Writing Prompts: Tell the story of how your city or town came to be

What’s quite interesting about this prompt, is that both of the towns I have lived in (Stevenage and Basildon) have a sort of shared history, to a certain degree. Both towns are noted as small settlements in the Domesday Book of 1086 (the Book being a sort of census of William the Conqueror’s holdings at the time). Both towns were effectively nothing more than villages until relatively recently, with historical references invoking Roman, Danish, Viking and Norman invaders/settlers for Basildon, and evidence of Roman, Saxon and Viking activity at Stevenage.

Stevenage and Basildon trundled along as largely unknown, sleepy hamlets for centuries. Basildon went through many names, and Stevenage in the 1800s became a stopover for horse and coach travellers. Indeed, in the Old Town of Stevenage, the high street still retains the old coaching inns, complete with the gates and arches and courtyards that would stable the horses. The architecture is very Victorian, as befits the era where horse and coach travel exploded into life.

Not a lot changed, or happened, in either town, until the 1940s. In the aftermath of World War II, London’s population needed relieving, and a New Towns project was formed to handle the overspill. The very first New Town was to be Stevenage, and was designated such on the 11th of November, 1946. Basildon was designated a New Town on the 4th of January, 1949.

Both towns received a lot of attention, with new housing developments, new retail districts, and the arrival of commercial and industrial zones. Construction of all this took some time, but by the 1960s, the towns had been completely transformed. Detailed planning was intended to ensure the easy movement of people and vehicles, and distinct residential areas were created. Over the course of time, additional developments have been undertaken, in a bid to keep both towns in a good state. Both Stevenage and Basildon have leisure parks that incorporate a cinema, several restaurants, and clubs. In many ways, these leisure parks look very similar. Both towns have an Eastgate shopping centre, and a Westgate shopping centre (both in the town centres).

The striking similarities between the two towns are not lost on me. Stevenage was my childhood home, Basildon is where I made my own home. Is it coincidence that the towns are so alike?

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