I used to live in Welwyn Garden City with my parents. I was raised in the first Garden City, that is, the World famous Letchworth Garden City, but was born in Hitchin. It is famous for having the World's first roundabout. I believe a film is being shot there as we speak, starring the other funny guy from funny movie, Hot Fuzz.
|Howard: "That was a cheap round..."|
The poor estate in Letchworth is called Jackman's Estate. When I was growing up we were all afraid of going there in case we got beaten up. Both towns, being built by a Quaker, adhered to the town planner's strict Quaker rules concerning alcohol, so there were barely any pubs. Do Quakers still have those anti-alcohol rules?
When I was young, there was only every one pub in Letchworth called the Black Squirrel, so named because Letchworth was famous for having some black squirrels not associated with many other parts of the country. People were told never to go there because that was where drug dealers went. The last few times I went back to Letchworth, there were more pubs. I think it has lost its Quaker roots now. I believe there was a famous poet who wrote a poem about Letchworth.
|The infamous Black Squirrel pub of Letchworth|
I went back recently and went to Mass there. I remember the liturgy being not so great. My namesake, Laurence Oliver lived there for a time and Michael Winner attended its private school which has an outdoor swimming pool called St Christopher's. It was at this playing field that I broke my arm while attempting a scissor kick at the age of 16. A doctor at the Lister Hospital yanked my arm back into place under laughing gas. James Lovelock, Royal Society pagan and Gaia Theory specialist, was born there, as was a serial killer called John Martin Scripps.
I'm astonished that my close family are thinking of moving back to the area because they lived in Hertfordshire so long and I had thought they had had enough of it. I grew up in a lovely cul-de-sac called Netley Dell on the Lordship Estate. We had a nice house, half brick and half white plastic with a field at the back owned by a farmer and we would feed the horses carrots and sugar cubes.
At Welwyn Garden City, I studied Media Studies, English and French for A Level at Oaklands College in Welwyn before going to Liverpool University to study Politics, though I believe David Cameron would regard this as a polytechnic.
|Wave machine: North Herts Leisure Centre|
I was quite a good salesman at Halfords when it came to car radios and roof racks, a talent I've never been able to replicate since.
John Bejteman wrote a satirical poem about Letchworth that goes as follows:
GROUP LIFE: LETCHWORTH
Tell me Pippididdledum,
Tell me how the children are.
Working each for weal of all
After what you said.
Barry's on the common far
Pedalling the Kiddie Kar.
Ann has had a laxative
And Alured is dead.
Sympathy is stencilling
Her decorative leatherwork,
Wilfred's learned a folk-tune for
The Morris Dancers' band.
I have my ex-Service man and
Mamie's done a lino-cut.
And Charlie's in the kinderbank
A-kicking up the sand.
Toodle-oodle ducky birds,
What a lot my dicky chicky
Tiny tots have done.
Wouldn't it be jolly now,
To take our Aertex panters off
And have a jolly tumble in
The jolly, jolly sun?
Note: 'weal' = "The welfare of the community; the general good."
|Letchworth's Station Road, now pedestrianised...exciting!|
I've been trapped in the spiritual vortex that is Brighton ever since. And that's the story of my life. I've no great desire to move back to Letchworth, but I'm sure if I listened to Homeward Bound by Simon and Garfunkel I'd feel a pull. Brighton's a very easy town to get lost in, whereas in Letchworth, you just stay in because there's nothing to do and people behave as if it is a genuine commuter belt. Everyone on the train to London reads The Telegraph.
Spirella Company which used to make corsets. For some reason, at some point this company went out of business but the place still stands and it hosts parties and weddings and stuff.
So, there it is, a brief biography and an introduction to the World's first two Garden Cities, Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City. Surrounding towns include Knebworth, Hatfield and the illustrious Stevenage which was always better for shopping in than Letchworth and most likely always will be. It's also got a cinema. Thanks for letting me take a moment to be self-indulgent and take a trip down memory lane. Ah, Letchworth...