Welwyn was England’s second Garden City, inspired by the ideas of Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928), and is important not just as an exercise in town planning, but for its significance in food manufacturing and retailing. Welwyn lies some 20 km south of the first Garden City at Letchworth. It was designed by the architect Louis de Soissons (1890-1962) and the first houses were occupied during 1920. Howard intended Welwyn to be a town of limited size, planned in advance, carefully zoned, and surrounded by a green belt, but its industrial growth in the 1920s was limited, and it developed more as a dormitory for London, easily accessed by railway. From 1948 its developed was managed by the Commission for New Towns.
It was best known as the place of manufacture of Shredded Wheat, the breakfast cereal invented by the American, Henry Perky (1843-1906). An innovative factory, with a clean image, enhanced by the use of ceramic tiles and white-painted reinforced concrete, began production in 1925. The company used ‘Welgar’ (i.e. Welwyn Garden City) as its brand name in the United Kingdom, and the factory was once depicted on every packet of the cereal. The layout followed a U-plan, as did Shredded Wheat factories in North America. The basic technology, the passage between smooth and grooved rollers of grain that has been cleaned and pressure-cooked, has scarcely changed, although packaging has been almost completely automated. The current owners intend to transfer production to Wiltshire in 2008, but several of the factory buildings, including the tall concrete grain silos, are listed.
In the centre of the town is the much-rebuilt Welgar Store, a central landmark built in the early years of the town by Welwyn Garden City Ltd., and originally designed by de Soissons to be a place where townspeople could meet their neighbours, a social centre as well as a shop. It was extended to include a refreshment area and a venue for meetings and dances. A new building of 1937, also designed by de Soissons, included a sports club and 62 flats. Further extensions were built in 1950, 1963 and 1968, and the store became part of the John Lewis Partnership in 1983-84.
The local museum for the Welwyn and Hatfield district is in an operational watermill at Mill Green.