Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Decade News

The recent news from the District Council announcing its new and welcome policy on trees, as well as the County Council's proposals for use of some of its land for solar energy, is a positive start to a new decade.  Looking back to the first month of earlier decades provides a mix of decisions, events and observations which are shared here.

Stanhope Road homes built of land sold by Thomas Kinder
1880: Thomas Kinder, owner of Beaumonts Farm relinquished two fields he had previously grown malting barley in – for his brewery business – and this provided the development opportunity we know as Stanhope and Granville roads.  And what became a huge event that summer, the murder of Marshalswick farmer Edward Anstee.

1890: The district was in a bind regarding the treatment of patients with contagious diseases, especially since the pest house at Smallford had been closed.  The city council proposed to build a new isolation hospital on part of the Hatfield Road cemetery, itself only opened six years earlier.

1900: At the beginning of the year the Bath & West Agricultural Society announced it would organise an agricultural show that summer at Cunningham Hill Farm.  Animals and equipment was brought by rail to London Road Station and taken to the site via a drive, now Cunningham Hill Road.

St Paul's Mission Church, Stanhope Road
1910: It was announced that St Paul's Parish Church would be consecrated at a special service that Easter.  The church had been launched in a tin building in Stanhope Road and building work on the permanent building begun in 1908.

1920: Work began on a cenotaph memorial at the intersection of main paths at Hatfield Road Cemetery, and was completed in time for its dedication that November and before the memorial in St Peter's Street.

War Memorial at Hatfield Road Cemetery
1930: A partnership of builders, Walter Goodwin and Charles Hart completed purchase of a small field and began the task of building homes along three short roads, Lynton, Windermere and Glenlyn avenues.

1940: The beginning of the year proved to be bitterly cold; fuel was in short supply; most schools were working part time to provide accommodation for evacuated schools, and some schools remained unheated.

1950: A major main drainage project began to enable both old and new Marshalswick estates to be connected to the city's sewer network and its treatment works.  It was still a time when such work lagged behind house building.

1960: Residents living in St Albans' East End districts who commuted to London, finally saw the launch of new diesel trains and said goodbye to the steam locomotives calling at the City Station.

1970: A field with access from Barley Mow Lane was considered for a suitable location for gypsies, although the field was thought to be too large.

1980: St Albans Co-operative Society submitted yet more plans to a concerned council for its proposed supermarket on the site of the former Ballito hosiery mill.  The concern was not its size, but elements of its design and brickwork.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Old Year

Certain thoughts drift through our minds on the final day of the year – achievements realised or or not, as the case may be.  But in the case of the St Albans' Own East End blog it is the realisation that new posts have been trickling through the system now for ten years, at the rate of over 30 posts a year.  Which is over 300 items in total, and all about the East End of St Albans.  Unfortunately the very early posts are no longer available online, but the original function was to generate interest in a couple of books about the district which had yet to be completed.  Well, a decade on and work is progressing well on preparing for the second editions of those same books.

Let's talk about housing for a minute.  In 1919 the city council was discussing a chronic under-supply of basic homes fit to live in; the rural council engaged with local communities to provide new homes for agricultural workers; and, slow off the ground, projects under Homes for Heroes eventually materialised, but for far fewer tenants than the target.  Eventually, estates were provided at Townsend and Springfield.

In 1949 the city council was still grappling with the issue of lengthy housing waiting lists, with thousands juggling with allocated points to move themselves, hopefully, nearer a house.  Local authority houses and homes for reserved occupations such as police, teachers and nurses, were created from whatever resources were available.  Estates at Beaumonts, London Road and Slimmons Farm became available, augmenting the private developments from the thirties at Beaumonts, Spencer, Camp and Breakspear; and in the fifties at Marshalswick.

In 1979 further private developments had been launched at former farms and later in the grounds of former hospitals.  Today, if there was an all-embracing list, with or without points, how many potential home owners and tenants would show themselves to be in need of accommodation in this city; east, west, south or north?  Prices for even modest-sized homes are beyond many pockets and banks. Yet it is revealing that St Albans was one of the locations selected for a special edition of Monopoly!  As a young couple, still living in a modest parental home, commented recently: "finding a house (or flat, or even a barn) is not a game."  Which takes us back to 1919 – and in 1949 – because that is where many were forging out an existence, in barns, old caravans, huts and buildings awaiting demolition.  Articles in the Herts Advertiser reported, with unfortunate photographs, many eviction cases. And, if we include overcrowded and multi-occupied dwellings, many are probably still there in 2019; the hidden population of St Albans.

SAOEE's New Year Greetings is for you more than anyone, though you are the residents who are most unlikely to be reading this message.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Green Cheer

It is hoped both of the following items of environmental news will bring St Albans' residents some seasonal cheer, but of course, no-one can guarantee one or both announcements would not be considered controversial by a proportion of people living in this city.  But let's look on the bright side – cup half full approach – and see them as positive opportunities.

Former Butterwick Farm
The extensive swathe of land  inside of the box between the St Albans Bypass, Smallford Lane, Hatfield Road and Colney Heath Lane these days has the name Smallford Pits.  Until the 1960s it was a working farm, Butterwick, before becoming gravel workings and then infilled.  There have been many proposals for future uses as industry, housing, sports stadium, and possibly other ideas, but nothing has been actioned as yet.  

The County Council, which owns the site, is now set to spend money to enable access to the power grid and to allow the land to be used as a solar farm.  124 acres will accommodate enough panels to generate up to 22 Mw of energy, so that's 22 megawatts St Albans can use without burning fossil fuels, but only during the day time of course.  Still, it's clean energy and it's making sensible use of land which has no current use except for horse grazing and dog walking.  Tick number one from a council.

New planting at Heartwood backed by mature woodland.
The second announcement hails from the District Council which has committed to planting 600,000 trees during the next few years. As with the solar scheme this is largely an enabling project, where cost contributions will come from other sources, but the planting land will belong to the Council.  

The recent announcement also links with the decision, made public some while back, that the County Council intends to reduce its tree costs on land it owns and especially on new development projects which specify trees in their designs.  The District Council is taking over responsibility from the County for the latter's tree estate along and close to the district's public highways.  It is understood that the District Council will be encouraging the community to participate in the periodic seasonal tree planting projects. Tick number two from a council – and a third tick for community involvement.


Sunday, 15 December 2019

A Collection of Names

The first edition of St Albans' Own East End Volume 2 lists the names of all streets in the East End which were in existence down to the 1960s.  That is where the history told in these books concluded.  However, development has not ceased and there have been many pockets of expansion since then.  The street names list will be brought up to date in the next edition.

Harrier End
In the meantime we will focus on just a few which bring the list bang up to date, beginning our search for the meanings behind the names – and it is a search in which we can all join.

Harrier End: Most of us will refer to it as the ongoing Sandpit Lane development, or Oaklands Grange.  But families are now living in the first tranche of homes to be completed.  Roads in or near open country with names having a connection with the landscape might refer to Harrier as a bird of prey.  On the other hand, less than a mile away was de Havilland Aircraft Company. When it merged with Hawker Siddeley and in the 1960s the combine designed and manufactured a vertical take-off aeroplane much used in the Royal Navy, the product was named the Harrier Jump Jet.  Harrier End could therefore be either – or something else.
Austen Way early in the development.  COURTESY STREETVIEW

Austen Way:  The development on Beaumont School's front field was marketed as Kingsbury Gardens, though at the opposite end of the city from the Kingsbury we historically know.  Now the homes are complete the street plate has gone up: Austen Way.  I did attempt to find out the origin from the development company and wasn't surprised to receive no reply.  Now I have discovered a second plate to the west of the site, Bronte Close, and the answer is clear.  So, a literary connection!

Montague Close: An access drive in Hatfield Road opposite Sutton Road is named Montague Close.  The driveway originally gave a connection to a farrier's workshop and later to vans belonging to the laundry on which the new development has been created.  The origin of the name used is currently unknown, so, unless there is a Shakespearian connection, your suggestions will be welcomed.

Now three roads which have been in place for some time: first Langford Close is the site of former garages which served the Chestnut Drive homes.  Though a very narrow entry it does sport a street plate.  Is there a connection with a Bedfordshire village, or one in Oxfordshire?  Or is it perhaps the name of a person?

A small development off Windermere Avenue was named Staveley Court.  This name continues the group of roads based on the Lake District.  OK, so that one was easy, but finally, leading off Jersey Lane is Jodie's Court.  Far from a new development the connection remains unclear.  So, who, or what, was Jodie?  It's over to you, and the residents of Jodie's Court may be the first to let us know.

Friday, 29 November 2019

What About Those 50 Houses?

At the top of the website's front page is this banner:
1919: Council proposed 50 houses on the corner Hatfield Road/Beaumont Avenue.  Did it happen?

It would have been so easy to provide a single word answer; job done; but so much more satisfactory to explore the question a little further.

An early drawing for one of the four-home blocks at Townsend, Waverley Road area. HERTS ADVERTISER
Townsend HFH in Margaret Avenue GOOGLE STREETVIEW
St Albans Council in 1919, shortly after the end of the First World War, didn't fully respond quickly to the call for local authorities to build huge numbers of new homes under the banner Homes for Heroes.  By April, however, it had agreed to explore three sites. First, 65 homes in Camp Lane opposite Sander's nursery (presumably where Vanda Crescent is now); this did not go ahead but was later replaced by the Springfield site at the top of Cell Barnes Lane.  Second, 50 homes at Townsend, which was the first development to go ahead; the scheme was formally announced in 1920.

Newly completed Springfield home in 1928. HERTS ADVERTISER
The third location was, perhaps a surprise: 50 homes on the corner of Hatfield Road and Beaumont Avenue.  This was fairly quickly crossed off the list as the city's drainage network did not extend that far at the time.  However, was the choice of location just a curiosity or was there some logic at work?

We have to forget what was actually built, but later, and focus on the farmscape in 1919.  Beaumonts Farm had been acquired by Oaklands in 1899 and the land on the west of Beaumont Avenue had been sold for development.  That left the east side of the Avenue and the fields lining Hatfield Road to be managed as a mixed farm.  Today, Beechwood Avenue and Elm Drive sets the scene.  We even know how this field had been used during the war. Checks had been made to ensure farmers were making effective use of their land for cropping and one field in particular caused concern as it gave the appearance of not being cropped at all.  Mr Moores, the farm manager, implied that he had more-or-less given up with that field as the local residents – meaning Fleetville at the time – regularly used it for recreational purposes, there being a gate near the junction.

Beechwood Avenue from the old pre-development field gate entrance, Hatfield Road.
So, in 1919 there was a field alongside Hatfield Road which gave the impression of being neglected and would probably prove easy to acquire by the Council.  We should also remember that the Council boundaries had been extended from The Crown to Oaklands (Winches) only six years previously.  This field would have been eminently suitable for a Homes for Heroes development, and if the authority had been able to muster sufficient funds there would have been space for considerably more than fifty new homes.

The field remained until sold, along with others, in 1929 and the Beaumont estate came about.  The short answer is therefore no!

Sunday, 17 November 2019

A busy week

Occasionally there is a small collection of topics which reflect what has been going on in our East End.  This is such a week, so here we go!

To begin with, an account stretching back to 1929, which I probably should have noted from filed press reports from the time: a young woman of 18 had travelled from Kent to take up employment at Ballito Hosiery Mill, in the year it had greatly expanded, just four years after opening in Fleetville.  She had been fortunate in finding lodgings with relatives at Smallford, and had got to know a young man, possibly another Ballito employee.  An inquest was held after the woman was deemed to have taken her own life after contact with a train near her relatives' home.  There are many gaps in the account, which was passed on by a member of the Smallford & Albans Way Heritage Group.  It seems that a train does not have to be travelling fast to have a devastating effect on the life of a person whose mental condition may already have been frail.  We might for a moment reflect on what trauma she might have experienced if she had felt there was no-one she could talk with.
Ponded section of the Ellen Brook at Ellenbrook Fields

Excited families on Friday last made their way to the one of the last sections of the 400-mile route from Holyhead of Children In Need's Rickshaw Challenge.  The route through "our patch", having left Sandridge, took in Marshalswick Lane, Beechwood Avenue and Ashley Road/Drakes Drive, then London Colney on its way to the BBC Studios at Boreham Wood.  One small (but exhausting) segment in achieving the sum of around £47 million for the charity.  The young people who participated made us all feel good.

Boggy Mead Spring is the other north-south stream
Ever since the closure and sale of the former de Havilland site between Smallford and Harpsfield, the development plan, now very much evident in the university and business district, also allocated a substantial zone for the Ellenbrook Fields Country Park.  Yet nothing more had been heard on the matter, until another issue  intervened – the proposal to quarry the site for gravel.  Both Oak and Beech farms had already been trawled; so had Smallford and a substantial swathe between London Colney and Roe Hyde.  Residents are now bracing themselves and are not looking forward to further years of disruption, dust and deployment of lorry fleets.  A demonstration against quarrying was held on the Fields last weekend, one major element of which would be the effect on  groundwater supplies.  Bearing in mind that one of only two  remaining streams flowing southwards into the river Colne, the Ellen Brook flows through part of the Fields and contamination from this stream would surely also affect the Colne.

Highfield Park Trust held the latest of its annual History Evenings on Friday evening; always a friendly occasion where new friends and acquaintances are regularly made.  This year the focus was on the role of the two former mental hospitals, Hill End and Cell Barnes, in the the period 1939 to 1961, when the major teaching hospital, St Bartholomews (Barts) was in residence.  The Trust is acquiring an increasing documentary archive on the life of Hill End and Cell Barnes, and this includes a number of transcribed conversations with members of former staff and families of residents whose work or treatment brought them in contact with the Hill End/Cell Barnes campus,
Staff drama group at Barts in Herts during the 1950s

 now a new residential development and park.

Finally, the residential development which also serves as a new access road to Beaumont School, was, readers will recall, named Kingsbury Gardens.  This name appeared rather odd, given that Kingsbury is associated with St Michael's rather than Oaklands.  We now notice from the street place recently installed, that the road is called Austen Way, which presumably applies to all three of the linked streets.  Which only leaves the inevitable question about the relevance of the name Austen.  Churchill Homes has been asked but thus far there has been no response.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Contrasting tracks

Most of our streets came about during the period of expansion and utilisation of former fields into residential or mixed development.  Before Kingshill Avenue there was a field sloping downwards towards the former Marshalswick Farm.  Royston Road and its neighbouring streets were carved out of a large field where cattle had grazed; and Cavendish Road, though there may have been a footpath of sorts, was created from an orchard or a tree nursery or a small crop field, depending on time. 

Although there are minor roads which were formerly footpaths crossing the countryside, and roads linking towns which have existed for several centuries, it is rare to come across a road with a life stretching back into antiquity, probably part of an ancient network of trackways which traversed the region.

Pre-development Beaumont Avenue at the Hatfield Road end.
Part of one such route is now Beaumont Avenue and forms an attractive residential road linking Sandpit Lane and Hatfield Road.  Along this road was a minor spur leading to Beaumonts Farm.  The spur today is part private (Farm Road) and part adopted, absorbed by the residential estate as Central Drive.

Remove the homes which line each side of the Avenue, all but three of which arrived since 1899, and you are left with the remains of a double stand of fine trees.  

The track which wandered through the former manor estate had extended through wooded land of uncertain age north of Sandpit Lane.  Today we know this as The Wick.  Also part of Beaumonts Farm was a continuation of the track towards Hill End.  Now Ashey Road, it is a mix of early 1930s semi-detached homes, a post-war industrial estate and the green acres which are now Highfield Park, formerly Hill End Hospital.  How this section of the track contrasted with the Avenue: it had been dug for the clay and was home to a brickworks as a result; and with the exception of isolated groups of trees did not appear to have been treelined.

One further difference: the southern section, though a track snaking through the farm, was a permissive route for traffic other than that which was farm business.  The Avenue, on the other hand, had always been considered private (whether legally so is another matter) and gates were installed at both the Sandpit Lane and Hatfield Road ends.

The former BT building next to the railway, now Alban Away,  Today
part of an industrial estate and earlier a brick works and rubbish tip.

Today's Alban Way still intersects Ashley Road and demonstrates a further difference between the two sections.  But before feeling too satisfied that the avenue escaped the smoke and steam of railway tracks, it was a close call.  The Midland Railway's early iteration proposed a route which would have clipped the northern end of Beaumont Avenue and crossed in front of the former Marshalswick House.  Although Thomas Kinder, owner of Beaumonts, had not been found to have objected to the compulsory purchase of a small portion of his land, the Marten family certainly did, and as a result Beaumont Avenue retained its rural and ancient landscape.  No railway crossing the Avenue.  Same track, but quite a contrast.