A walk down the High Street in morning light
That defines a nuanced urban bliss
Which is a posh way of saying it’s sheer delight
To stroll through a place where strolling’s celebrated
Where taking your time is an art in itself
Where each shopfront and café is calculated
To improve your wellbeing, your sense of good health.
In the body of a town let’s shout it out loud:
The high street’s a lifeline, a heartbeat, a brain
And this is a high street that makes us all proud
And I’ll wander down it again and again
So tell me, where is fancy bread?
Down the High Street, Berkhamsted!
Ian McMillan, Poet-in-Residence
Success in an affluent area
This ancient town, granted a Royal Charter in 1476, is laid out along a river valley so the main street runs in a straight line the length of the town and is bustling.The High Street project was exemplary for its time, consisting of a series of lateral and vertical interventions (chicanes and speed tables) to encourage motorists to drive slowly. It also includes some interesting features such as loading bays at pavement level constructed in stone sets, which when not in use become pedestrian space; the overall pavement area is greatly increased at the cost of carriageway space and the crossings celebrate key points such as the Civic Centre. The street is further enhanced with tree planting and bespoke street furniture.
It has survived reasonably well and continues to deliver its objectives, creating a pleasant shopping environment. Indeed, the centre is a strong destination for people taking advantage of a wide range of specialist shops and numerous cafes, restaurants and pubs, together with the strong supermarket offer.
The High street is easily accessible on foot from the rail station and has several cross-cutting pedestrian routes generated by the medieval plan of the town. The street is anchored at one end with a small M&S and at the other by the impressive art deco cinema. The cinema is operated as a community enterprise with a privately operated restaurant in the former foyer.
This is a good example of a successful high street with only two charity shops (both Oxfam), a broad leisure offer, together with a good range of specialist shops and strong supermarket offer. This is in some ways not surprising given the proximity to London and resultant strength of the local economy. Nonetheless all parties have worked hard to ensure a ‘joined up’ townscape with high quality and locally appropriate streetscapes complementing the many carefully restored ancient buildings
Notwithstanding, it offers limited transferrable learning in high street design or regeneration, it might have been better nominated under a different category because what we saw and heard was about the whole town of which the High St is only a part.