Matchstick trees and builders' rubble

Growing up in Stevenage New Town

By Gill Clements

The Hopwood sisters trying on their Mother's hats in the garden in Walden End, Stevenage, May 1960
Mr & Mrs Hopwood

I was born at home in a house in Walden End in Stevenage New Town in 1959, when the new town was in its infancy.  My Parents had moved out of London to get somewhere to live.  My Father had got a job with the new town Development Corporation, which came with the promise of housing.  This picture is from May 1960 when I was almost a year old.

An enormous building site

Growing up in a new town all the gardens were as the builders had left them, full of rubble with chestnut paling fences between them, no big shrubs or trees.  Everything was new, the houses, the roads, the schools.  The town centre shops were under construction.  It was really an enormous building site.

On the green in front of the houses there were rows of matchstick saplings, I just assumed that this is what all trees looked like. The landscape was a lot like an artist’s line drawing of a new settlement. When I look at Stevenage now, it has filled out as the trees have matured and everywhere has been completed and decorated by nature.

This page was added on 20/09/2010.

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  • Hi Tony Collman

    Sylvia Hopwood was my Grandmother, she did work at Saxone shoe shop, but did not move from London, neither did my Grandfather, they were both Hertfordshire/Bedfordshire born and bred. She only had my father and his sister. My grandfather became a car mechanic and worked at Stevenage Motor Company. He did motorcycle racing in Stevenage/Luton area before they were married in mid 1930s and won a cup. I have been trying to find out more about his racing. If anyone remembers him or his racing I would love to hear from you.

    By Amanda Binns (10/05/2021)
  • I remember Sylvia Hopwood, who I believe must have been the mother of the girls in the photo. She was my mother’s friend and colleague, working at Saxone’s, the shoe shop in Queensway, just by the underpass that was where the main entrance to Westgate is now. I even recognise the hat the girl on the right is wearing.

    Incidentally, that underpass was part of an ancient lane (Deadman’s Lane, I think) and a public right of way. I don’t believe Westgate had any right to close it off, but it is too late to do anything about it now.

    By Tony Collman (18/01/2021)
  • Dennis Paul Johnson here , we moved from fulham in feb or march 1955, lots of snow then, I went to Roebuck infant school and Shepalbury secondary modern (not there now), no shops then, we lived on 63 Broadwater Crescent across from the Roebuck shops, which were  built later.

    By paulinuk (03/07/2015)
  • Re: Comment by John Lingley 23/03/2011. From the description of the picture of your sister coming home from her Shorthand Lessons, I believe it may be the one published in Maggie Appleton’s book “STEVENAGE” in the Britain in Old Photographs, series. If it is, then she would be the girl on the right with the dark hair. I can’t honestly say I knew her at that time but I certainly know her blonde friend (Joyce D). She is Godmother to my children and still lives in Stevenage. I, like you couldn’t believe it when I found this picture … What are the odds? They say it’s a small world and they’re not kidding …. My wife and myself emigrated to Perth, Western Australia with our 2 children in 1974 and Joyce and her husband were at Heathrow to see us off. I came across the same photo a few years back but hadn’t thought much about it until I saw your comments on the “Matchstick trees and builders’ rubble” page by Gill Clements. I don’t know if the Adventure Playground you mentioned in Bandley Hill is in the park that used to be known as Bandley Hill Bottom (off Chertsey Rise) and the home of the mythical Bandley Hill Dragon. If it is, then you have sparked even more memories as it was there that I proposed to my wife. Sadly she passed away 4 years ago last week and Boxing Day this year would have been our 50th Anniversary. If I’ve got the wrong photo, I would still like to thank you for allowing me revisiting the halcyon days of my youth.

    By Fred Paine (21/10/2012)
  • Sorry cant remember you Bryan. You must have been in the year above me? I was in Robert Fennells class, They were very good days eh? I loved school.

    By kathleen nye (Bristow) (11/05/2012)
  • I also went to Peartree at that time and found my sister and I on the Peartree school photo. I went on to Barnwell via a 1 year wait at Shepalbury? while Barnwell was being finished. I also remember Freddy Fennel.

    By BRYAN ALBRIGHT (06/05/2012)
  • Are you by any chance the John Lynnely that backed on to our garden ? I lived in Ashleigh from 1956. You have a sister, cant remember her name. There was a little girl and her brother lived by you the Weymans? and Robert Fennell (and his brother Freddie) at the corner Elm Walk. I went to Peartree from 1956 then on to Barnwell in 1962.

    By kathleen nye (bristow) (21/04/2012)
  • The happy thoughts of Stevenage always flood back when I see or hear anything about those younger days living in Stevenage when I was knee high to a grasshopper(I am still knee high to a grasshopper!) In those days time as good as stopped still. Time lasted forever! My two sisters and brother would always be at the adventure playground at Bandley Hill. One day we went to go and see our friends,Mr Buck and Mike also,go and have some fun! When we all got near the adveture playground we saw “The Donkey”. My two sisters,brother and friends decieded that this wooden carving most definately a donkey. I say this again because I took our little dogs out for a walk,and the donkey was still there,after all these years! Two things are different though. The donkey has been moved ,near the path,also now one can see that it is a donkey. I would not have even known that the donkey was still there,until I had a thought I shall go on google earth and see if our famous donkey is still there. I was gobsmacked to see him there. looks so different to how my sisters and brother saw it all those years ago. I took a few pictures of the donkey,and now the donkey park is a park.

    As all those years ago I would have exactly called it that,as there were swing’s etc,not like Peartree Park,or king Georges park. I used to take quite a few pictures when I was younger,I used to get my dad’s camera(He would have gone balistic if he had known,like dads do!)Then when I got older I bought my own cameras, and took loads of pictures all around Stevenage,and everywhere I went. I had lost all of my pictures now,which is a shame. I had pictures of the water tower at pin green. I took the picture of friends in the carpark that used to be there. Also one of my friend at Bedwell when the telephone exchange was first built,to name a few. 

    I do not hardly have any of me when I was young. My sister is in one of the Stevenage books walking near the cycle track near a underpass. The picture of my sister and her friend were learning pitmans shorthand then! The picture was put up at the leisure center at the art gallery. I was so shocked to see my sister and her friend when I saw the picture up on the wall.

    By John lingley (20/03/2011)