What's it like living in Hitchin?
Just 30 miles outside London, Hitchin is a vibrant market town that is totally commutable to the capital – so it’s a popular choice with families who want to relocate from the city but perhaps retain jobs and connections. With fantastic transport links to London, a thriving sense of community and rolling countryside on your doorstep, it’s a perfect choice for commuters and families.
What’s Hitchin like for families?
What are the property prices like?
What about the schools and nurseries?
Shopping and the town
Things to do in Hitchin
What's planned for Hitchin's future?
What’s Hitchin like for families?
Hitchin is super family friendly – the town has a buzzing community feel and there's often something happening in the town square on a weekend. There's a monthly craft and farmers market and a monthly evening street food market, which is great fun for all ages.
Annual family-focused events include the All-Schools Fair and the Sikh Viashakhi parade through town. Though perhaps the event of the Hitchin calendar is the music, culture and arts festival, Rhythms of the World.
At Christmas, the lights switch-on event, with live music, food and drink stalls and late-night shopping, is always popular with families.
The town has lots going on for young families and as a newcomer myself, I've always found it really friendly
There is a plethora of child-friendly restaurants and cafes in Hitchin – reliable family favourites such as Zizzi, Pizza Express and Prezzo are here but it's also worth checking out local independents, like Hermitage Road restaurant and the Victoria pub, both of which have excellent children's menus and friendly staff who can’t do enough for you. The Angels pub is slightly further out of town but gets bonus points for having a decent soft play area and playground as well as a child-friendly menu.
Lots and lots of baby and toddler groups, and a lovely town centre with plenty of coffee shops etc, and still a fair few independent shops
There's a huge range of baby classes and playgroups for younger children (Music Train classes come highly recommended, and the Friday morning MAMA playgroup is run by the Meet-A-Mum Association, so is perfect for meeting other parents). There's also two soft play centres – both serving a full menu plus strong coffee; and the swimming centre that runs baby and toddler swimming classes on a pay-as-you-go basis. Hitchin’s heated lido is open from May to September and has an attached cafe and small play area.
Hitchin has three children’s centres which offer all sorts of family services including toy libraries, antenatal yoga and pilates, and support for families with additional needs. The Angels Autism support group is run from the Oughtonhead Children’s centre and provides support for adults who have children with additional needs.
In terms of healthcare, there's five NHS doctors surgeries in the town centre and three NHS dental clinics, all of which are currently open for new registrations and which offer both advance and emergency appointments as well as nursing services and midwifery services. The Bedford Road clinic also offers assessments for speech therapy, baby milestone checks and a family planning clinic. The nearest hospital is the Lister in Stevenage (CQC rating: requires improvement) which opened a new maternity unit in 2011.
What are house prices like in Hitchin?
Cheaper than St Albans, more expensive than nearby Letchworth Garden City, and overall it’s a pretty competitive market so you might want to be in a good position to move or rent nearby so you can snap up a property as it comes onto the market.It's a thriving town but prices have shot up in the last two years
The SG4 9 postcode is particularly sought after, owing to its proximity to the Outstanding William Ransom primary school and Hitchin Girls secondary, as well as the station. Houses on the Wymondley Road or the Avenue will set you back over £1 million, but you can find family homes around the nearby Ninesprings Way for around £550k.
Over on the other side of town, the area around Butts Close is known for character properties and is within the catchment for the popular and Ofsted Outstanding Samuel Lucas School, as well as on the doorstep of the beautiful Oughtonhead nature reserve. A two-bedroom character cottage is in the region of £350k while a larger four/five-bedroom comes in at around £650k for an end of terrace house.
The Bearton ward area is in catchment for the linked Strathmore Infant and Wilshere Dacre Junior Academy schools. A four bed detached house will cost around £850k, while a three bedroom semi-detached house is likely to go on the market for around £650k.
The Westmill estate has a number of large affordable properties as well as being within catchment for Oughton Primary and Nursery school. It also has a thriving community centre, and butcher and bakery.
Those looking for flats rather than houses are spoiled for choice, especially if you don’t mind living close to town. A brand new two-bed in the town centre costs around £275k (with stamp duty paid) or a flat in the quieter Peppermint Road complex overlooking the river is around £300k.Residentially Letchworth is lovely – tree-lined roads and you do get more house for your money (renting or buying)
Those looking for cheaper properties may wish to consider other nearby areas, where the houses tend to give more space for less money. Houses in Letchworth – five to ten minutes’ drive from Hitchin – typically cost less than Hitchin properties and have a large number of primary schools to choose from, as well as the Highfield secondary school. If village life appeals, Ickleford is a five minute drive from Hitchin and has an outstanding school.
Tell me about the schools and nurseries
One of the draws of Hitchin is its many good primary schools, and three highly regarded secondaries.
Catchment areas can be competitive, especially around the eastern SG4 9 area of town for the outstanding William Ransom school.
Other outstanding primary schools include Samuel Lucas on the west side of town, and the Catholic (and oversubscribed) Our Ladys in the north. Ickleford Village School is outstanding but you do need to live in the village to be considered within catchment, and even then the school is over-subscribed so there’s no guarantee of a place.
I think the fact that ALL the schools are good is a big plus – primary and secondary. It’s lovely to have a choice but any of the schools would be OK
Oughton, Strathmore Infants, Whitehill Infants and Highover (all rated ‘good’ by Ofsted) have nurseries on site, and Strathmore Breakfast Club and Fun Club takes children from 8am and until 6pm from numerous local schools around Hitchin.
Hitchin residents are also spoilt for choice with day nurseries for younger children. Kinders Mill and Toad Hall nurseries are highly recommended, as is the private Highbury Lodge nursery (although be prepared to join a long waiting list!) Millennium First Steps nursery is right by the station so great for commuting parents; and Yorkies Daycare offers wraparound care from 8am till 6pm for children attending the government-funded and Outstanding York Road Nursery School.
I think we are spoilt in Hitchin, as really there are no bad schools, just ones that are better
In terms of secondaries, Hitchin Girls School is rated as outstanding and is incredibly popular with families living in the town. The catchment includes neighbouring town Letchworth, as well as the outlying villages of Pirton, St Ippolyts and Ickleford.
Hitchin Boys School – now an academy – is also rated as outstanding and takes students from the villages outside Hitchin as well as those who live locally.
The Priory School a mixed comprehensive on the north-west side of town and currently rated as ‘good’ by Ofsted.
All three secondary schools operate a sixth form as a ‘consortium’, and North Hertfordshire College operates a number of nearby campuses offering a wide range of academic and practical subjects.
Over the school holidays there's numerous holiday clubs on offer. Yorkies Daycare offers childcare for children aged between three and seven; while Bluebells Childminders take children aged up to 12 and offer day trips out in addition to numerous activities at their purpose built base on Wilbury Way. Hitchin Boys School offers activity days and there are numerous football, trampolining and other sports clubs on offer for children from reception age up to secondary school age.
Shopping and the town
Hitchin has a thriving town centre with a variety of chain shops, but also has a great range of independent local businesses.
A lovely town centre with plenty of coffee shops etc, and still a fair few independent shops
The town centre has a Sainsburys, Asda and a Waitrose that has a cafe and a sushi bar (just in case you hadn’t noticed how middle class Hitchin was already). John Lewis also offers a pick-up service from the Waitrose.
If you like to make the most of independents, The Little Deli on Hermitage Road offers a fantastic selection of charcuterie and cheeses, Allingham Brothers butchers on the market square is great for meat and condiments, and there’s a number of fresh fruit and veg stalls in the market, too.
Hitchin market has more than 100 covered stalls selling everything from electrical goods and toys to fresh food and takeaway lunches. Every Sunday morning there’s a car boot sale, and there’s a monthly craft and farmers market on Saturdays, too.
There are numerous clothes shops, although aside from Next and New Look they tend to be at the higher end of the market – Mint Velvet, Joules, Monsoon and Phase Eight are all here, along with Jojo Maman Bebe for maternity and kidswear. If you’re prepared to travel you can pick up bargains at Primark in nearby Stevenage, and Welwyn Garden City has a John Lewis as well as numerous other high-street clothes retailers. Biggleswade Shopping Village also has an H&M.
Cafes are represented by the usual chain culprits but there are lots of good independent options, too. Chilli Banana does excellent lunchtime soups and sandwiches, try the Groundworks for your avo toast or shakshuka fix; Flints specialises in crepes, waffles and fresh juices while Fabio’s is the place to go for authentic Italian gelato.
If you’ve bagged a babysitter and fancy a night out there’s lots to choose from. In the town centre the Hermitage Bar and Restaurant is a popular choice, though you’ll have to book to get in the door on a Saturday night. Mevan offers Turkish grills and mezze, and Los Reyes does authentic tapas in a rustic setting. Up on Bancroft there’s Japanese restaurant Kazuko, and Caribbean restaurant Duchy Pot. Even if the babysitter plans fall through you’ll be welcome at all of these with children.
One of the main draws of Hitchin is its excellent transport links to London. Trains run through Finsbury Park into London Kings Cross – around four times an hour plus there’s an hourly service directly into Moorgate.
Trains can take as little as 25 minutes at rush hour. Stopping services give you easy access to Stevenage, Knebworth and Welwyn and you can connect to services to Hertford and St Albans at Welwyn Garden City.Overall the trains aren't too bad, at least not compared to how rammed London suburban trains get
The downside is that rush hour trains are busy, and not cheap. An annual season ticket is in the region of £4000, and an off-peak day return is knocking on the door of £19. Children can travel off peak for £2 return. If you’re commuting you can expect to battle for a seat in the mornings, although some trains are more civilised than others. The semi-fast 8.22am weekday train has 12 carriages and is relatively reliable for a seat.
In the other direction, you can get to Cambridge in 30 minutes – fantastic for family day trips and shopping.
Local buses are reliable and regular and run to Stevenage, Letchworth, Luton town centre and the airport.
The town centre is relatively car-friendly with numerous parking options – the large car park next to the market and St Mary's church is perfect if you're going into town, and you're pretty much guaranteed to find a space if you go to the multi-storey next to Waitrose. You might have a bit of a wait if there's an event going on in town though (or if it's a Saturday near Christmas, when you might be better off relying on one of the very friendly taxi drivers from the cab rank on Bancroft).
Things to do in Hitchin
There’s no shortage of activities to keep you and your family busy in Hitchin. There are playgrounds to suit a range of ages, and Bancroft Rec Ground has recently built a small splash park which is great fun for kids in the summer months. Nearby Letchworth Garden City has a much larger splash park and adventure playground at Howard Park, and the inclusion of a snack bar selling drinks, snacks and ice-cream means you can easily spend hours there on a hot summer’s day.
Hitchin’s swimming pool is open from 6am to 10pm on weekdays and runs swimming lessons for children seven days a week. Join the waiting list as soon as possible though, it’s notoriously long! If you’d rather not wait, the Inspire Centre at Luton offers swimming and diving lessons for kids, and North Hertfordshire Leisure Centre in Letchworth has recently been refurbished and swimming lessons are available there through the AquaEd swim program.
Oughtonhead nature reserve is lovely for walks, though make sure you’ve got an all-terrain buggy if you’re taking very small ones! If you go on a weekend and enter via the top of Lucas Lane and walk down the hill into the reserve, stop for a drink and a cake at the Secret Garden cafe on the right (they also have loos!)I moved here late in my first pregnancy knowing absolutely no one, but there are so many baby groups and classes, and everyone is so friendly. There's definitely a real community feel, and its the right size that if you start going to a few groups you quickly start to recognise people and get chatting
Hitchin is teeming with classes and groups for babies and preschoolers – Music Train and Hartbeeps music classes are popular, as well as numerous friendly playgroups around town. Pottery cafe Pots of Art offers messy play on Friday mornings which little ones love, and Hitchin Library runs storytelling sessions and baby rhyme time.
Up the road, Standalone Farm is a lovely day out for smaller children, with a playground, picnic area and restaurant in addition to the animals. You’ve also got Willows Farm and Woodside Farm around a 30-minute drive away which offer a lot more for older children, including soft play and fairground rides.
The National Trust’s Knebworth Park is a great day out for families, with a medieval playground, dinosaur hunt and hair-rising tunnel and carpet slides; as well as the Tudor stately home and gardens. Slightly further away is Hatfield House which has an awesome adventure playground, a small farm and sells fantastic ice creams – a great day out in the school holidays.
What's planned for Hitchin's future?
There have been plans to redevelop Hitchin’s town centre kicking around for some years, with proposals including a cinema and redeveloping the 1960s Churchgate shopping centre with something more modern. North Hertfordshire District Council planners have been back-and-forthing for some years on the plans, with nothing set in stone as yet.
The big change in 2018 will be the new train service run by Thameslink through Hitchin, in addition to the current services run by Great Northern. These services will run through directly to Farringdon, City Thameslink and Blackfriars, meaning that those working in the City will be able to get to the Square Mile more easily without having to rely on the TfL tube or bus networks.
Housing in Hitchin is set to grow by 11% by 2031, which is good news for those hoping to move to the area, although there are concerns about the area losing Green Belt land to property developers.