Shredded Wheat Demolition

In recent weeks we’ve watched  areas of the former Shredded Wheat factory site be razed and cleared. This week they’ve begun nibbling away at the silos, surely one of the most iconic and certainly one of the oldest structures in the town. Judging from the comments on social media many residents are unhappy about it, a lot of memories are tied to that site. To mark the event, here are a few pictures and notes about the site and its history.

SW Silos demolition 180118 1280 closeup

Shredded Wheat Factory Silos being demolished on the 18th January 2018.

The new owners, Plutus Estates, are demolishing only the sections of the site that were given demolition consent, as part of the outline planning consent that was previously granted to Spenhill (Tesco) by WHBC in 2015. Plutus Estates will soon submit an entirely new planning application for their own proposals, this is expected to be significantly different to the Spenhill plan that was approved. The silos were/are grade 2 listed according to Heritage England, you can find their listing entry here: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1101084

The 2015 planning consent stated the following:

“Part demolition, repair, restoration, extension and conversion of the former Shredded Wheat factory complex to include demolition of all buildings and structures except the original 1920’s silos, production hall, grain store and boiler house. Refurbishment and change of use of the retained listed buildings to provide2 Class C3 residential units, a Class C1 boutique/budget hotel, Class B1(a) offices, a Class A4 pub/bar, a Class D1 crèche and a Class D2 gym/dance/exercise studio.”

It is unknown whether the boutique, gym, etc will be part of the new planning application, but the above does allow for the demolition of the newer silos and some of the newer buildings on the site. The original silos will remain however. The below picture shows which these are, based on what we’ve been told by the new developer.

 

Shredded Wheat silos

How these silos will be separated in coming weeks will be interesting to see, presumably it is an engineering challenge that can be overcome.

The original set of silos were built not long after the main building was completed in 1926. The second set, now being demolished, were completed in the late 1930’s.
Cereal production ceased in January 2008, after 73 years. The factory is of course synonymous with town, for a while one of the nations favourite breakfast cereals was branded ‘Welgar” Shredded Wheat.

The second set of silos under construction in the 1930’s.

The 20th Century Society put forward the building as one of their top 100 buildings of the last 100 years. It is described thus:

“My choice is Louis de Soissons’ 1926 complex for Nabisco, the Shredded Wheat factory.  The ranked silos and spreading sheds alongside the railway track in Welwyn Garden City have always fascinated me, glimpsed almost kinetically from the train windows.  American companies, drawn by innovation, were quicker off the mark to move into Ebenezer Howard’s radical ‘cities’ (another example being Spirella at Letchworth, built 1912-20). Here, long before I’d learned that le Corbusier had published the grain stores of the American Midwest prairies as the epitome of modern form following function, was an anglicised version, a cathedral in a leafy Beaux-Arts planned town.”  – Gillian Darley. Original article available here.

 

The factory can even be seen on the box!

Nabisco (National Biscuit Company) was founded in the USA in about 1898. It expanded into the UK in the 1920’s. Nabisco was sold to Kraft foods in early 90’s, soon after Cereal Partners was formed as a joint venture between Nestlé and General Mills.  They ran the factory which by that time also produced Shreddies and Bran Flakes. Who can forget the malty wholesome smell of baking that often drifted across the town centre! Cereal Partners moved cereal production to Staverton in Wiltshire in 2008, where it remains today. However their head office, marketing, sales and finance are still in the town, opposite the factory site in fact. Spenhill, the development arm of Tesco, then bought the vacant site from Cereal Partners for something in excess of £20 million, or so it is rumoured.

Interesting Shredded Wheat trivia: The factory ovens were 100ft long and each biscuit weighs 22.5 grams, could you eat three?

 

 

Early promotional poster

The Society looks forward to scrutinising the planning application soon to be submitted by the new owners. This site has the potential to once again be a landmark development for our town, a visual, economic and social asset…rather than the unkempt decaying eyesore we’ve had to endure for the last decade.

 

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Happy New Year

Only two years until the centenary of our town!

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Recent school visit

The Society is happy to visit schools and local groups to talk about what we aim to achieve as a local civic group, and of course discuss the town, past, present and future as part of the discourse. Two of our committee volunteers, Steve and Elahe recently visited about 50 Sixth Formers at Sir Frederic Osborne school and were pleased to talk to them for about an hour.  Young people tend to be the best activists, we emphasised the Society’s passion, zeal and activities in engaging with the local community, the Borough Council, and others. Their reaction was encouraging. They agreed that, if they stopped and thought about it, they appreciated the town’s benefits, including its high environmental quality, and would not like that to be compromised.

The Society would like to thank Lorraine Koupis for inviting us to visit to the school. As a Society we are always happy to speak to local schools and groups, if you know a local group who may be interested in a speaker visit please email us wgcsociety@live.com.

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Let it snow…

A flurry of snow overnight this weekend engulfed our town in white on Sunday. Many people were out enjoying the views, and having fun, although the town centre was very quiet for a pre-Christmas weekend. Probably due to heavy congestion on the roads as a result of the downfall. Below is a photo of Howardsgate on Sunday afternoon:

We took this snap of one creative local family standing proudly beside their snowman in Howardsgate. They were happy for us to share a photograph of their handy work here on the site.Howardsgate, Welwyn Garden City

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Plans for the Shredded Wheat site

 

A poster still on the wall inside the factory.

The new site owners recently held an exhibition of their  draft plans and vision for the site in the Howard Centre, in advance of a new planning application for the site in the near future. Society members attended the event to find out more. The Society was also given a detailed tour of the factory site by the developers ZM Land and Capital and Marengo Communications. Several committee members attended and found it very informative. The developers are clearly passionate and well informed about the factory site, they clearly want to create a new destination attraction for the town.

Shredded Wheat site

Site entrance on Hydeway

Inside the factory it was also very clear that it’s in a very poor state of repair. Apparently there has already been a huge amount of work done, including removing all the pigeon poo, in order to make it safe to enter. It appeared that the previous owner Tesco/Spenhill had done very little to maintain the interior while they owned it. The Society is following developments closely and will evaluate the new proposals when they are made public. The developers have a new website outlining their plans, it be found here:

http://thewheatquarter.co.uk

We are told there will be an onsite exhibition of their plans in the factory building early in the new year. Meanwhile the demolition of the unlisted parts of the site that have demolition consent is now underway. We understand that this will include half of the silos that were a later addition and are in a more dilapidated state of repair than the original silos.

The Society decide and refine its position on the new plans as more detail emerges. We are sure all residents we will want to see the current dilapidation halted, and the eyesore status that the site has taken on ended. The ambitious plans for the factory site are encouraging, but there are questions about the plans for the rest of the site, such as the density of housing and the flats only, no houses approach. The railway bridge is to be refurbished but not replaced, and how will parking and traffic flows be accommodated in the new design. Will the plans fit in the WHBC’s Masterplan for the site which was produced before Spenhill acquired the site? These matters and many others should be addressed in detail within the developers application. This is obviously a landmark development for the town and we want it to be appropriate for the own and a successful endeavour. The original Tesco/Spenhill development plans were not appropriate and failed as a result. Their modified plan, without a large store, did gain consent. That included 850 homes,  but with few affordable/social housing dwellings.  The Society will keep a close eye on matters as things progress in coming months. The new developers do seem to be in listening mode and are keen to engage with local residents and groups, that is welcomed.

Below are a few pictures we took during our recent tour of the site:

Newer Production Hall (Will be demolished)

 

Original Production Hall (Will be kept)

The pipework underneath silo 1.

 

Sign on silo wall entrance

 

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“Planned Town” a film about WGC from 1949

We just wanted to point visitors with an interest in our town’s history to this wonderful eleven minutes of nostalgia from the East Anglian Film Archive. It has been available for some time, but now has a properly synchronised soundtrack which is believed to be a narration by no less than Louis De Soissons, the town’s chief architect.

You can find this cinematic gem from a bygone era here: http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/2503

At a time of rationing,  bomb sites and austerity, not long after the war had ended, how attractive the town must have appeared to those watching the film in London, or other cities similarly blighted by  war and still recovering.

 

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Heritage Fair stall last Saturday

Thank you to all those who stopped by our stall at the Heritage Fair on Saturday to share their thoughts about the town and find out more about what we do.

Welwyn Garden City Heritage Fair photo

Mayor Lynne Sparks visiting our stall, alongside Steve, Elahe and Will from the Society.

We were delighted to hear from so many who shared our passion for our Garden City. We had a number of new members join on the day which was great. Congratulations to the Fair’s organisers and the other groups attending. The event demonstrated that many people are passionate and interested in the history of Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield.  The event space in the Howard Centre worked very well with a constant stream of people visiting the various stalls throughout the day.

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Birchall Garden Suburb and the Local Plan

We have issued a new letter and Press Release articulating our concerns about the proposed Birchall Garden Suburb. The letter has been sent to our local authorities, you can read more about it on our website by clicking HERE.

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Local Plan Examination Stage 2

This week the government appointed Inspector, Mel Middleton, held the second stage of his planned hearings to examine the WHBC Local Plan. The plan  will be the blueprint for development in our borough up until 2031. The hearings took place over 4 days and were streamed live and can still be viewed as recordings.

All the sessions can be watched again via the WHBC website here: http://welwyn.nucast.live/

The final session on Friday was different in that was essentially the Inspector offering guidance to WHBC regarding the soundness of the plan based on what he’d heard during the week. His summary seemed to be that he didn’t think the plan was sound as it stands, but could potentially be so with the right modifications. He could not specify what those changes should be, but gave the WHBC some steer on the areas that he felt should be revisited.

That session lasted an hour and a half, and can be watched below:

The Inspector has not yet looked specifically at any of the proposed sites being put forward, including Birchall Garden Suburb and Panshanger, that is set to happen in December or in the early part of next year. Our letter concerning the possible contamination on the BGS site, and concerns others may express about sites proposed should all be considered at these future hearings. There remains a long way to go before these important future plans for our town are finalised, many areas of contention remain unaddressed.

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Trees and Woodland Draft Strategy Consultation

WHBC currently have a public consultation underway seeking residents feedback on their new Trees and Woodland Draft Strategy. This document when finalised will replace the previous Tree Strategy. The consultation runs until the 15th November and can be accessed by following this link:

http://consult.welhat.gov.uk/portal/planning_policy/landscape_and

_ecology_consultations/trees_consultation_2017

The full PDF document can be downloaded here: http://consult.welhat.gov.uk/file/4719373

The Society will be responding to the consultation and we also urge residents to do so. Feel free to share your comments on it with us by emailing wgcsociety@live.com. We will place our comments on it here on the website before the consultation closes. Trees and Woodland are obviously a major aspect of our Garden City and therefore the strategy for managing them is hugely important to the town and all its residents. This new strategy document also contains several charts. Below is the chart showing what varieties of tree were felled between 2010 and 2012, just to pique the readers interest!

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