Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Travelling East

A January walk along country lanes and footpaths can be bracing in the windy sunshine on biting cold days.  Yes, really!  As we pass by or across field after field we are not necessarily aware which farm or farms manage each patch of land.  After all, there's no sign to inform us.  Once former farms have become part of the urban landscape we are even less certain, as there are no clues left to former fences and hedges.

One farm boundary had been near the top of the rise just eastwards of Beechwood Avenue.  Unless we had an old map to hand we would not have known; the land to the south of Hatfield Road from that point eastwards until reaching the industrial estate on the other side of Oaklands, belonged to Hill End Farm.  Until around 1920 it was owned by the hospital authority of the same name, but being far from the hospital buildings it had no use for the fields sandwiched between Hatfield Road and the former branch railway.

Detached homes along Hatfield Road between Oaklands and Butterwick industry.
Houses had already stretched out of the city along the main road towards Beaumont Avenue in the early 1920s and Hill End's opportunity came to sell plots for housing development.  During the next fifteen years a variety of people chose their plot and built their house or bungalow.  There was no sense of creep along the road; plots were built on randomly, with sometimes large spaces of overgrown grasses and shrubs between, at least for the first few years..

One difficulty was the depth of land between the road and railway, which was too long for a house and garden, leaving some awkward backland behind, which was not easy to access.

Although one or two attempts were made to fill in this backland before World War Two (the Willow estate and at Longacres), solving the backland issue began in earnest from the 1960s.  This included developers purchasing the bottom ends of long gardens, such as at Pinewood Close and Gresford; or purchasing and then demolishing one or more pre-war homes to provide access to the land behind where new closes were erected.

Oakdene Way still has an open end, laid before Longacres Park filled the backland gap.
Recognising the size of the very large plots on which a single house had been originally built there came the chance to pull down and erect modern homes on more compact plots.  

Today, there is no spare backland left between Ashley Road and Ryecroft Court, the latter marking the boundary between Hill End and Butterwick farms.  You could say Hatfield Road east is full.  But who would bet against a developer or two stepping forward in the next few years, purchasing a pair or two of original homes and bringing a small collection of new-builds to the south side of Hatfield Road.  There will probably be no development on the north side so those new homes would be blessed with open views to the north.

A detailed investigation into the modern changes along Hatfield Road east can be found on the website.  It is called Hatfield Road East.  Navigate from the Topics link on the Welcome page.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Year's Worth of Delight

Well, that's another year wrapped up, and as far as this blog is concerned we have all been able to share 34 posts on a variety of topics, all related in some way to the eastern districts of St Albans, now known informally as St Albans' Own East End, after the two books of the same name.  The blog on the current platform has been thriving since 2012 (two years before that on the old platform, still accessible on the website's Archive pages): 284 posts in total.  

Throughout 2017 I have enjoyed – and found necessary – consulting the calendar hanging on the kitchen wall.  Consulting is probably making it sound too serious an operation.  The essential bits, of course are the dates, which act as reminders and scribble points.  Most calendars – and the main reason why they are often given as Christmas presents – contain an image for each month.  A calendar is still a calendar without them, but it is the pictures which engage us.

Mine for last year was titled simply St Albans 2017, with image designs by a local business: Hannah Sessions Design   (  The drawings are delightful impressions of their subjects; not, perhaps, everyone's cup of tea, but I consider them to be joyful works of art, and if you want a day to begin well, a few seconds fixed on the current month's picture while you wait for the kettle to boil, is enough to start the morning on a buoyant note!

Here were the twelve subjects for 2017: Abbey Gateway, NSBC Bank, Town Hall, Clock Tower, Ottaways, Lloyds Bank, the Cathedral (two images plus another on the cover),  the Bat and Ball, Town Hall Chambers, War Memorial, and Jones Shoes, St Peter's Street.  

Quite a range of locations in the centre of St Albans.  Now ask twenty residents to suggest 12 (or thirteen) buildings in St Albans (note: not in the centre of St Albans), most lists would specifically include six or seven of the above, and more if it is specified that each picture must show a different building.  And overwhelmingly the inclusions would be constrained by our idea of the centre of the city – with the possible exceptions of the Fighting Cocks and Sopwell Hotel.  Of course, in St Albans we are spoiled for choice, and could have included the Peahen, Waxworks, St Peter's Cottages, Ivy House, Holywell House ... and so on.  Then we should ask whether modern buildings which contribute to the streetscape could be included.

Opposite the cemetery gates is St Paul's Parish Church

Now we could also ask the question, what would be your list if the theme is St Albans' Own East End; in other words, 12 (or 13) photographs of buildings eastwards of the City Station.  Here is a baker's dozen to begin with:  Three Horseshoes, Fleetville Institute, St Paul's Church, Nicholson's Coat Factory, Beech Tree Cafe, Cricket Pavilion, Victoria Square, Beaumont School, Queen's Court, Cemetery lodge, Hill End surviving ward block,  Nashes Farm, Hall Heath Cottages.  
We've passed it hundreds of times: Three Horseshoes
at Smallford.

Without even including street scenes or smaller scale domestic buildings the above full dozen is by no means exclusive.

One feature of Hannah Sessions' drawings is that they are engaging; they encourage you to think about the subject (well, that's two features, but never mind) comparing what you see with what you know.  But Hannah's subjects are already well known.  When we engage with images in the East End collection many residents, even some who have lived here for decades, might have little idea of some of the locations.  So in this collection we are encouraged to engage in a different way: by exploring.

So, what would your list for a future calendar include?

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Enjoy it? It Made Mondays

Every town and city, and many villages too, are brimming with groups and organisations known both within and beyond their boundaries;  known for an approach, a rich enthusiasm, a directness focused on a subject of their choice; a subject and a group with a positive reputation, and often driven by someone with passion.  Such organisations often attract new members and fresh interest from people who often pass similar organisations closer to home.  Key individuals in these groups  are able to fire up enthusiasm and keep the flames of energy going.

These wonderful groups achieve a critical mass of members who are seemingly able to maintain the organisational energy for ever, or so it appears.  But there is a risk.  Everyone with flair and skill plays their part, but we all have a natural time period, after which we move on to other interests, move away or fail to find sufficient other members to support them.  Succession, or lack of it, is that greatest risk.

Among the organisations which consistently create projects, departments, activities and skills are schools and colleges.  Somehow there are teachers out there who push harder in their professional lives and develop something new, or enhance what might otherwise have been expected in the curriculum.  These teachers, often aided by dedicated parents or governors, produce an approach which stands above the expected in the life of the school.  They make their school shine brighter,

Today, many secondary schools and academies are specialists in one or more areas of the curriculum, so we tend to expect something extra in those areas.  Often, however, it has been the specific dedication of individual teachers who, beyond the curriculum, have enabled the reputation of the school to be more widely appreciated in the locality.  This may be curriculum enrichment via language courses in other countries, or developing an enthusiasm for healthy eating or healthy exercise in a wider range of sports or foods.  Performance skills are often used to build confidence and for the enjoyment of participation in its own right.

Lest we gain the impression this is a very modern concept, the idea of "doing something extra at school" is probably as old as formal education itself; not because it was required, but because head teachers and assistant teachers alike gave their students opportunities to engage in something different, nurturing the interests and aptitudes of the youngsters in their care.  As always, however, the challenge has been to support the costs involved.  It is often for reasons such as this that Parents' Associations were created to help raise funds.

Most of us will recall those special activities which much later enabled us to admit, "if it wasn't for Mr ..., who pushed me to excel in ... I wouldn't be where I am today."  

It would be great to receive details of some of the special projects and activities for which their schools were or are known, why they were engaging and who the key drivers were.  We have usually taken those drivers for granted and it's about time they were recognised.

Recently, while trawling though old journals, the reason for keeping one of them was realised.  A feature article in one of them revealed to a much wider audience a dynamic musical force which inspired up to half of the school; a reputation developed from formative beginnings, and using experience gained elsewhere.

From today you can read about Marshalswick Music by the former Director of Music, Ian Hamilton,  on the main website  The link is on the front page.  We may even pick up a few recollections from former members of the school's choirs, bands and ensembles.  Apart from Marshalswick (now Sandringham) what else was or is out there which ensured there were challenges beyond the curriculum for their pupils and students?

Friday, 8 December 2017

A little bit further

Shortly before 1913 the City Council  deliberated over just how much of the land eastwards of the city it should take into what was known as the added areas.  Its original proposal was to extend the boundary from Camp Road (The Crown) – the limit since 1879 – as far as Beaumont Avenue; the reasoning presumably being that a boundary at this point would encompass all of the building added since 1879.  However, the authority was reminded that development was no respecter of borders and it would be useful to stretch the boundary so as to ensure that future housing would lie within the city from the start.  So it was that the council determined the limits should be defined at Winches Farm.

Two farm-related events would ensure not long would transpire before most of the green extension would turn brown.  First was the remaining acres of Beaumont Farm.  About half (Castle Road area and the Camp Estate) had been sold for development in 1899, and in 1929 the remainder (Beaumont Avenue east, Beaumonts Estate, Hatfield Road north and the Willow Estate) came on the market.  The developer, Watford Land, lost no time in erecting semi-detached homes between Beaumont Avenue and Oakwood Drive – the latter laid out but not yet developed.  This initial stage ensured that homes of a relatively high value, fronting onto Hatfield Road, would act as a shop window and provide a good initial profit to fund the later building behind.

The second event actually materialised first.  Opposite the Watford Land homes on Beaumonts Farm was Hatfield Road field.  This was the westernmost field belonging to Robert Gaussen's own Hill End Farm.  On the southern side of Hatfield Road the boundary between Hill End Farm and Beaumonts Farm was a hedge at the top of the rise east of Beaumont Avenue/Ashley Road.

Back in 1996, and in preparation for the building of Hill End Asylum, the Hospital Committee purchased 96 acres from Mr Gaussen.  In effect, the committee purchased the whole farm and then re-sold what was not required to Mr Charles Morris of Highfield Hall.  This included the Hatfield Road Field and an area of woodland stretching from Colney Heath Lane to the current Longacres.  By around 1920 Mr Morris had seen the development opportunity and sold roadside plots, although the part of the field between these and the branch railway was left undeveloped.  Meanwhile it served a use as a small brickworks and a smallholding.

The first three plots had been sold and built on by 1923 (numbers 358 and 360, and number 384, whose owner moved on after a year, selling to an incoming family from Wood Green.  The original 384 no longer exists, the wide plot now redeveloped into two new homes.  The resulting development process of selling plots, rather than houses, provides a variety of detached and semi-detached homes set well back from the road.  The original 384 was rather different in being a small detached home on a wide and deep plot, although a building extension at the back was added in the 1930s.  It was the additional plot lengths at the Oakwood Drive end of the road which enabled the Pinewood Close development, removing more than half of the rear garden lengths.

Across the road the estate-developed semi-detached homes were begun as soon as the land became available in 1929 and all but six dwellings were habitable the following year.  The 1960s style home (267) had been the yard used by the builders.  Momentum had dwindled when building the homes east from Oakwood Drive and by the late thirties had only reached 365.  It is assumed this was the result of the County Council acquisition of land for Beaumont School, although the boundary of the initial land purchase fell significantly short of Hatfield Road and would have permitted the homes to fill their allotted  space – which, in a rather different way, they are about to do.  The land behind the hedge was only purchased to extend the school field in 1948.

St Albans City Council was therefore wise, in 1913, to think ahead and stretch its boundary as far as Winches.  The land covering developed beyond there towards Smallford came into the City's hands as a result of amalgamation with St Albans Rural in the 1970s.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Learning a Little More

From the moment the news broke of new housing proposed for Symonshyde there has been a near-universal condemnation of the plans.  The reason for the negative response is undoubtedly similar to the outcries of the other housing proposals which have ever been made at various times, some of which have come about and others sunk without trace; "we're here and we don't want anyone else".  We have been offered a minimal amount of information: that the new plans for east of St Albans are part of the national requirement  to build thousands of new houses (of which Symonshyde would be a small part).  Because St Albans District Council currently has no coherent district plan, while Welwyn-Hatfield is announcing its proposals, St Albans' residents naturally feel embarrassed while the neighbouring council is getting its act together on St Albans' very doorstep.

Site of the proposed Symondshyde New Village.

Then there is the terminology: housing.  What do you imagine?  Does it leave a mainly positive or mainly negative impression?  We might substitute estate, or sprawl, or suburb.  Or perhaps village, hamlet.  We can also be conclusive, usually negatively, about its impact with terms such as destroying our green space, or ruining the countryside. So, let's explore what is actually proposed a little further.

We can all do a little digging on the internet at where there are a number of outline projects, all in the Welwyn-Hatfield area.  Gascoyne Cecil Estates is a major land owner, representing the Cecil family, and centred on Hatfield House over several centuries.  Large land owners occasionally "play" with their acreages and choose to sell peripheral fields for private development; either for housing or commercial functions. 

The evidence from Gascoyne Cecil Estates is rather different, adopting a more acceptable, almost fatherly approach to responsible management of its holdings.  So, what is actually planned for Symondshyde?

Symondshyde New Village as shown in the Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan

The charette report states: “a satellite village is a settlement which is dependent on a nearby town but which avoids urban sprawl and does not block views of open countryside.  A village would be separated from existing urban settlements by an enforceable green corridor of a size which remains capable of being easily walked or cycled.”

Other earlier settlements, such as Letchworth Garden City, have similar rural rings limiting their size and preventing encroachment from outside.

While the proposals for Symondshyde sketch in important amenities, including shops, schools, offices, bus links, and community spaces such as sports clubs and a pub, enabling any or all of these to be sustainable in the modern world is a tall ask.  If, in the fullness of time, these begin to fail, the sustainability of the village is lost and endless car journeys would develop between it and Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield and St Albans.

The planners' concept drawings are always made to appear more acceptable
by using watercolour on textured paper.
The distances between the proposed village and nearby towns is little different than for most other villages in the southern half of the county, and will therefore be no exception.  But because the risks outlined do nevertheless exist is no reason to deny the plan an airing and a reasoned debate.

There is little doubt that, at the beginning, the development will look like any other; its newness cannot be avoided.  As for the cost of living in the village, that is all wrapped up in the price of housing on a national and regional scale, and directly linked to real  shortages of accommodation.  But this village, as with hundreds of other new settlements in build or planned, will be making its own contribution to alleviation.

We will keep our eyes and ears open for a genuine community debate on the issue.

Monday, 13 November 2017

An anniversary for Glenferrie

In the late 1890s St Peter's Farm (farm homestead building extant as the Conservative Club) was sold and broken up.  This was the move which linked suburban St Albans at Stanhope Road to the Smith-inspired Fleet Ville at Bycullah Terrace.  Two of the three fields which lined the north side of Hatfield Road were purchased by Horace Slade, the straw hat and cardboard box manufacturer.  The ensuing residential development which then took place on what became known as the Slade Building Estate, was nothing short of remarkable for the period and the structure of the building industry's reliance on many independent small firms.  

Glenferrie Road, the furthest west of the three parallel roads Slade laid out, managed completion within five years of the road being carved out of the field previously known as Great Long Field.  Occupation of the homes shows evidence of an orderly construction plan, and the resulting design of dwellings suggest that two or three small developers engaged the varied construction firms to build a tidy arrangement of terraces (on the east) and semi-detached houses (on the west side).  No doubt current residents still clutching their original deeds will be able to discover who their developers were and perhaps work out what roles in St Albans' society they otherwise held.

Unlike many other roads, development was tidily arranged too, beginning from the Hatfield Road end.  On the west side we walk along the full length of what were the rear gardens of the houses in Hatfield Road – most had originally been built for domestic accommodation, while the same distance on the east side was reserved for the Methodist church's third home once it had raised sufficient funds.

The welcome sight of extensive green in the rear gardens

The two long terraces on the east side have retained their original exterior look without disturbance to glazing or other modernisations.  The second terrace, which contains more constructional decoration than the first even sports original decorated tile front paths in one adjacent pair.

The west begins with four pairs of attractively simple homes, possessing several echoes of the terrace opposite.  These give way to pairs with front bays, eaves and an interestingly simple design above the adjacent front doors, signifying the location of a porch without actually building one.  And no-one has since!

Surviving street directories suggest that the final initial occupants moved into the remaining new homes on the west side in 1907, making Glenferrie Road officially complete one hundred years ago this year.

A pre-WW1 photograph of Glenferrie Road looking distinctly wider
without its lines of parked cars.  COURTESY ANDY LAWRENCE

In the most recent census available to us in 1911, when the road was very fresh, there were no fewer than five heads of household working in the printing industry and several working for the railway.  A smattering of clerks, managers, accountants, were joined by the very new roles of electricians, a coal merchant, baker,  prison warder and an employee in a raincoat factory.  The range of occupations today is undoubtedly just as wide, but there are more occupations per household now, compared with the early 20th century.  With that comes an increase in disposable income per household; and the one external difference which has transformed almost every address in the road is the continuous line of parked cars along both kerbs.

But one view which almost no-one notices, unless they are using Google Earth is the unbelievable amount of green space – in the rear gardens of course; this in a part of St Albans which appears to be devoid of the colour apart from in the Cemetery and the Recreation Ground.

A happy centenary to all residents of Glenferrie Road and their families.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Happy Birthday

Monday 2nd November 1908 to Thursday 2nd November 2017
St Albans' Own East End wishes the children, teachers, friends and parents of
Fleetville Infant School & Nursery and Fleetville Junior School
a Happy 109th Birthday.

It is a first for this blog, otherwise we could be wishing people and places birthday greetings all the time.  Nor is there any particular reason for it on this occasion, other than the teachers at Fleetville Infant School had located the original school log book and had noted the effusively written first page on the day of opening, Monday 2nd November 1908, written in the flourishing hand of Mr Charles Wimbrey, newly appointed Head Teacher of the Fleetville Elementary Schools.

The original 3-classroom Infant building opened in 1914.

The building accommodated not only infants, but junior aged children and seniors, up to the age of thirteen.  Teachers across the district will be familiar with the next fact.  Only one of the two original buildings was opened (the smaller building was completed six years later) and the November date indicates that the handover was at least two months late!

Part of the frontage of the large building as children
celebrated the school's centenary.

Fleetville has witnessed several protest meetings since the district's birth in 1897; the first of which was the result of discontent among parents who had moved into the new houses in the years up to 1904.  The young Hertfordshire County Council Education Department, in wrestling with the issue of school places, chose the obvious solution of adding more accommodation to the buildings already open at St Peter's Rural Schools, then also known as Camp School.  However, its statement contained a critical rider to the authority's intention to build extensions to the rural school: "equivalent in size to a new school."  The meeting of parents at the Institute – at the corner of Hatfield Road and Arthur Road – simply demanded that these extensions should be built as a new school in Fleetville.

Into the former senior school buildings, dating from 1931, moved Fleetville
Juniors in 1976 – and playing fields for the first time.

No land had been reserved for a new school, nor any recreational open space.  So the new school was created by purchasing a number of house plots along Royal and Tess roads (the latter is now Woodstock Road South).

Over the decades the parents had cause to complain on several occasions about overcrowding, but now the protest meetings could take place in the school's own hall.  Classes, even in the Infant department, rose above fifty; temporary huts arrived; classes met in the old nursery (now the Community Centre); rooms in the former police houses; St Paul's Church; and finally two rooms in the former HORSA huts at Beaumont School.  This last element of "outreach" became known as the Fleetville Extension School, and when permanent buildings were constructed nearby, was renamed  Oakwood JMI School.

Not just a plain playground, but interesting spaces for young children.
Following further protest meetings the Junior Department moved across the road to the empty former Central School / Girls' Grammar School / Beaumont Girls' School / Sandfield School.  Both sections of the school felt there was space to breathe at last.

At various times during the past fifty years the original buildings have, of course, undergone a number of changes, from extensions to indoor toilets; link doorways between many of the classrooms; a kitchen; and a "new" hall in place of the old wooden huts.  The nursery has moved from the temporary wartime building and brought on site and the former divided tarmac playground (it had been gravel before that) is now a much more inviting series of spaces for children to enjoy.

The school has in its possession an interesting collection of photographs, some of which also appear on this website.  However, there will surely be a much wider range in the shoeboxes and albums of former pupils.  After all, there are now 109 years of learning behind today's celebration.  Memories too.  What might we recall about the school which has been a central part of Fleetville for almost all of the district's life?