History of the Water Gardens

In 1946 Hemel Hempstead was chosen as the third New Town to help meet the need for new housing after the war. Geoffrey Jellicoe, considered to be one of the greatest 20th century landscape designers, was asked to prepare proposals for Hemel Hempstead New Town. His first plans from 1947 showed his idea of a 'city in a park' with gardens surrounding the River Gade at the heart of the town centre. In 1957 he started work on a new town centre park, which became the Water Gardens.

The Gardens were designed in the form of a serpent, with the lake as the head, the fountain forming the eye and a curving tail resting on the mound by Combe Street. The flower garden was placed like a 'howdah' (a grand seat carried on an animal's back, such as an elephant or camel) on the back of the serpent.

In 1962, the work to transform an area of orchards, watercress beds and ironworks was completed and the Water Gardens opened. The Gardens are a rare post-war landscape - influenced by the modernism movement which explored new, experimental design and the role of the sub-conscious. In Jellicoe's vision, his serpent brought people closer to water and nature.

Today the Gardens remain one of Jellicoe's most intact schemes and in 2010 they were placed on English Heritage's register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest as an important example of 20th century urban design.

 Geoffrey Jellicoe display board (PDF 915KB)
 Jellicoe's serpent display board (PDF 1.25MB)
 Art of the Water Gardens display board (PDF 174KB)
 The Water Gardens in their heyday display board (PDF 136KB)