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WGC heritage: Mud, glorious mud!

In the second of our regular Welwyn Hatfield Times columns delving into WGC's past, the WGC Heritage Trust looks at housing in the early days of the second Garden City.

An early challenge for the Welwyn Garden City Company, which had been incorporated to put Ebenezer Howard's plans into reality, was housing the builders, planners and other employees.

Ex-army huts were erected in a clearing where Campus West now stands as temporary homes for the builders, but houses were needed for everyone else - and quickly.

A hamlet, Handside, of eight cottages lay roughly in the centre of the nearly 2,800 acres which Ebenezer Howard had purchased. It had an all-important well and stood at the junction of Handside Lane and Brockswood Lane, then little more than narrow farm tracks, so was a natural starting point. (Any road in Welwyn Garden City bearing the name 'Lane' indicates an original track which often led to a farm).

Fifty houses were built rapidly along Handside Lane, which wandered downhill towards the Great North Road at Lemsford. These houses were designed by Courtney Crickmer, an architect from Letchworth who had been appointed in July 1919 to prepare a preliminary town plan. Crickmer had his own practice designing houses in Arts & Crafts style for Letchworth and Hampstead Garden Suburb.

His designs for the houses in Handside Lane seem remarkably similar to his in Letchworth, and were not what the Company wanted. They believed that the newer town should look different from its predecessor. Their requests went unheeded by Crickmer and after an argument over fees he left. His designs were implemented though; the first brick was laid on April26, 1920, and the houses were completed by the winter of that year. They are the 50 white rendered houses from the corner of what is now Russellcroft Road going south. Two were bombed in the war (numbers 61 and 63) and are replacements.

We will talk about the early residents in a subsequent article. They had to be tough as the new houses did not get a proper road surface for quite a while; when it rained the Lane became a quagmire. One contemporary tale was that someone discovered a bowler hat floating in the Lane; on lifting it up its wearer was discovered, submerged in the mud!

You can discover these houses and much more by following the Town Centre Trail, developed by the Trust. This is one of two Digital Heritage Trails using the capabilities of smartphones.

Look for the blue plaque at number 43, the first house occupied. More information on

This article by Geoffrey Hollis for the WGC Heritage Trust was first published in the Welwyn Hatfield Times on 8th June 2022.