'The small town of Stevenage was a close-knit community' - former resident looks back on town's 75th anniversary
- Credit: Jim Hetterby
Former Stevenage resident Jim Hetterly looks back over his memories of his time in the town.
I was sent a copy of your newspaper coverage of the 75th Anniversary of the New Town. Reading it revived pleasant memories of my life in Stevenage.
My father Joe joined the army and was posted to India, and my mother Mollie took me to Ireland to live with her parents. We returned to Stevenage in 1946.
My brother George and I attended St Nicholas School in Bury Mead. There were still coils of rusty barbed wire in The Avenue, and a brick air raid shelter at the top of the field. I can recall military vehicles coming through the town on the Great North Road, including tanks.
Grove Road was our playground. One solitary car at the top, otherwise no traffic at all except for Tom Phipps the milkman, who delivered the daily milk in a horse and cart, and Mr Munns the coalman in his lorry.
There were about 15 boys and girls living in the road, and we played Kingy and Queeny, hop scotch, jacks, conkers, marbles, football and tag.
As soon as we were out of school we were out playing, or just hanging about under the lamppost outside Jim Hunt's cobbler's shop.
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Often, we would all go up to Nadgin's field in Bridge Road and play lawmen and outlaws, or cowboys and Indians with our six guns and caps and homemade bows and arrows.
We were out all day in the holidays coming home for lunch and tea and then out again. We played cricket in the alley between our house and next door. I learned how to bowl straight which stood me in good stead when I later played serious cricket at Alleynes Grammer School.
I left St Nicholas to go to Letchmore Road Boys School. The headmaster was Mr Roach, who we called Rasturs for some reason. At playtimes we would play cricket with tennis balls against the wall of the outdoor toilets. Sometimes Mr Roach, a keen cricketer, would come and join us.
When I was 10, we transferred to the new Fairlands School. We were part of the original cohort; Miss Ashby was our teacher.
Before Fairlands and Barclay were built the only schools in the town were St Nicholas, Letchmore Road Boys' School and Alleynes. There was a small Dame School at the top of Grove Road. Thus, all the children passed through the same schools and we knew each other.
The small town of Stevenage was a close-knit community. It is remarkable to think that in 1947 there were only around 6,000 people living there.
Most men and women worked at E.S.A, Vincent H.R.D, Kings Engineering or Saunders in Bedwell Lane. E.S.A was a nationally known school and church furniture supplier, and the powerful Vincents were world renowned.
An amazing sight when the E.S.A and H.R.D closed for the day there was an influx of bicycles filling the roads, men and woman pedalling furiously on their way home.
Businesses I recall were O'Clees, Shepherd's and Hauling's butchers shop. I used to deliver meat from Hauling’s on one of those bikes with a small wheel at the front with a huge basket above it.
There were a couple of fruit and veg shops, Boorman's Cycle shop, Thurlow's Children's wear, Presland's record shop, Chelsom's the tobacconist and Dashwood Bros the hairdressers.
Wests the grocers had a machine grinding coffee – what lovely smells came from that shop! Berts Lines had a hardware store opposite Deamers, and there was a department store called Henderson’s, which was later to become a Waitrose. Next door was Harry Horsenell’s sweet shop. The only shop open on a Sunday in the whole of the town.
The Cromwell Hotel was very posh. I remember Lord and Lady Docker’s star-spangled Daimler parked outside, and a uniformed attendant would patrol the front, opening car doors and unloading luggage. I recall the Leicester City football coach stopping there on its way to Wembley for the 1949 cup final against Wolves.
I remember well the coming of the New Town. It swallowed up the fields we used to play in, the lanes we walked with my parents and the little ponds where we used to search for tadpoles and newts. All gone.
I thoroughly enjoyed my life in Stevenage. My wife and left in 1971, when I took teaching post in Hemel Hempstead. I still go back once a year to attend the presidents day at Stevenage Cricket Club where I used to play.
I drive around the old town roads and walk up and down the High Street. Fond memories!