Stevenage at the turn of the 20th century

A Picture Gallery

By Tony Ellmore

These pictures show a very different view of Stevenage to the town we know today.

Do you recognise any of these places?

This page was added on 03/08/2011.

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  • The picture #6 is the Roebuck Inn, looking towards the Hertford Road with The Smithy sweet shop on the left. This is at the centre of the story of a secret tunnel between the Smithy and the Roebuck Inn, and an escape of Dick Turpin the highwayman.

    I used to work for Mrs Conduit (the owner) in the shop at weekends while I was still at Alleynes. When she gave up the shop and retired to New Forest near Ringwood, she sold to the well known film producer and his wife, Mr Norman. Unfortunately, a fire broke out while roofing/proofing works were being carried out following the arrival of the new owner. I don’t know whether it fully re-opened after that, but I had moved on to a weekend job for Spencer’s Garden Centre, further down the Hertford Road.

    Out of the picture but on the left side, on the site now occupied by the terrace of three storey town houses, there used to be a small row of cottages which would not have met the sanitation requirements of 1954 Acts because they had only earth closets in the back garden, and I’m not sure if pumped well was their source of water. Coal fired range for heating and cooking in the downstairs room. I came to Stevenage in December 1953, and one of my first friends was Roger Scott who lived in the end cottage, with his brother Bobby and his mother. Soon afterwards, the cottages were vacated and demolished, and the Scotts moved to Shephall Green, I believe.

    My major memorable moment in this picture happened in 1961/2 when I was cycling to school in the Old Town. No roundabout as in today’s scene, but a tiny slip road to allow incoming from Knebworth to turn right so as to go up Roebuck Gate. One particular October Monday morning a furniture removal van was moving off towards Stevenage, and so I just followed it without looking.

    BIG mistake. London Brick Company lorry fully laden heading Knebworth direction had no chance. Poor driver.

    Trip to Lister at Hitchin and lay in bed for a week! Damage was big to the lorry, but not so much for me. A couple of lesions to the face, and one broken joint. However, the following Monday, returned to Lister to check the dressings, and the doctor asked me why I had removed the bandages from my right hand. I replied that I hadn’t, and that despite my complaints the previous week that my hand hurt and should be dressed, they dressed my right foot instead. Mistaken identity on the x-ray – first knuckle right hand overlooked in favour of big toe right foot. Whoopsie.

    I was also told later that there were a couple of school coaches bussing in from Knebworth, waiting to turn right into that slip road, to go to Shephallbury(?) or Heathcote school, and the kids had a grandstand view of the action, and that some of them required time to recover themselves. If you are one of those people, I’d like to say “sorreeeee”.

    In various pages about Our Stevenage online, I have seen many references to and by people whose paths have crossed with mine between 1953 and 1968 while I lived in Marymead Drive, and I’d like to say a great big thank you to you all, you are great.

    If you ever bought your “fags/sherbert dabs” from Frank Kemp’s Roebuck newsagent; had your papers delivered to your door; had the “boy” come round to collect the paper money for Frank Kemp; bought sweet or cigs at The Smithy; had plants, roses, rockery stone, paving bales of this or that delivered from Spencer’s Garden Centre between 1964 and 1968, then there’s a fair chance we have met.

    By richard hawker (28/11/2023)
  • Photos 1 – 6 L to R

    Photo 1:  Do not know, but my mother used to shop in a shop that looked like this (early 60s) which was on the western side of the High Street (south).  It was before supermarkets.  Inside we would sit in a queue waiting to be served, and we could sit or stand for ages if it was busy.  My mother would go daily in the morning.

    Photo 2:  Looking north to Green with divide of Hitchin Road and Great North Road.

    Photo 3:  Junction of Julian’s Road with Hitchin Road.

    Photo 4:  Looking north up High Street with Middle Row to right.  Shop in the middle was Shepherd’s the butchers (when I was a child).

    Photo 5:  Junction of church lane with Walkern Road.  Probably has not changed much since this photo.  The tower house must be noted for its design.

    Photo 6:  It must be emphasised that in those days, places like Broadwater and Shephall were hamlets well outside Stevenage itself.  Stevenage in the 1900s was a very small town spread along a High Street full of inns, a leftover from being a major coach staging post for London to Edinburgh.  Much of the Old Town development occurred in the 20s and 30s (as per Letchworth).  The New Town came 50s on, and the size of Stevenage then just exploded.

    By David Abram (11/02/2015)
  • A further comment on Photo 5 and 6.  In the 1900s, Walkern Road was a country lane from this point all the way to Walkern (of course).  Some of the original road is still there as cycle track and pathway by the side of the Stevenage Cemetary and through Hampson park.  I suspect a 1900s elderly person who knew this road well, would be terrified if they came back 100 years later.

    By David Abram (11/02/2015)