From 1939 to 1946 I spent my childhood in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire. Those were my formative years and no doubt made me what I am today.

Letchworth was a strange, but safe and comfortable place in which to grow up. Alcohol was not allowed to be sold in the town and, until fairly recently, there was no pub.

However, during the war it was far enough away from London to avoid the bombing and I enjoyed living there.

In the early days the town acted as a magnet for all manner of seekers for the new life. `The Simple Life Hotel' was one focus of activity with its food reform restaurant and health food store.

In the evening the good Letchworthian could enjoy a non-alcoholic beverage at The Skittles, the infamous pub with no beer, advertised as 'The Liberty Hall of the Letchworth worker'. And at the weekend, clad in rational dress and sandals, a talk on 'Progressive Religious Thought' given by the Alpha Union could be attended at The Cloisters. in Barrington Road.

George Orwell spoke of: 'every fruit juice drinker, nudist, sandal wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, nature cure quack, pacifist and feminist in England' as living there and in this poem Betjeman jumps on the band-wagon.

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HUXLEY HALL

In the Garden City Caf‚ with its murals on the wall
Before a talk on "Sex and Civics" I meditated on the Fall.

Deep depression settled on me under that electric glare
While outside the lightsome poplars flanked the rose-beds in the square.

While outside the carefree children sported in the summer haze
And released their inhibitions in a hundred different ways.

She who eats her greasy crumpets snugly in the inglenook
Of some birch-enshrouded homestead, dropping butter on her book

Can she know the deep depression of this bright, hygienic hell?
And her husband, stout free-thinker, can he share in it as well?

Not the folk-museum's charting of man's Progress out of slime
Can release me from the painful seeming accident of Time.

Barry smashes Shirley's dolly, Shirley's eyes are crossed with hate,
Comrades plot a Comrade's downfall "in the interests of the State".

Not my vegetarian dinner, not my lime-juice minus gin,
Quite can drown a faint conviction that we may be born in Sin.

John Betjeman

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