Meet the authors behind a new architecture book on Welwyn and Welwyn Garden City

The former Danesbury Hospital, now apartments with headshots of Paul Rabbitts

Paul Rabbitts and Peter Jeffree are the authors behind Welwyn & Welwyn Garden City in 50 Buildings. - Credit: Peter Jeffree and Paul Rabbitts

Led Zeppelin, The Who and Small Faces are some of the bands that have graced the stage of Welwyn Garden City's Cherry Tree pub.

But The Cherry Tree no longer exists today. In its place stands a very rock 'n' roll replacement: the Garden City's Waitrose supermarket.

"Led Zeppelin in Waitrose... in Welwyn Garden City! Waitrose!" author Paul Rabbitts exclaims incredulously.

This is just one of the astonishing facts Paul and his co-author and photographer Peter Jeffree have uncovered while writing Welwyn & Welwyn Garden City in 50 Buildings.

Paul and Peter met ten years ago when working for Watford Borough Council. Over a decade, the duo has collaborated on six books and have a seventh in the works.

Their latest creation unearths the stories behind 50 of Welwyn and Welwyn Garden City's most fascinating buildings.

White timber and red brick building. The Waitrose in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, was once a pub.

Waitrose, once the Cherry Tree, where many famous bands have appeared. - Credit: Peter Jeffree

With the same publisher, Paul has written about 50 standout buildings in neighbouring Herts towns: Watford, Hertford, Leighton Buzzard and further afield in Luton and Manchester. A landscape architect by training, he's always taken an interest in buildings.

"Peter is my boss in a way because he's a councillor. I'm head of Watford's Parks, Heritage and Culture," says Paul, who lives in Leighton Buzzard.

Paul wrote his first book in 2010; he made his debut with a deep-dive into the history of the bandstand.

Most Read

"I think I'm up to about 26 books now. With many, many on the go in my head. I don't watch a lot of TV. I just love reading and I love writing," Paul explains. 

"I was aware that Peter took fantastic photographs. He offered his services when I said I was writing a book. I told him, 'as long as you can do it for nothing, that's fine,'" Paul chuckles. The rest is history. 

A pillared old building. The only remnant of the Panshanger Estate – the derelict orangery.

The only remnant of the Panshanger Estate: a derelict orangery. - Credit: Peter Jeffree

For their most recent paperback, Paul explains that they could have easily focused on Welwyn alone - "every building is gorgeous". But the variety of older and newer buildings in the Garden City attracted the authors. They were keen to show the influence of the iconic urban planners Ebenezer Howard and Louis de Soissons.

Peter, also an architect, says: "Welwyn Garden City has this rich mix of older and newer buildings, which isn't always the case with most cities.

"It's nice to come up with examples that people aren't expecting - modern buildings are interesting too. Like the Sainsbury's store right in the middle of Welwyn Garden City. You wouldn't think it's of particular architectural interest, but actually, it is very interesting because it’s got a green wall and so on."

Between the two of them, they produced a list of 60-70 buildings of interest. Some of which were chosen from simply "driving around" Welwyn Hatfield, such as the Quaker Meeting house. Paul decides which places make the final cut based on what he can find out about them. 

Here is a selection of the buildings featured in the publication.

The Barn Theatre, Welwyn Garden City

White barn, The Barn Theatre, Hertfordshire.

The Barn Theatre is now Grade II listed. - Credit: Peter Jeffree

This has to be one of the most unusual buildings in the Garden City. Dating back to 1832, the barn was once used as a milking parlour and dairy. During WWII it was used by the army and naval cadets. And now, it's a theatre.

Digswell House, Welwyn Garden City

Grand cream building with four pillars and a garden in Digswell, Hertfordshire.

Digswell House, now converted into flats, dates from the early 1800s. - Credit: Peter Jeffree

This sprawling mansion was built by the Fifth Earl Cowper in the early 1800s. Over the years it has been used as an Australian Auxiliary Hospital, an artists' retreat and residential flats.

Old St Lawrence Church, Ayot, Welwyn

Crumbling old church that is part of The Old and New Churches St Lawrence, Ayot, Herts

The former church turned into a ruin by Sir Lionel Lyde. - Credit: Peter Jeffree

The 18th  century lord of the manor of Ayot St Lawrence, Sir Lionel Lyde, rather liked the look of crumbling ruins. 

So, he reduced the existing village church to a  picturesque ruin and asked his architect, Nicholas Revett, to design a temple as a new church at the far end of his park.

New St Lawrence Church, Ayot, Welwyn

The New Church of Ayot St Lawrence. A white mausoleum on a hill in Welwyn, Hertfordshire.

The new church was built by Sir Lionel and included a mausoleum for his wife and himself. - Credit: Peter Jeffree

The new church in question, which looks over fields. It is one of the earliest Georgian buildings in Greek style, 
rather than Roman.

The portico which was built in 1778 is the first use of a Greek Doric order for a parish church.

Book cover of Welwyn and Welwyn Garden City in 50 Buildings, by Peter Jeffree and Paul Rabbitts

Welwyn & Welwyn Garden City in 50 Buildings was published by Amberley Publishing on November 15, 2021. - Credit: Amberley Publishing