Stevenage New Town
London suffered great bomb damage during the War and something needed to be done to ease the housing pressure as bombsites and slums were cleared. In 1946, Stevenage was chosen as the site of the first ‘new town’, one of eight in the Greater London area. Each new town would provide housing for 60,000 people.
On the whole, this was not a popular decision with the local people of Stevenage. They were worried about loss of community identity, property and worsening traffic conditions. Arguments for the new town included providing more space and freedom for many of those living in overcrowded conditions in London.
Despite the objections, Stevenage was designated the first new town on 11th November 1946 and the Development Corporation was set up shortly afterwards. A master plan was drawn up placing housing to the east and industry to the west. Six neighbourhoods were planned which would consist of 10,000 homes each with their own community centre, pub and shops. Stevenage would be the first town in the country to have a completely pedestrian town centre; a radical idea at the time.
The first residents moved into their homes in the Monkswood and Broom Barns estates in 1952. Residents setting up home in the new town had to find work in Stevenage before they could be offered a house. Many workers in the building trade commuted from London to Stevenage every day. They worked long hours, but benefited from the new housing that was available to them.
The new town was not without its teething problems. Damp in the houses, shortages of materials and plagues of ants and earwigs were just a few. Local facilities were slower in setting up and new residents had to either make use of mobile shops or walk the mile or so to Old Stevenage often in muddy conditions on un-made roads.
As the new town grew, there was more demand for services. Between 1955 and 1965 a new school opened almost every year and in 1962 the Stevenage Bypass A1 (M) was built along the west side of the town to ease pressure on the dangerous Great North Road. In 1961 the Locarno Ballroom opened and hosted leading music acts such as The Who, The Rolling Stones, Tom Jones and Jimi Hendrix. In 1972 a purpose built hospital for the New Town finally opened, The Lister. A new swimming pool opened, and a Leisure Centre was built which later included the Gordon Craig Theatre in 1974.
With good communication links by road and rail and affordable housing, Stevenage became attractive for new industries and businesses. English Electric was one of the first factories to settle on a 70 acre site, bringing plenty of employment to the area.
By the 1980s, the work of the Stevenage Development Corporation had been completed. Stevenage Borough Council took over the administration of the town. By then, the population of Stevenage had grown to more than 75,000.