Letchworth Town

Before 1971

By Graham Taylor

Commerce Lane

In Letchworth, Commerce Lane no longer exists, but it used to run from Commerce Avenue to Leys Avenue, coming out next to the current fish and chip shop, opposite the entrance to The Wynd.

As you came down Gernon Road, turning into Commerce Avenue, there was a small chapel on the corner, and a row of fireman’s cottages.  On the left you would see the busy frontage of Whiteheads Garage, the home of Whiteheads Taxis, next to the alley which lead back to Eastcheap and Sudbury’s Cycles. Beyond the lane was the BBC (Brookers Bedding Centre).  Turning right into Commerce Lane (I’m not sure when this was turned into a one-way street, but this was a wise step as it was extremely narrow) on the left you’d see R.W. Smith undertakers, where Ted Crouch (who later had his own undertaking business in Baldock) made coffins, on the opposite side was Manway Dry Cleaners.  

Eric White and his lovely green car

There was then a narrow corner, and on the left if you were lucky, you’d bump into Eric White and his lovely green Bristol car (but I’m afraid I don’t know what he did there), opposite on the right was Harry Metcalf and his gents hairdressing business.  At this point, Commerce Lane splits into two around the Aitchison Tyre Services building, on the main road to the left is the blacksmiths shop of Harry and Peter Steward where I remember there was always a welcome to a young boy who wanted to see horseshoes being made and fitted at the hot forge fire.  

The right hand part of Commerce lane was a series of garage units, with a couple of large ‘units’ above.  First was Edwin Taylor’s two units, one a garage for his mobile butcher/grocer van, and one which was a storage unit containing a very large walk-in fridge for the meat.  His mobile butchery/grocery business mainly served the North Herts villages, Bygrave, Ashwell, Sandon, Stotfold, Odsey, Wedon Way, Radwell, Newnham and naturally Letchworth.

Small businesses and residents

Several small businesses moved in and out of the lane, including Mr. Kift’s cars and a drag-racing car outfit, but some long-standing residents were Peter G. Lawrence and his company PGL Holidays (now very famous for adventure holidays in the Wye Valley), and above was were Harry Doherty and Bill Hendersby’s cabinet making skills were practised.  F.J. “Joe” Topham who would arrive at his garage in his lovely red and black old Morris, or on his tiny Corgi motorcycle had the large corner unit opposite a communal incinerator.  There was Aitchison’s Tyre Services where you could have your battery recharged rather than simply replaced, and a gas lamp that I remember being lit manually close to the entrance.  

Around the corner was Jack Cooper’s potato crisp factory and the tiny road to Turner’s lorry depot (what a place to drive large lorries!!!)  

On the final leg of the Lane on the left, was the RSPCA Animal Centre, and as we turn into Leys avenue, on the right, outside what is now the fish and chip shop was one of Letchworth’s working horse troughs (the other was opposite what is now a public convenience next to the paddling pool.  

  1. Eric White – Bristol car
  2. Harry F. Metcalf – Hairdresser
  3. E.T.Taylor – Mobile Butcher/Grocer
  4. Mr. Kift – Secondhand cars
  5. Harry Doherty and Bill Hendersby – Cabinet makers (above) 
  6. Peter Lawrence – PGL Holidays (above garages)
  7. Incinerator
  8. Aichisons entrance
  9. Gas lamp
  10. Jack Cooper – Potato Crisps

This page was originally added to ‘Herts Memories’ during 2009

This page was added on 11/06/2010.

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  • I bought my first moped an NSU Quickley, from a man who had a small repair shop in one of the garages, Tony Holt, a think his name was. This would have been about 1962. I also remember some stables where the Cart Horse was kept.

    By Carol Dutson (28/04/2022)
  • During my early days with A.J. Haddow in 1965, I spent a day in a building in Commerce Lane, where old motorcycles and mopeds, taken in part-exchange and not good enough to stand in the showroom, were being stored. My task was to put them in some semblance of order and take stock. That was the only time I ever went there and have no idea how long it was used by Haddows.

    By Robert Forster (06/05/2021)
  • A little history – My father, William B. Rowley, owned a fruit and vegetable shop in the Wynd, back in the time frame of 1936. Not sure when he sold the shop, but remember going over the ledger, after his passing in 1973. His shop closed for the day, for the funeral of King George VI, November 1936.

    By Wendy Rowley Burkhart (28/07/2020)
  • I remember going into Sudbury Cycles and asking them to pump up my bicycle tyres. It cost me 6d! I also remember Woolcotts, also in Eastcheap, the other side of the alley that led down to Commerce Lane. Woolcotts was a sweetshop (that lasted a lot longer than Sudbury Cycles!) where you could get everything from Mint Imperials to bars of Cadbury’s. The Jars were lovely. Glass. The jars in modern copies of these shops always seem to be plastic. Ah, memories!

    By Adrian King (16/08/2019)
  • What memories! I drove taxis for Joe Whitehead and then one of his coaches based in Pixmore avenue. Met some great friends there. Sadly, I think most of them have passed on.

    By Mike Butcher (09/09/2018)
  • My father worked at Whitehead’s Garage during the late 1940’s and 1950’s and he has told me that the ‘drag-racing car outfit’ mentioned was actually the workshops of John Tojeiro, a well-respected sports car designer and manufacturer. His chassis design was used in the AC Ace which was later developed into the legendary AC Cobra.

    It is also interesting to note that the alleyway into Eastcheap is still there and can still be seen (from Eastcheap) – it leads to a car park at the back of Iceland.

    By Brian Henley (04/04/2018)
  • I would like to add some information about (Eric White-Bristol Car) Eric White was my father. The car was a Bristol 401 in green. The name of the company was Displaypac and my father put car and motorcycle components on display boards for Britax. I was a small boy in the mid fifties, but I remember all about the area very well and have great memories. My father passed away in 1995. If anyone would like any more information, please contact me.

    By John White (30/11/2012)
  • My parents were the RSPCA Auxiliaries for Letchworth from around 1967 – it must have been shortly after this that the RSPCA centre closed, because I can remember being taken there one day to clear it out before it was demolished for the development.

    By Fran Whelan (03/10/2011)
  • We all thought the area was public, but somehow it got sold off to developers and closed off, including even The Wynd. Those roads had been public rights of way for at least 60 years. I feel Leys Avenue and Commerce Avenue were also changed for the worse.

    By Tony Tony (19/08/2010)