Why it's time to move to Hitchin
PUBLISHED: 16:13 01 August 2012 | UPDATED: 21:41 20 February 2013
A thriving town with a wealth of shops, nightlife and good schools - it's no wonder Hitchin is a popular place to live, as Pat Bramley discovers
Go-getter George Hawkins moved to Hitchin when he was 21 and never looked back.
Told by his father to go off and seek his fortune, he left the family home in Paddington, Middlesex, made his way to a London station, hopped on a train and only got off when it stopped at Hitchin.
With enough cash from his dad to get him started, he went into partnership with a Mr Morley and together they opened a pawn shop. Not long afterwards they spotted a gap in the market and employed five seamstresses to work above the shop making smocks for local farmworkers.
After one or two false starts, the business prospered and now it is one of the few remaining department stores in the home counties still owned and run by the family of the founder.
Hawkins of Hitchin celebrates its 150th anniversary next year so theres no doubt George made the right decision when he chose to settle in this market town with its medieval heritage and close-knit community.
Peter Hawkins, Georges great-great-grandson and the fifth generation to head up the family firm, says 21st-century Hitchin is not only a town with a policy directed at enabling small businesses and entrepreneurs to prosper, it remains a beautiful place to live. Theres a real buzz to the town centre during the day as well as in the evening because were a forward thinking heritage market town. We have a thriving economy thanks to the Hitchin Initiative. We were one of the first towns in the country to set up a consortium to ensure all sections of the business and private community have a say in what happens here and how we move forward.
Strangers arrive in Hitchin and immediately get the feeling that this is a town which hasnt had the life sucked out of it by so-called progress. The old part of Hitchin with the beautiful 13th-century parish church at its heart still has tree-lined narrow streets with attractive buildings and inns dating back to medieval times.
On sunny market days people sit outside trendy cafes and traditional tearooms enjoying their cappuccinos and homemade cakes. For all the world you could be in a small town on the continent.
One of the many factors which puts Hitchin in the premier league of places to live is the number of specialist boutiques and family-run businesses which have been in the same ownership for generations. Take Gatwards, the jewellery shop. It was founded in 1760, a century before George Hawkins arrived in 1863.
There are so many attractions which bring visitors to Hitchin and help to support the economy: the lavender fields established by Edward Perks in 1822, the annual three-week town festival which now includes a two-day Culture & Rhythms of the World event; theres also ladies Ascot Day, the British Schools Museum, the Queen Mother Theatre, Hitchin Museum the list of places to visit is endless, never mind all the sports clubs and special interest groups for those lucky enough to be a resident.
Road: Hitchin is ten miles from the M1 and three miles from the A1(M), the main routes north and south. The A1(M) connects with J23 of the M25 at Potters Bar.
Rail: Journey times into London and Cambridge on a fast train from Hitchin Station are about half an hour. Hitchin to Kings Cross takes 25 minutes. Stevenage is five minutes away by rail, Peterborough 45 minutes.
Air: Luton is the nearest airport, not much more than five miles away.
There are three state secondary schools: two single sex and one co-ed comp. Hitchin Boys and Hitchin Girls were both rated good schools following recent Ofsted inspections. The Priory School also gets a good report from parents.
Theres an excellent choice of private schools within an easy commute. Princess Helena College for girls in the nearby village of Preston is distinguished by being set in a Grade II* listed mansion designed by Edwin Lutyens surrounded by grounds landscaped by Gertrude Jekyll.
How much to live here?
Hitchin estate agent Tony Norgan says the entry price for a two-bedroom terraced house in reasonable condition is about 200,000, if its very nicely done up, 240,000-250,000.
Here is the local property experts guide for what you can expect to pay as you move up-market:
Three-bedroom modern semi without an extension: close to 300,000;
Detached modern three-bedroom house: 350,000-500,000;
Victorian and Edwardian houses: over half a million;
Three to four bedroom mainly four-bedroom period properties in a particularly good road: 650,000-800,000.
Detached house in a tree-lined avenue in the towns most expensive Benslow area: well into seven figures. n