Welwyn Garden City
WELWYN GARDEN CITY Ebenezer Howard, with his chief architect Louis de Soissons, designed Welwyn Garden City as a sustainable town with its own employment zones, but the lure of the commute was not resisted for long. Early residents in the Twenties had to wade through the builders’ mud in their wellington boots to get to the station, and changed into their city shoes on the train. The fusion of garden and city still remains very attractive, and the original cottagey houses behind perfectly clipped hedges are much sought after. Many have been kept on a ball-and-chain by 99-year or 999-year council leases (inherited them from the Welwyn Garden Company), but freeholds are now available. The utilitarian planning means that there is very little sense of one street being more up-market than any other. The wide main shopping boulevards now look strangely dated, and local shops and businesses tend to feel they have lost out to the bustle and variety of St Albans and Stevenage. There is a John Lewis department store, a Debenhams and a Waitrose, and the Howard Centre close to the station has added greatly to the shopping scene. Sports enthusiasts are catered for by the impressive Gosling Sports Park and two 18-hole golf courses.
The best side of the town is the west, where a three-bedroom semi with a garage in a quiet tree-lined road could cost £280,000 to £320,000. It is possible to buy a two-bedroom terrace house for around £175,000. The town is still evolving – large private estates have gone up to the east at the Panshanger aerodrome. A three-bedroom semi on a new private estate will cost around £225,000.
There is some very pretty, rolling wooded countryside around Welwyn Garden City, and those who prefer an older village could look at Wheathampstead to the west. As you approach the charming High Street from the direction of St Albans you pass a small quay on the River Lea, where people stop to chat or sit and fish. On one side of the road is a 400-year-old pub, The Bull. On the other is a converted water mill, which now contains a butcher, patisserie and jeweller. The village has three primary schools, from which children move on to secondary schools in Harpenden and St Albans. There is a library, three churches of different denominations, and lots of clubs and societies, including wine-making and archery clubs, cricket and tennis. You could pay over £210,000 for a Victorian cottage, or £500,000 for a five-bedroom house. Nearby is Brocket Hall, where Lady Caroline Lamb once emerged naked from a soup tureen and where more recently Lord Brocket ran a glitzy hotel and conference centre. He sold it on a 60-year lease 1996 when he was imprisoned for insurance fraud and it is still used for conferences.
Old Welwyn, just to the north of Welwyn Garden City, is a more graceful elderly and charming neighbour. It has a mix of houses from one-bedroom cottages with small courtyard gardens, priced at around £180,000, to larger three-bedroom cottages fronting the road at £300,000. On the edge, away from the shops in the main street is the executive development of Danesbury Park where a four-bedroom house will cost £450,000.