Sunday, 26 August 2012

Creating an atmosphere

The fourth of this year's guided walks in Fleetville took place on Saturday 25th September.  Called Laid to Rest in Fleetville, it took the form of a walk around the pleasant cemetery in Hatfield Road, pausing every so often near to a headstone and hear a story associated with the person or family laid to rest at that spot.

We hear about Jonas Ellingham, stationmaster at London Road, who was
callously murdered by his wife.
Sixteen stories were told about artists and entertainers, businessmen and retailers, farmers and researchers.  We were pleased to have in our company the grandson of Percival Cherry Blow, a notable architect of St Albans.  We were also able to take a look inside the chapel which was last given a makeover in 1945.

It was a wonderfully atmospheric afternoon, with rumbling thunder and occasional flashes of lightning around us though, thankfully, not overhead.  One downpour in the middle of our walk did not cause us to run for shelter.  Instead, we raised our brollies, donned our waterproof gear and carried on.

Laid to Rest has been the most eagerly anticipated new walk this year, and there are already plans to create a second Laid to Rest for next year, with a number of new stories.  Though we will repeat this year's walk, perhaps with adaptations.

The first printing of St Albans' Own East End is now almost exhausted, and the decision has been made to order a reprint.  New copies should be available in about four weeks.  It is always good to reach this point, since it confirms that the first print run was not over-optimistic, and an author usually enjoys the prospect of a book continuing to be in demand!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Joining the book club

While the east side of St Albans has Boggy Mead Spring and Ellen Brook, both of which flow directly into the Colne, the west and south of the city are custodians of the Ver.  The east did have at least one stream which flowed directly into the Ver, but the fall of the water table in the aquifer below ground has meant that no-one alive today was witness to these watercourses.

I have posted here previously that the period 2011 to 2013 is a golden age for local publishing.  Joining St Albans' Own East End Volume 1 is now The River Ver: a meander through time which was launched appropriately at Moor Mill, Bricket Wood, yesterday, August 18th.

Although the author is Jacqui Banfield-Taylor, the task has been a shared one with her father Ted Banfield, who died leaving his dream book unfinished.  Jacqui picked up the task and the result is this  delightful A4-sized book.  It is not just a collection of views of the river.  The book explores life and history along the entire length of the Ver from its uncertain bubbling source just across the border in Bedfordshire to its confluence with the Colne at Bricket Wood.

It is a Halsgrove publication, so, welcome to another local book.

If you have been clicking on external links on the main St Albans' Own East End website, and then not  able to find your way back without starting again, many apologies.  The link should take you to a new page, so that the page you left is still underneath.  I will try to resolve the problem as soon as possible.

Among the new photographs recently arrived are four from Oakwood Primary School, of which three have been added to the School Groups page this week.  Class groups are great, because there are around thirty young and mainly smiling people waiting to be identified!  If you attended Oakwood in the 1960s, or know people who did, do take a look.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The horse mystery

Having taken a short break in order to give my total patriotic support to the competitors in the various sports of the Olympic Games, I am now turning my mind to a topic which is mentioned regularly whenever the topic turns to the Hatfield Road Cemetery.

"You know there are horses buried there."


I first heard about this rumour several years ago, but it appears to have had a resurgence since the staging of Morpurgo's book "War Horse."

View west from the green burial area.
St Albans District Council's Management Plan 2008 also refers to this mystery: "Rumour has it that a large grave or pit at the back of the cemetery, and now surrounded by hedges, was used to bury horses, infected with anthrax, that died during the First World War.  However, there is no documentary evidence to support this theory."

This quote does state DURING the First World War; in other words, the war itself may have been incidental; it was simply a period of time.  If true, these would not have been horses returning from the front, but local horses.  But the question remains: why would the owner/s of any kind of animal have been granted burial rights in a burial ground designed and reserved for people?  It is true that "the back of" the cemetery did not come into use for burials until after WW1.  The copse of trees adjacent to the railway was there in an arial photo c1920, but the other tree planting along the boundary is more recent.  The ground south of the nearby path shows no sign of a fenced off area.

It is, of course, entirely possible that animals may have been buried in the field while it was still in agricultural use and before being purchased by the Council.

Many of use have talked around this subject without coming to any conclusion.  It may be one of those rumours which persist – just like the one which suggests Hatfield Road was part of the Earl Salisbury's  'gout road' which he paid for, or the one suggesting Owen's Brickworks supplied the bricks for the building of Hill End Asylum: neither of these appears to be true.

So, if you have any evidence which will lead to the efficacy of the horse story, or not, I would be delighted to hear from you.  You may have heard the story, but knowing the story is not enough.  If the evidence can't be found, then the horse story will have to remain one of Fleetville's legends.