The Skittles Inn was designed by Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker, for use as a non-licensed public house. Opened on the 8th March 1907, The Skittles Inn combined the ideas of a continental cafe with that of an Old English Inn. The entrance hall still retains its original bar counter over which was sold Cydrax (a non-alcoholic apple wine), Bournville’s Drinking Chocolate, Tea and Sarsparilla.
Externally the roof eaves are brought down over deep verandas or ‘stoeps’ with fitted seats, facing west to catch the evening sun. Long benches, or settles, were fitted to the wall.
The proprietors of this “pub with no beer” were Aneurin Williams and Edward Cadbury, both directors of First Garden City Limited, Bill Furmston was appointed manager.
William George Furmston had originally worked in London as a woodcutter at Dalton’s Sanitary Engineering Works, but as the job was not secure Bill and his wife had thought of emigrating to New Zealand. They were, however, persuaded by friends to visit Letchworth which they did in 1904 together with a party of 200 from Rushing College and the South Place Ethnical Society, Charles Purdom among them.
There was no proper railway station then, just some wooden planks laid out along the track, but Raymond Unwin was there to meet the visitors and he was just the person to persuade the Furmstons that the Garden City was the place they had been looking for. Until Skittles Inn opened, Bill left his job in London and worked a small holding in Letchworth at weekends with the aid of a workman by the name of ‘Silly Billy’ who did his digging at night by lamp light.
The Inn had a skittles alley, but it was not popular with the regulars who complained that it was “too much like hard work”. Billiards were also played in a separate room (shown on the right). There was also a reading room, the only one in town, provided with literature and reference books.
A kindly Letchworth lady gave money so that unemployed workers, who had come to Letchworth to find work, could be given a meal. Meals were 6d (two and a half new pence) and tea was 1d a cup. Until the opening of the Letchworth Museum in 1914, the Letchworth Naturalists’ Society displayed their collection of stuffed birds in glass cases around the walls of the main room.
In its early days Letchworth had eighty or ninety societies and every adult man was said to be on three committees and every woman five, and many of these held their meetings at the Skittles. There was a Skittles Adult School (secretary J T Morris) which in a typical month held meetings to discuss the ‘Utopias of More and Morris’, ‘The Mind’s Apprehension of Divinity’, ‘The Political Position of Women’ and the ‘Fallacy of Neo-Malthusianism’.
At the time of opening, the Skittles Inn was on the junction of Exhibition Road (now known as Nevells Road) and Archway Road. Archway Road is now the Settlement Car Park, and used to be connected to Station Road through the cattle creep bridge under the railway. However, a new bridge was completed in 1913 through which Norton Way North runs today. The cattle creep was then closed. As a consequence the Skittles Inn was no longer on the main road, and so lost much of the passing casual trade.
In 1923 the Skittles Inn closed, with Bill Furmston moving as manager to the People’s House in Station Road, which had been built as a furniture show room, but was then a temperance residential and social club.
In 1925, the Skittles Inn building became the new home of Letchworth Settlement.
The above text was modified with permission from “The Town Trail”, produced by The Letchworth Garden City Society. Graphical Images Copyright © Countryside Art, Swaby, Lincs, 1995. Photographs Copyright © First Garden City Heritage Museum, Norton Way South, Letchworth Garden City. They may not be reproduced without prior written permission.
The Letchworth Adult Educational Settlement was formed at a public meeting in May 1920. The first warden was James Dudley. The first courses held were in Geology and English Literature. A music course was started shortly afterwards, the tutor being Mary Ibberson — who became the Settlement’s subwarden. She was later to found the Rural Music School in 1929.
The original building was designed by Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin. This opened as the Skittles Inn on 8 March 1907. Between 1907 and 1923, it was a non-alcoholic public house, a trades hall and adult school. The Skittles Inn closed in 1923, when the business transferred to Station Road.
The building was then purchased by the Letchworth Adult Educational Settlement, which had previously been in rooms elsewhere in Letchworth. It was offically reopened in 1925, after minor alterations such as the installation of electric lighting and central heating. The original doorway on the front of the building that led to the old bar area was removed. The building was redecorated. The old bar area was renamed The Common Room. The old skittles alley was used as a lecture room and also used to present plays by means of a small temporary stage. The old billiards room was used as a lecture room.
Following a bequest to Letchworth Settlement from William Wallace Kincaid, the Director of the Spirella Company of Great Britain, the Kincaid Hall was opened in 1956. This involved an extension of the old skittles alley to form a larger hall with and a purpose-built stage and dressing room. This stage is used for the productions given by The Settlement Players.
In 1975, The Letchworth Garden City Corporation built two craft rooms as a separate block behind the original building.
The main building was retiled in 1994, by the Letchworth Garden City Corporation. The tiles used were handmade, and were selected as an exact match for the old ones. The retiling was awarded a Commendation in the 1995 Garden City Heritage Awards for building works carried out in the Conservation Area.
Letchworth Settlement is currently a Grade II listed building.