Sunday, 23 June 2019

Growing and Growing

It is a measure of how busy the early summer months can be, that we have reached  23rd June, by which time the third post of the month is usually published, and this is the first June blog post!

It had always struck me how many cars lined the roads of Fleetville and other local districts during the middle of the day, where you might expect many households to be out of the house at places of work.  As most local folk have known for a long time commuters from elsewhere have combined free street parking with a brisk walk to the station; a routine highlighted recently with the introduction of residents' parking schemes in the parallel roads of Fleetville, when there was a sudden increase of all-day parking in those further roads hitherto not affected.

In the early days of the old station building in Ridgmont Road most commuters walked to the station – and there was a steady movement of westward-exercising pedestrians calling in at the paper shop on their way to catch the 8.22.  A proportion of them turned to the buses when they began to operate in the 1920s and from the 1950s the commuter might be driven to the station with the spouse returning the car to the domestic garage – we could do with more of that today but the family car has been replaced by the personal car.

The old station was torn down in 1973 when the new buildings were opened in Station Way, a road which did not exist before then.  I am sure the waiters for trains welcomed the new more spaciously provided facilities.  These, of course, have encouraged more users,  multi-storey car parks have been added, more services and longer trains.  And now the overcrowding within the station as a result of the line's popularity, is to be relieved with more concourse space, a second footbridge (who remembers the station entrance and footbridge on the road bridge itself?) and extra capacity at the Ridgmont Road entrance.

But the real question to be asked is how far from the station would commuters be prepared to park their cars and what proportion of their total journey would then be driving compared with walking?  We need to know these things, and I feel sure someone has already completed a survey on the subject.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Methodists Planted East of the Railway

Forget Fleetville, the adventurous souls who first inhabited the district settled in the homes of the Cavendish estate, and it didn't take long for a few shops and a range of employment to spring up.

The congregation first met in the workshop to the left which had previously
been a small shoe factory.  ROBB BUTLER

Meanwhile, the non-conformist city churches began to explore new locations in which they could provide a mission for new residents.  In 1894 the Dagnall Street Methodists launched their mission in Cavendish Road; initially front rooms and open spaces where houses had not yet been built; then meeting in Lee's small shoe manufactory, formerly a harness maker's shop and later to become the workshop of Butler's Motor Garage.  For a few years both the adults and the Sunday school would worship among the part-made boots and the smell of shoe leather ...

Plaque marks the arrival on the present site.

The first church building at Glenferrie Road

...Until a corrugated iron Nissen-style building was acquired on a narrow plot in Hatfield Road* which the members could fit out for permanent use.  As far as this group was concerned the dawn of the twentieth century offered a sparkling future.  However, not content with what they already had, this Methodist branch moved on and secured a site nearer to the heart of Fleetville, on the corner of Glenferrie Road.

Initially a multi-purpose hall and Sunday school room in more temporary accommodation it was at Glenferrie Road that the Methodists set their roots down permanently.

They have reached a significant milestone now that the new little suburb they joined in 1894 has expanded to become the city's largest and most vibrant district.  Next week Hatfield Road Methodist Church will be celebrating its 125th anniversary in Fleetville – for although that name traditionally belonged to the little area around the original print works (now the Morrison's site) the name could be applied to anywhere hereabouts, from Beaumont Avenue to The Crown, and is included in two wards, Ashley and Clarence.

We wish the Methodist Church a happy anniversary and hope that their tenure in Hatfield Road remains for at least another 125 years.

* Acquired by the Camp Liberal Club which later replaced the corrugated building.  This same building is now Hatfield Road Sports & Social Club.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

What's That in the Background?

Every so often you come across a photograph with so much detail it is difficult to take it in immediately.  As an example, I was given this image about ten years ago.  So many readers will be familiar with the location, near the junction of Hatfield Road and Sutton Road.  The scene was captured in 1939.

On the opposite side of the road is the original laundry attached the cottage with bay windows.  At the time the laundry also possessed a fenced front garden with the door accessed along a narrow path.

Then there is the huge former printing works which had become the Ballito hosiery mill and about to be converted to munitions manufacture.

Of course, the reason for the photo, probably taken by a member of the Tuck family, was to feature son Brian on the trike, together with his friend Alan, whose father Leon Turner owned a grocery shop opposite.  The hoses are prepared for the next motorist to pull up for a few gallons of petrol from Mr Tuck's little garage and service shop next to house – the bay window on the left of the picture.

Box made specifically for St Albans City Police.
London Transport had been operating bus services along Hatfield Road for six years and one of its standard shelters stood back from the road against Ballito's front wall; and the old-fashioned torch logo warning of the school ahead.

But there is something else in the view which, after a decade, I have just spotted for the first time.  In 1931 St Albans Police Force introduced a small number of timber police boxes, so that, in the growing city, patrolling officers would not need to walk back to Victoria Street to complete details and sign off.  Six of them were installed, fitted with electric heaters and a telephone which could also be used from the outside so that residents could make emergency calls.

We know what they looked like, as we have a photograph, above.  Now, looking carefully in the background of the main picture, can you spot a police box?  It is standing on the corner just inside Sutton Road on part of Ballito's site.  Look just to the right of the hat of the departing pedestrian!

When the wooden boxes were replaced with brick versions in 1939, the site was moved to the Hatfield Road/Beechwood Avenue junction.  So few of us will recall the wooden box as shown in the photograph.  Nevertheless the proof in this image shows it was there and adds to the stories of the local police service and communications in the early days of easy access to phones, for regular as well as emergency calls.

We sometimes need keen eyes, or a magnifying glass.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Living along the lane

The title sounds very rural, doesn't it?  And so it once was: narrow, hedge-lined and with surrounding fields.  Not an ancient lane, it was created for the use of the public and the benefit of the estate owner who did not wish outsiders passing along the drive past his big house.

The lane in question is Marshalswick Lane; the sponsor was George Robert Marten and when built in 1854 it was first given the name of New Lane, because that's what it was.

The only image of pre-development Marshalswick Lane which the author has
in his collection; has anyone got a better one?
The writing for the lane was on the proverbial wall when the estate and its farms began to be dispersed to developers in the 1930s.  Which is when homes in Marshals Drive first began to appear, together with individual development on the the south side of Marshalswick Lane.  You could say, this was the quiet part of the area's growth.  The lane remained narrow,  unmade and hedge-lined.  Even when the new Nash estate homes began in 1939, from a turning off the lane at a new road called Ridgeway West, change was false-started because of World War Two.  

Among the new residences completed on the north side before building stopped were those west of Ridgeway West.  At this time no building had taken place on Chalkdell Farm, so the hedges along the lane remained – for now.

Part of Marshalswick Lane; north side on the left.  Courtesy GOOGLE.
When building re-started in 1947, other starts joined the homes: large blocks of flats, a shopping centre, and eventually the widening and improving of the lane and the five ways junction known as the King Will, the name of the public house on the corner.  The lane became part of the city's ring road, and ring roads tend to get very busy.

For the most part the owners of the homes appeared pleased with their locations, and over the years there has been a succession of home improvements, for which we should read home enlargements, even complete rebuilding.  

A rather different approach was considered by a group of neighbours in 1972. The then owners of numbers 71 to 79 decided that life along the lane had become too busy, too noisy, too congested.  They devised a plan to have their homes pulled down and have a three-storey block of flats built in their place, and although the Herts Advertiser did not specify, presumably the number of flats would be rather more than five!  This would enable each of the group to share in a good-sized portion of the land sale cost.  One of the number was quoted: "we think we can realise enough to enable us to buy new homes in the sort of area where we want to live – the sort of place this used to be."
The elegant simplicity of a Type 6 design as build along
Marshalswick Lane.  Courtesy ST ALBANS MUSEUMS.

The aspiration of living in a nice house with a view and in a quiet location: everyone's dream, but not realisable by all.  Had the proposal been given planning approval – which it was not – it is likely that the owners' new dream location would be shattered once more as others, and still more, joined them.

The houses, much altered today, remain.  The simplicity of their. original design has changed in all directions over the years, but none has fallen for replacement flats.  The owners can at least say that they live along a

lane.  Just ignore the standing traffic waiting to reach the King Will.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Living Near to Your Job

Residents of Marconi Way may have a reasonable idea of the economic activity which once occupied the land where they now live.  They might try digging their gardens and discover a lot of clay; they might also check the second line of their address.  The first lets them know that Hill End Brickworks thrived here between the First and Second wars.  The second informs of the highly successful business which moved in after the closure of the brickmakers. 

There was, of course, a close connection between Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company's requirement to set up a new offshoot, Marconi Instruments, and the national need for new technologies as the Second World War approached.  Two obvious problems presented themselves: the scrabble among hundreds of firms to relocate as war loomed; and the need to collect in one place a number of the best qualified staff, irrespective of their current home towns.

St Albans came to the rescue for a location.  Longacres came a little later; initially a small building would do – this was setting up time, or planning.  A building in Ridgmont Road sufficed, but the author admits to not knowing which building and would be grateful for further information on this matter.  It was the home of Marconi's formative Special Products section, before moving to Elmhurst, 29 Hatfield Road, which thousands of early students of the College of Further Education will recall in its early days.

Finding accommodation for all of MI's staff was also a headache.  As the company's Longacres premises, albeit initially in temporary buildings, ramped up, the temporary High Wycombe site was closed, and because there was so little appropriate housing in St Albans, many High Wycombe staff were brought to St Albans each day by coach from their High Wycombe homes 30 miles away.

Meanwhile, the company worked with government to supply metal bungalows – prefabs – for staff members at Lectern Lane, Holyrood Crescent and Creighton Avenue.
The first Marconi homes in Charmouth Road,
photographed in 1949 by Marconi Instruments Ltd.

By 1949 a site at the northern end of unfinished Charmouth Road, where new house-building had stopped in 1940.  St Albans Council allocated 19 licences (the method then used to control the supply of vital building materials and labour).  The first seven were for an arc of homes on the west side (one detached home was included as the number of licences was odd).  A start was then made on the remaining twelve on the east side, to the north of where Charmouth Court was later laid out.  
The same houses today.

The company expanded quickly into its new technological world and homes in other locations were also sought, including on the London Road estate.  The 1940s and 50s must have been an exciting, if frustrating, time for the company and its fledgling employees.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Only Waste Ground

There are plenty of accounts and recollections of a piece of development ground – probably enough for up to ten semi-detached homes.  It ceased to become farmland in 1929 and was nominally reserved as a site for a future church between Central, Woodland and Hazelwood drives.  During the 1930s there was, of course plenty of open space for children to play on, but by the mid 1940s when housebuilding began again "the field" became a centre of attention for a new generation of children; their very own  adventure space.

However, the field, much larger then because fewer homes had been built, was used between 1940 and 1943 by the Home Guard for training – they even had a meeting hut nearby.  One or two trenches were dug for exercises and only filled in later when house foundations were laid out in 1947.

The ground was far from level; grasses and nettles grew tall, and hiding was all part of the fun in playing adventure games.  Two badly mauled trees, previously next to the farm house which straddled Woodland Drive at that point, became their own centre of attention for climbing and swinging .  Between these trees traced the usual rough and worn path which enabled anyone to take a short cut towards, well anywhere really.

An informal game of football on the field not yet built on in Central Drive.

Out went the idea of a church; Benskin's acquired the site for a future public house, and erected a large sign to inform the world the land belonged to them.  Children saw an opportunity and used it for target practice – stones, mud, footballs.  Nearby, almost no-one noticed a square of heavy concrete which told of a former well, used by the farm.

In 1953 when just about everyone celebrated the Queen's Coronation, Woodland Drive held a street party on a part of the field where Oakwood School now stands, and in the evening the adventure field was the location for a giant bonfire and a fireworks display – this time it was the turn of the grownups to have some fun.
Team lineup with the the Central Drive shops behind.

Soon after 1960 St Albans Council's policy of making shopping more convenient for those living in residential areas, came to Central Drive and part of the field was developed for a parade of convenience shops with maisonettes above.  In time this brought a post box, and public telephone kiosk tucked around the corner of the righthand-most shop.  Not forgetting children's play, the council levelled the remaining field, and for the first time children could organise their own football games.  The worn path was still there, although foreshortened where the shops had been built.  Probably with safety in mind the Council erected one of those chestnut paling fences around the edge.  The success of the fence is doubtful, as footballs regularly soared over the top  into the 
roadspace, necessitating an inevitable indirect walk to the gateway to recover the escaped ball, which may have ended up in a garden, or under the only car then parked by the roadside opposite.

Irene Stebbings House replaces the open play space.

All good things come to an end sometime, and that end came with the 1970s building of the flats of Irene Stebbings House.  Today, the two trees have gone, so has the fencing intended to keep the footballs in.  There are no more opportunities for youngsters to engage in adventure games or get thrown into the stinging nettles or  ride their bikes over the uneven ground of little hills and hollows.

It was great while it lasted.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Was the story pieced together?

Last month a blog here revealed an account of a crashed Avro Lancaster bomber on a training flight on 23rd October 1943, and very close to Warren Farm, Colney Heath.  The details of the event had been meticulously recorded, but what brought the story to our attention was the account of a group of scouts allegedly in the area at the time and who carried out the very brave deed of removing bombs from the stricken plane and carrying them a safe distance from the farmhouse, without knowing that they were not carrying   live ordnance.

Further research has now been carried out and it seems likely that two separate stories may have been conflated, and no further information about a group of scouts related to a plane crash has yet been revealed.  There is still the possibility that scouts were present, but rather later, and were not participants in the recovery.  Scouts at camp enjoy retelling stories around a camp fire.  No-one that I can recall from my scouting days ever told me that I could not share a story unless it was true – the phrase "camp fire yarns" comes to mind, and a yarn definitely leans towards a story with an invented core!

Both Colney Heath and St Albans Fire Brigades were in attendance after the crash, with Jack Deuxberry driving the St Albans engine.  Jack was one of those who is said to have removed the ordnance onto a waiting lorry.  Possibly to offer encouragement the Chief Officer suggested this would be medal work.  However, awards would later be denied because the bombs were not live.  Sections of the Lancaster were strewn over a wide area, including Smallford, the nearby bypass and Colney Heath itself.

Inevitably, I doubt whether we have heard the last of this event.  There are many wartime photos of crashed Lancasters, but it seems the Herts Advertiser did not publish this one, even if it could have  identified the location as "somewhere in Southern England".