Stevenage may derive from Old English stiþen āc / stiðen āc / stithen ac (various Old English dialects cited here) meaning '(place at) the stiff oak'.
The name was recorded as Stithenæce, c.1060 and Stigenace in 1086 in the Domesday Book.
Stevenage lies near the line of the Roman road from Verulamium to Baldock. Some Romano-British remains were discovered during the building of the New Town, and a hoard of 2,000 silver Roman coins was discovered in 1986 during new house building in the Chells Manor area. The most substantial evidence of activity from Roman times is Six Hills, six tumuli by the side of the old Great North Road – presumably the burial places of a local family.
A little to the east of the Roman sites the first Saxon camp was made in a clearing in the woods where the church, manor house and the first village were later built. Settlements also sprang up in Chells, Broadwater and Shephall (though before the New Town Shephall was a separate parish and Broadwater was split between the parishes of Shephall and Knebworth).
In the Domesday Book the Lord of the Manor was the Abbot of Westminster Abbey. The settlement had moved down to the Great North Road and in 1281 it was granted a Royal Charter to hold a weekly market and annual fair (still held in the High Street).
The earliest part of St Nicholas' Church dates from the 12th century but it was probably a site of worship much earlier. The known list of priests or rectors is relatively complete from 1213.
The remains of a medieval moated homestead in Whomerley Wood is an 80-yard-square trench almost 5 feet wide in parts. It was probably the home of Ralph de Homle, and both Roman and later pottery has been found there.
Around 1500 the Church was much improved, with decorative woodwork and the addition of a clerestory.
In 1558 Thomas Alleyne, a rector of the town, founded a free grammar school for boys, Alleyne's Grammar School, which had an unbroken existence (unlike the grammar school in neighbouring Hitchin) until 1989. Francis Cammaerts was headmaster of the school from 1952 to 1961. The school, which was a mixed comprehensive school and is now an Academy as of 2013, still exists on its original site at the north end of the High Street. It was intended to move the school to Great Ashby, but the Coalition government (2010–15) proposed scrapping the move owing to budget cuts.
Stevenage's prosperity came in part from the North Road, which was turnpiked in the early 18th century. Many inns in the High Street served the stage coaches, 21 of which passed through Stevenage each day in 1800.
In 1857 the Great Northern Railway was constructed, and the era of the stage coach had ended. Stevenage grew only slowly throughout the 19th century and a second church (Holy Trinity) was constructed at the south end of the High Street. In 1861 Dickens commented, "The village street was like most other village streets: wide for its height, silent for its size, and drowsy in the dullest degree. The quietest little dwellings with the largest of window-shutters to shut up nothing as if it were the Mint or the Bank of England."
In 1928 Philip Vincent bought the HRD Motorcycle Co Ltd out of receivership, immediately moving it to Stevenage and renaming it the Vincent HRD Motorcycle Co Ltd. He produced the legendary motorcycles, including the Black Shadow and Black Lightning, in the town until 1955.
This slow growth continued until, after the Second World War, the Abercrombie Plan called for the establishment of a ring of new towns around London. It was designated the first New Town on 1 August 1946. The plan was not popular with local people, who protested at a meeting held in the town hall before Lewis Silkin, minister in the Labour Government of Clement Attlee. As Lewis Silkin arrived at the railway station for this meeting, some local people had changed the signs 'Stevenage' to 'Silkingrad'. Silkin was obstinate at the meeting, telling a crowd of 3,000 people outside the town hall (around half the town's residents): "It's no good your jeering, it's going to be done." Despite the hostile reaction to Silkin and a referendum that showed 52% (turnout 2,500) 'entirely against' the expansion, the plan went ahead. Ironically, although the Commission for the New Towns [however, CNT wasn't set up until 1963...] declared the Old Town would not be touched, the first significant building to be demolished was indeed the Old Town Hall, in which the opposition had been expressed.
In 1949 the radical townplanner Dr Monica Felton became Chairman of the Stevenage Development Corporation but she was sacked within two years. There were a number of reasons for her dismissal by the government but a lack of hands-on town planning leadership and her opposition to the Korean War (for which she was later awarded the Stalin Peace Prize) sullied her reputation.
In keeping with the sociological outlook of the day, the town was planned with six self-contained neighbourhoods. The first two of these to be occupied were the Stoney Hall and Monks Wood 'Estates', in 1951. The Twin Foxes pub, still on the Monks Wood estate, was Stevenage's first 'new' public house and was named after local notorious identical-twin poachers (Albert Ebenezer and Ebenezer Albert Fox). Next to be built and occupied by the London overspill was Bedwell in 1952, and then came Broadwater and Shephall (1953), Chells in the 1960s and later Pin Green and Symonds Green. Another new development to the north of the town is Great Ashby. As of 2014 it is still under construction. The Government gave almost £2 million for a purpose-built homeless shelter, which will serve a large part of Hertfordshire.
At least two other public houses have a direct relationship to local history. The name of the pub "Edward the Confessor" (closed 2006) could have had a connection to the time at which St Mary's Church in nearby Walkern was built, for King Edward ruled from 1042 until his death in 1066. Walkern's village church dates from this time. The second pub with a possible link to local history is the "Our Mutual Friend" in Broadwater. The name of the pub is the title of a novel by Charles Dickens. Dickens was an occasional guest of Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton in nearby Knebworth House and knew Stevenage very well.
The pedestrianized town centre was the first purpose-built traffic-free shopping zone in Britain and was officially opened in 1959 by the Queen. By the clock tower and ornamental pool is Joyride, a mother and child sculpture by Franta Belsky. Although revolutionary for its time, the town centre is showing signs of age and in 2005 plans were revealed for a major regeneration to take place over the next decade. Details are still being debated by the council, landowners and other interested parties.
Multimillion-pound plans to redevelop Stevenage town centre were scrapped owing to the financial crisis of 2007–08 and the lack of interested private-sector partners. On 24 May 2012 Stevenage Borough Council announced that a £250m scheme for the shopping area has been pulled by Stevenage Regeneration Limited (SRL) because of the continuing adverse economic conditions. The plans, which included realigning streets, moving the bus station and building a new department store, cinema, hotel, restaurants, and flats, had been given council planning approval in January 2012.
The Town Centre Regeneration Strategy (2002) called for better-quality shops (including a major department store), improved public transport with a combined bus and rail interchange, high-density town-centre living, substantially improved civic facilities, increased office space and an improved 'public realm'. YMCA Space Stevenage (a youth and community centre) was evicted and replaced by Paddy Power (a betting shop). Other well-known stores, such as Maplin Electronics, and Marks & Spencer have also disappeared from Stevenage town centre.
The town has a large central library in Southgate, at the southern end of the pedestrian precinct, with facilities including printing, fax and photocopying, children's events, study space, a carers' information point and a large public computer suite, as well as a small branch library at the northern end of the High Street in the Old Town. There is also a public library in nearby Knebworth, located in St Martin's Road.
Next to the Town Garden the Church of St Andrew and St George is an example of modern church design and has housed Stevenage Museum in its crypt since 1976. The church is a cathedral-like Grade 2 listed building. It is also the largest parish church to have been built in England since World War Two.
Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother laid the foundation stone in July 1956 and was also present at the consecration of the Bishop of St Alban's, the Right Reverend Michael Gresford-Jones, on Advent Sunday 27 November 1960. The frame is constructed from a continuous pour of concrete into moulds, creating interlacing arches and leaving no apparent joints. There are twelve Purbeck-marble columns around the high altar and the external walls are clad in panels faced with Normandy pebble. The campanile houses the loudspeakers for an electro-acoustic carillon. A popular sculpture, 'The Urban Elephant' by Andrew Burton, was commissioned in 1992.
North of Stevenage Old Town, near St Nicholas' Church, lies Rooks' Nest ("under the big wych-elm"), home of the novelist Edward Morgan Forster from 1884 to 1894. Forster used Rooksnest and the surrounding area as the setting for his novel Howards End. In the preface to one paperback edition of Howards End there is a lot to be found about landmarks of Stevenage and their relationship to the story of the novel, such as Stevenage High Street and the Six Hills. The land north of St Nicholas' Church, known as Forster Country, is the last remaining farmland within the boundary of Stevenage borough. Forster was unhappy with the development of new Stevenage, which would, in his words, "fall out of the blue sky like a meteorite upon the ancient and delicate scenery of Hertfordshire".
Also close to Stevenage is Knebworth House, a gothic stately home and venue of globally renowned rock concerts since 1974. The house was once home to Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Victorian English novelist and spiritualist, who, as reported by one of his visitors, so deeply believed in spiritual realities that he sometimes thought himself to be invisible while others were around.
In 1999 a millennium countdown clock was mounted on the town centre clock tower, displaying the time remaining until the year 2000. The artwork on the clock was designed by Nicola Reed, a pupil of Fearnhill School, Letchworth.
Adjacent to yet separate from the residential parts of the town is the Industrial Area. For many years British Aerospace (now MBDA) was the largest employer in the town but now GlaxoSmithKline has a large pharmaceutical research laboratory complex (which is known as 'The Palace' to many of its inhabitants). A smaller but interesting enterprise is Astrium, which for some decades (as part of British Aerospace and its predecessors) has manufactured spacecraft, both as prime contractor and as equipment supplier.
There are many small- to medium-size firms as well. Stevenage BioScience Catalyst, a new science park aimed at attracting small and start-up life-sciences enterprises, opened in 2011 on a site next to GSK.
The town is still growing. It is set to expand west of the A1(M) motorway and may be further identified for development. The main area of more recent development is Great Ashby to the north-east of the town (but actually in North Hertfordshire District). A considerable amount of in-borough development has been undertaken at Chrysalis Park - on the old Dixon's Warehouse site adjacent to the Pin Green Industrial Estate. While being home to some celebrities, such as Kinga from Big Brother Fame.
Stevenage holds a number of annual events, including Stevenage Day and Rock in the Park. In past years Stevenage Carnival has also been held, with a number of attempts to revive it.
In 2016, Stevenage celebrated its seventieth anniversary as a New Town.
Stevenage experiences an oceanic climate (Köppen climate classification Cfb) similar to almost all of the United Kingdom.
Stevenage has a King George's Field named in memory of King George V, which boasts cricket and a bowls green, which is used by Stevenage Town Bowls Club. The field was the original pitch that Stevenage F.C. used to play on. The cricket ground is called Ditchmore Lane. The Stevenage Leisure Centre contains the Gordon Craig Theatre and many facilities for sports. The nearby Stevenage Leisure Park has a multiplex cinema, clubs, and restaurants. The main shopping area is around Queensway and the Westgate. At the south of the town, there is a retail park called Roaring Meg, which takes its name from a stream (a tributary of the river Beane) that runs under it. The river can be seen along the western edge of the area. There is also shopping in the Old Town. The Roaring Meg had an ice rink and bowling alley, but these were demolished in 2000 to allow the construction of more stores.
Stevenage F.C., formerly known as Stevenage Borough, is the town's major football team, playing their home matches at Broadhall Way. Founded in 1976, the club were promoted to the Football Conference, the highest tier of non-league football, in 1994. After sixteen seasons in this division, Stevenage won the Conference Premier title during the [2009–10 in English football|2009–10]] season, having previously been denied promotion to the Football League due to insufficient ground facilities in 1996. During Stevenage's first season as a Football League club, they secured back-to-back promotions to League One, the third tier of English football, after beating Torquay United 1–0 in the 2010–11 play-off final at Old Trafford. The club also won the FA Trophy in 2007 beating Kidderminster Harriers 3–2 at Wembley Stadium in front of a crowd of 53,262. It was the first competitive club game and cup final to be held at the new stadium. Stevenage reached the final again in 2009, beating York City 2–0. The club has also enjoyed several runs in the FA Cup, raising the town's profile in the process. During the 1997–98 campaign, Stevenage held Premier League side Newcastle United to a draw at Broadhall Way, before losing the replay 2–1 at Newcastle. The club would go one better in 2010, securing a 3–1 home victory over Newcastle in the third round of the competition — the first time the club had beaten first tier opposition. The following season, Stevenage held Tottenham Hotspur to a 0–0 draw at home in the fifth round, before losing the subsequent replay 3–1 at White Hart Lane.
The town also has a number of other successful sports clubs, including a women's football team (Stevenage Borough Ladies FC) and Stevenage Town Rugby Club. Many top class sporting heroes have come from Stevenage, the most notable being Kevin Phillips, Ashley Young, Lewis Hamilton, Ian Poulter. Fairlands Valley is a large area of parkland with boating lakes. The town is a very green town, with avenues of trees (typically Norway Maple) throughout but also large woods such as Monks & Whomerley Wood, which is ancient semi-natural woodland. Indeed, the Woodland Trust ranks it as one of the best places in the UK for ease of access to large woodland, with 99.9% of the population having access to woodland over 2 hectares (5 acres) within 4 km (2.5 mi), only slightly behind those living in the Forest of Dean or New Forest. There are also many playing fields (e.g. St. Nicholas playing fields near Ripon Road). The town's schools all have a substantial amount of ground; key examples are Ashtree Primary School, Moss Bury Primary School, Longmeadow Primary School and Barnwell.
Stevenage also has a basketball team: Stevenage Scorpions.
The town centre links to a 27-mile (43 km) circuit walk known as STOOP: Stevenage Outer Orbital Path. The circuit provides an informal, active recreational leisure amenity readily available to the residents of Stevenage and the surrounding villages.
A small community arts centre is located in the Roaring Meg Retail Park. The Boxfield and Foyer Gallery is situated in the Gordon Craig Theatre, which forms part of the large central Leisure Centre. Stevenage Museum is located under the St. Andrew and St. George's church on St George’s Way
A distinctive feature of Stevenage is its urban landscape. It has many roundabouts, few traffic lights, a network of completely segregated cycleways, and some of the tallest street lights in Britain. Eric Claxton was chief engineer of Stevenage from 1962 to 1972, and the comprehensive separate cycle network was planned and implemented by him during that period. Despite this network, the bike mode share is 2.7%.
Stevenage is served by the A1(M) motorway. The old Great North Road passes through the centre of the town, and the High Street in the Old Town has several pubs that were coaching inns on this road; it is mostly now classified as the B197. Stevenage is also served by the A602, connecting the town to Hitchin, Watton-at-Stone, Hertford and Ware.
Buses within and to outside the town are provided by several operators, the main within the town being Arriva The Shires. Other operators include Centrebus, Uno, and Cozy Travel.
The town is served by Stevenage railway station on the East Coast Main Line, and has regular commuter services to London and Cambridge, as well as connections to the North and Scotland.Born in Stevenage
Ed Westwick , actor
Ian Allinson (b. 1957), footballer
Zane Banton (b. 1996), footballer
Harry Bates (1850–1899), sculptor
Sir Thomas Clarke (b. 1527), knighted by Henry VIII.
Edward Gordon Craig (1872–1966), scenographer and theatre theorist
Andrew Croft (1906–1991) explorer and SOE (Special Operations Executive) agent
Albert and Ebenezer Fox (1857–1926, 1857–1936), infamous poachers
Gabz Gardiner, finalist in series 7 of Britain's Got Talent
Lewis Hamilton (b. 1985), Formula One world champion (2008, 2014, 2015)
Nicolas Hamilton (b. 1992), racing driver
Peter Harper (1921–2003) International Rally Driver
Ken Hensley (b. 1945), keyboard player and main songwriter of Uriah Heep in the 1970s
Aleks Josh, contestant on The Voice UK
William Jowitt, 1st Earl Jowitt (1885–1957), Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain from 1945 to 1951
Nadeem Leigh, contestant on The Voice UK
Cathy Lesurf, singer and member of bands such as Oysterband, Fiddler's Dram, Fairport Convention and The Albion Country Band
Richard Norwood (c. 1590 – 1675), first person to survey the islands of Bermuda
Alex Pettyfer (b. 1990), actor
Kevin Phillips (b. 1973), footballer
Rob Playford (b. 1968), Drum and Bass Pioneer and founder of Moving Shadow Records
Elizabeth Poston, composer, born in Highfield House, Pin Green (now the site of Hampson Park) and later lived in Rooks Nest.
Ian Poulter (b. 1976), golfer
Jason Shackell (b. 1983), footballer
John Thurloe (1616–1668), secretary to Oliver Cromwell, lived in what is now the Cromwell Hotel
Henry Trigg (c. 1667–1724), local grocer who became famous for his eccentric will
Phil Vincent (1908–1979), British motorcycle pioneer
Ed Westwick (b. 1987), actor
Jack Wilshere (b. 1992), Arsenal footballer
Anthony (Tony) John Wright (b. 1962), cricketer
Karen Woo, surgeon, killed along with other aid workers in Afghanistan (2010 Badakhshan massacre)
Ashley Young (b. 1985), Manchester United footballer
Francis Cammaerts (1916–2006), French Resistance leader, headmaster of Alleyne's Grammar School and witness in the Lady Chatterley Trial, October 1960.
John Cooper Clarke, performance poet, briefly lived in Stevenage, and allegedly wrote "Evidently Chickentown" about his experiences in the locale.
Evelyn Denington, Baroness Denington (1907 – 1998), politician who served as chair of the Stevenage Development Corporation
Denholm Elliott (1922–1992), actor, who lived in the house now known as the 'Little Folks Lab' nursery in North Road.
Thomas Fellowes (1827–1923), Royal Navy officer
E. M. Forster (1879–1970), novelist, lived in the house at Rooks Nest from 1883 to 1893.
Tommy Hampson (1907–1965), Olympic athlete. Hampson Park is named after him.
Emma Kennedy (born 1967), who wrote the BBC drama The Kennedys based on her childhood there
Stephen McPartland (born 1976), MP for Stevenage
Miguel of Portugal, King of Portugal between 1828 and 1834, is reputed to have lived on the High Street around 1845
Leslie Phillips, actor, evacuated to Stevenage during the Second World War.
David Schaal, actor, spent his teenage years in Stevenage.
Naum Slutzky (1894–1965), designer, master of Bauhaus University, Weimar
Gary Younge, journalist. Lived in Stevenage until the age of 17.
In November 2014, a pictorial tribute to the town’s sports superstars was unveiled along the pedestrian walkway through the Arts and Leisure Centre. This was completed in 2015 to include famous faces from the worlds of theatre, film, art and literature.
Many schools were built in the 1950s/60s due to an influx of Londoners to affordable terraced housing in areas such as Shephall, Broadwater, Chells and St Nicholas. The town has around 23 primary schools (see below). Some go to the surrounding villages of Aston, Benington, Walkern, Datchworth for their schooling. Stevenage also has a number of secondary schools and the central campus for North Hertfordshire College.Almond Hill Junior
Ashtree Primary School & Nursery
Bedwell Primary School & Nursery
Broom Barns Community Primary
Camps Hill Community Primary
Fairlands Primary School & Nursery
Featherstone Wood Primary School & Nursery
Giles Nursery & Infants
Letchmore Infants' & Nursery
The Leys Primary & Nursery
Lodge Farm Primary
Martins Wood Primary
Moss Bury Primary School & Nursery
Peartree Spring Primary
Roebuck Primary School & Nursery
Shephalbury Park Primary
St Margaret Clitherow Roman Catholic Primary
St Nicholas C of E Primary School & Nursery
St Vincent de Paul Catholic Primary
Trotts Hill Primary & Nursery
Woolenwick Infant & Nursery
The Valley Secondary
Barnwell (containing the VIBase for blind & visually impaired pupils and the SPLD Base for Pupils with specific learning difficulties)
Barnwell School - In 2006, Barnwell school took in students from Collenswood School after its closure. Students are now taught on two sites: Barnwell East and Barnwell West.
The Barclay School - A technology college specialist ICT college.
The Da Vinci Studio School of Science and Engineering - A studio school specialising in science and engineering.
The John Henry Newman School - A specialist arts school.
Marriotts School - A sports college. Marriotts will convert to sponsored Academy status with potential completion in September 2016.
The Nobel School - A specialist performing arts and science DCSF training school.
The Thomas Alleyne Academy
North Hertfordshire College (Stevenage Campus), Monkswood Way, Stevenage, SG1 1LA
Round Diamond (site in Pin Green closed and relocated to Great Ashby, now officially classified as a North Hertfordshire School.)
Pope Pius XII RC JMI (site in Chells closed and amalgamated with St John Southworth RC JMI, September 1990)
St John Southworth RC JMI
Pin Green JMI
Burydale (amalgamated with Shephall Green Infant School in September 2005, now closed)
Collenswood School (secondary school, closed in 2006 and the site became part of Barnwell School)
Stevenage Girls School (amalgamated with Alleynes School to become Thomas Alleynes School)
Chells School (a secondary school, the former site of which is now occupied by The Nobel School)
Heathcote School (Secondary school, closed in 2012 and the site became part of Barnwell School)
St Michael's (Catholic boys secondary school, moved from Mount St. Michael France to Hitchin then to Stevenage now amalgamated with St Angela's to form John Henry Newman)
Shephalbury Secondary Modern School (Shephalbury Park, now a housing estate)
The Grange (c.1847–c.1939)
Stevenage has an active network of Christian churches of many denominations. Many of the churches work together for town-wide projects under the banner of "Churches Together in Stevenage". Stevenage also has a mosque and a Liberal Jewish Synagogue.
Some of the places of worship include:All Saints Church (Anglican/Methodist Union)
Bunyan Baptist Church
Christ the King Church (Anglican)
City of David Church (Redeemed Christian Church of God)
Elim Pentecostal Church
Grace Community Church (Newfrontiers)
Great Ashby Community Church (Anglican/Baptist Joint Project)
High Street Methodist Church
Holy Trinity Church (Anglican)
Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses
Longmeadow Evangelical Church
Friends Meeting House (Quakers)
Roman Catholic Church of St Hilda
Roman Catholic Church of St Joseph
Roman Catholic Church of the Transfiguration
Salvation Army Corps
Church of St Andrew & St George (Anglican)
Seventh-day Adventist Church
Stevenage Liberal Synagogue (Liberal Judaism)
Stevenage Muslim Community Centre
St Hugh & St John Church (Anglican/Methodist Union)
St Mary's Church (Anglican)
St Nicholas Church (Anglican)
St Paul's Church (Methodist)
St Peter's Church (Anglican)
Stevenage Vineyard Fellowship
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - Stevenage Ward
United Reformed Church
Whomerley Spiritual Church & Centre