Letchworth parkrun

Posted on: 17 Oct 2021

There was a last minute change of plan for this week’s parkrun.  I had been planning to go to Houghton Hall but then, on their Facebook page on Friday night, they announced that the event might not go ahead because of a shortage of volunteers.  Or even worse, it might go ahead but without timekeepers so that everybody would receive a time of 59:59.  I didn’t want to risk either eventuality so I looked to see which was the next one on my list and it turned out to be … Letchworth!

Letchworth, or Letchworth Garden City to give it its full name, is a medium sized town (population 33,000) in the north of Hertfordshire.  Letchworth has a long history dating back to before the Norman Conquest.  It is listed in the Domesday Book as ‘Leceworde’ when it is described as having nine households of villagers, four cottagers, one priest and one slave!  The oldest building in the village would have been the parish church of St Mary’s and the manor house at Letchworth Hall (now a hotel).  Letchworth was never more than a small village up until 1900, when its population was less than 100.  And then …

And then along came a gentleman called Ebenezer Howard.  In 1898 he had written a book called Tomorrow - a Peaceful Path to Real Reform.  In it he proposed a new type of community, one that would blend the best elements of the countryside within a modern residential area.  It would be a kind of ‘Garden City’.  Howard’s theories struck a chord with certain people, particularly the Quakers and members of the Arts and Crafts movement.  Wealthy investors looked for a place to try out this new concept and in 1903 they settled on Letchworth.  The estate of Letchworth Hall was purchased along with fourteen adjoining estates.  The architects Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker were chosen to design the layout of the new town.  Their guiding principle was to preserve the outline of the countryside by maintaining the hedgerows and areas of woodland and building the new estates around the natural features.

Many new houses were built in a variety of designs.  If you had an interest in the domestic architecture of the Edwardian era and the Arts and Crafts Movement, you could have a fascinating day out in Letchworth, particularly in those streets now known as the Heritage Area.  In between the houses there are still plenty of areas of greenery.  The success of the Garden City concept inspired other communities such as Welwyn or Harlow or, further afield, Canberra in Australia.  Letchworth also boasts Britain’s first traffic roundabout, constructed in 1909.  Driving into Letchworth yesterday morning it seemed to me a very pleasant place to live.  To mark its centenary in the early 2000s the name of the town was officially changed to Letchworth Garden City.  Here’s a brief history of Letchworth as presented by the One Show.

A number of well known people have come out of Letchworth including Jack Hobbs (cricketer) Laurence Olivier (actor)  Michael Winner (film director) and A A Gill (writer and critic)

Letchworth parkrun is based at the Grange sports centre at the northern end of town.  There is a broad area of sports field adjoining hundreds of acres of farmland.  The course involves two laps on a variety of surfaces - farm track, then the edge of a ploughed field, then a bit of gravel path and then the grass of the sports fields.  I imagine in winter it could become a bit of a mudbath but today thankfully it was dry.  Letchworth parkrun has been going since January 2018 and usually attracts a hundred or so starters (98 yesterday)

Off we went.  On these mixed surface courses I usually try and run cautiously on the uneven bits (still terrified of falling!) and then speed up a bit on the smoother sections.  Yesterday a local farmer chose to add an extra element of jeopardy to the run by following us in a large tractor towing some heavy piece of farm machinery.  Coming up the side of the hill I could hear an ominous rumble approaching from behind.  As I neared the top of the slope a large shape appeared in my peripheral vision.  I dashed off down the gravel path and was glad to have got away in one piece!  I got to the approximate half way point in around 11:20, which was good and then maintained that sort of pace in the second lap to finish in 22:56 which gave me 20th place.  Perfectly happy with that, it’s roughly equivalent to my time at Exmouth a week earlier on smooth tarmac.

My statistics for today - that was parkrun venue number 229.  I was first in my age group and third overall on age graded scores.

Quick postscript - I checked the Houghton Hall results yesterday and the parkrun did take place after all.  They’ll just have to wait a little longer for me to grace them with my presence!

Here’s a speeded up YouTube video of the Letchworth course, if you’d like to see it for yourself

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