Serving the people of Knebworth

History of Knebworth

Knebworth is a parish comprised of a principal village of around 2,500 dwellings and several outlying settlements. It is completely surrounded by green belt and encircled by much larger towns; within 15 km are the Hertfordshire towns of Stevenage, Welwyn Garden City, Hertford, Hatfield and Letchworth, and Luton in Bedfordshire.

The first written record of Knebworth is in the Domesday Book. It records an entry of a typical agricultural village for hundreds of years, dominated by a large manor, and surrounded by a small farming community.

Throughout the 1800's, Knebworth had changed very little, but by the end of the century the industrial revolution was finally having a dramatic effect. The population had doubled, and new trades and professions were arriving. This was all due to the opening of the railway station.

The opening of the railway station about one mile from the village (now Old Knebworth) and just to the west of the Great North Road in February 1884 created a new and separate settlement which, according to a map made at the beginning of the 1900's, became known as Knebworth Station. There were already a number of small cottages and some farm buildings in the area that dated from the 17th and 18th centuries.

New properties were built, and new people moved into them creating a whole new village, to be known later as New Knebworth, then, just as Knebworth, with the original village becoming known as Old Knebworth.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a plan was devised for the development of a 'garden village' at Knebworth, along the lines of the Garden City at Letchworth which had started in 1903. An estate of 800 acres was laid out, but the plan never totally materialised. In 1898, when Ebenezer Howard wrote his ideas for a garden city in his book 'Tomorrow – A peaceful path to real reform', it was in response to the problems of squalor, congestion and poverty that he saw in London. It inspired him to believe that he had the solution to the problem of the uncontrolled growth of towns, and the migration of people from the countryside to the towns, seeking jobs and homes. His idea was to create a 'Garden City', where there would be comfortable, well designed houses, with gardens set in tree lined streets. The factories would be clean, healthy and safe places to work in, and would not pollute the environment. The countryside would be brought into the town. The then current lord of the Knebworth Estate, Victor, Lord Lytton was inspired by Howard and developed a plan to create his own garden village in Knebworth. In 1904 he consulted with his brother in law, the architect Edwin Lutyens and in 1908 he approached Thomas Adams, who was managing Letchworth Garden City, to take on responsibility for managing the whole Knebworth project. Adams accepted and visited the estate in January 1909.

By 1910 around half the houses in Pondcroft Road, Milestone Road, Westland Road and Station Road and other houses in Park Lane and London Road had been built by contractors to various different styles. Lutyens employed architects Pepler and Allen. George Pepler was a colleague of Raymond Unwin who was working at Letchworth, and together they founded the Town Planning Institute. His partner was Ernest G Allen, and in 1908 they won two gold medals at the Wolverhampton Model Housing Exhibition and also designed houses for Hampstead Garden Suburb. Another architect was C M Crickmer who was also designing both for Hampstead Garden Suburb, and Letchworth. The Knebworth scheme was therefore attracting the most influential architects of the day .

In 1908, plots of land were being bought up by local builders, and in September 1909 the Lord Lytton held a meeting with local residents to explain the arrangements he was making for the development of his land.

He explained that, following the example of Letchworth, Bourneville and other Garden Cities, he had decided to have a proper town planning scheme. It provided for wide main avenues, ample recreation spaces, and large gardens. The average number of houses to the acre was less than 10. The first part of the scheme was Stockens Green where some houses were built around a large public green space.

In 1912 a County Council school was erected in London Road large enough to accommodate all the elementary school children from the newer part of the village. It has been expanded over the years and is currently a Primary and Nursery School for just over 400 children.

The First World War and After

During the First World War, building everywhere in the country came to a grinding halt and the cost of materials rocketed. At the same time, the 1918 Labour Party manifesto wanted "a substantial and permanent improvement in the housing of the whole people. At least a million new houses must be built at once at the State's expense, and let at fair rents, and these houses must be fit for men and women to live in." Responsibility for providing cheaper housing was now being met by the local authorities, and the co-partnership model went out of fashion.

New housing was being provided at Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield and Letchworth, meaning there was more availability of homes. The 1930s was a period of depression and high unemployment, so the idea of home ownership was out of the question for most people. The Town and Country Planning Act came into force in 1947 and responsibility for the approval of new homes came under the local authority. All these factors probably contributed to the slow down, and eventual curtailment of the Knebworth Garden Village plans.

Post First World War

After the first world war Oakfields Avenue, Oakfields Road, Gun Road Gardens and part of New Close were built. After the second world war an entire council estate was built west of Gun Road Gardens and part of the land between Park Lane and Stockens Green was in-filled.

Later Developments, into the 21st Century

Then in the mid 1970's a number of developments occurred. A large estate of around 180 dwellings known as the Wimpey Estate was built to the west of the development between Park Lane and Stockens Green, later being increased to around 200 homes. This estate was built to a style typical of the period and brought a new era to the style of Knebworth. Two large houses next to the old Great North Road, Pelham Lodge and Warwick Lodge were pulled down and 68 flats and maisonettes known as Haygarth were built. Gun Farmhouse was demolished, and 30 dwellings were built on the site, now known as Sayer Way and a number of warden-controlled flats were built in Deanscroft.

In the early 1980's a further 100 dwellings were added to the south west corner of the village built on former farmland and known as the Rialto Estate. Around the same time a smaller development was undertaken adjacent to Old Knebworth consisting of 15 high quality dwellings arranged around a village green, adjacent to the Lytton Arms Public House. It is actively managed by Old Knebworth Amenity Company. Subsequently, a further 9 properties (Manor Farm Stables) were built in the vicinity and reflect the original use of the buildings (see Old Knebworth Conservation statement).

During the late 1980's a second Wimpey Estate was built on a brownfield site adjacent to the railway station. This consisted of approximately 125 dwellings and Knebworth Village Trust was formed in 1987 to administer the planning gain from this development. The Trust encourages grant applications from organisations active in the village, in order to distribute funding locally, including planning gain from developments.

Last updated: Mon, 26 Oct 2020 09:49