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Purpose magazine, produced by the Development Corporation from autumn 1955 to spring 1966, charts the growth of the new town as it happened, and provides a fascinating insight into the life and work of the new town pioneers who came to Stevenage to build a better future.

International visitors come to Stevenage to see for themselves!

The new towns were seen as an exciting solution to over-crowded, dirty cities and it seems interest in how the project was developing came from all over the world. From the mid-1950s onwards, with a peak reached in the early 1960s, Stevenage was a destination of choice for visitors from overseas.

Sudanese visitors visit a pottery

The front cover of the autumn ‘58 edition shows Sudanese visitors at a pottery class at Peartree School.

Inside the autumn 1958 issue, the editor reported on a recent surge in international visitors. The Town Centre was causing much excitement in the national press and over 7000 homes had been built, it was time to showcase what a new town could be. In just three months, delegations visited from France, Bahrain, the Sudan, Laos and Western Germany. Several offices of central government - the Foreign Office, the Central Office of Information and the British Council - brought visitors from over 20 countries to see what had been achieved in the new town experiment, providing “a regular procession of visitors, some strangely dressed and speaking rarely heard languages”.

Sudanese visitors at Marymead

Deep in discussion with the Sudanese visitors at Marymead.

Visitors were shown “houses and shopping centres, factories and schools, churches and public houses . . . to try and get some idea of how Stevenage was developing as a community. Most of the feedback was positive, but as the editor admits “It would be surprising if in an undertaking of this size there were not some things that could have been done better.”

By the 1960 the town centre had been officially opened by the Queen and in the first ten months of that year the town welcomed over 1500 official visitors. “Nearly half of them came from at least 40 different overseas countries. In one recent hectic three-week period, the number of visits in organised parties alone amounted to approximately 300. Such is the fame of Stevenage in 1960.”

Purpose magazine 1961

In 1961 Jordanian trade unionists visited the Derby and Joan over 60s club that met at Man in the Moon public house.

In the notoriously cold winter of 1963, in one month alone, visitors included the King of Burundi, French architects and newspaper editors, Israeli, Japanese, Swedish and Russian architects and a Pakistan government housing officer. The King had his visit cut short by thick fog but the Russians, arriving to several inches of snow, “were naturally quite unperturbed by the weather.”

It is fascinating to see how Stevenage took centre stage as it grew into the town that the planners, architects, builders and early residents had worked so hard to bring to life.

If you would like to buy a digital copy of all the Purpose magazines with a searchable index, it is available for £10 from the museum, email museum@stevenage.gov.uk to find out more.

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