Stevenage, Britain's first 'New Town'1 lies about 30 miles from central London in the countryside of rural Hertfordshire. Although achieving New Town status in the New Towns Act of 1946, the history of Stevenage dates back much further.
New Town but Lots of History
One of the major routes through the town is Six Hills Way. The six hills in question are actually tumuli or burial mounds built by the Romans around 2000 years ago. Later, the Saxons built a settlement in the area and called it Sithenaece which means 'strong oak'.
Over the years, Stevenage has had some distinguished visitors. Dickens and fellow author Bulwer-Lytton founded the Guild of Literature and Art in the town from the stately home of Knebworth just down the road.
EM Forster spent his childhood in a house called 'Rooks Nest' in the north of Stevenage and he based parts of his novel Howards End in the town, referring to it as 'Hilton'.
The diarist Samuel Pepys stayed in Stevenage in the building now known as 'The Grange'. This building bears a plaque commemorating the event.
In recent years, the town achieved more dubious fame when it was used as the setting for the film Boston Kickout. One character boasts, 'I've been kicked out of every club in Stevenage' to which the other replies 'but there are only two'.
In fact, with the recent opening of the new Leisure Park, there are now a few more bars and clubs to choose from. The Leisure Park also boasts a multi-screen cinema as well as a number of restaurants; a Chinese buffet restaurant where you can eat as much as you like for a set price, and the usual selection of fast food outlets, like KFC and McDonalds.
Each of the residential estates has its own collection of local shops, and usually a pub. It would be unusual not to be within staggering distance of at least one. The Old Town boasts a veritable cornucopia of pubs, one worthy of particular note is The Coach and Horses.
The out-of-town retail parks also have their share of restaurants and pubs. The 'Roaring Meg'2, which is home to a number of electrical retailers, furniture stores and a big toy shop, has a Harvester pub/restaurant as well as a Pizza Hut, Burger King and a McDonalds.
The main shopping centre in the town has been undergoing a bit of a refurbishment in order to win back trade from the retail parks. A few of the shops that had been lurking in the Westgate indoor shopping complex have moved out into the daylight into new modern premises and more new outlets seem to be appearing all the time.
Not to be outdone, the main shopping centre is also fully equipped with pubs and restaurants. Cody's, tucked away in a corner of the shops, is a great place to eat if you have a healthy appetite, and the fast food junkies can get their fill from the chip shop, a kebab place, a Burger King and yet another McDonalds.
Just across from the main shops is a little indoor market squatting beneath the main multi-storey car park, and there is a 'proper' outdoor market to be found in the grounds of the Leisure Centre (not to be confused with the Leisure Park), home to the Gordon Craig Theatre.
Another thing worthy of note is Stevenage's proliferation of cycle paths which run along most of the major roads. In most cases, it is possible to cycle from one place to another without battling with heavy traffic. The only problem tends to come from pedestrians who seem to think that cycle paths are just part of a nice wide pavement.