The archetypal new town, mostly built to house Londoners after the war, Stevenage is the post-war housing experiment rendered in all its modernist glory. Not many towns can claim to have been founded on a utopian concept, but here we have the embodiment of the planner’s vision, all laid out like somewhere in between the sets from the A Clockwork Orange and Fahrenheit 451 films.
Europe’s first pedestrianised shopping prescient, modeled on the principals of Cubism, becomes especially bleak at night. The glowing sodium-lit concrete reflecting off the stagnant fountain in Town Square. A mural on the side of what is now Primark wouldn’t be out of place in east Berlin, depicting as it does scenes of industrial workers and farmers working collectively for a prosperous future. Well the future is now- and with rising unemployment thanks to declining orders from the former British Aerospace factory in part due to the conclusion of the Cold War.
One day the arms factories will once again yield the anti-aircraft missiles and Space technology necessary for modern total warfare. Britain shall require new allegiances, new rivals and new orders for Rapier Missile systems. Until such times, many shops will remain boarded up, many people out of work.
The Library, a two storey building at the edge of the prescient has changed little in 30 years. The upstairs automatic door system still creeks and shudders open as it did when I was a child. It is here you while away the hours under the shadow of the tower blocks.
The Old Town, the area which predates the war still retains some of the features from centuries past. Many pubs line the High Street from when the original Stevenage was a coaching stop on the Great North Road (now known as the A1M). Hertfordshire’s locally produced beer, McMullen’s is certainly a good drop to drink. My preferred pint in this locale is the McMullen’s Country Bitter, at the Prince of Wales on Albert Street. Framed photos on the wall show the area in its heyday including coach trip ‘beanos’ to the seaside in the 1950’s.
Despite there not being a highly visible community from the Asian Sub-Continent in Stevenage, the five curry houses scattered along the High Street are very good. There is sadly however little other culinary options worth mentioning in the town.
Musically, 1977 era punk band The Bleach Boys are from nearby Hitchin and still seem to play quite regularly, as does Chas, from Chas & Dave. Chron Gen, also local and were at one time the regular support band. Goths might be interested to know Fields of the Nephlim are from the town and John Cooper Clarke lived in Stevenage in 1982. According to a BBC documentary “he drifted there to take drugs” and was known to do his shopping in Sainsbury’s on Thursdays.