Sunday, 29 July 2012

A classful of faces

Fleetville Infants Class 1950 – all forty-six of us, plus Miss Randall of course.
Recently, from New Zealand arrived this photograph, capturing a young class from Fleetville Infants' School in 1950.  Around 45 children and their teacher sat patiently around the side of the small building, waiting for the cue to say "cheese".  Now, what would any Key Stage One teacher today say of the prospect of steering that number of young minds through the early years section of the National Curriculum?  Although a year older than me, there are many children who I recognised, either by name or by face; some immediately, but with others a hazy recognition emerged but slowly.  Anthony, who sent the picture, had identified a fair proportion of the children – with the help of one or two friends who also appear.

This is where the rest of us can help.  As you can see from the version of the picture on the website  – and now sitting on a brand-new page reserved for school group pictures – a few faces are presently unknown.  If you identify yourself, or a class friend, would you let the author know:  More group pictures will follow shortly.

This used to be Rollings' site; before that it used to be Oakley's
The second photograph was one of many taken on one of those brilliantly blue-skied mornings we are occasionally blessed with.  Down at ground level, however, the space is quite empty.  Here, in Camp Road and next to the Camp public house, had been a large blue warehouse shed, first erected for the wholesale confectioner and tobacconist J B Rollings and Co Ltd, which, until c1970 had its premises in Hatfield Road.  Before that move, the site had been what remained of Oakley's Dairy Unit, whose fields had long since been swallowed up by homes, whose occupants were potential customers requiring milk!  The wholesome white stuff was therefore brought in for processing and bottling.  I am sure there are many interesting stories about Oakley's which have not yet surfaced.  If you have a tale to tell, visited the premises, worked there or retain a clear recollection of the buildings and the dairy operation, do email This will support the stories already known about the delivery side of the business.  Meanwhile, progress on the redevelopment of this site will be followed with interest.

Finally, twenty-five of us enjoyed a guided walk this week around residential streets in parts of Fleetville north of Hatfield Road.  While a number are regulars on our summer walks, we also enjoy meeting with locals who are joining us for the first time.  Appearing for the first time this year is Laid to Rest in Fleetville.  There is less walking involved but we will sharing brief stories of some former residents who have been 'laid to rest' in Hatfield Road Cemetery.  This has clearly been a popular theme, as by the time this blog appears it is possible there will be no more places left – remember, it is essential to book ahead through Fleetville Diaries.  In which case, look out for the walk appearing again in the FD programme.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Incoming pictures

Among the photographs recently loaned or given to the author are one or two stunning subjects sent in by Darren.

First, are two great studies for J H Stanton and Son, who ran a wood business in Castle Road.  As I understand it, there is a distinction between wood and timber; in that the latter has been cut and prepared for further use, whereas wood has been cut from the tree but otherwise not seasoned and cut to size.  I am sure there will be readers of this blog who will correct me if I am wrong.  In the photograph shown is a stack of wood, and there are logs lying around.  The company also described itself as a wood merchant.

The firm was based at number 84 Castle Road, and also occupied the space where the newer houses on the corner of Burleigh Road are, as well as the yard that later became St John's Ambulance Brigade site, behind the house.

John Stanton came to St Albans around 1907 and lost no time in setting up his trade, although he began by working at one of the many gravel pits in the area.  The company was still in business in 1960, according to the Kelly's Directory of that year.

Next we turn our attention to Peake's, a quality clothing manufacturer in Hatfield Road, opposite Clarence Park.  Neither the firm or its buildings are there now, but  memories of former employees abound.  However, there are too few photos, both of the buildings and the people engaged in their normal working tasks.  Fortunately two pictures were received recently by Sheila, whose mother was employed by the firm in the 1950s.  A larger version of this picture will appear in the group pictures page of the website; you may recognise a relative of yours, and if so the author would be eager to hear from you.

Finally, a postcard tracked down by Andy, arrived in the post.  A wreath forms the pictorial element of the card, but at the bottom is printed:

Established 1797.  Messrs J and J E Watson.   New Zealand Nursery, Hatfield Road, St Albans.

This address covered three different sites.  The main nursery was alongside Lattimore Road on part of what is now Loreto College.  They also had a site where the Cavendish estate was eventually built, and they used land at Smallford.  A definitive explanation of the name New Zealand in the firm's name is still being sought.

At Fleetville Diaries we are looking forward to our next guided walk on Wednesday evening (for details, see the Fleetville Diaries website – it is essential to book as the number of places is limited to 25).  We will be perambulating along some of Fleetville's roads to discover how the developments took place and who lived where.

Finally, the long-standing question of the speedway track at Smallford has at last been confirmed.  The 1937 large-scale Ordnance Survey map shows the track circuit, together with a structure which may have been a modest grandstand, halfway along the eastern side – although "grand" is probably too grand a word for its possible size.  Entry to the site was from Hatfield Road, immediately to the west of the long and narrow Popefield pond alongside Hatfield Road.  The site may still be seen from Google Earth.  Find Popefield Farm; then locate Nottcuts Garden Centre.  In the space between can be seen the distinct shrubby rectangle of the track site.  Perhaps a field walk in Ellenbrook Fields Country Park may reveal some surface evidence of the stand and trackway.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

An Olympic event

Torchbearer Farida Ussmane walking her flame past
Queen's Court, Hatfield Road.
I don't know; you wait over sixty years for a key event, and then two occur on the same afternoon.  It was either support Andy Murray in his quest to win a Wimbledon final, or turn out for the Olympic torch as it slogged its way through Fleetville.  As it happened I managed to do both, partly due to a rain delay in SW19.

It was certainly chaotic, and a perfect example of how so many thousand people could, with the accumulated mass of bodies, close roads by occupying them.  Children took the opportunity to play games in the middle of Hatfield Road during the gap between the initial police outriders and the brash and irrelevant sponsor vehicles.  Irrelevant in all other senses than the fact that they paid for this snake of an event.

There has probably never been another event in the history of the East End of St Albans that has managed to bring so many residents onto the streets.  Unless, that is, anyone can remember an earlier event.  From the photos I have seen and the day I remembered, not even the coronation carnival procession on wet June 2nd 1953, which formed up at Oakwood Drive and travelled into the city centre, drew as many people as today.

You probably will never be able to play in the middle
of Hatfield Road again.
Gazebos in front gardens, parties at pubs, hawkers selling flags and self-inflating torches,  chairs on the pavement and groups hanging from balconies.  It was one big messy street party.  But as for the purpose of it all; blink and you missed it.  Farida Ussmane from London, who had the honour of carrying the torch from Beaumont Avenue at least managed to walk her section, which was just as well as we wouldn't otherwise have seen much at all, so hemmed in was her narrow corridor and so surrounded by the athletic muscle men of the police escort.

This afternoon will be a landmark event in the life of this part of St Albans.  Thousands of memories and millions of photos will ensure that July 8th 2012 will become part of our recorded history.  We all witnessed St Albans' own "moment to shine."

There would remain only one further obstacle: the amount of time required to leave Morrison's car park.

The party's over but the crowds linger across Sutton Road.