LETCHWORTH You need to make sure your face fits in Letchworth. This was the first garden city, and the dream is still intact, as wholesome as a Hovis advertisement. To those who come from elsewhere to live – and to the groups of Japanese architects who come to gawp at it in summer – it can seem strange indeed. In the past, Ebenezer Howard’s social experiment attracted a distinct type of middle-class teetotaller, full of good intentions and disposed to vegetarianism. Today it is more liberal, but it was an almost dry town and until recently had only one pub. Once upon a time there was just the Skittles Inn, which sold only lemonade and ginger beer, but this has been turned into The Settlement community centre. The beauty of all this is that it is generally safe to roam the streets at night. The town’s 1936 art deco cinema is now a four-screen complex. There is a supermarket, sports and leisure centre and, like Hitchin, the town has retained its 1930s’ open-air swimming pool. Letchworth Museum & Art Gallery, housed in an attractive Edwardian building designed by Barry Parker, offers an insight into the local history.
The sought-after properties are the original garden city houses, which have a rural calm about them. The cottages in Nevells Road, Icknield Way and Wilbury Road are worth just going to look at. An original garden city house with four bedrooms would cost around £400,000 (Sollershott West and East, and The Broadway have good examples), while a two-bedroom Edwardian terrace cottage could be bought for £200,000.
The town can afford to be particularly proud of its schools. Not only does it have two well-known public schools, St Francis’ College for Girls and St Christopher’s (progressive, vegetarian, boarding for boys and girls), but it also has two comprehensives, Highfield and Fernhill. The town is still growing, and properties on the newish estates tend to be cheaper than in the Garden City proper. A three-bedroom detached house on the Lordship Farm estate, for instance, will cost £275,000. An old asylum building in parkland is in the final stages of development to provide 900 new homes with garden city credentials at Fairfield Park.
Of the villages close by, Norton has a haphazard charm, a primary school, two pubs and a common that offers 63 acres of woodland with deer. Willian is little more than a hamlet, made endearing by its duck pond and some very old houses, but property in both these villages rarely comes on the market.