Molly Jennings - Part Three
Welwyn Garden City's first resident
By Roger Filler
Continued from Part Two
Later in the autumn it turned very cold, and we used to wake up in the morning and find our pillows stuck to the walls with ice. This had to be ripped off. Then Mason was taken ill, and the Horns really worried and insisted that we should spend the rest of the winter in the house.
By now, the Architect’s drawing office had moved from London to one of the army huts on the Garden City site, and I went there to work every day – across the fields and through the mud – that is, from the present Poultry Services to the present Cherry Tree. Also in the office was Mr Legg the Surveyor, Mr Blomfield, a draughtsman in the architect’s office, still remembered with affection by some of his friends still here, and assistant architect, Mr Brown.
Welwyn Garden City staff
The Secretary, Mr Osborn, the Engineer, Captain James, the Surveyor Mr Dunnage, the Accountant Captain Care, and their staffs occupied the other army huts. None of these people were living here yet. I don’t know how they got here every day. I think it must have been then that a halt was put on the railway for the use of people employed here. We all had lunch in a canteen in the workmen’s camp, and made tea in the office, boiling the kettle on one of the tortoise stoves. There was no coal at first, but there were always mountains of logs.
First houses are finished
Just before Christmas 1920 some of the houses in Handside Lane were finished, and a few were occupied – one by Mr and Mrs Rawlinson (Mrs Rawlinson, as you may know, is the daughter of Sir Ebenezer Howard, the founder of the Garden City, and she still lives here). The Rawlinson’s had three children, two of whom were my mother’s first music pupils. I remember having tea with them just after they moved into their house in Handside Lane – Ebenezer Howard was there too.
Very early on the scene were Mr and Mrs Osborn. Mr Osborn had already been established in his army hut office for some months, and he and his wife moved into 8 Brockswood Lane at the end of 1920. They came to their house hoping to meet some furniture, but after waiting till after dark they were told that after waltzing helplessly round and round in the mud it was stuck fast in Handside Lane. So the only thing to be done was to dump the furniture in the nearest empty house till daybreak. Meanwhile, the Osborn’s went back to their own nice new house and slept on the floor.
Another house, number 55, was taken by George Simpson, who’d had a distinguished career in the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War. He was starting a market garden on the field where Brickwall Nurseries are now. He camped out in the Handside Lane house on his own, or rather with a huge Great Dane, called Pablo, and with no furniture till his wife arrived a month or two later with a three-month old baby. Pablo was noted for sitting beside the wrong prams and defending the occupants against all comers. And he really meant business, the babies and their mums could never be reunited till George arrived to call him off.
We moved into number 65 Handside Lane as soon as it was finished, in February 1921, and my mother and by brother John Haggis joined us there.
During 1921 some of the directors, including the Chairman, Sir Theodore Chambers, moved into various houses, also some members of the Garden City staff – for instance, a house in Handside Lane, inhabited by the Architect’s staff was known as the Monastery,
Music in Brockswood Lane
Soon some purely residential residents began to arrive. I remember the strange sensation, on my way over to Brickwall through the mud, of hearing the sound of a piano from a house in Brockswood Lane, in the middle of mud, trenches, scaffolding, light railway, and gangs of workmen. This turned out to be no ghost but Evelyn Squire, now Mrs Dawson of Valley Road. She and her sister May were schoolgirls and were soon to be seen every morning all dressed in navy blue ploughing through the mud to the railway halt near the Cherry Tree. They were on their way to Hitchin Grammar School.
Hailing a train
Before the halt was made (it must have been before Christmas 1920 because we were still in our caravan) my mother paid us a visit at Brickwall and slept at the gardener’s cottage. When she was due to go back to London, we escorted her to the level crossing at the end of Handside Lane. When the train from Ayot Green came along, we all shouted and waved and did a sort of war dance. Sure enough, the train stopped, and my mother was pushed up by us, and pulled up by the guard and some of the passengers, and on went the train to London.
Still on the subject of the railway halt, most people have heard the legend of the gum-boot trek every morning and evening. It is said that the passengers swarmed on to the train, changed into their shoes, and threw the gumboots out on to the platform just as the train moved off. The boots were fielded by the porter, paired off and put into neat rows against their owners’ return.
Continued in Part Four