mary Ann Titmus.
For about 30 years from 1881, William and Anne Roberts were at Fairlands. They were followed by Rupert Marriott, succeeded by his son Stanley who, with his wife Sybil, were the last to farm at Fairlands.
Watercolour of the Manor House, Fairlands later known as Fairlands Farmhouse by Henry Oldfield, 1804 (Copyright: Stevenage Museum)
20th Century – 1949 to 1968
In their 1949 publication, The New Town of Stevenage, the Stevenage Development Corporation stated, “Fairlands Valley, which runs from north to south through the middle of the site, will remain open space”.
The intention was for farming to continue at Fairlands Valley. The farm at that time was owned by Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. The Development Corporation served a compulsory purchase order on it in 1951 but allowed the farmer to remain as a tenant until 1968.
Fairlands Farmland, 1964
20th Century – 1966 to 1972
In the 1966 Master Plan, the proposal was for Fairlands Valley to become the town’s principal area of recreation, with artificially created lakes as well as green space. Consequently the land was transferred to the Stevenage Urban District Council who carried out the work with initial financial support from the Development Corporation.
In 1971, we carried out major development work in the park. In 1972, Sir Alec Rose officially opened the Lakes.
The park is sited in a dry valley, so to create the lakes, it was necessary to rely entirely upon the surface water which drained into the valley from Pin Green.
To retain the designed level of water, a large dam was created just north of Six Hills Way. The dam was constructed from compacted clay and is about 7.5 m high, 30.5 m thick and 120 m long.
1971, Looking West across what was to become the Main Lake
At the time of constructing the Main Lake, the two smaller lakes; the Boating Lake (now known as the Millennium Lake) and the Environment Lake were created.
1972, Environment Lake
In addition to the construction of the lakes, it was also necessary to re-mould the existing valley contours to create new slopes that would blend with the water features in such a way as to provide an attractive landscape for the whole park. At the time of landscaping, thousands of trees were planted within the northern section of the park.
20th Century – the 80s
Shackledell is an area of grassland enclosed by naturalised trees and scrub within the southern section of the park. Shackledell was once an allotment and over the years, plot holders on the site dwindled, and the site was left to nature. Grass species soon colonised the area, but the site was left untouched and unmanaged for over 20 years.
During the late 1980s, we decided to treat the area as scrubland and started to carry out rudimentary maintenance to the area.
Shackledell area of grassland
By 1998, the grassland was under control and started to receive a regular maintenance programme to encourage native grass species.
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Stevenage Borough Council