The famous Spirella corset factory building, built between 1912 and 1920, was way ahead of its time in the facilities if offered its employees: baths, showers, library, free eye tests.even bicycle repairs.
It's a listed building and has been well restored, now housing offices, a cafe and a fitness centre. The wonderful ballroom (a ballroom in a factory??) is hired out for weddings etc.
The Mrs Elizabeth Howard Memorial Hall was the first public building in Letchworth. funded by public subscription, in memory of the wife of Ebenezer Howard whose vision Letchworth was, it is now the home of the Letchworth Community Group.
Built in 1907, architects Bennet and Bidwell, a Grade 11 listed building.
The museum is housed in the building designed by architects Parker and Unwin, whose masterplan was the basis for the whole 'garden city'. Strangely, they designed themselves a thatched cottage of the 'olde Englishe' type; the rest of the houses are not like this at all!
The museum has an exhibition on the history of Letchworth.
You are almost bound to see one (or several) if you wander through Norton Common, about 5 minutes away from the town centre/station (as long as there are not too many dogs about). There are muntjac deer as well.
Black squirrels are a mutation of the common greys, and extremely rare in the UK. Except in this little corner of Bedfordshire/Cambridgeshire/Hertfordhire, where there are lots. They are just as brave/cheeky as the greys, and will turn up in gardens to steal food from bird tables in just the same way!
Norton Common is a pleasant place to walk anyway; 63 acres of nature reserve, woodland and green space.
Broadway is the main central thoroughfare through the town and links the town centre with the A505 Hitchin Road. At the centre is the Town Square which is more a rectangle than a square and I remember this being encircled by tall trees (may have been yew trees) but these have gone and have been replaced with smaller trees. This area was actually known as Kennedy Gardens, adopted in the 1960s in honour of the assassinated American president JF Kennedy. They were renamed Broadway Gardens when they were officially reopened, following a £1.2m refurbishment, as part of the town's centenary celebrations in June 2003. The central area in the road leading from the square to the train station was originally planned as a tramway.
The Letchworth Museum & Art Gallery occupies a building built in 1914 that was later extended in 1920. The museum exhibits wildlife, including the famous Letchworth Black Squirrel, and archaeology of the local area plus a small art gallery upstairs.
Open: 10am-5pm, closed Wednesday and Sunday. Admission: Free.
Letchworth has some delightful cottage-style houses which were designed by Bennett and Bidwell - the two principal designers. When the town was initially born, it was home to two experimental housing exhibitions in 1905 with houses on Nevells Road and in 1907 with houses on Pixmore Way being exhibited. Today, many display a commemorative plaque confirming their entry in the exhibitions.
This is Letchworth's most impressive building, located just over the railway line from the town centre. It was built between 1912 and 1920 for two Americans who were attracted to Letchworth by the Garden City Movement. This building was built for the Spirella corset company and offered its employees facilities such as baths and showers, gymnastics classes, a library. ballroom, free eye tests and bicycle repairs which were way ahead of their time. At one time in the 1950s the factory was selling thousands of corsets a day and employed 2000 people, and had customers as famous as Marilyn Monroe and Mae West. During the 2nd World War the factory was used by local firms Irvin Aerospace (parachutes) and British Tabulator as extra space for manufacture. The company closed in 1986 and after being sublet as small office and industrial units for a time, was restored for modern office space and a fitness centre.
Located overlooking the Broadway Gardens in the town centre, this impressive building was designed by Bennett and Bidwell in 1935, was called the Council House from 1935 to 1960 when it was renamed The Town Hall. The clock tower, added to the original design, is a memorial to Charles Ball, donated by his widow.
This church is called the Roman Catholic Church of St. Hugh of Lincoln which, although quite massive, is set back from the street reducing the effect. It was designed by Nicholas and Dixon Spain, started in 1938 and completed in 1962.
One of the best looking buildings in the town, the Broadway Cinema is a fine example of Art Deco architecture. It was built by Bennett and Bidwell in 1935 and was once one of three cinemas in the town but today this is the only one left. The Palace Cinema used to be located right next door and this was the first cinema to be built outside London in 1909. However, it closed in 1977. Today, the Broadway has been recently renovated and has four screens.
This building was the first public building in Letchworth, built in 1906, and was paid for by public subscription in memory of Ebenezer Howard's first wife Elizabeth, who died in 1904. It was first used for all social events and meetings before being extended to accommodate a girls club in 1907. The building housed the first Letchworth Parish Council Meetings, and then from 1919 until 1934 the Letchworth Urban District Council used the hall for many of its meetings. In 1983 the building was still in use for meetings, and a variety of youth and community oriented projects were based there.
The church hall for The Free church was built by the congregation in 1905. Before this they met in member’s homes or vacant workmen’s huts. The Hitchin Free Church Council encouraged the new residents of Letchworth to raise money for a hall and a site was found and secured. Many of the new arrivals being in the building trade volunteered their spare time to construct the first Church Hall of The Free Church, with very little funding. Starting with the stone laying ceremony by Rev F B Meyer and Ebenezer Howard on August 5th 1905, it held its opening service on October 17th 1905.
This building was once Letchworth's famous Skittles Inn which was opened in 1907. It was famous for not actually selling any beer and became known as the 'pub with no beer'. Instead it offered 'fellowship, rest and recreation' for workers but all drink served at the bar was non-alcoholic, in response to the wishes of the majority of Letchworth residents. In 1925, The Skittles Inn became The Settlement, a centre for adult education and local activities.
Norton Common is located just to the north of the town centre over the railway line and lies to the west of Norton village - one of the three original villages which were absorbed into Letchworth Garden City. The 25 hectare (63 acres) common was designated as a 'People's Park' in the early plans for the town. Keep an eye out for the famous "wild" residents - the black squirrel, a genetic variety of the imported grey, first spotted in 1944.