Sunday, 5 April 2020

Bigger and More Proud

Eighteen seventy-seven: it turned out to be a significant year in the history of St Albans, as the Abbey became a Cathedral (formally known as the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban) and a Bishopric.  The Council then successfully applied for the Monarch, Queen Victoria, to confer the status of city on for St Albans.

Co-incidentally (or not) in the same year the rather rural sounding  Sweetbriar Lane was changed to become Victoria Street from the Town Hall to the city boundary, which since 1835, had been set at Lattimore Road from its previous limit near Marlborough Road.  No markers exist to show where these limits were.

1879 boundary post at Bluehouse Hill.
In 1877 the Herts Advertiser published details of the number of residents.  8,303 lived within the borough (the 1835 limits), 11,000 in the wider town – from the Market Cross to one mile distant.  So around 3,000 people resided beyond the city limit although would have relied of the services of the city and its council for various aspects of their lives.  The time had therefore come to apply for the extension of the boundary to approximately three-quarters of a mile.  Eastwards that created a new limit along Hatfield Road at  Albion Road.  This extension was granted in 1879 and for such a historic occasion the new Council had boundary posts manufactured, most of which remain today.  The wording proudly reflects the new status of the borough as a city.  Below the crest are the words CITY OF ST ALBAN 1879.  The town's name used to be written with an apostrophe (St Alban's) but today this is universally omitted.

1913 post in Sandpit Lane:
date label not quite level
Even in 1879 houses were being built beyond the boundary and the council therefore found itself in a similar position in 1913 when an application to take in new added areas as far as Oaklands was successful.  On this occasion new posts were set up with the same wording but with the year 1913 inside a rectangular panel, this panel having been added to the posts after casting, and not always in exactly the same position.  On the Sandpit Lane post it not quite horizontal.

1913 post at Hill End Lane

A much smaller boundary extension took place in 1935 but no dated boundary posts were produced.

The responsibility for looking after the markers rests with the local authority, but inevitably they end up being treated like lamp posts, road signs and other items of street furniture in being neglected.  The boundary posts are also prone to being hidden in undergrowth and shrubs, including ivy.  If the city was proud of them and their function when first installed, perhaps we should all feel a little bit proud of them today.  Maybe the council will permit volunteers to renew the paintwork with approved products and colours.  Just a suggestion.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Getting Noticed

Our enforced change in routines recently has been encouraging us to take more notice of our surroundings while we take our daily exercise walks.  Observations and inquiries have been received on matters such as the lettering on boundary posts, how buildings sit on their plots, the age of trees, houses which stand out, typefaces on street plates, and so on.  

One walker observed a house of post-war red-brick design among a pre-war pebbledash row in Hazelwood Drive.  To be clear, Hazelwood Drive south.  As with many homes in Beechwood Avenue south and all of Woodland Drive south this 1930s development was the preserve of builder A A Welch.  He had completed Woodland Drive south, both sides, and the odds of Hazelwood Drive south, temporarily reserving plots in each road for a work site which today would be called a compound.  A wedge shape at 1 and 3 Woodland Drive and a larger rectangle between 1 and 11 Hazelwood Drive.

Hazelwood Drive south - a post-war house nestles among the Welch-built
1930s homes; a former builders' compound.

Having completed all of the odds – but just four pairs on the opposite side – Welch began filling his compound with numbers 1, 3, 5 and 7.  That is as far as was possible before all work stopped for the war.  The sideways between the homes were shared, but the owners of 7 and 13 took an early opportunity to negotiate an extra few feet, biting into the remains of the compound intended to be 9 and 11 when they were eventually built.

Aerial phone taken in March 1939.  Hazelwood Drive is extreme right.
Rectangular builders' compound near bottom end with historic oak tree
in top left corner.
In the 1950s both the former compounds were finally sold for building, two houses in Woodland, but only one in Hazelwood, thanks to the narrower site resulting from the earlier land transfers.  So we have a post-war red brick home here as well as almost a complete set of evens which were more modern.  And it also answers the other question which has been posed more than once: why is there no number 11 Hazelwood Drive?

A similar query was raised a while back about house numbering in Beechwood Avenue, for which a certain answer is not clear; and for a development which progressed along the road in sequence, is rather puzzling.  From Beaumont Avenue we have numbers 1 and 3, then 3a and 5, 7 and 9 and so on.  Why was 3a necessary?  The most logical answer might come from the way the first pair face towards the junction instead of parallel with Beechwood Avenue.  It is possible the developer initially intended the first plot to be for a detached house.  The Post Office seems to have been prompt in allocating numbers, perhaps too prompt for a builder whose change of mind resulted in a pair of semis instead.  It would certainly be the reason for the resulting awkward plot boundaries and the need for a 3a in the sequence.  Of course, if there is a different account ...

Junction of Beechwood and Beaumont avenues.  Two former builders'
compounds are in this photo.

While referring earlier to builders' compounds, H C Janes, which constructed homes on the opposite side of Beechwood and in Elm Drive in the early 1930s, had a compound where number 267 Hatfield Road appeared in the 1960s.  A similar compound had been left in Beaumont Avenue which is today the location of number 2.

All that from a pair of queries resulting from everyday walks!

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Not the Only Ones

Two previous posts have highlighted the adventures of two schools from Camden which were evacuated to St Albans during the Second World War.  To be in a position to tell those stories sufficient snippets of information from the time were pieced together.

Other schools came to the city as well, but we know less about them; and it is possible that one or more schools arrived, about which we are aware of nothing, not even their name or names.

Close to Haverstock Hill (see previous post) is Rhyl Primary School, given the address as Malden Road NW5, but in fact the school fronts onto Rhyl Street.  Rhyl Girls' School arrived with other Camden schools in September 1939, and they come to our attention because the Herts Advertiser ran an article soon afterwards under the headline "We Did Not Want to Come."  A number of children were interviewed to discover how they had settled.
Rhyl School as it appears along Rhyl Street today.

"I am staying with very nice people (Scottish) and I think St Albans is a very nice place, but I think I would rather be back in London.  The lady I am staying with has not got any pets.  On September 1st we had to leave our homes and families in the morning, not knowing where we would sleep that night.  We all carried our belongings on our backs, and we each had to look after one infant on the journey."

Parliament Hill School, Hampstead, was allocated St Albans Girls' Grammar School.  In 1939 STAGGS occupied the building today's Fleetville Junior School, Hatfield Road.  For the first time we have become aware of a little personal information, in that two of the girls from that evacuated school were billeted at a house near the Wynchlands shops.  And after all those years, courtesy of a former neighbour, we know their names were Betty Penny and Monica Neagle who were about 14 when they arrived; they probably would not have remained beyond their school leaving age.

A workshop in use by Northampton Junior Technical College, London.
A London junior technical college named, confusingly Northampton, took up residence at St Albans School.  It is the workshops which were put to good use by the college.  In 1940, when south coast schools were relocating to safer areas, including Hertfordshire, Hastings Boys' Grammar School moved into the brand new buildings of the Boys' County Grammar School, Brampton Road and probably remained until 1942.  As with many evacuated schools Hastings School was allocated a hall elsewhere as the host school buildings would only have been available in the afternoons.  In Hastings' case they were offered and accepted the Independent Chapel in Spicer Street.

Other schools and colleges may have come to St Albans in 1939 or 1940, and if they did their names and other details are unknown to us so far.

Readers might wish to follow up a more detailed article by the author about the removal of Eastbourne schools to Bishops Stortford.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Changing Our Name

In the previous post we heard of a primary school from Camden, Princess Road, which spent the entire period from 1939 to 1945, nesting in Fleetville while their homes near Regents Park were at risk of bombing.

Another school, Haverstock Hill Senior Schools, also spent time with us, but having a rather different outcome.  The school was formed from earlier establishments in new purpose-designed buildings at the foot of Haverstock Hill in 1911.  In 1939 the girls' section was led by Mrs Pearce, while the Head of the boys' school was Mr H J Blackwell.  At the beginning of September 1939 the schools, en-masse, boarded a train from nearby St Pancras and arrived at St Albans "for the duration," as the rather vague expression was often phrased.

The 1911 building of Haverstock Hill School, Chalk Farm, since replaced
by a more modern and extensive estate.

Their school home would be Beaumont which had barely been completed and its own pupils and staff moved in under their head teachers Miss Ellis and Mr T H McGuffie.  As with Haverstock Hill, the girls' school and boys' school shared the building but were administered completely separately – interesting when there was only one telephone!

The initial arrangement, common everywhere, was for Beaumont pupils to occupy the school in the mornings and Haverstock Hill in the afternoons.  It is possible that the Beaumont school roll was below capacity enabling some flexibility in the occupation of classrooms and halls.  As the Haverstock pupils were older than their primary peers some of the older ones may have returned home to look after family members or undertake work even though they may have been below leaving age.

At a presentation event in 1942: L-R Mrs Pearce (Head of HH Girls' School); Joan Parry (Head Girl Beaumont Girls' School); Colin Taylor (Senior Prefect Beaumont Boys' School); Mr T H McGuffie (Head of Beaumont Boys' School); Elsie Bridges (Haverstock Hill School); Mr H J Blackwell (Head Haverstock Hill Boys' School); Miss Ellis (Head Beaumont Girls' School).

However, between friendships made at school and friendships formed with their billet families it seems that many of the evacuees saw Fleetville as a second home.  In 1942 the Heads of Haverstock Hill at Beaumont had a decision to make.  We are not in a position to understand the trigger but it is possible that a number of pupils were still being enrolled at the Camden premises, and as the oldest pupils at Beaumont left at the end of their schooling, to have four separate heads in charge of a set of buildings probably seemed unnecessary.  Mrs Pearce and Mr Blackwell therefore closed their  two sections at Fleetville, but they gave the parents of their pupils the choice of remaining at Beaumont, transferring to the Beaumont roll.  Of course, this would also have relied on the co-operation of the billet families with whom they had stayed so far.  It is also likely that fewer top-up children arrived in 1941 and 1942 to replace those who had left.

We know that this offer was taken up by a number of Haverstock pupils, but there seems to be no record of how many or how long they remained with their host school and family.  Could a small number of leavers have remained in St Albans, taking up essential war-time jobs, remaining with their billet families?

At the close of the summer term in 1942 a collection was taken among the pupils of Haverstock Boys' and presented to Mr McGuffie so that a sports cup could be purchased.  This request was honoured as the author recalled the Haverstock Cup being fought for among the house teams in the 1950s.  But no-one seemed to think it important that the pupils might benefit from understanding why the trophy was so-named.

Sports cup winners at Beaumont Boys' School in 1959.  One of these trophies
may well have been the Haverstock Cup.

Mr Blackwell, in a letter to the Herts Advertiser, commented: "Will you permit me to express to the citizens of St Albans the heartfelt thanks of the children and staff who, during these three years and more, have enjoyed the hospitality of the city.  We owe more to the kindness, helpfulness and forbearance of its citizens than we shall ever be able to repay.  Each of us, I know, will have a warm corner in his heart for them."

Since this post was first published the Fleetville Diaries' Beaumont Avenue project has identified that Head Teacher Mr Herbert Blackwell, his wife Elizabeth, and their young son Michael, had obtained accommodation in a house called Elmwood, now number 43 Beaumont Avenue.  Also residing there were John and Lilian Rowe, and George Twigg.

All are described as being "in charge of children of government evacuation scheme."  Although not stated, it is likely that the other adults were also Haverstock Hill teachers at Beaumont.

We have focused on the billeting of evacuated children with local families; their teachers also needed accommodation and this is the first reference to the adults given the awesome educational and caring responsibility for the young people and where they lived – although Hertfordshire County Council accepted overall legal responsibility, and there are extensive reports on how it carried out its role.

Source: 1939 England & Wales Register.
Fleetville Diaries Right Up Our Street: Beaumont Avenue.

Friday, 28 February 2020

Long School Trip

A recent (2019) front page item on the website under the heading Decade News 1940, refers to schools which evacuated to St Albans from south coast towns in 1940.  While this was a significant event in itself and lasted for two years, we must not lose sight of the initial 1939 evacuation of schools from London whose official return did not take place until the war's end in 1945.  Given the distance in time from these evacuations we are in danger of losing what memory of the experiences still remains.

A letter of thanks and appreciation appeared in the Herts Advertiser in 1945 from the head teacher of Princess Road School, London.  As there were five schools with the same name in different parts of the capital it was necessary to identify the correct establishment.  The school which came to our city was Princess Road School, Camden, now renamed Primrose Hill Primary School.  There were some 300 junior children and the same number of infants.  It is not yet known whether both departments came, but we know that the school was paired with Fleetville School, which of course then only occupied the Royal Road building and its recently acquired huts.  Would there have been sufficient space for 600 children, if the hall was used for two classes?
Princess Road School, now renamed Primrose Hill Primary School, Camden.

Fleetville's own children attended school in the mornings, while Princess Road used the buildings in the afternoons.  Lest we imagine that this straightforward arrangement lasted uninterrupted for six years we must take into account a number of varied factors, including parents choosing to have children returned to London at any time they chose, children transferring to a senior school when they reached eleven, parents moving to a different town when allocated to new jobs; so the situation was fluid.  London County Council's own records are therefore scratchy.

A group of children – the adults are possibly their teachers – walking from
the station on arrival.  It is not known which school they were part of.
Princess Road was also given access to the hall at St Paul's Church, presumably only for the mornings where their less formal education and other activities took place.  It was, at least, a base out of the rain and snow in winter.  That part of Blandford Road outside the church was cordoned off to form a temporary playground each day.

We know from occasional reports in the Herts Advertiser that the children ranged far and wide around the city visiting places of interest – and at least one letter home mentions a history study of the Romans at Verulamium.  Of course!

Princess Road School shared the accommodation at Fleetville School
for up to six years – afternoons only!
All of these children were billeted with families around the district, and it is presumed most stayed in homes in and around the Fleetville district.  Hosts would have taken responsibility for their evacuees during the weekend. So for up to six years the child population of our East End probably doubled.  On the positive side that's twice as many friendships which might have developed, and it would be good to think some of those friendships continued, at least by letter, after the return to Camden.

Today, we know that Primrose Hill Primary is interested in its own history, because it has a history page on its website.  So it is possible the school will wish to add a little extra paragraph about the extended school trip their children experienced between 1939 and 1945.

In the next post we will discover what happened to another Camden school, Haverstock Hill, when it was evacuated to St Albans.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Without a Name

Some years ago a recollection by a long-established resident of Fleetville lead to an unusual discovery.  The former Smith's Institute building, on the corner of Hatfield Road and Arthur Road, has undergone a considerable number of changes during the past 126 years.  It was built to perform the role of an employees' social club at a time when the printing factory (on the Morrison's site) and a few employee houses were all to be had in the embryonic suburb.

The Institute when new.  The commemorative stone
panel is just below window level at the building's corner.
It has been extended further into Arthur Road, had doorways altered, the facings have changed, and most of the ground floor internal walls removed to enable later printing machines to be installed.  

But one person recalled that on a corner wall there had at one time been a stone panel marking the formal opening of the building by the Mayor.  The event had taken place in 1899.  After having been covered by a modern facing, a contractor had drilled through the panel – although he did not realise it – to install a gas pipe.

The same building recently.
A few years ago the facing was removed to confirm the presence of the remembered panel.  We all looked at it and then continued with our lives.  But it is worth looking at again, because there maybe a story attached.  "This stone was laid June 24th 1899 by Thomas Smith Esq, donor of the Institute."  That much is plain to see.  Mr Smith's name is bold enough, and so was his role.  He both owned the new printing factory on the opposite side of the road, and he had given the money to pay for his employees' club building.  We know from other documents that he set up a trust fund from his own monies; the resources did not come from the company.

"Which was opened by His Worshipful the Mayor of St Albans Dec 2nd 1899."

These days the new Mayor is appointed in May when the local elections take place, but in 1899 the elections, and therefore Mayor-making were in November.  If you were going to invite the Mayor all the way out to Fleetville, especially as Fleetville was then outside the city boundary, to open the building you are so proud of, surely you would give him the honour of including his name rather than just calling him The Mayor.  The man had a name, and it doesn't take that long to carve his name into the stone panel.  On the day of the opening ceremony and the speech given by the Mayor it was clear he was excited to be present on that winter's day and he expressed the hope that Thomas Smith would one day wish to move his home (from Enfield) to live in the city.  The mayor was anticipating in return that the city would move the boundary outwards to include Fleetville.  Both of these hoped for targets would, of course, benefit the finances of St Albans.

Henry J Toulmin
OK, so the time has come to reveal the name of the mayor, both in 1899 and 1900.  It was Henry Joseph Toulmin, whose home was at Childwickbury, also outside of the city boundary!

There are two other relevant facts which might fit into this story.  Thomas Smith was, by politics, a Liberal; Henry Toulmin was a Conservative.  Perhaps that was the reason why His Worshipful the Mayor was not mentioned by name; and it would ensure for the life of the Institute, that Thomas E Smith would be the name associated with this structural gift to his own little hamlet of Fleetville.  Job done!

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Up for the Cup in 1996

Every so often it behoves all of us to spend time clearing out, or maybe tidying the piles of stuff we hoard.  A while back we were undertaking a similar task at Fleetville Community Centre, although the intention had been solely to discover records of the Centre's early years from 1982.  But you know what it's like; you discover interesting programmes, minutes or newspaper articles, stop to read them, and later two hours progress remains slow.

The 1995-6 squad.  Back L-R: Robert Ade, Nick Malham, Jonathon Smithers, David Adams, Elliott Ryan, Jonathan
Michie, Tom Price, Stuart Hames.  Front L-R: Sam Parratt, Ben Herd, Chris Seeby (Captain), Matthew Jones, James Buck.

Among the miscellaneous documents were the three images shown on this post.  They were familiar and the reason became clear later when I consulted Bob Bridle and Duncan Burgoyne's book "100 Years, a History of Schools' Football in St Albans".  1995/6 was the final year described and illustrated – that year was Bob Bridle's final year overseeing the fortunes of schools' football in the district.  The book shows a squad line-up, the three goalscorer from the Cup match, and captain Chris Seeby holding aloft the trophy after the match against Hackney.

Goalscorers David Adams, Ben Herd and Jonathon Michie
in the Southern Counties quarter-final.
In a box of documents at the Community Centre is also a set of three photos, though not originals.  The squad from that year has fewer players than the one in the book, the goal scorers photo is in the collection, and another threesome pic is from an earlier match against Sutton, with the two team captains and the "regular referee".  The photos are all captioned and probably came from a local newsletter.  The locations may well have been at Fleetville Junior School, and at least some of the team will have had Fleetville connections.

Captains Chris Seeby (SA) and Ben Harding (Sutton), with
referee Chris Wood.  Southern Counties quarter final.
So we ponder over their futures, both in football or other sports, and in life.  All will now be in their mid-thirties and it would be great to hear from any of them, wherever they are now living – anywhere between Colney Heath Lane and the Falklands – as they reflect on their team recollections.  No distinctions will be made, so comments from ex pupils of other parts of the city are also eagerly sought.

The owner of these pics isn't known and so can't yet be acknowledged.