Georgian and Victorian Stevenage
In 1720, the Stevenage and Biggleswade Turnpike Trust Act was passed by Parliament for the stretch of the Great North Road between the two towns. A turnpike was located close to the Marquis of Granby Inn. Although some travellers objected and tried to avoid paying tolls by using side roads, the turnpike trusts not only improved conditions for road users, but encouraged greater travel. This led to a growth in coaching inns in the town. The first scheduled coach service for passengers was the ‘Perseverance’ which began in Smithfield, London and headed north via Stevenage to Hitchin.
Improved road surface also helped trade such as driving cattle to market. The increase in such activity led to a new cattle market being founded just north of Middle Row.
The coming of the railway was both a blessing and a curse for Stevenage. The railways reached the town in 1850 and the main impact was felt by the coaching inns when many were forced to close and jobs were lost as stage coach travel declined.
However, the railway meant that Stevenage was within easy reach of London. Houses were built in and around the new railway station in Julian’s Road. The new residents close to the station could even arrange for private signalling at home so as not to miss their train.
By 1875 Stevenage had a new town hall and a new police station. Regular visitors to the police station were poachers Albert Ebenezer and Ebenezer Albert Fox. If their names weren’t confusing enough, they were also identical twins and between them committed 200 crimes, providing alibis for each other that baffled the police. In 1904 the Fox Twins were among the first criminals to be convicted using fingerprints as evidence.
In 1881 Stevenage suffered from an outbreak of Scarlet Fever. A report blamed overcrowding in cottages, general neglect in cleanliness and cattle sharing the water supply in the Fore Street springs. The situation improved with the opening of Stevenage’s cottage hospital and piped water from boreholes at Rooks Nest.
With good communication links to London and modern housing, Stevenage became attractive to new industries. The Education Supply association (ESA) built a new factory in Fisher’s Green in 1883.