Sunday, 29 April 2012

Wet wet wet

When I was about eight I begged to be released from the house and its miniature rivulets pouring down the outside of the windows, to play in the rain.  What a wonderfully different experience it was, and I still enjoy the rain.  With waterproof skin, what more do we need but a brolly and sensible clothes; knowing that the ground is being cleaned and refreshed, ponds, lakes, reservoirs, underground aquifers are being replenished, and of course the formerly almost-dry rivers and streams are beginning to flow more confidently again.

All through recorded history people have written about weather which is out of the ordinary, and I have no doubt there will be such an article in next week's local press.

I you live in St Albans, one benefit of ordering a copy of the book through the wwwebsite is having your purchase delivered to you in person by the author, sometimes within hours of placing the order.  This is great for me as I have the opportunity of meeting my customers and conversing with them.  So, please don't fret that you are unable to see SAOEE in the bookshops, or can't order it on Amazon, even though you can see a picture of the cover and are offered fast delivery!  Email me and you will find me on your doorstep the same day or the next.

Of course, the process only begins once I receive your cheque if you live further away, and you do need to add the postage.  Nevertheless, Royal Mail seem to have brought the packages to customers' addresses within two days.  Well done Royal Mail.

While I was passing one part of town yesterday, it struck me that there was one place I just could not remember after so many years.  I knew where it was, because I was driving along Sandpit Lane at the time, but I am just hoping that someone might have a photograph of the large old house called Monks Horton, once lived in by Mr William Page.  Now, of course, it is a close of some twenty or thirty  homes.

Now that the website has been successfully transferred to a new hosting company, there are changes that are about to happen.  One of these is to replace the old Add Memories page with a new version.  This  will contain snippets of information, recollections and other memories which readers have contacted me about.  You will not be able to upload your own text.  Instead, use the email link and I will be able to add an extract, if lengthy, or the whole of a short message.  Full names will not be used.  Although the page already exists, expect to see the first offerings within the week.

Sutton Road bridge 1916.  Contributed by IAN TONKIN
Finally, do look at the Photo Library page for a new photograph sent to me by a reader.  It was taken in the winter of 1916 in Sutton Road.  In it, some rather smartly dressed (probably) employees of Nicholson's are seen using the new raised and fenced pavement under the inevitably flooded bridge.  This replaced the earlier timber boardwalk on the left side.  The photo sits next to an earlier picture taken from almost the same spot.  Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Bits and pieces

The east end of St Albans gets its moment of glory on Sunday 8th July, when the Olympic torch is carried along Hatfield Road.  The accompanying motorcade will form up at near the Comet at Hatfield, and torchbearers will run along St Albans Road West and Hatfield Road, reaching Oaklands at around 4 o'clock.  Fortunately, this timing may enable Morrison's shoppers to clear the supermarket before then so that the Fleetville roundabout is not congested.  The route leads to the St Peter's Street roundabout and then Catherine Street before the motorcade re-forms at St Michael's for a speedier journey to Hemel Hempstead.  

Sander's loading platform, Alban Way, near Camp Road
The most frequent comment I have heard recently from those who have dipped into St Albans' Own East End Volume 1: Outsiders, is "I didn't know that .... ," to be followed by a particularly interesting piece of text which surprised them.  One drawing which drew the attention of two different people in one day was of the old Marshalswick House, home to the former Marten family.  Another was "that strange platform thing" on Alban Way.  The one referred to on this occasion was the remains of the loading platform on the west side of Camp Road's blue bridge.  This was the loading platform for Sander's the once-famous orchid specialist, whose nurseries were where SS Alban and Stephen Junior School is now.  The platform probably only had a ramp at the road end.  Although not designed as a passenger station or halt, I have no doubt that if an intending passenger signalled with an outstretched arm, the approaching train would stop. Nowadays there are an increasing number of people who have no knowledge of this horticultural wizard who produced classy orchids for those with expensive floral tastes – and that included royalty – who would visit discretely and leave their orders.
St Paul's Church, Blandford Road

Well done to St Paul's Church, who hosted another in its series of Community Days on Saturday 21st April.  Many events were accommodated in the various rooms of the recently extended and renovated premises; and concerts were held in the church itself.  I was there too, in the capacity of author, and there was much interest in St Albans' Own East End.  I was fortunate to share space with an exhibition based around the Olympics, comparing the 1948 Games with those for this year.  Also present was a medal winner from a recent Special Games, an event regrettably less well-known than the main Games and held in the year following.  I remember the first Community Day being very crowded; this year's event seemed almost as busy.

The author's caravan of events next pauses at the Fleetville Community Centre on Wednesday 25th April, where I shall be giving a presentation on an aspect of local history featured in the book: the long history of Beaumonts Manor.  As may have been advertised in an earlier era "illustrated by lantern slides!"  All are welcome at 7.30pm.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Popular at the libraries

While I was online ordering a loan book from my local library, I took the opportunity of searching for St Albans' Own East End.  I established that there are reference copies at Marshalswick and St Albans Central, which, of course can be consulted at any time.  What interested me more was that all of the loan copies at Harpenden, St Albans and Marshalswick are with readers, and not on the shelves.  News is obviously circulating and Hertfordshire Libraries' (HL) decision to purchase so many copies was clearly justified.

The Carnegie former library, Victoria Street
While on the subject of HL's online ordering website database, I was disappointed about one issue: the entry is listed as St Alban's Own East End, rather than St Albans' Own East End.  Fortunately, entering the title without any apostrophe still finds the book, but it confirms one piece of advice I was given at the start of the book project – and which I ignored – which was not to include apostrophes in the title!

Which is fine, except that if the title you really want has an apostrophe, do you show an apparent ignorance of its correct use and leave it out, or include it and live with continual mis-use when others use the misrepresented title in their communications?

Many names have long since lost their apostrophes in common use.  Hands up how many people write St Peter's Street?  What about St Alban's?  Both have now lost this punctuation.  In fact, the house style in the book does use St Peter's, St Michael's and St Stephen's, but simplifies the city to St Albans.  If that were not the case, the book title would have been St Alban's' Own East End!  Better, maybe to have none than too many.  It seems to me that we have to make a firm decision; either to leave apostrophes out altogether, or, if we include them we include them correctly.  To place them in the wrong position is probably as incorrect as to spell a word incorrectly.  Anyway Im off to the shop's to buy a few potatos'.  Just joking.

You may have tried to visit the website earlier in the week without success.  For the past four years the site has been hosted without charge, but this period has now come to an end, and I took the opportunity to move it to another server (for those who understand these things).  Having never carried out this task before, I had to learn a few tricks speedily.  Fortunately, the down-time was only a matter of hours and so far there have been no glitches.  

Do check the photograph on the Welcome page of the website, which came from the collection held by Fleetville Infants' School.  It is the football team of 1948/49 with new head teacher Mr R Dawe and teacher Mr Griffiths.  Although the copy on the front page is rather small for identification of faces, click on the image to reveal a larger version.  Is there someone in the team you recognise?

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Changing Marshalswick

The Marshalswick referred to in the Herts Advertiser recently, in connection with development – or over-development – of plots, is the first estate of that name.  Grown out of the grounds of the old Marshalswick House (spelled Marshalls Wick in the book, in order to distinguish it from the mainly post-war estate on Marshalswick Farm) in the 1920s and 1930s, development did continue in the post-war period as well.
The concern at present is with owners who want to over-build on their gardens to produce buildings twice the size, or to sub-divide the plot to squeeze in another house.  There is also the possibility of one or more plots being purchased for replacement in the form of a group of smaller homes, or even apartments.
Naturally those who live there wish to see their locality largely unchanged, as, I guess, would most of us.  There are some restrictions on the planning opportunities, but that has not been sufficient to prevent some, quite substantial, changes taking place.  So, how long has this been going on?
Marshals Drive from The Wick
There have been several alterations and additions in Marshalswick Lane recently, and in Marshals Drive a complete re-build on a huge scale completed adjacent to Wickway.  A few of the Marshals Drive properties are small dwellings considering the width and depth of the plots they sit in.  That was a result of the building licences immediately after WW2, which limited the materials available.  Some of the original designs factored in the possibility of additions at a later date.  Not all owners took that opportunity.
We should remember that large houses in Sandpit Lane, such as The Dell and Monks Horton, and even Wickwood and St Johns, were at one time large houses on substantial plots.  These, of course, are all on the south side of the Lane, but they have now been replaced by smaller houses and apartments.  
It should not be forgotten where it all began.  A large house was built on the hill, which was re-built and extended by the Marten family.  This was demolished in the 1920s to enable a large number of families to occupy the grounds in roads as diverse as Marshals Drive, Gurney Court Road, The Park, Marshalswick Lane and Homewood Road.
It is all a question of time and scale; maybe it is also a question of whether we are individually affected.  As long as there is a healthy debate, there is no reason why gradual change at an appropriate scale and pace cannot be accommodated.  After all, just ninety years ago, only one family lived here!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

A tale of three homes

Passing along Hatfield Road this week I noted how much the new flats, next to Queen's Court, stood out in the bright March sunshine, fresh cream pain sparkling.  Very soon they will be occupied and those residents will become the newest  along this busy road.  It was easy to forget that the city council had built a branch library here in 1959, and before that there had been plans for yet more shops.

This week I received an invitation to view a particularly fine house, in what the book St Albans' Own East End calls north Fleetville – that part between Brampton Road and Sandpit Lane.  Built in 1926 on Earl Spencer's estate it had, when new, been the subject of a feature in Country Life magazine.  Later, a brochure had been produced using the elements of the magazine feature.  In spite of its mixed history of previous occupiers, and a certain amount of internal alteration, the dwelling retains the charm and style of the house as designed.  It was clearly a house designed specifically for its first owner.  There are, fortunately, many such homes in this part of St Albans.

Scout camping, 1926-style.  HERTFORDSHIRE SCOUTS
The third home in the tale is not, as the top photo reveals, a permanent dwelling.  It comes from the wonderful collection held by Hertfordshire Scouts.  On the approach to Easter, fields surrounding the built-up area of the East End of St Albans, would once have echoed to the shrill sounds of youngsters enjoying themselves at camp.  Mostly they would be groups from the Scout Movement, patrols, packs and troops (groups) of scouts, cubs and guides.  But there would also be ad-hoc camps by groups of friends who happened to know a local farmer.  Scouts now have their own sites, such as those at Well End and Phaesels Wood, but I wonder how many informal camps still take place at locations such as Symondshyde and on the edges of all those copses still to be found.

We were all grandly entertained last weekend at an event which has come to be known as the Fleetville Festival.  You might call it a Concert Plus.  The Plus was an exhibition staged by Fleetville Diaries.  This year the theme was The Best Days of Our Lives; recollections and photographs about  schooldays through the eyes of a dozen and more contributors.

Part of an orchestra at Fleetville Festival.
The concert, performed by three different orchestras and bands, and two choral groups, proves that there is so much musical talent in the district.  The larger these groups become, the more space they occupy in Fleetville Junior School's hall, and the smaller is the remaining area for an audience.  In a way, it is a good problem, but the musicians do deserve a wider audience.  Congratulations to all who took part.