Hightown commemorates 50 years of house building in Hemel Hempstead and beyond

The turf cutting takes place for the Cornfields development in 1971
The turf cutting takes place for the Cornfields development in 1971
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Can you remember what you were doing during the Summer of Love in 1967?

Perhaps you bopped at a live music festival during England’s first ever Spring Bank Holiday, or maybe you stayed at home listening to The Beatles’ new vinyl LP – ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’?

It was certainly a significant year for the growing town of Hemel Hempstead, as it marked the birth of Hightown Housing Association and its vision to provide affordable housing to local people in need.

To mark its 50th anniversary, the charitable organisation wants help to trace the impact of the work it’s been doing to provide homes in the area since it was set up by a group of businesspeople working on the High Street in Hemel Hempstead Old Town in 1967.

The original Hightown, then called Hightown Housing Society, was first registered on 19th July 1967 and began with a working capital of just £10 and a loan of £50.

Its founders were volunteers committed to providing decent and affordable homes in the community they served. They included Peter Benton, a local architect and his wife Laura. He came up with the Hightown name from ‘High Street’ & ‘Old Town’

There was also Eric Foster, a quantity surveyor, Philip Mayo, a lawyer and Hightown’s Chair from 1968-1993, Tony Wainwright, who also worked in law, Henry Philp, an interior designer., Mrs Gwen Marshall and Alastair Melhuish.

They were among groups of people across Britain who had been shocked by the BBC television screening of the seminal ‘Cathy Come Home’ drama in 1966. Up and down the country, people came together in their own communities to provide homes for homeless people.

Hightown owes a debt of gratitude to its original founders, and also wants to learn more about them to help it pay tribute to what their initial efforts helped to achieve.

The first estate they developed was The Cornfields, which opened in 1972. Estates to follow on from that included Bohemia and Fishery Cottages in Hemel Hempstead; Howard Agne Close and The Bourne in Bovingdon, and Little Hayes in Kings Langley.

Hightown has since developed into an organisation which manages more than 5,300 homes, mainly in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. It’s also still growing - in the Dacorum area alone, Hightown is building 225 properties in the next five years at a cost of £45m, a far cry from its original £10 working capital.

Now it plans to hold a special event in July to celebrate the value of its work in housing local people in need for the past 50 years. It would like to feature original memorabilia, photographs and stories from residents who lived on its first estates and more information about its founders.

If you have any memorabilia or images you’d be willing to share, Hightown will also include as many as possible in an online gallery later in the year.

Chief Executive David Bogle said: “We’re proud to have served the Hemel Hempstead community for nearly 50 years and our work is as relevant now as it was in 1967.

“To help us learn more about our history in our landmark year, please get in touch with your memories if you, or your family, lived on one of our first estates. I’m sure there are some fascinating stories waiting to be heard.”

Do you have a story to tell about the first properties it built in the 1970s and early 1980s? Perhaps you grew up on one of its earliest estates, or Hightown provided you with your first marital home? If so, please contact Hightown with your memories.

To share your memories of Hightown’s first estates or its founder members, get in touch by emailing communications&pr@hightownha.org.uk or by ringing 01442 292258.