Living in WGC - Evidence for BioPark Inquiry

On day 5 of the BioPark Public Inquiry Tony Skottowe gave evidence on the experience of living in WGC. He introduced himself to the Inquiry as Chair of the WGC Heritage Trust and a resident of the town for nearly 50 years.

Tony reminded the Inquiry that ultimately this is not about the semantics of planning policy but about a town and its people and the legacy that will be left for future generations.

"A sense of place is difficult to quantify but WGC does have a unique one. The relationship that exists between the Town and its people is not easy to define and has emerged because of the way the town was planned – based on one man’s principles to create a place where all of its residents can experience a sense of health and well-being. De Soissons interpreted Howard’s ideals in a way that was not architecturally brash, overbearing and complicated, but with subtlety and finesse. We may take our surroundings for granted but there is a deep affection for this town amongst its residents. But this sense of place is fragile and can easily be overwhelmed by unsuitable development.

The more you learn about this town and its history, the more you realise its special importance and its seminal place in town planning. From the outset it was carefully planned to a unique design. It didn't just grow haphazardly with bits added on at random. The heartfelt vision of Ebenezer Howard has been brilliantly interpreted by Louis de Soissons. A key factor in this is the landscaping. de Soissons' clever use of trees and green space is unsurpassed in an urban setting. It provides cohesion to the whole town and beautifully illustrates Howard's key principle of the marriage of Town and Country. Each new development adds to the whole. Therefore, each new development does need to embrace the Garden City Principles – the creation of beautiful homes with gardens and landscaping – a placed that is fully integrated and connected to the whole. The alternative would be that new development within the Garden City ignores these principles and the Garden City is gradually eroded and its integrity is undermined.

As Susan Parham has already explained there are only two true garden cities, Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City. Their importance is demonstrated by their being considered for UNESCO World Heritage status. They attract visitors from throughout the world, many of whom have been guided around this town by the WGC Heritage Trust. They come to see and to learn from a unique example of town planning which is still relevant today. We have included letters of support from leading foreign academics in our evidence. Even Stephen Levrant mentioned the effects WGC has had on suburban development.

To repeat the quote in my Proof of Evidence from Ellis and Locke 2020; Howard's ideas are not a hindrance to development but a solution to today's issues.

Surely this heritage is worthy of protection.

Welwyn Garden City was designed with the needs of its community in mind. Not just social activities, which have always been numerous, but health and well-being. In creating this town much emphasis was placed on green open spaces giving its residents room to breathe. This is something still of vital importance to everyone.

Reference has been made during this Inquiry to the East/West divide or ‘the wrong side of the tracks’, as if the town is a thing of two distinct halves. As a resident I can honestly say that since the post war growth throughout the town this so-called division is not a feature. Most residents drive over Hunters Bridge without giving it a thought. Indeed two areas on the East side are now conservation areas.

Broadwater Road has always been accepted by residents as an area for industry with consequently different architecture. The Biopark is not a hated building but has always been accepted by residents as part of the industrial landscape, just like the Shredded Wheat Silos – we understand its function and purpose of providing employment. A residential development is looked at with completely different criteria and is viewed from a different perspective and on the basis of whether it adds or takes away from the garden city ethos of the residential context.
we are not against development on the Biopark site, far from it. We just want to see a development of a size and style that is worthy of our unique garden city.

Finally I think my good friend Malcolm Cowan brought this out in his opening speech;
Local people are appalled by this application and the reason why is simple – they have lived here seeing good design, good architecture and good landscaping every day of the week, whether looking out of their windows, walking or driving down the road or most notably in the town centre – a town renowned worldwide for its forward-looking ethos. All of these aspects are missing from this application."

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WGC’S Third Man?

For any project to succeed it needs a visionary, a designer and a maker. You will be familiar with the names of Ebenezer Howard and Louis de Soissons, the visionary and the designer but who actually made our beautiful town? The memorial of Welwyn Garden City’s maker stands at the top of Parkway facing across The Campus but not many people know who he actually was.
 
Theodore Chambers was the maker of WGC. Chosen by Ebenezer Howard in 1920 to be the Chairman of the Board of WGC Ltd he remained in post until the company was taken in to the New Towns programme in 1948/50. During that time, he oversaw the creation of what is now recognised worldwide as one of the finest examples of town planning, but who was he?
 
Tuesday 14th September 2021 at 7:30pm a free online webinar is taking place with Geoffrey Hollis and guests.
 
The talk is based on extensive research by Geoffrey following the extraordinary revelations in his talk about Louis de Soissons. It will become clear what a huge debt of gratitude we owe Theodore Chambers, an exceptional man, including some fascinating history of his Scottish roots. The talk, supported by WGC Heritage Trust, will include a memory from his grandson, live from Hawaii, and other contributions. 

This talk is now available on the Trust's Youtube Channel at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsXuup7pNGsbCOca2WNqJ3w

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A Polish Picnic in Parkway

A sunny June event in 2021. Tony Skottowe joined members of the Polish Saturday School to give a talk about the history of Welwyn Garden City. From the review below the day went well!

"Sun, water, blanket, sun cream, snacks, loads of smiling faces and simply a joyful afternoon - that’s it! Sometimes the smallest thing can bring the greatest joy!

After a long year of being at home, a year during which it was often impossible to meet, today’s picnic with the Polish Saturday School in Welwyn Garden City Town Centre was a wonderful opportunity to spend a bit of time together and socialise.

However, our event had a two fold purpose; apart from our get together, 30 + participants listened to a fantastic talk given by Tony Skottowe, Chair of the WGC Heritage Trust, about the history of Welwyn Garden City, which is now 100 years old. 

As we often say in Poland - "przyjemne połączone z pożytecznym"! A few hours together, in a great company, was fabulous. We have to do it again! 

P.S: We are truly blessed with where we live!"     Iwona Pniewska and Michal Siewniak

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Gardens, Dreams and Visions

Gardens, Dreams and Visions – you are invited to join us in the Garden of the World.

To mark the Centenary of the founding of Welwyn Garden City, Kadam Dance and Welwyn Hatfield Interfaith Group present the Garden of the World, a series of talks and performances inspired by gardens and expressed through dance, music and poetry. The events will run every Tuesday at 8 pm on Zoom from 14 July to 18 August 2020. We invite you to join us.

The series opens with  'A Garden City – Vision and Reality', a talk by Tony Skottowe (Chair, Welwyn Garden City Heritage Trust) on July 14, 2020 at 8pm. Link to join Zoom Meeting:

https://zoom.us/j/94776211237

Tony’s talk lays the foundations for the 6 week long project, which has gardens at the heart, celebrated through dance, music and poetry. Kadam Dance and Welwyn Hatfield Interfaith Group have partnered to bring an engaging programme on Zoom, to all residents of Welwyn Garden City and further afield ahead of a live performance in 2021. Further information is available at: http://www.pulseconnects.com/garden-world

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A Potted History of WGC

On 11th December 2019 trustee and local historian Angela Eserin gave a fascinating talk in WGC Library for some of the volunteers who are helping WGC Centenary Foundation celebrate the town's centenary in 2020.

Entitled 'WGC A Potted History' the talk covered the beginnings of WGC, post-war planning, the QEII hospital, 50th anniversary celebrations and the town's global influence. A series of talks open to the public is being planned for 2020...

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Captain Birkin's 1929 "Blower" Bentley workshop

On Saturday 2nd Nov 2019 despite the inclement weather a blue plaque was delivered to Topps Tiles in Broadwater Road, WGC by the Bentley Drivers Club. It commemorates the site of the workshop set up by Sir Henry (Tim) Birkin where, in 1929, he produced his world famous racing “Blower” Bentleys.

Birkin workshop in Broadwater Road sectional factory 

The presentation was made by Ron Warmington, former Chairman Bentley Drivers Club, who explained that the "Blower" Bentley was born thanks to technical help from Clive Gallop, supercharger specialist Amherst Villiers, and Dorothy Paget who financed the project after Birkin's own money ran out. As well as the increased power Birkin's added supercharger ("blower") in front of the radiator gave the car it's unique appearance.

Ron Warmington, former Chairman Bentley Drivers Club, presenting the Birkin memorial plaque.

The plaque will be formally mounted at the Topps Tiles premises on 23 Aug 2020 when a display involving several "Blower" Bentley cars will take place, driving around a closed circuit, as part of the WGC centenary celebrations.

 

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10th Birthday Party

Wednesday 15th February 2017 saw a gathering held to celebrate 10 years of the WGC Heritage Trust. Joint founders Dennis Lewis and Tony Skottowe gave short speeches recalling the start of the organisation and it’s achievements; both looked forward to the next ten years!

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Donations arrive during exhibition

As has happened with previous displays the Trust’s recent ‘Where Do You Think We Played?’ exhibition at Sainsbury’s has prompted further donations of material for the WGC Heritage Trust archive.

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