Did-You-Know-That of the day: Letchworth should not be called Letchworth Garden City. Despite its innovation in the field of mass suburbanisation over a century ago, the modern day settlement is really just an extension of the original town of Letchworth as compared to, say, Welwyn Garden City, built adjacent to the old Welwyn.
With that cleared up, on to Letchworth itself. Or rather, into. One enters Letchworth via a grandiose, treelined avenue leading to an impressive, large-scale square cum garden arrangement, with fountains, a looming town hall structure at the end, an art-deco cinema… It’s all a bit bewildering, and so completely different from the organic, historic towns (we came here from Hitchin) that England is used to, although it does have its own interesting past.
It’s a bit of a letdown when you get to the town centre, then. It feels a bit windswept, empty of life and character. Lots of discount stores, empty shops, not many actual people. The charity shops are a mixed bag. A closed Oxfam Bookshop, a Sally Army which we didn’t spot, a Scope which we avoided in order to get out of Dodge, as it were.
That left a small but winding Mind, filled with books and local, genuine, actual punks flicking through the Playstation games, and a British Heart Foundation with – like all these shops – a decent DVD selection, evidence of a town with little else to do. I left with Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy in a handy single volume. Typically, I’d found the middle one separately elsewhere just previously. Clearly, McCarthy is like London buses in this respect.
That just leaves the star of the show, Garden House Hospice – one of the largest charity shops I’ve ever visited, on a par with the Cambridge Oxfam, the Walthamstow Sally Army and the Epping Sue Ryder. This sprawling outlet features sofas and dressers, arrays of books, Shaun of the Dead on DVD, elderly typewriters, bags of used golf balls, dresses and clothes that you’d wear to your wedding.
If Letchworth wasn’t such a spooky place to visit, this shop alone would make it worthwhile. As it is, it confuses the life out of me – I’m a bit fascinated by it all, but I don’t know if I’d return.
Find: Letchworth at Google Maps
Transport: Letchworth Garden City station, via First Capital Connect
Consume with: we didn’t linger that long. It says something that on return to the car, we consumed the rest of a piece of bread pudding bought in Hitchin, rather than find somewhere here.
Visit: The Letchworth Garden City museum could actually be quite interesting.
Overall rating: three golf balls