Saturday, 16 June 2018

Recollections All Round

During the past three months there has been a steady flow of old news arriving at SAOEE.  Occasionally prompted by a previous item on the website; on other occasions quite unsolicited.

Marconi staff photographer (using Marconi technology, of
course) atop the old Hill End water tower.
Let's start with the heaviest; a collection of eight volumes dating from the 1950s, of the staff magazine of the Marconi giant, of which Marconi Instruments Ltd had three bases in St Albans, all in the east end.  The pages contain details of new technologies, developments within the factories, results and snippets from sports encounters, and on occasion the social difficulties of finding sufficient houses for the company's employees.  Time will be taken to abstract the St Albans features, which also include photos not previously seen.

House and shop of Sear & Carter, Hatfield Road
A few years back, and published in the SAOEE books, were details of one half of the Carter family, Charles, who launched a motor garage in Fleetville, which later became Hobbs Garage and is now KwikFit.  So a very warm welcome was extended to a descendant member of the other half of the Carter family.  Thomas had arrived in Fleetville before Charles and had teamed up with nurseryman Frank Sear.  The name Sear & Carter was well-known in the district, not only for its little Ninefields nursery where St Pauls' Place is now located, but also for the more spacious nursery where is now Notcutts Garden Centre at Smallford.  One result of our recent conversations has been the rediscovery of a photograph of the house and shop opposite Hatfield Road cemetery.

Occasionally the topic of the Smallford Speedway crops up (and also the nearby golf links too, but that's another story).  The names of a few cycle speedway teams have been put forward by Bill, another correspondent.  You may recall St Albans Cobras and EAC Hawks, Hilltop Vampires (Redbourn) and Harpenden Aces.  Just to show that none of us has a monopoly on local knowledge, we are trying to establish where the home grounds were.  The Cobras, for example, raced in Cell Barnes Lane, and Bill sent me a photo of a group of the Springfield houses opposite the former farm yard entrance.  Of course, the circus field was close by, so perhaps it was there.  We also need to establish the specific location of the Hawks' track.  Was it in the grounds of the EAC factory, did they share with the Cobras, or was there another Cell Barnes location, for example, at the bottom end?

Advertisement for L Rose & Co Ltd on
back cover of 1953 Pageant programme
Having long been custodian of a souvenir programme of the 1907 St Albans Pageant – printed at the works which launched Fleetville, T E Smith's Fleet Works – I subsequently acquired a cover of the 1953 pageant programme; just the cover!

 Now, through the diligence of Gill, I have both the 1948 and 1953 programmes complete.  Both contain interesting advertisements and these will appear on the website in the months ahead.

Former coal yard and coal office St Albans City Station

Rob delighted me one day recently, supplying me with a picture which had, until then, resided only in my memory; the chalet shop, or coal office, by the railway bridge where today is the road into St Albans City Station (and where many news reports are transmitted from).  There it is, looking a little worse for wear, shortly after closure, and shortly before work began clearing the former sidings and coal yard.

What a great time local history is having.  Long may it last.  Future blogs will expand on all of these topics, and more as they arrive.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

The Doorstep Pint

The earliest memory I have of milk delivery is an old motor van from the Co-op driven around our estate, and a horse-drawn vehicle, I think in cream and green, led by one of the Corley brothers from Oakley's who came next door.  The horse nibbled at the grass at the roadside, and as the milkman returned to the gate with empties in his hand the horse moved further along the road on its own; it knew where the customers were just as well as Mr Corley.

Then the Co-op received its smart new electric vehicles, and even in those 1950s days we were able to order orange drink in smaller bottles, and eggs too.  As we, along with most people, possessed no refrigerator we devised methods for keeping the white stuff cool, from cold shady doorstep to stone floor in the coolest room and covered with a tall wet inverted clay pot.  Even then in high summer there was a chance the milk wouldn't last until evening before it turned.  Thank goodness, in those days, for Sunday deliveries.  And an additional benefit was in making some rather unedifying cheese hung in a muslin pouch.

Grandmother talked about taking a jug to the cart where milk was ladled from its large container in the days before TT milk was the norm.  She who had lived her younger life in South London recalled walking to a shop to collect the milk, and returning with her jug covered in damp muslin.  Hedges Farm had such a shop on the corner of Hatfield Road and Glenferrie Road, and there were similar shops in the city centre.

Cunningham Hill Farm claimed to be the first to bottle its milk, and Marshalswick Farm claimed to be the first to deliver milk twice a day direct to regular customers – though before World War One quite who they were is uncertain given the emptiness of that part of the district.

The days of the every-day milkman eventually wound down for most of us.  As the keeping qualities of milk improved, thrice-a-week delivery was considered adequate, and then plastic containers proved less expensive than glass, especially when taking sterilising bottle-washers into account.

So almost universally bulk purchase from the supermarket took out the role of the traditional milkman and at a significantly lower price.  But in places a milk round has continued to find a niche retail position, as other dairy products, vegetables and groceries were added to the goods delivered.
Press advertising for a Hatfield-based company
offering glass bottle doorstep deliveries.

Now, the milkman is embracing the internet and the principle of offering cheaper prices for bulk buying.  While customers can still purchase milk in plastic containers, the glass bottle is back on the delivery menu.  Register

with the company by setting up an online account and suddenly buying your pinta* becomes much easier, with no more need to leave a note tucked in the top of an empty bottle, or waiting for the milkman to book you time out while you're on holiday.

From asking the farmer's wife at the farm gate, to internet ordering in one hundred years, there is still an alternative to the shop in spite of availability from petrol stations, paper shops and as many convenience stores as there were in the fifties.

Milk certainly seems to be an enduring retail product.

* Pinta was a marketing word coined in the 1950s to encourage us all to increase our milk consumption, using the slogan "Drinka pinta milka day."

Sunday, 27 May 2018

It's Showtime!

Everyone in the County can mark off this May weekend as soon as they receive their new diaries.  It is the weekend of The Hertfordshire County Show (Herts Show in its abbreviated form).  As this blog is being written the sun is gently warming the Redbourn show ground for its second busy day and lines of cars are being marshalled up in orderly fashion.

It seems that as long as we can remember the Show has set its collective trailers down in fields between the M1 and the old A5 just north of Redbourn for its celebration of most things agricultural – as well as entertainments which would attract the large crowds to ensure the event could cover its costs above the income from trade stands.
Appealing to families.  Courtesy Hertfordshire Life.

However, the Show first arrived at what was to be its permanent home in 1962.  In fact, the statement should be amended to "its second permanent home", in as much as permanence can occasionally be a flexible concept!

The Redbourn show ground.  Courtesy Hertfordshire
Agricultural Society
The society which manages the Show has itself a significant pedigree, having been born in 1801.  Its meetings and events took place on land at Hatfield House estate, and Hertfordshire Agricultural Society pinned the Show's birth to a ploughing match there in 1879.  Although it did move to another Hatfield site the growth of the town made that unexpandable and eventually  unavailable.  In the 1950s the event became nomadic and visited, for example, Childwickbury in 1953 and Letchworth in 1955.

This is where St Albans' Own East End enters the story, for in 1956, shortly after the land had changed hands, Oak Farm in Coopers Green Lane was selected.  The Show came to us!  I'm uncertain when it first became a two-day event at the weekend, but it was previously a single day during the working week, and so it was in 1956.  Thursday was show day.  That was an even bigger weather risk then than today for an open air agri-fest.  Mid May – for it was slightly earlier then – at Oak Farm and the previous day was very wet, so ensuring an adequate amount of mud through which to wallow.  The day itself, according to the Herts Advertiser, was sunny.
The Herts Advertiser reports on the pig classes at Oak Farm.

The requirements for a large tract of land made it inevitable that that the event would be "off the beaten track".  The proportion of visitors with cars would have been low in the 1950s; my memory is unclear about the laying on of special buses to the site.  Perhaps we all walked, but we could only have done so after school.  So perhaps this was an event, which could have been of such wonderful educational value, that passed us by.

I have never discovered a programme for the event, and no-one has recalled the Show as one of their fifties highlights.  Hertfordshire Show at Oak Farm, it seems has retreated to the great chasm of non-memory that exemplifies much of our lives.  But there may be someone somewhere who could still exclaim, "1956?  Oh yes, that was the year Hertfordshire Show came to Oak Farm."

Sunday, 20 May 2018

The Price of Coal

As with many other householders I paid my dual-fuel energy bill recently by direct debit online.  As a child I was regularly sent to place an order for coal or coke at one of the many Coal Offices, and subsequently to take the invoice – the bill – with cash to pay for the delivery recently received.

The coal offices were in Fleetville (for Stantons, then Kendalls), at The Crown, and at offices gathered around the railway station.  One of these little portable buildings stood next to the gate leading from the goods yard at the station.  If you have arrived to living in the St Albans district more recently than c1980 you will possibly not realise that the goods yard occupied all of the space which is now the busy station and the car park building. 

Martell's Coal Office c1970.  Today at Station Way.

This week I received a photo, possibly taken c1970, which shows Martell's Coal Office – not an accessible building, I notice.  Today it might not even pass planning regulations as the door steps dropped straight into a blind bend straight off the Victoria Street bridge, and just as the footpath ends.  Inevitably, the building could not be permitted to remain once the new Station Way was laid to join Grimston Road and Hatfield Road with its seemingly endless flows of taxis, buses and cars.


But there it was, and although it appears to have been abandoned at the time, someone thought to photograph it and in the context of the wider scene.  It is clear that the goods yard – which we would probably call freight today – is also neglected as more centralised handling of freight trains had been developed by the seventies.

After just over a century the station, formerly on the Ridgmont Road side of the tracks, was transferred to the other side, and the big talking-point of the period was electrification.

A 1950s coal bill for Charrington's, whose coal office was on the city-side of the tracks.

Today there is nothing left of the coal office, but we know exactly where it stood.  I did attempt to take a photograph from the same spot; taking my life in my hands, it proved impossible given the vehicle flows on the traffic light controlled junction.  I will try again early one Sunday morning, but meanwhile here is an alternative courtesy Google Streetview.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

We have a plan

In the second of a series of articles about the arrangements for educating the children of Camp and Fleetville we turn our attention to those over eleven years old.

A strategic plan for the re-organisation of schools in the East Ward of St Albans and district had been developed in the first half of the 1920s, but would, in theory, take a decade to implement, assuming that sufficient funds were forthcoming.

However, the circumstances in individual schools were becoming dire and the managers of some schools felt that they could not wait that long for improvements.  At Camp school, for example, there were places for 248 juniors and seniors, and 150 infants.  Although there was still space in the infants the junior/senior department (remember, progress was made through the school by ability and not necessarily by age), the County’s plan to add four further classrooms to a school in the centre of a fast-growing residential population, was at odds with the Board of Education’s re-organisation plans.

Strategically, the development of education services was progressing towards a system which separated schools into those which educated children up to the age of eleven, and those “post-primary schools” which provided a three-year curriculum for seniors up to the age of thirteen or fourteen and a four/five-year secondary curriculum for children up to fifteen or sixteen.  There would no longer be progression by ability.

The plan was to open a boys’ and a girls’ senior school on land which the County had purchased in Hatfield Road, Fleetville (the current Fleetville Juniors site). Camp and Fleetville schools would then become mixed schools for infants and juniors (JMIs).  The problem is that such bold plans (and this was for just the East ward) are very expensive and would take a long time to materialise.  

A surprisingly small senior class at Fleetville, possibly the final year, c1930,
in which senior girls attended the school.
Courtesy Fleetville Infants School & Nursery
In view of this urgency an interim plan was put into place for shorter-term gains, in which one half of the senior school would be constructed, for 320 girls.  Its numbers would come from the girls from Camp and Fleetville schools senior departments.  The Camp senior boys would move to Fleetville to occupy the places freed up by their girls, and the accommodation for Camp would enable the infants and juniors departments to expand.  The senior girls’ school would consist of eight classrooms each large  enough for 40 pupils (the norm at the time), a central hall and a practical block.

These discussions took place at the beginning of 1928, and at the time the education department had not even purchased a full site for one senior school, having just purchased a nominal four-and-a-half acres – enough for buildings but no playground or playing fields; that would have to come later.

Meanwhile, a site in Fleetville had already been pencilled in for a senior girls school to replace the existing Central Girls’ school – the same site!  Central schools were developed to provide further education opportunities, mainly for girls who had often left school up to a year earlier than boys. The Central in St Albans had  restricted accommodation in Victoria Street, part of the old library and school of art.  This was, essentially, a science and handicrafts centre, which itself desperately required replacing,  

Well, that was the plan.  

The Central Girls' School buildings with building added in 1938.

Fleetville and Camp areas were probably not surprised that the plan, which would have greatly advanced provision in the ward, was compromised by allocation of the senior school site for the Central girls’ school.  However, this school, when eventually built in 1931 did contain more capacity than originally intended, in order to accommodate the girls from the Central as well as those from Camp and Fleetville.  However, since a senior boys' school was not part of the immediate plan, Fleetville continued to provide for them, as well as Hatfield Road boys’ near St Peter’s Street, until Beaumonts’ and the boys’ grammar schools were built in 1938.
The new Central senior school site also included a separate block as a boys’ craft centre.  

A section of the school population with staff taken in 1931 when Central
Girls' School opened in Fleetville.

The school had not been on this site for more than seven years when the buildings were modified and re-opened as the St Albans Girls’ Modern school – by the time it opened it had already been renamed St Albans Grammar School for Girls, so becoming a secondary school.  As part of the improvements an extension was built and the craft block integrated with the main school.  The school was one of the first to have a caretaker’s house built under the many standards for secondary schools which the county adopted.  The house was built on a strip of newly acquired land which also acted as a wider and more welcoming entrance than the narrow way next to West and Sellick.

The caretaker's house added in 1938.  The new entrance was much more
imposing than the rather utilitarian gateway of today.  A detached house
set on a wide plot is now replaced by Grimsdyke Lodge, built right up to
the boundary fence.

Next time it will be the turn of the senior boys.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Fielding for free

In answer to a question about where to spend a typical summer weekend day, "somewhere exciting" would be the required comment, especially if our group includes children.  An afternoon with a picnic in the park probably doesn't cut it these days.

I was reminded of this yesterday when a friend sent a picture of his family group relaxing near the edge of a field.

His message to me includes "Apparently my family and assorted Uncles and Aunties would travel down to the Barley Mow (no idea how we got there as  nobody had a car) and sit and have fun by the river at the back. I am not sure of  the  details, I am the baby on my mother's lap in the photograph, but it was obviously near the pub as the men are drinking beer. Apparently a good time was had by all and I think we did it quite often in the immediate years after the War. Simple times!"

A family gathering at the field next to the Barley Mow.

I then realised that I had no other photograph which records such field pleasures that you would enjoy frequently.  So, actually seeing the picture is a rare pleasure.  To bring us up to date, the Barley Mow as a pub is no longer open, though the building remains.  More to the point, the field in question is still a field, as shown in the second picture.  The Barley Mow stands at a T junction, although the little lane now goes nowhere, and hasn't since the bypass was dualled.  Before then you could walk to the Colne and Coursers Lane, picking up a drink on the way at the Rainbow filling station.

The river mentioned – actually a small stream which has become even smaller in recent decades – rises, like nearby Butterwick Brook, from within the chalk of these parts and trickles towards the river Colne.

My friend asks:
"Was it just my family who indulged in this fun in a field or was it a regular outing for St.Albans folk? I would be interested to hear of any memories people might have of  the Barley Mow at this time."

The field today; courtesy Google.
There were many fields I can recall enjoying myself in, either with my family or my friends, or both.  Regular Sunday walks would find us at Jersey Farm, where we would picnic in a field where we were the guests of a small herd of dairy cattle.  Then there was a rather undulating field – again picnic oriented – where St Luke's School was then built at the top of Hixberry Lane.  Possibly not a field exactly, but very popular was the river bank in London Colney, and the spaces around the gravel pits at Frogmore, Park Street.  We took our food with us, so no need for snack bars or restaurants; we cycled or walked so needed no lifts or driving licences,  and as long as we had a cricket bat and ball we were happy.  Such days out therefore cost us nothing.  Just as well.

Today there is an expectation that we have to pay to be made happy.  There is a national sport which grew from a field and where most of the time most of the participants are fielding; it may have been cricket – or not – but it was free fun.

Incidentally, the Barley Mow had been well known as a cyclists' watering hole. 

Monday, 23 April 2018

Educating the Newcomers

Work is now well advanced on recreating and improving the website St Albans' Own East End; delivering it on a new, more modern, platform.  There are many limitations to the present website platform, the most important that it is no longer being serviced.  So, as they say, the time has come ...  and we will hopefully see the new site in all its east end splendour later in the summer.

One small new feature on the collection of photo pages devoted to the schools will be a brief history of each one.  We take them for granted, but they came into existence for many different reasons.  Yes, each one opened to provide more places for children living in the district, but the more we explore how their beginnings the more we understand how flimsy was the planning in each case, and how little the various education authorities took account of the data which was available to them.

Today, of course, there is so much data available – and even more can be commissioned by virtually anyone and for any purpose. Even basic facts and numbers available to authorities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as census returns and movement of households into districts, did not appear to convince planners that crunching this limited information could possibly assist in making provision for school places.

For example,  from the 1890s almost thousands of homes were emerging from the fields on both sides of Hatfield Road and for a decade the education authority chose not to commit itself to building a school in the district; not even to negotiate with the developers to reserve a plot of land on which a future school might be built.

Shortly before the emergence of county authorities the St Albans Rural Education Board constructed a school, Camp, specifically for children living in the villages and hamlets on the east side of the city.  This  became urgent because the St Albans (city) Education Board had reviewed its existing policy and denied future access by rural children to city schools, mainly Alma Road, St Peter's and Priory Park, and Hatfield Road.  

Children in all of the homes in the Cavendish, Fleetville and Castle areas were expected to attend Camp School.  It wasn't only a question of numbers either.  A child living in Brampton Road had no straight-line access to Camp School as the only rights of way across the railway line were in Sutton Road and Camp Road.

The first part of Fleetville School opened in 1908, although strangely, the authority had no expectation that many children would attend on the first day, only employing the head teacher and deputy until proof could be shown!  Between them, Camp and Fleetville carried the burden of education the east end's children – all of them up to leaving age – until the opening of Ss Alban & Stephen in 1934.  The removal of senior children into senior schools at Hatfield Road, Priory Park and, eventually Beaumont, occurred from 1930, and relieved some pressure on space. Incredibly, it was not until 1955 and 1958 respectively that new schools were opened at Windermere and Oakwood, the latter being known at the planning stage as the Fleetville Extension School.

We now have nine (10 if Samuel Ryder is included) centres educating primary-aged children, and during the post-war period the education authority was finally able to do what the 1944 Education Act envisioned: to enable primary children to attend a local school within a short walking distance of their homes.  Of course, the open enrolment concept of recent years has partly negated that aspiration, with many children being ferried by car to a school further away on the basis that it is a good school.  Yes, there's a debate to be had here.  Good schools everywhere, more open air and exercise for all, fewer cars, less stress around the school gates, cleaner air ...

Next time we will discover how bad it became for children over the age of eleven.