Thursday, 28 June 2012

Larks and a park

An annual event arrives once more all too quickly, and during the week preceding the 24th, all concerned with Larks in the Parks at Fleetville Rec, were scanning the skies and checking weather forecasts.  Although early threats of rain did not, fortunately, materialise, except for a couple of short showers, the wind was rather strong.  But the sun came out and hundreds of people enjoyed themselves.

At the Fleetville Diaries and St Albans' Own East End marquee there was a steady stream of visitors  discovering our exhibition, Best Days of Our Lives, chatting to members, and meeting the author of St Albans' Own East End.  More books were sold and many leaflets distributed.  As important as anything, it was the people we were fortunate enough to speak with which made our day.  Thank you to all who gave a little of their time to call at the stand and meet us.

On Wednesday 27th a number of local people met in the warm evening at Clarence Park for the second of this season's Guided Walks.  On this occasion it was led by author Kate Bretherton, who many will know through her illustrated book The Remarkable Trees of St Albans.

We have to thank Sir John Blundell Maple for the wide variety of spectacular trees he chose for Clarence Park when designing the open space, opened in 1894.  And as you can imagine a number of them are varieties of maples.

Casual users of the park joined us temporarily as we walked the park, and at the end we were all reluctant to leave, choosing to extend our evening's stay with conversation in the cooling dusk.

Our next Guided Walk is on Wednesday evening 25th July.  Titled, Living in Fleetville, we will meet outside the Community Centre.  But I should stress that it is important to book your place as we have placed a limit on the number of people able to join the event.

Sunday, 17 June 2012


June and July are generally busy months for outdoor events and other celebrations.  We hope you can squeeze in a visit next Sunday to Fleetville Rec, where the 2012 Larks in the Parks fun day will be taking place.  As with many other community events, it runs with little funding.  Organisations arrive with their stands, their music, their food and their smiles – and everyone enjoys themselves.  Fleetville Diaries will be present; as will the author of St Albans' Own East End, Mike Neighbour.  Copies of the book will be on sale, as well as a photo exhibition: Green East End.  Diaries' exhibition The Best Days of Our Lives will also be there.

A number of young families at Elm Drive in May 1945.
An outdoor event held 67 years ago in Elm Drive is now featured on the website.  Jenny has sent in photographs of the Elm Drive street party in 1945, celebrating VE Day.  The growing collection of group photos probably proves just how engaging they are, with so many faces to try and remember.  So, if any blog readers have group pictures of any kind – together with any names if that is possible – do get in touch.

Fifty years ago the city council finally completed the land purchases necessary to compete the ring road.  The Ashley Road railway bridge had to be replaced and the pot-holed track that is now Ashley Road made into a proper road.  Finally, former farmland between Cambridge Road and Drakes Drive would become the final link.  Considering that the council was talking about its "circle road" in the early 1920s, forty years to build a road seems some long-drawn-out achievement!

While on anniversaries, here is a minor one, though important to residents at the time.  A spare plot on the corner of Ridgeway and Briar Road was destined to become a block of flats in 1961.  The planning authority did not like the idea, and neither did the nearby residents already occupying their new homes. Without too much fuss, the plan for flats was dispensed with, and maisonettes were constructed instead.

And get ready for the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Baton public house.  Although not built where originally intended in Marshalswick Lane, permission was agreed for a Ridgeway location at The Quadrant.  Until the Baton opened the nearest inns were King William, the Bunch of Cherries and the Rats' Castle.  Cheers!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

A railway footprint

There has been much talk in recent months about the proposed High-Speed railway line (HS2), and much of the talk has been from those whose homes are nearby to the proposed route.  Who would not wish to defend their patch?  At the same time those who manage the railways in the UK see the future benefits in this new route.

Midland line looking from Sandridge Road towards Sandpit Lane.  Only two
tracks were laid at first.
Anyone travelling through "our patch" of the Midland line, or peering over one of the bridge parapets, would hardly give a thought to similar debates which raged in the 1860s.  Yet, at the time they would have been major livelihood-threatening issues.  Homes would have been demolished, farmland consumed, and roads and footpaths affected.  The land owners, mainly Earls Verulam and Spencer, plus George Marten, and Thomas and John Kinder would have carefully assessed the value of what they might lose and the compensation they might receive.  Though without a voice, the land labourers would also have worried about loss of livelihood and homes.

Without land owner intervention we might have lost the Beaumont Cottages.  We certainly lost a hovel in Camp Road, near Dellfield.  The building might not have been up to much, but it was home to someone.  We might have lost the little Toll House at the junction of Hatfield Road and Camp Road; but then, it was lost anyway forty years later when the general store was built in its place at the bottom end of Stanhope Road.  In complaining about the earliest proposed alignment, the land owners discovered that a revision brought the tracks perilously close to Dell Cottage in Sandpit Lane.  A further amendment changed the tracks from one side of the house to the other, but fortunately a little further away.  And that is how the Midland Railway was built.  Dell Cottage still overlooks the passing trains.

Dell Cottage, Sandpit Lane
Big land-eating projects are never easy.  Some winners and some losers.  Not just a problem for the builders of HS2, but emotionally for those in that long and narrow stage who play out the drama of their lives in a small portion of it.  Such issues have affected the railways from the start.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Cool street parties

What is it about us Brits?  Not only do we love street parties – including the chance to string up some short lengths of bunting – but we are prepared to enjoy ourselves, whatever the weather.  Perhaps that should be determined, rather than prepared.  There may also be something more to it as well.  Do you think there is a little bit of anarchy involved; our one chance to close the road to traffic and claim the street space for ourselves for the afternoon?

Keeping traffic out wasn't once a problem, when the number of cars were few.  Any day and at most times the street was ours; it was the children's local playground, at least for those children whose parents weren't too particular about the thought of their offspring mixing with others "in the street."  We only had to look through the front window to see who was "out to play."  Most days were street parties, just not the kind organised for us by grown-ups!

If you have organised an East End street party this weekend do let the author know, and it can be added to the Street Party list on the website.  Burnham and Eaton roads, Beaumont Avenue, Woodland Drive are among those celebrating.

While on our guided walk last Wednesday we noticed a new sign in Sutton Road.  The building in question used to be known as Nicholson's and was named Beaumont Works when new in 1900.  Today it has a new nameplate, Beaumont House.  The owner of the factory, Alfred J Nicholson not only purchased the plot on which the building sits, but a considerable amount of land on which the houses in Hedley, Guildford and Maxwell roads have been developed.  Not only that but he purchased, in his wife's name, land on the west side of Beaumont Avenue, including Salisbury Avenue.  This was all on the former Beaumonts Farm, and so the name Beaumont Works, and now Beaumont House, celebrates this name, now long gone as an agricultural business.