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Letchworth Garden City, also known simply as Letchworth, is a town in Hertfordshire, England, famous for being the first garden city. The population was 33,249 at the time of the 2011 census. The town is on the border with Bedfordshire and serves as the administrative centre for North Hertfordshire.

Letchworth was a historic parish that was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086.

Until the beginning of the twentieth century, it was a small rural village. The modern town began in 1903, when a company called First Garden City Limited purchased much of the land in Letchworth and the neighbouring parishes of Willian and Norton with the goal of building the first “garden city,” based on the principles laid out by Ebenezer Howard in his 1898 book, “To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform.” In contrast to most industrial cities at the time, their goal was to create a new type of settlement that provided jobs, services, and good housing for residents while preserving the environmental quality of the countryside. 

Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker designed the town’s initial layout.

Sollershott Circus, the first roundabout in the United Kingdom, was built around 1909.

Letchworth still has large business areas that provide jobs in a variety of sectors, and the landlord’s profits are reinvested for the benefit of the community by the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, a charitable trust that has owned much of the town since 1995 as the successor to First Garden City Limited. The town has a lot of parkland and open spaces, including Norton Common and Howard Park, which both have the Green Flag Award for well-managed green space. The town is located 32 miles (51 kilometres) north of London, on the railway line that connects London to Cambridge, and it is also adjacent to the A1 road, making it a popular commuter destination. The town’s residential areas are diverse, with large areas of the town designated as conservation areas in recognition of their quality, while the town also contains four of the five poorest-scoring neighbourhoods in North Hertfordshire in terms of deprivation. 

Letchworth, as the world’s first garden city, had a significant impact on town planning and the new towns movement; it influenced nearby Welwyn Garden City, which used a similar approach, and elements of the principles demonstrated at Letchworth have been incorporated into other projects around the world, including the Australian capital Canberra, Hellerau in Germany, Tapiola in Finland, and Meaparks in Latvia.

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    Before the Garden City, there was Old Letchworth.

    Letchworth’s current location has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Wilbury Hill, next to the ancient road of Icknield Way, was home to a late Bronze Age hill fort thought to date from around 700 BC. The hill fort was refortified in the Middle Iron Age, around 400 BC, and appears to have been occupied until the Roman conquest of Britain.  In the fields between Norton village and the A1, evidence of Bronze Age, Romano-British, and late Iron Age settlement has also been discovered.

    Letchworth had become a village by the time of the Norman Conquest. The name derives from the Old English “lycce weorth,” which means “farm within a fence or enclosure.” [13] It was listed as “Leceworde” in the Domesday Book of 1086, with nine households of villagers, four cottagers, one slave, and one priest. The presence of the priest suggests that Letchworth was already a parish at the time. Letchworth’s parish church was built in the 12th century, but it was most likely built on the site of an earlier structure. The church’s original dedication is unknown, but it was rededicated to St Mary during World War I. The village was on Letchworth Lane, which ran from St Mary’s and the adjoining mediaeval manor house of Letchworth Hall (a hotel since 1904) up to the staggered crossroads of Letchworth Lane, Hitchin Road, Baldock Road, and Spring Street. Letchworth was a small parish, with a population of 67 in 1801 and 96 by 1901.

    The Garden City’s Early Years

    In 1898, the social reformer Ebenezer Howard published To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (later republished in 1902 as Garden Cities of To-morrow), in which he advocated for the development of a new type of town, summed up in a diagram called “The Three Magnets,” which showed how the mixed advantages and disadvantages of town or country living could be combined into a third option, labelled “Town-Country,” offering the advantages of both cities and Industry would be kept separate from residential areas (this was a novel concept at the time), and trees and open spaces would be found everywhere. According to the book, the term “garden city” arose from the image of a city surrounded by open countryside, which would significantly contribute to food production for the population. This surrounding band of countryside, according to Howard, was an essential part of the garden city concept, providing land not only for agriculture, but also for children’s homes, asylums, new forests, and brickfields. The agricultural belt was part of the total land area that had to be purchased in order to complete the garden city. Echoes of this idea of a protected rural belt were later adopted more broadly in British town planning beginning in the mid-twentieth century as the Green Belt.

    The concept outlined in the book is more than just urban planning; it also includes a system of community management. Howard proposed financing the Garden City project through a system he called “Rate-Rent,” which combined financing for community services (rates) with a return for those who had invested in the city’s development (rent). The 1898 edition of Howard’s book included a diagram called “The Vanishing Point of Landlord’s Rent,” which illustrated how, as the town matured, the money originally borrowed would be repaid and the amount available to spend for the town’s benefit would increase. The book also advocated for a rudimentary form of competitive bidding, in which the municipality would purchase services such as water, fuel, waste disposal, and so on from commercial (often local) providers. These systems were never fully implemented in Letchworth, Welwyn Garden City, or any of their numerous imitators.   Howard’s ideas were mocked in some quarters of the press, but they resonated with many, particularly members of the Arts and Crafts movement and Quakers.

    After considering several potential locations for a garden city, the garden city pioneers decided on Letchworth as the chosen site. The Letchworth Hall estate was for sale, and while it was too small on its own, secret negotiations with fourteen adjoining landowners resulted in an estate of 3,818 acres (1,545 hectares) being assembled and purchased for £155,587. On September 1, 1903, a company called First Garden City Limited was formed to purchase the land and begin construction of the garden city. 

    A competition was held to find a town design that could bring Howard’s visions to life. Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker created the winning layout. On February 11, 1904, the company approved the layout plan, and Unwin and Parker were hired as consulting architects the following month. The layout kept most of the pre-existing trees and hedgerows in keeping with the garden concept. Unwin derived the alignment of the town’s main avenue (Broadway) from three old oak trees on the estate’s central plateau, which were incorporated into the central square (Broadway Gardens).

    In 1903, a temporary railway halt was built on the Hitchin, Royston, and Cambridge branch line of the Great Northern Railway, which runs through the Garden City estate. Initially, services were provided in the form of irregular special trains for excursions and construction workers. In 1905, a larger (but still temporary) wooden station with regular passenger service opened. The current railway station was built in 1912, a little to the east of the wooden station, at the end of Broadway, the town’s main thoroughfare.

    In July 1904, the first new houses were occupied. The following month, First Garden City Limited held a vote among shareholders and residents to determine the name of the new garden city. Several suggestions were made, including “Garden City,” “Homeworth,” and “Alseopolis.” The name “Letchworth (Garden City)” was chosen. The company chose this as the name for the town, but it was not widely adopted. The civil parish and (after 1919) urban district’s legal name remained “Letchworth.” First Garden City Limited gradually dropped the “(Garden City)” suffix from the name, partly to reflect common usage and partly to reflect the view that as the town matured, it should not be seen as an experiment in perpetuity. Similarly, the town’s railway station was originally known as “Letchworth (Garden City)” before being renamed “Letchworth” in 1937. 

    Lizzie (Eliza Ann Bills), Ebenezer Howard’s wife, died in November 1904 in London, just before she was to move to a new house on Norton Way South in Letchworth with her husband. A public hall was built as a memorial to her, funded by public subscriptions. Mrs Howard Memorial Hall was one of the town’s first public buildings, opening in 1906.

    The company held “Cheap Cottages Exhibitions” in 1905 and 1907, which were contests for architects and builders to demonstrate innovations in low-cost housing. The 1905 exhibition drew 60,000 visitors. The exhibitions had a significant impact on British planning and urban design, pioneering and popularising concepts such as pre-fabrication, the use of new building materials, and front and back gardens. The popularity of the exhibitions prompted the Daily Mail to launch the Ideal Home Exhibition (later renamed the Ideal Home Show) in 1908.  Lenin was rumoured to have visited the fledgling town in May 1907 while attending the Fifth Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in London. Although there is no contemporary evidence to support the claim, it was published in the Daily Mail and the Daily Sketch in November 1916 as part of articles accusing the town of being a haven for communists and conscientious objectors—claims that the town denied. 

    For the first few years, the new town’s Anglicans had to travel to the estate’s old parish churches in Letchworth village, Willian, or Norton. Many of the town’s early pioneers were nonconformists, in keeping with the town’s radical spirit. The Free Church, built in 1905, was the first new place of worship to be built (later rebuilt in 1923). It was followed in 1907 by ‘Howgills,’ the Society of Friends Meeting House. 

    Outsiders frequently portrayed Letchworth’s founding citizens as idealistic and otherworldly, drawn by the promise of a better life. In his poems Group Life: Letchworth and Huxley Hall, John Betjeman depicted Letchworth residents as earnest health freaks. One commonly cited example is a ban on selling alcohol in public places, which is unusual for a British town. A public vote in June 1907 decided this, with 54 percent voting against allowing a licenced public house. This did not prevent the town from having a “pub” – the Skittles Inn, also known as the “pub with no beer,” which opened in March 1907. 

    Despite the ban, it is not entirely accurate to say that the Garden City had no pubs. Pubs that had existed before the Garden City’s foundation, such as the Three Horseshoes in Norton and the Three Horseshoes and the Fox in Willian, continued to operate (as they do to this day) and undoubtedly benefited from the lack of alcohol available in the town centre, as did pubs in neighbouring Hitchin and Baldock. New inns also sprang up on the town’s outskirts, such as the Wilbury Hotel, which opened in 1940 just outside the town’s outskirts.   After a referendum in 1957, the ban was finally lifted, allowing the Broadway Hotel to open in 1962 as the Garden City’s first public house. Several other public houses have opened since then, but the town centre still has only about a half-dozen pubs, which is a surprisingly low number for a town of its size. 



    Letchworth has an oceanic climate (Köppen climate classification Cfb), as does almost the entire United Kingdom.

    Letchworth was hit by an F1/T2 tornado on November 23, 1981, as part of a nationwide tornado outbreak that day.

    The Greenway of Garden City
    The Garden City Greenway is a 13.6-mile (21.9-kilometer) circular route that circles the Garden City estate. The Greenway is surrounded by a variety of routes, open spaces, and points of interest. Car parking at Radwell Meadows and Northfields Playing Fields allows disabled users and those pushing pushchairs to access the park because there are good sections of pathway from these access points. The Heritage Foundation provided funding for the Greenway to serve as a permanent commemoration of Letchworth Garden City’s first centenary in 2003.

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