Early 20th Century Stevenage and World War I
The Edwardian era saw many developments in Stevenage. The town received its first electrical power supply from the Stevenage Electricity Company, the first motor cars began to appear on the Great North Road and the first cinema, the Publix, arrived on the Bowling Green in 1912.
But the peaceful life in Stevenage was shattered in August 1914 when Great Britain went to war. Stevenage became home for some of the 100,000 refugees from Belgium as well as billeting Australian and New Zealand Army Corps troops (ANZACs) in the fields behind the White Lion before they were shipped to France and Belgium.
The town also provided men for the Hertfordshire Regiment that saw active service on the Western Front, Gallipoli and the Middle East. For a small community, 200 men lost from a generation during World War I was a significant, though typical, loss.
The armistice of November 1918 brought peace and Stevenage people began to pick up the pieces of their former lives. New businesses were attracted to the town including the Matthews Printing works, the Stevenage Motor Company and Vincent HRD motorcycles. The increasing use of motor transport meant a revival in the fortunes of the Great North Road and the inns of Stevenage.
Others were not so lucky. Towards the end of the 1920s the country plunged into a ‘Great Depression’ when many businesses closed and jobs were lost. The overall situation did not improve until the late 1930s when it became clear the country again needed to re-arm for war.