A 73-year-old's memories of his youth in Stevenage

Mike Gorham

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A 2019 map showing the approximate location of Mike’s childhood home and the developments since. Notice Webb Rise to the east where the Webbs’ pig farm once was.

My name is Mike Gorham. I am 73 years old and would like to share with you my memories of young life living in Stevenage.

My parents moved from London to Stevenage Old Town in 1950. I attended Letchmore Road infants school, Primrose Road junior school and finally Barclay secondary modern.

I have many early memories of growing up in Stevenage between the ages of 8 and 25. I had many friends and although the new town was being built during this period, we actually lived right next to the countryside. In fact, we lived at the very end of Haycroft Road right next to a pig farm owned by the Webb family. From there, my friends and I would walk to Sish Lane, which in those days led right up to Marriot’s Farm. (The farmhouse is now inside the Lea Valley parkland area.) Mr Marriot was always happy to show us around the farm, to the extent that we saw the birth of several calfs. Once, we all sat on his flatbed trailer and he then towed us round a nearby corn field (no health and safety in those days).

On the edge of the old town was Franklin’s Field, a private area of land in the middle of which there was a circle of trees hiding a circular man-made pond full of carp and goldfish which we would catch with nets and then sell!!

We would often walk to Bridge Road, where the trains ran through a cutting. There we would sit on the embankment to watch the steam trains take water on by lowering a pipe into the 100-meter-long water trough set between the two rails. The water would spray out either side of the train and over the embankment either side.

Just to one side of the embankment was some waste land with mounds of dirt, over-grown with grass and weeds and a small pond which was a haven for both palmed newts [palmate newts? Ed.] and king newts. We would take our nets, catch them and place them in jars to view their colourations . We would also catch newts in the small row of interlinking ponds in Monks Wood. (We thought that they may have been a moat round a previous monastery, something we never checked or proved.) Whilst in those woods, we sometimes climbed the younger birch trees, keeping our centre of gravity close to the tree trunk on the way up then once reaching the very top, throw our body away from the trunk whilst still holding the tree top. At this, the young supple trunk would bend and lower one’s body to the ground — oh, what great fun that was!!!

Leaving school at the age of 15, I trained as a toolroom fitter at E.S.A. Then, aged 18, obtained a job with Rexroth, based in HItchin but still living in Stevenage until the age of 25.

We would go the the Mecca dance hall to watch the beat groups of the day (including the Rolling Stones). My friends and I followed a local beat group called the Matadors and travelled to many towns in doing so. We spent many hours in the new bowling alley, the new swimming pool and Bowes Lyon House. I was a member of Stevenage Harriers which would later become Stevenage and North Herts Athletics Club.

Stevenage was a young and vibrant town and I am so happy to have spent my youth there.

This page was added on 14/11/2019.

Comments about this page

  • Sorry to have to correct you Mr Gorham, but the water troughs were down by Norton Green Road Bridge, now long since gone, not Bridge road as you say. I and my friends used to train spot on that embankment between Orchard Road and Bridge Road as well, but before your time. Loved it.

    By Owen Welch (06/06/2020)
  • How fascinating to read Janet Wright’s account of Stevenage Old Town. I recall your family well as I lived at 45 Basils Road and remember your parents and also Terence when we played together in the street and compared our toys! I remember passing the bakery in Albert Street and from the roadside through to the yard, could see your father preparing the dough. The aroma from that bakery is unforgettable as are the memories of Stevenage Old Town.

    By Robert E Dines (30/03/2020)
  • I loved to bowl, and became good at it. I worked in the bowling alley. I remember a Guy called John he and I having our photes taken while bowling. Never got to see the pics.

    By Diane Poole (29/03/2020)
  • In reply to Janet Wrights comments dated 12/03/2020

    How lovely to share those memories with you. Yes I also remember Millies tuck shop, occasionally having bought sweets from there.

    I, like you, sat on the banks of the cutting at bridge road to watch steam trains such as the golden arrow, and the flying scotsman as mentioned by yourself. also the mallard and Sir Nigel Gresley come to mind.

    My first employment was at E.S.A ,just over the other side of the julians road railway bridge and the old Stevenage train station . We lived in Haycroft road and I would have cycled passed your house on basils road on route to work. We shared the same infants and junior schools but not senior schools as i went to Barclay secondary modern.

    I think the fairground that you mentioned may have been franklins field {see my initial entry above }.

    I had a school friend named Roy Ord who lived in albert street just one road down from your house in basils road. Then a girlfriend ChristIne Barrey who lived just one road up from your second house in the dell , she lived in West Close.

    When younger I also played in the old rec. but from the age of about 13 my interests tended to draw me to the ever expanding and vibrant new town. well it was vibrant then !!

    How great it is that the old town has retained much of its charm. I hope your further “explorations” bring back more happy memories. I myself left Stevenage in 1965 to work and live in st neots cambs, and remain there to this day.

    By michael gorham (15/03/2020)
  • Very interesting reading this. I was born at 44 Basils rd in 1951 one of 5 children. Four of us went to Letchmore rd school at the end of our rd. I remember Mrs Moore, Mrs Buckingham and Mrs thurmston as our teachers. Then we went to Almond hill school. When the New town was being built we went to Blessed John Southworth School in Bedwell Crescent. My dad was a Baker in Albert St and used to deliver the bread to Marriots farm and all up round Pin Green. The farmer used to give my dad either a hare, rabbit, or chicken and a turkey at xmas. My brother and myself are here now for a few days to have a trip down memory lane. We arrived yesterday after dark to the Newtown and were totally lost. Its massive. We eventually found our way to the lovely old town. Our name was Casey. Terry, Pat, Margaret , Martin myself Janet. We played in all the same places you mention and in the old rec opposite the school. We used to go train spotting and were delighted when the golden arrow and I think the flying scotsman steam trains came past. Do you remember Millies tuck shop. Just past the old alms houses. The fairground is now all houses. We cant wait to explore today in the daylight. We moved to the newtown and lived at The Dell before moving to Dover when I was 12 in 1963 as my dad bought a bakery there. It’s great to be back here and the Old Town has been kept really much as it was. Jan nee Casey.

    By Janet Wright (12/03/2020)
  • More memories are now flooding back about this period and life in Stevenage which I could “put to paper”.
    I believe that us youngsters of the 60s and 70s were blessed to enjoy “a new fresh post war freedom not seen before or since” … perhaps I will get the pen out!!

    By michael gorham (21/11/2019)
  • Robert
    now that you mention that , I do recall that day.Whilst you therefore will see that as a negative response , I have often looked back on don monks actions and statements and believe them to have been made to drive one forward either with him or AGAINST !! him !! I once told him that the schools pole was too short for me and that I needed a longer one he answered ” your not good enough” ,but a week later a longer pole arrived!! then I said I needed to practice before school he answered ” waste of time” but then the caretaker came and sorted it out with me .. AND then 7 o clock one morning as I was on the run up preparing to vault when I noticed don monk watching me through the hedge between the school grounds the lane ..
    I now live in st neots and still train on alternate days

    By michael gorham (21/11/2019)
  • Hello Mike, fortunately it was not me who had that mishap with the spiked shoe! Glad to know that you were favoured by the P.E. teacher to persevere in the pole vault. I recall whilst training, I had achieved a good distance in the long jump and with you being excited about it, ran off to inform Mr. Monk. Disappointed as I was when you returned to relay to me that my achievement was disbelieved! Happy to say though that I did break the school record in that particular year as a fourteen year old.

    By Robert E Dines (20/11/2019)
  • hello roger dines , { i remember you by name } yes the pole vault was my favoured event , do you remember don monk the p.e. master he pressed me to concentrate on the pole vault ,that one {and sustained !!} action had a great affect on my later sporting life. I remember a long jumper at Barclay school whose perfect landing style would ensure his hands would be so far reaching forward that one occasion his spikes went through the palm of his hand {he cupped his hands together and laughed!! as the formed cup overflowed with blood ,im wondering if that was you ?

    By michael gorham (16/11/2019)
  • Pleasant memories indeed of Stevenage Old Town. Hope I’m not mistaken Mike, but are you the pupil at Barclay School who excelled in the pole vault contests? If you are then we partnered up when we trained in The Spartans, where I enjoyed training for the long jump and sprint.

    By Robert E Dines (15/11/2019)

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