Monday, 14 January 2019

Northeastern Bypass

The St Albans ring road was not even complete when, in the 1950s, one or two residents – possibly living along the ring road's route – voiced the opinion that the ring road is in the wrong place; a far better location would be further out, and suggested a line crossing Hatfield Road at Smallford.  Smallford Lane (Station Road) and Sandpit Lane (Oaklands Lane) were the only two thoroughfares guardedly named as no other roads which then existed could be lined up to even vaguely connect up a circular route around St Albans.  To draw lines through the countryside and suggest roads are constructed along them would invite trouble from the Protect the Green Belt supporters.  So there the matter rested.

A major problem with ring roads of any kind is the choices we are invited to make.  Anyone driving inwards to the city centre might  have to contend with some congestion unless or until the central ring road (inner bypass), vehemently opposed by many residents, finally came about.  But if your destination is beyond the centre – in other words, you need to drive through to the other side – you would need to make a choice based on distance or time.  To travel roughly halfway around a ring road increases distance but may decrease time than crawling through the centre.  On the other hand, valuable time may be lost crossing a ring road's radial junctions, such as Hatfield/Beechwood or Marshalswick/Sandridge.

One answer would be to increase section lengths of the ring road in order to spread the traffic out and reduce congestion.  This can only be achieved by making a larger ring.  Which is what was proposed in the 1960s Transportation Study.  Quite apart from carving out a countryside route it would suffer from the ring road's biggest issue : that it is not a full circle.  Depending on the radial road a driver is approaching the city from, the choice of clockwise or anticlockwise is skewed towards the west, north and east, because the circle is incomplete.  This may force a longer journey, by time or distance, than might be desirable.

A double bend along Sandringham Crescent

One section of the proposed northeastern bypass, or half a ring, was constructed, of sorts, in the 1970s.  This became Sandringham Crescent and House Lane when Jersey Farm development was being planned, but it doesn't look very bypass-ish today as it snakes its way from Sandpit Lane to St Albans Road.  Another section would have made use of the bypass between London Colney and Colney Heath, and traffic could then also continue on the bypass between London Colney and Park Street, where it would have diverted to become absorbed into the ring road in King Harry Lane.  In other words, a ring road which is not quite a ring, in that it would fail to join up.

Whether it would have worked in terms of alleviating congestion in the city centre and/or alleviate junction capacity on the ring road is conjecture fifty years on, because we never did benefit from the northeastern bypass.  Instead we have made do, just as we have made do without the proposed central (inner bypass) changes.

Whatever we each think, there is one element of the data which is missing: the traffic stats for fifty years ago are very different from today's traffic count.  This has been just a game!

Sunday, 6 January 2019

A Way Through

Most of us have come to terms with – or not as the case may be – St Albans being a nightmare to drive in or through.  But for us on the eastern side there was, in the early days of motoring, an indirect benefit brought to us courtesy of the government's post-WW1 roads programme.  The St Albans Bypass, which was also in part a Fleetville Bypass, was a present to the district in the 1920s.  So, we might ponder where we might be today without it.  Would Hatfield Road instead be a dualled carriageway?  Possibly, or maybe not.

In 1965 the County Council's St Albans Transportation Study (SATS) was published, the result of detailed analysis of traffic movements, congestion and other factors, such as parking, which acted as influences on everyone's journeys by road at the time.

The City Council had spent the best part of thirty years developing the ring road, finally completed the project just as the SATS was published.  As we realised fairly quickly the early parts of the road were developed, not as a single infrastructure project, but in conjunction with housing developers; the result being that the ring road was just another residential road, and as direction signs moved traffic on to it and away from the city centre, there were many objections from residents' groups, mainly because of the heavy vehicles using it.  Eventually the signs disappeared, and so did the ring road name.

Two new traffic schemes were discussed in the SATS.  One will form the subject of the next post; the other became possible because British Rail offered for sale the branch railway land it owned, now Alban Way.

Looking towards the former Northwestern Hotel, Holywell Hill.
SATS therefore proposed – another – Fleetville Bypass using railway land between London Road and Colney Heath Lane, although the maps produced showed an extension to link with the then newly dualled carriageway at the former Northwestern Hotel, Holywell Hill (or is it St Stephen's Hill at that point?).  

The link with London Road is shown as a curved road which was "thoughtfully" constructed as the later Orient Way.  A roundabout was proposed at Ashley Road, although the difference in elevation would have required some infrastructure works at a location which had only just received a new bridge.  Presumably, the connection at Hatfield Road/Colney Heath Road would have similarly been in the form of a roundabout – how today's drivers would welcome a roundabout here.
This road leaves London Road and connects with Alban Way at the former
London Road Station.

The press made the assumption that the new road would be a dualled carriageway, presumably because that is what most bypasses were.  However, SATS states that the road would be a two lane single carriageway; just as well, as the railway land would not allow for a wider road.  While raising this option as a viable option, the report also recognised a serious concern that air quality and traffic noise would be brought close to people's homes over the majority of the new road's length, and that would count against that option in any decisions the county council would have to make.

Colney Heath Lane/Hatfield Road junction.  Considering the subject
matter, in these three photos there is barely a vehicle to be seen!

Since the railway route did not materialise – nor any other option put forward – we are left to speculate on the benefits it might have had.  What difference would it have actually made to Hatfield Road?  Would it have made any difference to driving (or riding on a bus for that matter) into and through the centre of the city?

So, from the point of view of the railway route, fifty-five years on and we are still using the same road network, and goodness knows how many road possibilities have been drawn on council maps since.  Meanwhile, the original bypass (North Orbital) has since been dualled – it was initially laid as a single carriageway – and still has the land for widening to three lanes each way.  Its actual capacity is limited by its


surface roundabouts, and still lacks the overbridge at the Smallford Lane/Colney Heath intersection.  But that's another story.


Saturday, 22 December 2018

That Was the Year 2018

This line-up dates from c1954, when these children were surprised to meet Father Christmas along Hatfield Road (between Sandfield and Harlesden roads).  For further details see the foot of this post.
Was 2018 broadly the same as 2017?  Or will this year become a landmark year for you, your family, your street, or the district as a whole?  You must answer for the first three, but perhaps it is possible to pick out a small selection of changes which may or may not affect a wider number of people who live in the east end.  Whether they will ultimately improve our lives or just prove to be another irritation will depend on our personal point of view.

We'll begin with the construction launch of two significant housing developments: Kingsbury Gardens, formerly Beaumont School's front field (which, incidentally, had always been intended for houses under the Beaumont estates original 1929 plans); and Oaklands Grange, Sandpit Lane.  It is inevitable that their first residents will enjoy their first Christmas at home in 2019.  We'll try and remember to welcome them.

After noting progressive deterioration over a number of years the new access structure to Clarence Park's Hatfield Road entrance has been completed, and while not exactly originally as planned, it is  sturdy and very welcome.

Among the public houses no longer trading had been The Baton.  Former customers have since, presumably found other landlords to drink with, and after an uncertain phase M&S Food finally opened on the site and appears to be well patronised.  It is the second retailer to have crossed to the other side of The Ridgeway.

The residents' parking scheme for the 'Ladder Roads' in Fleetville finally launched recently.  Unsurprisingly, it has proved controversial, but it has made more obvious those commuters who have for a long time parked their cars in the scheme area or even beyond it and walked the last part of their journey to the station.  Parking and traffic in general will never have real solutions in Fleetville because the Real Solutions will never be accepted, by the Council, by the residents, probably by anyone.  But we will re-visit the scheme in six months.  And no doubt we will continue to grumble about the parking problems ten years from now!

Very quietly, improvements continue to be made to that green lung, Alban Way.  Undergrowth and a number of trees have been cut back.  A number of complainants have this year noticed re-growth and more open flanks to the path, new surfaces and signage, and helpful interpretation panels.  It is proposed these improvements will continue towards Hatfield.

The Green Ring, the Fleetville section of which has been open for a while now, was finally complete close to the end of the year.  Thus  far the voices in the ether have been rather quiet on any benefits, and so it is not possible to discover yet how useful residents have found it to be.  Cue comments by users.

November was also the 110th anniversary of the opening of Fleetville School, although it will be another four years before the specialist accommodation for infant children was opened for them. Anyway, happy birthday Fleetville School.

Right out on the edge of the parish the landmark and Listed Comet Hotel is shrouded behind solid fencing as the establishment faces its long-awaited upgrade, and we look forward to its re-opening.

Visitors to Highfield Park have discovered a new Visitor Centre which was opened in the summer; new extensions to its orchards and other park improvements have taken place.

We have benefited from short distances of new road surface, and most areas now sport new LED street lighting instead of those orange sodium fitments.  We have also learned (or not) to slow to 20mph while passing through Fleetville in our car – though at times some are struggling to reach that speed!  Meanwhile we continue to hold the record identified in the 1920s, of being a pot-holed suburb.

Which brings me to a couple of finishing questions.  How far down Marshalswick Lane do you now have to queue to reach the Five Ways (William IV) traffic lights at 5pm?  How many new traders to Hatfield Road and The Quadrant have we been able to welcome to our patch during 2018?

The image added to the top of this post is of course very seasonal, and it was taken around 1954 in Hatfield Road.  We know some, but not all of the children Ian, Shiela and Bruce Scotland on the right, Diana Devereux in the middle, and Father Christmas, of course.  The four children on the left have not yet been identified, and, more interestingly, what links all of these children to an event which took place just before Christmas in Hatfield Road?  We would love to discover.  Over to you.  Happy Christmas.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Railway Street

We have only occasionally given space to any of the early Fleetville roads, particularly those which were part of the Slade Building estate – Harlesden, Sandfield, Glenferrie, Brampton and Burham roads – developed by Horace Slade, a former straw hat and box manufacturer in this city.  It is often mistakenly assumed that these roads are lined mainly with terraces of small homes.  Small many of them may be considered, but in Sandfield Road there are just two terraces, and they both consist of three dwellings.  The rest are either semi-detached homes, some with porches, or detached.

Building on the estate began at the same time, 1899, as the homes around the printing works in the centre of Fleetville.  Just two years later, the 1901 census reveals that eight out of the 22 homes on Sandfield Road's east side were occupied, and five out of the 19 on the west side.  We bear in mind that builders were, on the whole one man and an assistant (or two) and the rate of build was dependent on who and when investors were available to purchase one or pairs of plots.  There is a surprising variety of styles which may lead us to assume also a number of different landlords.

After the initial modest flush of building at the turn of the century, five years passed before any further construction, and a decade before the ground was broken at many of the Hatfield Road end plots, creating a delay before the road was fully made up and lit.  Yet another street which suffered from dust in summer and random puddles and constant mud in winter.

Of the first thirteen tenants none was born in St Albans, although two were from other parts of the county; the rest came from across the UK.  Of the 33 tenants in the completed homes in 1911, four were from St Albans, but that still left a very large majority from other parts of the country.  Considering the huge level of overcrowding and poor sanitation in the centre of St Albans at the time, these origins may appear surprising, although it may suggest the rents were still higher than was affordable for some.  This, in spite of the area being part of the rural district where the rates levied on the landlords would have been lower.  In days before private transport and public transport Sandfield Road was still some way from town and access to employment was more dependant on work being available locally.

The census for 1901 reveals that almost all of the residents were employable outwards from the railway station, including straw hat making, saddling, shop work, gardening, printing and railway work.  In fact, by 1911, a quarter of all heads of household were employed by the railway – many specifically stating their employer was the Midland Railway.  Three employees were at Nicholson's Coat factory in Sutton Road, and four were occupied in the printing industry, probably Smith's or Salvation Army.  

In fact, the senior manager at Smith's printing works, Ernest Townson, lived in a detached home, number 17.  His responsibility, and therefore salary at the print works enabled him to move later, first to Clarence Road, then Lemsford Road, followed by the Hall Place estate.  One resident was a musical instrument maker, almost certainly at the Salvation Army Musical Instrument Works, which opened just a few months after the earlier 1901 census.  There were also two teachers, probably working at Fleetville and/or Camp Elementary schools.

A plot at the north end of the road remained empty and had been reserved for a future local shop, which, at the time might well have been useful for families living in Brampton Road.  Instead, shops began to appear along almost the entire length of Hatfield Road, and residents rarely needed to walk far to reach their nearest grocer or baker.  The reserved plot at the north end remained empty until the 1960s when number 39 was added, but as a home rather than retail premises.  

I have no doubt that there are many Sandfield Road stories.  Go to the Your Turn page on the website and share some interesting details with us.


Friday, 7 December 2018

Wings over Hatfield

The very tail end of 2018 is an apposite moment to stand, figuratively speaking, in the middle of what is now Comet Way, opposite the shops of Harpsfield Parade, and recreate December in 1958.


Prototype Mosquito being moved to the factory in 1941
Courtesy de Havilland Aircraft Company collection and Herts Advertiser
The carriageway on the Galleria side of what was then named Barnet Bypass was then new, obliterating the Stone House and the  old St Albans Road into the town centre.  The opposite carriageway was new at the end of the 1920s and straightaway attracted new businesses.  Among them was the de Havilland Aircraft Company, increasingly hemmed in by new housing on its Edgware site.  The company found the former Harpsfield Hall Farm site appealing and began by moving its Flying Club to a new grass runway extending from behind the houses then bordering the new road.

What makes 1958 a significant year was that anyone with any kind of connection with the company could look back with pride to the most famous aircraft type, Mosquito, the 1941 prototype of which was to be preserved, and was thus the reason for the development of what became the Mosquito Museum, now renamed de Havilland Aircraft Museum.

1958 was also the year when the post-war jet Comet IV was announced and photographs began to appear of the prototype in build at the factory; in its "Hall of Secrets" assembly workshops. Having recovered from two earlier disasters, the Company strove to create a larger and technically improved aircraft in the Comet IV.


Comet IV being assembled
Courtesy de Havilland Aircraft Company collection and Herts Advertiser

Anyone travelling along the rear of the company's site in Sandpit Lane in 1958 would have spotted the appearance of an unusual  tower, part of the Blue Streak missile project. Although it would later be cancelled there is no doubt that BS added to the experience and knowledge of ballistic missile technology.


Meanwhile, out of our area in Watling Street, Handley Page announced its new plane for the RAF, the HP111 (Treble One), a new military transport aircraft.  Handley Page was determined not to let DH have the year all to itself.

Blue Streak tower
Courtesy de Havilland Aircraft Company collection and Herts Advertiser
Well, that was 1958, where we could have looked back to the past (Mosquito), the present (Comet IV) and future (Blue Streak).  Yet the company was on the cusp of being merged into the much larger Hawker Siddley, and then British Aerospace.  Thousands of local people made great careers out of their employment at DH, although it must be admitted equally large numbers were also made redundant at key times.  Today, one or two feature buildings have new uses, there is a growing business estate and residential hubs, a major university location and, waiting in the wings, a future country park.  Roads mark aircraft which were born here and people who made them happen, and land which has a history extending back to medieval times in the form of Harpsfield Hall, has established a new chapter of the district's story.


Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Former Typo

Today we are familiar with the abbreviated word typo as referring to a keyboard error resulting from hasty typing, or maybe even hiding unfamiliar spelling.

However, an organisation we would today recognise as a trade union was launched in 1849.  It was the National Typographical Association, with roots in Sheffield.  Its fortunes were seemingly variable, with separate regional and local groups appearing and disappearing in several parts of the country.  Although there had been small local groups in Hertford and in London, St Albans Typographical Association (STA) was created in 1899.

St Albans was home to several printing establishments, and formation at this date would have been given weight by the print works which grew up in the Fleetville and Camp districts at this time: Orford Smith, established in 1895; T E Smith in 1897; and Salvation Army in 1901 (in the building vacated by the short-lived Orford Smith works).  Many other much smaller printing businesses survived if not thrived and enriched the St Albans printing scene.


In 1920 the STA celebrated what is described as its Coming of Age, and issued a commemorative booklet, the rather damaged cover of a surviving copy, being shown above.  Two timely observations come to mind from the contents of the brochure.  First, one page is devoted to a list of its members who had fallen in the Great War.  These announcements were widely publicised from 1919 onwards, and appeared on plaques, and later, on war memorials.  The members (shown below) are local people.  While not everyone might have been a resident of the city, most will have been.  And in case any of these men's names have not appeared in other forms during the recent Armistice commemorations, we are pleased to recognise their brave efforts here.


Second, the brochure lists the businesses which supported the 21st birthday of STA.  They were Campfield Press, Taylor & Co, Photochrom Co Ltd, Dangerfield Printing Co Ltd, Gibbs & Bamforth, and W Cartmel & Sons.

One major Fleetville firm missing is, of course T E Smith, Fleet Works.  As we have come to realise through unsuccessful research, no closure details have ever been been recorded, and although it is widely assumed to be 1918, its managers confirmed that no printing had taken place at the premises after 1916, even though the building remained continuously busy – but that's another story.

We assume that, had the Fleet Works survived the war in tact it too would have supported the STA birthday bash.  Its absence in the list, however, confirms its rocky end through lack of skilled men.  Perversely, although there would have been no guarantee of continued success under other circumstances,  the print unions (plural) did guarantee the firm's demise by their refusal to allow women to take on key roles, even though they might have learned the appropriate machine skills.

If any members had thought about it at the time, it might have added an edge to the STA's celebrations.

Note: the Typographical Association merged with the London Typographical Society in 1964, to form the National Graphical Association, which with later mergers became the extant Graphical Paper & Media Union.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Move Over


For the past ten years the website www.stalbansowneastend.co.uk has published many stimulating images and thought-provoking commentary about the part of St Albans with no overall name – it was Ernest Townson, a manager of the printing company which arrived in Fleetville before anyone lived there, who first coined the phrase in 1912.  St Albans' Own East End was then borrowed by the author (me) for the two books about the district and for the title of this blog, which has in itself published well over 400 posts.

There comes a time in the life of all software when replacement is due, and that on which the current website was originally built is no longer supported by its creators.  We have spent the past four years with our fingers crossed, hoping that nothing would go wrong.  Fortunately nothing has, but to continue along that precarious path is tempting fate!

At the beginning of 2018, therefore, I charted the long learning process of building a new version of St Albans' Own East End on RapidWeaver.  And over ten months later it is finally here, with the support of Chillidog Hosting.


The new format enables a more versatile design and an ability to present detail in more creative ways.  Please do not imagine, however, that when you start to explore the new site you will necessarily have a fault-free experience during the next week or so.  I still have a list of corrections to make, but the new site, now labelled www.stalbansowneastend.org.uk , will settle down and be enjoyable for all to engage with.  

And as usual there is an email page for you to let me know what you think of the new format, and to send your recollections, news and images.


The co.uk site will now no longer be updated, although it will remain available for a while while we become used to attaching the suffix org.uk or changing the address in the Favorites (favourites!) section of our browsers.      

Today, we all experience the web on a variety of devices and via several different browsers.  Fault-free running cannot therefore be guaranteed for everyone all of the time – at least for a few weeks.

Nevertheless, upwards and onwards for org.uk!

www.stalbansowneastend.org.uk