Sunday, 25 March 2012

This is it!

The front page of the website had been counting down for several days.  Finally, on Wednesday 21st March 2012, the message changed to  'This is it!"   'This' referred to the day of the launch event, which was held at St Paul's Church, Blandford Road.  Over fifty guests joined author Mike Neighbour at an informal evening.  This was no dry gathering of academics, but a bringing together of people who expressed their fascination for local history through animated conversation, even though some had not met each other before.

During the evening Mike Neighbour gave a presentation on the development of Project SAOEE – the seven-year-long research which had made the book St Albans' Own East End possible.  Given that much had been gleaned from the Herts Advertiser, and that the newspaper gained from several hundred mentions in the book, its absence from the evening was widely noted.  However, Mike used part of his presentation to acknowledge the key role of local newspapers in recording the events of the community.

Until this point no-one had even spotted a copy of the book; but at the conclusion of the presentation Mike unveiled, first, an open copy set in splendid isolation on a burgundy-coloured cushion – burgundy is the key colour used in the book.  Then, with a flourish, off came the wraps hiding the piles of books pre-purchased by dozens of subscribers.  Theirs was a special, cloth-covered edition with dust jacket, and the author had also autographed the title page in advance.

The ordinary retail edition was also represented: hardback laminated covers with silky smooth pages, shining bright white against the burgundy table covering on which they were sitting.

Guests were, most of all, surprised at the sheer scale of the work.  The base facts 'hardback, A4, 368 pages' does not prepare the reader for the glorious volume of the work.  But it is only when the cover is turned and the inside glimpsed, that the wonder of the book is revealed.  Every open page is busy and the eyes and brain engage to explore the detail.  Between the text are photographs and coloured panels telling details of objects, special stories, and dateline events.

All over the room people were comparing their copies as they took in the measure of the purchase they had made.

It was not until the following day that the same open book was presented to the world on the front page of the website; and not until March 23rd, official publication day, that copies were dispatched via the local post office to others, or delivered by hand to those in the city.  How many other books get personally delivered by their authors?

And when did such an event last happen in St Albans?  Truly a red letter day.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Ten year plan for Museums

St Peter's Street does not look like this any more, and somehow
the building is made to look less dominating as it guards
Market Square.
The announcement this week of the District Council's ten year plan for the city's two museums must be welcome – and surprising – news.  In addition to a substantial addition to the size of Verulamium Museum, it is also to take on a wider brief, adding medieval to the ancient and Roman periods.

Meanwhile, in the city centre, an apparent solution to the dire state of the Museum of St Albans (MoSTA) has been found.  The Old Town Hall is a building looking for a purpose; and the museum  in Hatfield Road is a function with a poor building.  The intention is to bring MoSTA to the heart of the city, overlooking Market Square.

Although not widely known, we are still lucky to have the Old Town Hall.  There had been discussions about its future in the early part of the 20th century, and a proposal was put forward for its demolition, because it was very expensive to heat and even more expensive to keep its face looking clean.  Today, the future of the building seems secure, and if the museum moves here the more modern story of the city would be told in fitting surroundings and in a more central location.

I think it is a splendid idea, but its success will depend in being able to fund it, and to resolve the endowment issue over the present museum's Hatfield Road site; its sale would be an important part of the project.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The gentle lane

It will not have escaped the notice of regular drivers or walkers along Marshalswick Lane – the gentle lane of old and formerly known as New Road – how many addresses sport a builder's board at the boundary.  Even where no board exists, there is evidence of recent activity; the result of upgrading, extending, or at its most radical, demolition and re-building.
All of this current activity is on the southern side; the pre-war Marshalls Wick estate, even though several of the houses were not erected until the post-war years.  You bought a plot and paid for a bespoke design.  Which explains the variety of homes, from modest to 'manor house'. retiring to bold, two storey and bungalow.  Walk along the road today, and there is still evidence of the narrow lane along the footpath, where the hedge still forms the property boundary.
It's a far cry from the days when the bus couldn't get along the lane to serve the, then new homes of Kingshill Avenue on the other side of the road.
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If you are still aching to tell a story about your school experiences, then it is still not too late to tell it.  The exhibition by Fleetville Diaries for 2012 is The Best Days of Our Lives.  It will first appear at the Fleetville Festival on Sunday March 25th at Fleetville Junior School.
How the Lane is changing; the south side is keeping many
builders in business as existing homes are upgraded,
extended, or simply replaced.
Email the author, or Liz Bloom of Fleetville Diaries (there's a link on the links page).  Better still if it includes a photograph.  The next three weeks will be busy but we will welcome any new contributions up to the last minute.