Sunday, 27 May 2012

Local publishing flourishes

The book which has become the first of two St Albans' Own East End books had its beginnings over seven years ago.  At least, that was the point when I decided that the information I had collected and the recollections I had noted down would be published.  It was not until late in 2010 that a firm date for publication would be entered in the diary; a date to which I would then have to adhere.

I have no idea how that compares with others undertaking similar projects, but for anyone interested in the local book publishing scene, 2011 and 2012 have become a pair of "golden years".  Three books in each of those years have appeared, and not once of them has been a traditional history of St Albans (let's start with the Romans, tell the story of Alban, the rise of the monasteries, non-conformity, the political scene, and we'll finish with the Victorian city and modern retailing).

Each has been a carefully crafted story in its own right, illustrating convincingly that there is more to St Albans than Verulamium, the Cathedral (we still hang on to that term The Abbey) and the Town Hall.

First out of the starting blocks was Christine Aitken's volume on Childwickbury, which, probably for the first time, enables readers to discover much more about the out-of-town location which was "something to do with Maple and horses."  

Determined to tell a local story by unconventional means, Kate Bretherton published an engaging book called The Remarkable Trees of St Albans.  From this you can learn a lot about trees, but there is also much to discover about people and their associations with those trees.

Not easy to track down – but well worth it if you can – is an unusual autobiography of the teaching careers of twins David and John Sidnell.  The title, I'm Afraid He's Doing His Best, recalls a typical parents' evening comment!  It reminds us of the dedicated and enjoyable work of these two former men of St Albans.

As for 2012, we have already celebrated the publication of the first volume of St Albans' Own East End.  There is no need for further comment here as there is ample embellishment of its story on this website!

Sopwell House Hotel hosted the launch last week of Sopwell, a History and Collection of Memories by Sandy Norman.  Sandy explained that many people consider her part of town to be a forgotten district of St Albans.  But because it is mainly residential does not prevent it from possessing a deep history.  She has used the recollections of twenty or more residents or former residents of Sopwell to assist her in telling the story.

In July we look forward to The River Ver; a Meander Through Time by Jacqui Banfield-Taylor.  Another example of the huge range of local topics which have yet to be explored in print.

Of course, we also know that 2013 begins with the publication of the second volume of St Albans' Own East End!  Could there also be books waiting in the wings for the second half of 2012 and 2013? What an exciting prospect.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Wonderful water

Many people are not aware that the east end of St Albans has its own streams, Boggy Mead Spring and Ellen Brook, both of which flow southwards to meet the River Colne a short distance away.  Many of us fail to notice these streams, partly because they are not obvious from the roads we motor along and partly because, in recent years, little water has occupied their beds.  Both are short in length, rising as springs less than a mile north of Hatfield Road, and as the water table has become lower, there has been insufficient water to flow on the surface.

Imagine my delight, as I was walking between the Lyon Way industrial estate and the Comet, to spot the streams in full spate.  The following day I called in at Colney Heath and discovered a healthy flow at the Colne.  Thank you so much, rains, for filling our streams, at least temporarily!

Boggy Mead Spring, full and flowing once more.
Find it in Hatfield Road between Lyon Way and
Glinwell, but is best seen on the north side of the road.
Until c1990 Campfield Road had its own print works, by the name of Campfield Press.  This was the imprint of the Salvation Army Printing Works which had been turning out millions of Bibles, sheet music items, weekly newspapers like the War Cry, and plenty of general work too.  The Army didn't build the premises it occupied from 1901; but was able to walk straight into a ready-to-go works.  Little has been discovered about George Orford Smith's printing operation, opened here in 1895, but a Fleetville resident has come across legal papers dating from 1899, when a number of creditors effectively put an end to a very high-end printing business.  In order to liquidate the business the site was sold, and the Salvation Army, looking to move its cramped printing and musical instrument works from London's east end, saw a solution.  Full details will appear in St Albans' Own East End Volume 2: Insiders !

Last October, a one-day conference was held at Verulamium Museum for all who are busying themselves, either on their own account, or on behalf of groups and organisations, researching some aspect of local history.  It was a stunning success.  The St Albans and District Local History Network is arranging a second conference so that even more people can exchange information.  I will outline further details at a later stage, but make a note of the date if you think you might like to attend: Saturday 27th October.  The venue, again, is Verulamium Museum.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

A stroll in the park

Highfield Trust was no doubt grateful that the weather remained dry for the fascinating guided walk the trustees had organised, and which was enjoyed by over thirty Sunday morning walkers.  We were talked through the story of Hill and and Cell Barnes hospitals, and were able to spot a few of the buildings and other features remaining from hospital days.  It gave us the opportunity to appreciate the work the Highfield Trust has already completed in what is a long-term development project.  Its legacy will be a wonderful public estate resource, available to all.  Those already lucky enough to live in the residential developments  at Hill End and Cell Barnes, already take advantage of the paths, parks, woods and fields which form part of their home patch.  Thank you Highfield for an enjoyable walk – and cake on our arrival at the end.

Former Hill End Halt (right); Hill End Hospital (centre) and Cell Barnes Hospital (background left)
One consequence of publishing the book is the number of people who have taken the opportunity of dusting down old photo collections in shoe boxes and albums.  On one visit recently a house owner invited me to peruse a substantial number of "people pictures," mainly teams, classes and employee groups.  One which caught my eye was an early football team photograph similar to those published near the end of Volume 1.  Looking more closely, I could see the word Albion painted on the ball which the goalkeeper was holding.  Here was, undoubtedly another street team, made up from the men and boys from Albion and Cavendish roads.  There will, I am sure, be many such teams still to find.

Another such picture has turned up on the Friends Reunited website: a class photograph taken at Fleetville School in 1955.  It was submitted by Mary Oldcorn, and she would like to recall the names of some of the class members shown (so would I).  Unfortunately, the file size submitted to the website was not large enough for the picture to be enlarged, making the faces more clearly visible.  So Mary, if you are reading this post, could you please send a larger copy; or if anyone else recognises this picture in their own collection and can make a higher resolution scan, there are people here who would love to pick their way along the rows of smiling faces from the past.