Will you help revive the very special serpent in our midst?

The first instalment of a two-part Dacorum Heritage Trust feature about the history, and future, of Hemel Hempstead’s Water Gardens

Although it’s now obvious to all that Hemel Hempstead is one of the new towns that ring London, created in the aftermath of the Second World War, it’s not commonly known that the town was rejected as a potential site for major development before being included in the master plan.

Geoffrey Alan Jellicoe was appointed as the general planning consultant for the Hemel Hempstead development, tasked with turning a quiet market town with a population of just 22,700 inhabitants into a bustling metropolis that was home to 60,000.

Hemel Hempstead's Water Gardens in years gone by

Hemel Hempstead's Water Gardens in years gone by

Jellicoe is on record as stating that, at that time, it was a new field – very few people had ever carried out such large-scale town planning at that time.

His vision aimed to “include all human diversifications and be the modern counterpart of the cathedral city.”

His overall plan for ‘neighbourhoods’ akin to small villages, surrounded by open land, remains relatively intact today.

The area already abounded with its many historic ‘Ends’ such as Fields End, Piccotts End and Warners End.

Water Gardens, Hemel Hempstead

Water Gardens, Hemel Hempstead

Many of Jellicoe’s grander plans stayed on the drawing board. He proposed closing the existing Boxmoor and Apsley railway stations and replacing them with a central station at Two Waters, and also thought that West Herts Hospital should be re-sited away from the town centre.

Art galleries, theatres, golf courses, artificial lakes, country clubs, heliports and even a museum were all part of his master plan.

But one of the major features which did become a reality was the Water Garden, completed in the summer of 1961 and soon established as a popular part of the local scene.

The pedestrian bridges and balconies over the River Gade and ornamental flower gardens proved an instant hit.

Unfortunately, the plans required the existing rare chalk stream to be channelled for part of its course.

Jellicoe, by then a well-respected architect and landscape designer, created a sense of space in a restricted area.

He imagined the river as a serpent, with a fountain as its eye and a lake at its tail. London’s Hyde Park had the Serpentine, so the new town could have its own serpent!

Features which have been added since 1961 have included the Rock & Roll statue in the southern lake, and the tiered car park.

A less welcome addition has been the increasing numbers of Canada geese which feed on the verges.

In 1965, the Water Gardens scheme received a Civic Trust Award for design.

The social idealism of the post-war period, when the New Towns Bill was produced, hoped to create a new type of citizen, a healthy, self-respecting dignified person with a sense of beauty, culture and civic pride.

In 2013, perhaps some of those lofty ideals of the 1940s can be restored with the current project to revitalise this public space in the spirit of its original designers and planners.

We aspire to provide a beautiful, tranquil and yet vibrant and lasting testimony to Jellicoe and the New Towns movement, which altered the lives of so many.

This project could mean a lot to the local community today – will you give it your active support?

To find out more about the project or join the Friends group. please contact emma.cooper@dacorum.gov.uk or call 01442 228352.