Over the years I have visited Letchworth many, many times.Â At first it was to visit our offices there (when I worked for ICL) and then to visit Dad when he relocated there from London.Â On nearly every visit I was told something about the town’s peculiar history: often the same little bits of information, like the ban on pubs in the town (which was only lifted in the 50′s).Â This evening there was a short segment about how Ebenezer Howard originally founded the garden city, which pulled together a lot of what I had forgotten that I knew and put it all into context.
It also explained a little about the peculiarity in title deeds for houses in Letchworth which my sister discovered when handling the sale of Dad’s house.Â We discussed it a bit on Sunday during what may have been my last visit to Letchworth.Â Apparently large swathes of the town are still owned by the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, a charitable trust, and nearly all the properties in town have something in the deeds listing all the limitations on the property if it is part of the trust’s estate.Â Even properties that are not part of the trust have these conditional leasehold clauses – leading to great confusion for us and the buyer’s solicitor. It turned out that everybody had missed the “if” which meant all the confusing sections could be safely ignored.
Looking at the short explanation on Wikipedia, it appears to be a unique situation up in Letchworth with a body that is separate from any of the councils having some level of control over planning matters in the town, even though there are no direct elections to it.Â It seems to work though, and the town is still keeping fairly true to Ebezer Howard’s original founding principles – which were a bit like the principles behind Port Sunlight, Saltaire or Bourneville and greatly influenced the development of the New Towns like Crawley and Basildon.Â What would Crawley and Basildon be like if Letchworth had never existed?Â Letchworth gave the world its first roundabout and the New Towns took the idea and got carried away with it – in Basildon I can remember a roundabout with only two exits: it was a 90-degree bend in the road and teh planners made it a roundabout for no obvious reason.
Strange how I am now finding out more about the place when I am unlikely to go there again, but that is the way it works out.Â I’m just glad to see that I was not imagining the black squirrels I have seen up there.