Sunday, 29 December 2013

Hello Marshalswick and Jersey Farm

Long forgotten in the mists of time, the parish of St Peter encompassed the village of Sandridge and surrounding farms, and that included Marshalswick and Jersey Farm; in fact, everything north-east of Sandpit Lane.  St Peter was a vast parish, and clearly too huge to effectively manage.

The spire of St Mary's
Parish Church
Which is why c1114, nine hundred years ago, a new parish was created.  The former modest chapel became the new parish church of St Leonard, Sandridge.  St Leonard's continued to minister to the needs of everyone north-east of Sandpit Lane until residential development on a large scale became evident on Marshalswick Farm, adding to what was already partly complete at old Marshalswick.  Later this would include Jersey Farm.  A daughter parish was created based on St Mary's Church.

In 2014 the significant anniversary of 900 (whether or not it is precise to the year) will be celebrated under the banner of Sandridge 900+.

Among the events planned is an exhibition to be held in May at the Museum of St Albans, following the life of the parish over 900 years.  Part of our brief is to celebrate the role played by the former Marshalls Wick House, for part of which time the home of the Marten family.

The only photo known of the unmade Marshalswick Lane.
More than that, the creation of the residential estates of old Marshalswick (on the old House estate grounds); new Marshalswick (on the former Marshalswick Farm); and Jersey Farm, will feature boldly.

To that end we are searching for a number of new photographs of the new districts from their beginnings to recent times.  Please do search through your shoeboxes and albums, especially for the unfinished estates in the 1950s and 1960s – or even in pre-WW2 days.   It would be great to see once more lanes, field gates and ponds which no longer exist; even pictures of the former farm homesteads.  Maybe your own home as it was being built or in the early days family members trying to tame the garden.  At school, concert performances, parents contributions to building a small swimming pool or garden.  If photos need to be scanned we will willingly do so; you only need to be willing to share them with others!

If you have programmes or other documents related to community events, to school happenings, sports teams, early meetings pressing for the youth club and community centre, meetings about bus services or phone boxes, do please consider sharing them.

We still have not identified this family
or where the Marshalswick area picnic
was.  A still from a 1950s home movie.
Finally, if you are able to relate recollections of moving to and living in this district of St Albans and can jot down a few notes, emailing them to Mike at saoee@me.com



, we would like to include as much as can be collected in the exhibition.

From next week there will be a new page on the website St Albans Own East End, devoted to Marshalswick and Jersey Farm, including any new material which is sent in.

So, let's get searching and remembering ...

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Fire, fire!

The work currently in hand to bring to life, once more, the photos which had previously appeared in the Herts Advertiser, has reached the 1920s.  Anyone needing to read, for research, issues from that time can only do so via the microfilm reels at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS) or St Albans Central Library.  While it is possible to read the stories themselves, the photographs which accompany them are extremely dense or appear as black rectangles.

The houses behind are those in Hill End Lane, near its
junction with Colney Heath Lane.  HERTS ADVERTISER
The re-photographing project has enabled the original pictures, as printed, to be restored.  In reaching December 1928, the story of a serious fire at a brickworks was published.  Separately, on the back page, were two photos, now clearly revealed, of the devastation the conflagration caused.

There were two brickworks in close proximity.  One belonged to Owen's, a Wheathampstead company, on a site now occupied by an industrial estate in Ashley Road.  The other, a smaller business, fronted on to Hill End Lane, near the former railway branch line crossing at the double bend in the lane; and was known as the Hill End Brickworks.

Both were created to supplied bricks for local building needs, but the smaller yard was not profitable and was taken over by Owen's in the early 1920s, although its original name was retained.

In the knowledge that small ventures such as these have a limited life, many of its buildings were of timber construction.  Given that fires were also required nearby for the kilns, there must always have been a risk to the temporary buildings on the site.

The photos demonstrate how complete the destruction was.
HERTS ADVERTISER
The site then appeared to remain derelict for some time, and a former resident recalls, as a child, walking from Hixberry Lane, across the railway crossing and taking a path skirting around the old buildings to Hatfield Road.  The path would have followed the route we now know as Longacres; and when redeveloped it became the site of Marconi Instruments Ltd.  Now that further redevelopment has taken place, the houses of Marconi Way occupy this space between Fleetville and Oaklands.

There is one conundrum to the brickworks fire.  The report indicates that hoses were laid from a hydrant in Hatfield Road, across a back garden on that road, and across the railway.  But the railway track is beyond this brickworks site, although the Owen's brickworks are, from Hatfield Road, beyond the tracks.  Did the newspaper reporter muddle his facts.  Surely the fire engine did attend the correct site!  So, where did the description of laying hoses across the railway come from, unless the supply was taken from the Hospital instead of, or as well as, Hatfield Road.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

What shall we do about Hatfield Road?

We can only imagine what Hatfield Road was like in the seventeenth century, but by the mid-eighteenth sufficient angst had built up to warrant improvements by making it a toll road.  Unfortunately, tolls there were but how much improvement was made to the highway cannot be ascertained as detailed accounts from 1868 to 1881 no longer exist.

Then came the early local authority period.  Still a narrow road with passing places.  Some of that narrowness exists today near the Crown.  The road was subsequently widened to become the double-lane size it still is today; although still unmade until the teen years of the twentieth century.

As the number of motor vehicles increased, and in recognition of it being a shopping street with direct access to the city centre, the thirties brought some welcome relief when the bypass road from Roe Green to the Watford road encouraged traffic with no business in St Albans to miss it out altogether.

At Smallford some further widening took place, and the bend at the rec was shaved to provide a better sightline.  Otherwise, the road today is the same as it was in the 1960s.  It is not that there was no ambition on the part of the County Council.  Two proposals from that time may linger in some people's memories.  The first, and most radical, was to bulldoze the "straggle of shops" out of existence, replacing them with clusters of shops and residences further from the road.

The second was to make the street into a local road, and divert through traffic on its own mini bypass as a dual carriageway on the route of the former branch railway between Camp Road and Smallford.  The report did not state whether there would be access junctions at, say Sutton Road, Ashley Road and Hill End; nor did it acknowledge that a four lane highway is rather wider than the railway, even though there was sufficient width for two tracks.

Neither of these schemes, as we know, went anywhere, and since then a further fifty years have passed with its inexorable increase in traffic and parking demand.  But at least Morrison's has provided some additional parking.  What is surprising is that, as new buildings have sprung up on the south side through Fleetville, no allowance was made in the planning applications for future widening.  And at the worst section of all, no additional lane was provided for buses outside Morrison's.  What were the authorities (not) thinking of?
Smallford, towards Hatfield.  The tollhouse on the left (where the paddock
is today), with the Four Horseshoes beyond.  On the right, the cottages are
no more.  But the road IS wider.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Whose error?

Last week I posted details of some confusion over a field at Beaumonts Farm which the farmer, Mr William Moores, had been instructed to plough up near the end of WW1.  I will not repeat the details here, since the blog entry can be referred to directly.

During the course of the week I took the opportunity to view the original file of documents – mainly copies of letters between the County War Agricultural Committee and Mr Moores.  As a result I have to make a couple of corrections.  One of the errors was, regrettably, mine!  I had understood the name Fleetville Field to mean a specific field.  In fact the email I received referred to "a Fleetville Field"; not the same thing at all!  So Home Meadow, between Beaumont Avenue and the present Beechwood Avenue south of Farm Road, was probably still named as such; and we can ignore all references to the Grammar School Field next to Hatfield Road Cemetery.

But there was some incompetence on the part of the Committee.  There was, in the end, only one instruction: to plough up one field.  The Committee knew which one, since someone had presumably made a field inspection, but they just couldn't get it right when corresponding with Mr Moores.

The first letter from the Committee detailed the pair of field numbers (included in which he was also asked to grub up the trees in the intervening hedge).  Mr Moores replied in a carefully worded letter, that he was not responsible for those fields.  The Committee admitted that these were part of Mr Titmuss' land at Winches Farm (between Beaumonts and Oaklands).  I noted there was no sign of apology in the Committee's response.    The Committee then sent another letter instructing that Mr Moores plough up another field which actually was part of Beaumonts Farm.  It was known as Heath Field, fronting onto Beaumont Avenue and Sandpit Lane.  This time Mr Moores had to tell the Committee this field was already being cultivated.  Again no hint of apology, but the Committee then made another attempt to correct itself.  This time it was the field 821 (Home Meadow) mentioned in my last blog, where the farmer was unable to plough because of the number of people using it for recreational purposes.  There is no further correspondence, but a short while later the work of the Committee was transferred to the County Council.  As we often say in texts when we have made a mistake over a rather trivial matter: oops.

Cemetery wall
At the time the Hatfield Road cemetery was created one of the proposed construction elements was a boundary wall, but since no early photo of the cemetery from Hatfield Road exists, except for the ornate entrance, it is not possible to illustrate the rest of the boundary to its extremities as it was for around half a century.

In the 1930s Hatfield Road was widened at this point and the Herts Advertiser stated that the front wall was moved back 12 feet and rebuilt.  So the question has always been, what happened to the outer sections of wall (assuming they had been built in the first place)?  Did the Council sell the rest of the stone, replacing it with less expensive railings?

A file of documents at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS) reveals that a contract was awarded to Mr Charles Chamberlain of Bedford Road, St Albans for the construction of a boundary wall at the cemetery, 600 feet long and 6 feet high,   with piers, 1 foot 6 inches square, placed every ten feet.  Materials were to be “good, hard, well-burned grey stocks of the neighbourhood.”  I take that to mean that it is a brick wall.  The contract price was £142 and was signed off in December 1883.

This is the first evidence that a wall the full length of the Hatfield Road frontage was constructed.  The reason why the wall was not reconstructed when the road widening took place in the 1930s, was undoubtedly the cost of reconstructing a wall in brick.  In any case, by that time there was a significant shrub and tree screen.  Today, the railings are not the dominant feature; instead, we enjoy walking beside a rather attractive mature hedge.


Monday, 25 November 2013

Your error, I believe

History is a record of the facts, right?  So, what happens when facts are recorded incorrectly?  I have just been alerted to information, which if it had been written correctly, would have become lost in the general melee of statistics, and part of the story of Fleetville would not have been resurrected one century on.  Here is the account of that error; it being passed to me as a straightforward summary of a communication lodged in a file at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS)  by a University researcher.

During WW1 it was the role of the County War Agricultural Committee to ensure that all farming land was being fully utilised for food production.  At the time members of the Committee visited Oaklands Farm, the tenant farmer, Mr William Moores, was also responsible for Beaumonts Farm.  The committee noted that one field at Beaumonts had been left as pasture and with no evidence that it was being grazed.  It requested that Mr Moores plough it for a wheat crop.

Mr Moores was puzzled because the 8-acre field in question and named as Fleetville Meadow was not part of his farm.  However, Mr Moores did admit that one of his fields, also of 8 acres and numbered 821 (on the 1898 OS map), is also a meadow.  He had been trying to plough this meadow for the past four years, but "the people of Fleetville have made it a regular playground."

Home Meadow was to the left of this picture of
Beechwood Avenue.
So what was the error the Committee had made in writing to Mr Moores?  The field he was responsible for was known as Home Meadow, yet the Committee had referred to it as Fleetville Field.  At such an early date, and probably even now, Beaumonts Farm could not be said to be in Fleetville; the field was generally a wedge shape, lying between Beaumont Avenue, and the present Farm Road and Beechwood Avenue.   Clearly, either the Committee had been confused geographically, or had made a copying error.  The only field in Fleetville which was not yet committed to development was a linked pair of pastures still owned by St Albans Grammar School (now called St Albans School) where Fleetville Junior School and its playing field now are.  Together, these fields are 8 acres in size and one of its field numbers was 811.  Could a clerk have recorded 811 instead of 821, and from there used a look-up list to find the name Fleetville Field?  This area of ground is more likely to have been neglected during the war since it was not part of an existing farm, though it may have been grazed intermittently by Oakley's, a local dairy business based in Camp Road.  The Committee has therefore, unwittingly, given us the name by which people had come to know this patch of land in the early 20th century, a name which could not have existed before Smith's Printing Agency arrived in 1897 and named its little hamlet Fleetville.

The other fascinating piece of information lies in Mr Moore's reply.  "The people of Fleetville have made it a regular playground."  The Fleetville Recreation Ground had been donated to the city in 1913 by Mr Charles Woollam, but inevitably nothing was done to improve this stub of a field straight away.  Indeed, one or two residents proposed that the council plough it up for residents to tend as allotments.  Before the war, and possibly for some time after, part of 12-acre field, opposite Nicholson's in Sutton Road, was used as a football field.  A pasture, Home Meadow, right on the edge of the built-up area, was inevitably going to be an attractive playground for local children and families.  Clearly it was popular if Mr Moores regularly found himself unable to plough it – and he doesn't appear to be making an excuse.

Home Meadow therefore is revealed as a previously unrecorded public open space for the inhabitants of the eastern districts on both sides of Hatfield Road.  A fact which has only come to light because of a mistake made by a committee, and which required a written response from the accused farmer – and, of course, the diligence of a researcher in passing on what had been discovered.


Sunday, 17 November 2013

A tank came to stay

There are many stories which are part of Fleetville's history, and not all of them are probably true.  One of them has possibly risen in credibility recently because of an article published last week in a Broxbourne local newspaper.

Several people have told of a military tank which was apparently parked on the recreation ground in Fleetville, after the end of WW1.  Now, you could be forgiven for confusing a tank with a device for storing water, given that that kind of tank came to be a feature of the rec during WW2.  In other words there may be versions of the story where the meaning of 'tank', though clear to the teller might be confused in the mind of the listener, and that both might have been inferring WW2 when they meant WW1, or the other way round.  We all get confused at times.

The common thread in all of the stories is that a tank stood at the corner of the rec at the junction of Hatfield Road and Royal Road.  Presumably, if a military version, petrol had been siphoned out first and the distributor cap removed in case a couple of under-the-influence regulars from the nearby pub attempted to drive it home along Harlesden Road.

                                                                  Hertfordshire Mercury
As a sculpture we all might ask what its function might have been?  A trophy, maybe; or perhaps a warning.  Or a cheap piece of games equipment for the youngsters to play on.

I want to know where it came from, and whose decision it was to place it there: put your hand up the parks department of the council – but not the present lot, of course.  Just as important, when did it go and who gave authority for it to leave?  Did it remain long enough to be carted off for scrap at the next big argument across the Channel, or did we all get fed up with the rusting hulk after a couple of years.

I should think there was a feeling of emptiness following its departure, because when I was a nipper in short trousers I played on the swings in that spot.  After the removal of the tank, you see, we had no equipment at all to play on, and I suppose the council could only think of swings (they certainly didn't let us have a Witch's Hat – far too dangerous for the nice kids of Fleetville).  Today, it's a different story; a child could play on a different piece of play equipment every day of the month, and they are a darned sight more colourful.

Which brings me to Broxbourne.  Well actually, Cheshunt.  The article opens: "A relic of the First World War, which once stood in a Cheshunt park, could be commemorated with a new sculpture.  An empty plinth in the corner of Cedars Park marks the spot where a tank once stood."  Interesting.  The Cheshunt people know more about their's than we do ours.  It was a British Mark 5 tank, gifted to Cheshunt Council in 1921 and it remained for nearly 20 years, after which the council made a profit of twenty-seven quid when they sold it in 1940!  Now that is cunning.

Anything to add to our bit of war metalwork, anyone?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Fifty years on

What were we all doing fifty years ago?  Those younger than that do not need to answer!  I was away from home, furthering my education and planning what would turn out to be my only long-term career move.  Living a few months at a time in "rooms"  I would still be fifteen years away from owning my first home.

What, then, was happening back in St Albans?  In 1963 I couldn't go online to view the e-edition of the Herts Advertiser, but it came to me just the same; the family's copy wrapped in one of those paper collars with the words "Newspaper Rate" emblazoned down one edge.  There were similar local newspapers delivered to the house in the same way from places such as Mountain Ash, Cheltenham, West Ham, Portsmouth and Hull.  Local news came to Birmingham the old-fashioned way.

So, during the next few months we will dip into what was happening in St Albans' East End during that year, fifty years ago.  The website will have a dedicated page to 1963.

Meanwhile, here are two advertisements from that year.  Unfortunately, the quality is not good as they come from having photocopied the microfilms, but they serve their purpose.

Where the land between Smallford and Colney Heath Lane is now packed with factories and warehouses, it had, before WW2, been worked as part of Butterwick Farm; and the name Butterwick Wood lived on as the name for the formative industrial estate.  Apart from the James Halsey timber yard,  the first firm to arrive at the Smallford end was Tractor Shafts, a company run by the Hobbs family, developing agricultural machinery.  The firm wasn't directly advertising for new employees, but it chose to place an 'ad' in a special engineering supplement in the Herts Advertiser one week in April.

In the same supplement a much older factory company also placed an advertisement.  As the renamed Salvation Army Printing Works, the Campfield Press in Campfield Road announced the range of publications which it would print for clients.  Among this range you will not find the staple diet of the works when first created: Bibles, hymn books and sheet music for the Army bands.  Instead there is a list of more commercial requirements of a modern business community, including circulars (junk mail?) and brochures.


Old advertisements are one of the ways we can recall businesses which once thrived in and around the city, but have either outgrown their former locations, been taken over by rival firms, or closed because they had served their purpose.


Sunday, 3 November 2013

A Pitiful Figure

Camp had a beer house from the late 18th century; the Crown Hotel opened its doors around 1900; Oaklands obtained a license in 1947 and Marshalswick in 1962.  Fleetville might have received its license a good deal earlier that 1927 had it not been for well-orchestrated campaigns by groups and the owners of factories in the area.

From a 1924 edition of War Cry
Although the Salvation Army HQ is in London, the print works which spewed out huge quantities of its official weekly newspaper,  War Cry, each Friday, was in Campfield Road, St Albans.  In a 1924 edition the Army presented a disturbing article about young children spending long periods of time on the steps of public houses while their parents were downing drinks inside.

"Certainly it was a terrible thing for children to be taken into bar parlours, there to be contaminated by all the coarseness and devilry that alcohol engenders.  In winter it is a still more terrible thing that children should be left on the pavement outside, perhaps for hours at a stretch, helpless and uncomplaining against a fate which leaves them faint, tired, hungry, and very likely cold, wet, and piteously unhappy."

The writer was explaining the unintended effect of the government's then-recent amendment of the law relating to public houses, and the imposition of a minimum age for entering a pub.

Reputed to be young women
involved in Bryant & May's
match strike of 1888.
No sooner had the social conscience been pricked on children collecting in pub doorways than some parents began to leave their children at home.  Incidents, often involving grate fires or candles, claimed the lives of children left in their homes on their own – which would later mean a further revision of the law preventing children from being left in the house without an appropriate adult.

The War Cry article is detailed and emotionally written, but it is not the words which have the greatest impact, but the photograph which accompanies it.

I wonder whether there are any other period photographs in our shoe boxes, which also have a story to tell, especially of the social conditions confronted by ordinary people at the time.  Often they appeared in magazines or newspapers, but were also often sold as postcards.  If you have such a photograph which might have an impact in its own right, or as part of the story to which it relates, then do let me know.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

"Friendly" conference at Verulamium

An informal group which was first established in 2011 held its third annual conference on Saturday 26th October at Verulamium Museum.  The St Albans and District Local History Network is now firmly established on the local scene and already the format is spreading around the county, with an inaugural conference already held in Hitchin.

Around seventy delegates heard presentations from nine different speakers throughout the day, with sufficient time left for Soapbox speakers to 'pop up' and provide a five minute update on a particular project.


Among the presentations was an update on the future of the old Town Hall for conversion to a museum  which would replace that MoSTA site in Hatfield Road.  Kris Goodyear explained the geophysical survey now taking place in Verulamium Park, and the machinery being used to provide the data.  Other subjects ranged from historic gardens, the first fixed-site cinemas, a WW1 Home Front project, and the current High Street, Wheathampstead, funded project.  Then there was an update on the Smallford Station project, the research being undertaken to prepare a map of the Second Battle (of St Albans) landscape, preparations being made for the Sandridge 900 commemoration, and further information about Highfield Park Trust.

The fact that places at the venue, limited to 70, were all booked within a period of eight days, suggests that it was an event eagerly anticipated.  Not surprising really, as one delegate told me it was such a friendly conference; another that she had met so many interesting people during the day; a third that all the visiting speakers for the next twelve months at a local group had now been secured!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Jolly music on a Sunday afternoon

If a visitor to this city inquires of you what interesting places might s/he visit, it is easy to rattle off the usual great locations, almost all of them in the centre.  Of course, if there is time to spare on a Sunday afternoon, and you've exhausted all of the garden centres with their teas and cakes, what else is there?

Here is one which even a number of locals have never heard of, let alone visited: St Albans Organ Museum.  Situated in Camp Road and adjacent to Camp School, it was created on the site of an old Goodwin and Hart building yard by one of the yard's owners, Charles Hart.  Although he was an extensive builder of houses – including most of the 1930s homes around the museum – Charles developed a keen interest in fairground rides and, in particular, the musical equipment which made visitors to the fairgrounds happy, the organs which spewed out their jolly tunes using punched hole concertina books.

Many members of the public became aware of Charles' collecting habits when the Herts Advertiser photographed a newly redundant cinema organ which he had acquired and which he needed to find space for in his yard.

Today, on Sunday afternoons you can hear the full history of the Hart collection of organs, with demonstrations from all of the collected instruments, including a few musical boxes.  The Trust which is now responsible for the collection, also presents concerts, the next being on Saturday 9th November at 7.30pm by Mr John Mann.

The mysterious story of Smith's Printing Agency, the firm which began Fleetville, takes another intriguing twist from a recent discovery, but it will require a separate blog to explain all!

Meanwhile, trawling though Herts Advertiser photographs from the 1920s, I have come across pictures taken in the accommodation at Oaklands Mansion, home of the Hertfordshire Agricultural Institute; and a gymkhana which took place in the grounds of the former Marshalls Wick House, between Marshals Drive and Sandpit Lane.

Finally, Fleetville Diaries, the local history people, have an unusual evening coming up.  Several members and friends of the group are going to tell the short story of one person on their family tree.  Inevitably, we will be hearing of unusual people, members of the family which stood out from the crowd.  Will we hear of heroes, colourful characters, or helpful lives?  More news of this event on the next blog.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Eastbourne link

Some time ago I reprinted an advertisement which had first appeared in the Herts Advertiser in 1938.  I reproduce it here.  At Smallford, during the height of the craze for speedway motor cycling, there appeared such a track between the eastern boundary of the nursery (now Notcutts) and Popefield Farm homestead.  The layout of this field and its track did appear in the 1937 OS map.

Google Earth shows what remains very clearly, as the land has not been developed since WW2, when the track was closed for the last time, and not re-opening after the war.  Unfortunately, it is not possible to reproduce that image here as there are copyright restrictions on Google Earth imagery.

The track itself seems to have been in the middle of the field, where the densest scrub grows now.  Around three sides was space for cars to be parked; on the west side cars could be parked right up to the track for an extra charge.  I have no record of which individuals or organisation owned, leased or rented the ground and organised the meetings – but someone might!  Someone might even have a copy or two of any programme printed for a meeting.

Quite by chance, in a local history organisation magazine printed recently in Eastbourne (the town the Smallford team was competing against at home in the advertisement) a detailed article appeared, giving much information about the increasing popularity of speedway, the types of motor-cycle used, and the success of the Eastbourne Speedway site at Arlington, north of the town.  The names of a few nationally successful riders were also named: Mick Murphy, Vic Huxley, Ron Johnson, George Newton, Phil Hart and George Saunders; they probably rode at Smallford in their early days before graduating onto the major tracks.

One press photo which appeared in the article is shown here, and it shows a structure which is probably similar one at Smallford.  Maybe it was for the starter?  There may also have been a platform next to it for officials.

The Smallford track will have given a small occasional income to several local people, as the car parking and other entrance fees would have to be collected, mechanics would have been on hand, and casuals would have been engaged to sweep or rake the dirt track between races.  In fact, the author of the Eastbourne article was such a person in his youth and he recalls that his position in the centre of the oval track was probably the "best seat in the house"; although I doubt whether the sweepers ever had the chance to sit down.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Live archaeology

We rarely experience the pleasure of live archaeology in the East End of St Albans.  Not so long ago test pits were dug at The Wick, and we are awaiting a report on the findings from that project.

However, yesterday, if you were walking or cycling in the warm sun along Alban Way, you may have come across something completely different.  A short while previously a series of rectangular patches were scalped of vegetation on both sides of the path – the line of the former branch railway between St Albans and Hatfield, closed for passengers in 1951 and freight by 1968.  You might have taken a mild interest in that clearance.

Yesterday morning you may also have spotted a small group of keen young children with trowels and some excitement at one of the cleared patches one hundred metres or so east of Smallford railway bridge.  Viewers of Time Team will have noted the tell-tale sign of a square line pegged out beside the former track: the standard area for a one-metre square test pit.  The calm Sunday morning atmosphere was regularly punctuated with squeals of delight as objects of interest were encouraged to the surface.  Among the more obvious finds of brittle plastic and stones within the soil, were revealed an old bolt, small pieces of coal and the bottom of a small 19th century clay jar or pot.  No doubt many other objects were transferred to the finds tray during the course of the morning, all supervised by the children's parents and the project leader.

The children were all members of the Young Archaeologists' Club and were exploring there on behalf of the Smallford Project ( www.smallford.org ), raised to investigate the history of the hamlet, collect a number of stories about the place and restore the former railway station still standing behind a contractor's mech fence.

Children are natural archaeologists, and during the next few weeks they will be making sense of the objects they have found, and no doubt, will continue to find.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

ELECO

Having only just completed a post and published it, I discovered more about ELECO which places yesterday's post in a slightly different context.

The company was formed in 1895 as Gilbert Arc Lamp Company, based in Chingford, Essex.  The firm moved to St Albans in the early years of the 20th century.  One major contract was to design and supply the lanterns along Victoria Embankment.  The company name was altered to the Electric Lighting and Engineering Company in 1920 and from then until the 1960s it focussed on street lighting and switch gear.

ELECO then widened its interests to include structures when, in 1960, it acquired the 1948-born Hoddesdon firm of Bell and Webster.  It later purchased Goodes Silos Ltd and Davis Sheet Metal Engineering, which specialises in cable trunking, and as late as 1991, Abtus Company Limited which are involved  in railway maintenance equipment.

Helicopter landing lights were developed for the Admiralty, cable trays were supplied for the Channel Tunnel, and ELECO Technology was formed in 1994 for research and development projects for various parts of the company.  Its software has been used on the restoration of the Cutty Sark and by the main contractors of the Shard, a 'sky-tall' building at London Bridge.

ELECO may no longer be in St Albans, but the company has bases in Herriard, Hampshire; Lydney, Gloucestershire; Thame, Oxfordshire; and Telford, Shropshire; as well as many locations in other countries.

That sounds like a terrific St Albans success story.  Some of the company's street lights, made during its time in Campfield Road, can be seen at the website www.midlandcountiesstreetlighting.co.uk.  It may be possible to add further to this story shortly.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Lighting Campfield

At the end of last week's blog I briefly described how a former resident was trying to locate work places at which he had been employed in the 1960s.  The clues given to me were, a firm making 'up-and-over' garage doors, and a company manufacturing immersion heaters for copper heating cylinders.

One firm I had not considered for garage doors, but which the man in question recalled, was the Sphere Works in Campfield Road.  Although the company no longer exists several firms occupy the site which is now known as the Sphere Industrial Estate.

The question now is, do you remember Sphere Works manufacturing metal up-and-over garage doors? If you were employed at the Sphere in the 1960s or 1970s perhaps you could email the author ( saoee@me.com ) with some details.

While doing some computer searches for Sphere Works I came across the site www.simonsornwell.com    Simon is a collector of street lamps and has provided details of many of the country's manufacturers, including ELECO.  This firm was part of Sphere Works and also had premises in Campfield Road.  ELECO sold most, if not all, of the lamps and posts for St Albans before WW2.  It is always intriguing how firms become successful, get taken over, change their names and their locations.

ELECO, which began in the 1880s, was taken over by Davis Engineering Ltd in the 1980s, but that firm does not appear to be active today, unless there has been another change of name.  But one model the company made was a Windsor.  Is there a connection here with another street lighting firm, called   D W Windsor, which began in 1976?  Did it later take over the Davis Company?

If so, the continuity of ELECO remains in the county, for D W Windsor is at Hoddesdon.  If not, well ...   Any information would be welcome.

Turning to the SAOEE website, the two pages which describe the collection of One Hundred Objects has been static for some considerable time, and before the second book was published it was felt prudent not to display all of the objects in the collection.  A new set of pages is now gradually appearing, displaying and describing all of the objects.  You can now have a peep at the new layout through a link on the Welcome page.  The remaining four pages will gradually appear during the next month or two.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Another Ashpath

When roads have no official name, we have to give them a label in order to identify them to others.  So each of us may use our own family labels.  Take The Ashpath, for example (sometimes also known as the Cinder Track). It had no official name because it was a private farm track.  Sometimes in poor condition  ash or cinders from Owen's brickworks was occasionally spread.  If you are not sure which track I mean, today we all know it by its official name: Ashley Road.  The Ash in this case is the tree, not the burnt leftovers.

A resident of Tyttenhanger Green, and a former resident of the village, have declared that they know of another Ashpath.  Describing a walking route the two took to reach Hatfield Road, they used Hixberry Lane, then Hill End Lane (Station Road) over the railway crossing, and cut through the former Hill End Brickworks site, picking up a track on the edge of the former wooded area; a track which is now Longacres.

A muddy Hixberry Lane.
The lower end of Hixberry Lane can still become waterlogged, and it is Hixberry Lane which the ladies recall their families calling the Ashpath.  I imagine the ash in this case came from the Hill End brickworks.  The brickworks was replaced by Marconi Instruments, which has now been replaced by  the 'Marconi estate.'

The Butterwick Wood industrial estates between Oaklands and Smallford contain two named roads: Lyon Way and Acrewood Way.  But many will know the road giving access to Homebase, began as an access road to the Meat Cold Store and Banana Warehouse adjacent to the former branch railway.  But it has never received an official name, although a nearby road sign now directs traffic to 'Alban Park.'   Could this be the new official name for the road?  What name has your family used down the years for the 'Homebase road?'  The author would love to know.

An interesting request has arrived from the daughter of an retired couple attempting to formalise their pension arrangements.  Although only in St Albans for a short time, the man recalls working in the 1960s for a firm making garage doors (the name Marconi's was mentioned in this context but somewhere along the line memories have become confused), and a company making immersion heaters for copper cylinders.

If you can suggest firms thriving in the 1960s for either garage doors – wooden or metal – or immersion heaters, would you consider prompting the author, either by replying to this blog or emailing the author via the website.

Un-named access road between Dunelm and Homebase.


Monday, 2 September 2013

Right trade, wrong place

The story of the eastern districts of St Albans has been gleaned from many sources, not least the recollections from people who were born and were brought up here, and continue to enjoy their lives as 'eastenders'.  Then, there are many written sources, all of which we have come to rely on for their accuracy.

Among these are the street directories.  Apart from the odd occasion when Amery is printed as Avery, or V Thomas becomes W Thomas, they are largely accurate.  So, when, during the first two decades of the 20th century, the villages sections of Kelly's directories listed Charles Simmons running a post office and stores in Station Road, I assumed that to be correct.

The Colney Heath sub-section, right at the end of these incredibly useful books, included, not only that village, but Horseshoes (the old name for the place we now call Smallford), Sleapshyde, Tyttenhanger, Wilkins Green, Nast Hyde, Roestock and Roe Hyde.  In all of those places there is only one Station Road, between the roundabout (used to be Smallford crossroads) and the bridge over the old railway.  There is a post office and stores in Station Road, but all of the buildings in that road are 1930s or newer.  If there was an earlier post office then that building would have been demolished.

I set aside the obvious question to ask first (why would a post office open in a community of perhaps fewer than a dozen households?)  The question instead asked: did anyone know of an earlier building, or a shop?  For two years we pondered but found no solution.

Former post office and stores, run by Charles and Ann Simmons, near the
Crooked Billet in Colney Heath.
Photo courtesy JOHN ROWLAND
This week a resident of Colney Heath, pouring over a collection of old pictures of his village, thought he had found the answer and passed one photo, of the former Colney Heath Post Office, to me.  Above the window is the name C Simmons.  Old maps were checked, as well as census returns; together with the photo it can be confirmed that the directory entry should have read "Charles Simmons, Colney Heath, post office and stores."  How could the entry have been printed consistently incorrectly for so many years?

There is, of course, one intriguing possibility, to do with the names of roads.  You have to imagine a time before the bypass which intersects the parish between Horseshoes and Colney Heath.  In 1900, where we now have a disconnected road (at the bypass) with three names (Station Road, Smallford Lane and High Street), it was one ambling lane.  Colney Heath villagers had
actively lobbied to have the station name boards read Smallford Station for Colney Heath.  The station was considered the villagers' own station.  Perhaps there was a time when the entire lane was known locally as Station Lane or Station Road.  In which case the directories would have been correct!

Perhaps that should be the next question:  It there any evidence, or recollection of the lane which connects Horseshoes (Smallford) and Colney Heath being known as Station Road throughout?

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Looking down

From the early days of flight pilots and their passengers have peered downwards on our cities, villages and landscapes in awe.  This, after all, was the perspective on our world which had never been previously experienced, except for the more limited views from the heights of tall buildings; and they were nothing like the height of the Shard at London Bridge.

Companies have, since the end of WW1, taken oblique photos from the cockpit of, or special ports on the underside of, small aircraft.  A collection measured in millions thus accumulated, but there was never an easy method of searching for what people might be interested in, and reels of early negatives on unstable film steadily deteriorated, and continue to do so.

Fortunately, the entire surviving collection is gradually being scanned, digitised and made available online – www. britainfromabove.org.uk    It is a project of considerable timescale, but this week the organisation announced its most recent batch of newly treated pictures.

Among them were a number of 1939 shots of de Havilland's and even earlier pictures of the airstrip, aero club and the firm's swimming pool.  There are fine studies of Welwyn Garden City before WW2, and in St Albans a number of photos, taken from a variety of angles of the Electrical Apparatus Company (EAC) off Mile House Lane.   These complement earlier arrivals on the site of the Rubber Works, Salvation Army Printing Works and the Electricity Works.

It is well worthwhile searching the St Albans' pictures now available.  You will discover enthusiasts skating on the lake in the winter of 1946/7, the business of Mercer's in St Stephen's Hill, the fields beside the St Albans Bypass before Roger Aylett brought his youthful enthusiasm for a nursery there.  It is possible to spot two cottages which once stood to the north of the junction of Hill End Lane and London Road, before the new housing development and school arrived.  You can almost identify the crops growing in many of the allotments behind Springfield.

However familiar the scene, it is rewarding to simply enjoy the experience of picking out little details in each photograph, and of course our familiarity with streets does not always prepare us for discovering what once
lay behind the facades.  Google Earth may cause us to take for granted how our urban landscapes are laid out today.  Seeing the views from the 1920s or 1930s will always surprise.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Delivery a little late

In last week's blog I related how the curator of the South Africa Astronomy Society in Johannesburg has been seeking information about a telescope we had made for them.

I say 'we' because the device, made by the telescope company with the highest of reputations, was made in Fleetville.  Howard Grubb was a Dublin company until the UK government, in 1916, installed it in the ailing printing works building which later became Ballito.  You can read further details in the previous blog.

A recently taken photo, courtesy Michael Robins, of the telescope within
the building originally constructed for it.
It now appears that the order for the telescope was placed in 1909, but was not finally delivered until 1925!  So, the early work was undertaken in Ireland, but of course progress on the telescope came to a halt for the duration of the war.  It was substantially complete, however, in 1920, and most of the rest of the time was occupied in making a successful casting of the substantial lens, called an objective glass.  To indicate how tentative the delivery date was, the firm made the name plate and dated it 1923, although it was a further two years before the parts were shipped to South Africa for assembly in the building which the Society had completed in 1912.  The cost, on delivery, was £7,375

The curator tells me that serious research was stopped on this particular instrument in the early 1970s because of the high level of light pollution, but it is still in use for viewing and outreach programmes.

It was designed specifically for double star viewing, and the number discovered by 1961 was 6,555, which, the curator informs me, was the most by any telescope at the time.  The instrument is now owned by the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement.

Rather like hearing what school friends have been doing with their lives when we meet them later, this news is fascinating in that it makes us aware of unusual products made in St Albans' Own East End, how they have performed and  how long they have lasted.  Proud Fleetville is part of this particular story.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Work in secret

A business arrived in Fleetville in 1916 and remained for nine years; yet at the time, and since, its existence was little known.  Strange, since it occupied one of the most identifiable factory buildings in the district, even though that building no longer exists.  For some I only need to mention the name Ballito; for others it is Morrison's.  They are two of the post-WW2 occupiers, not the secretive company.

During the middle of WW1 the highly reputable Irish company of Howard Grubb, who designed and built optical and refractive telescopes, was contracted by the Government to undertake development work on submarine periscopes and gun sights.  Since this was highly classified research, the Government brought the company to St Albans and installed it in a half-empty printing firm called Smith's Printing Agency, Hatfield Road, Fleetville.  Until 1921 there were active D Notices on the building, preventing  information about Grubb's activities from being  published.

The company's peacetime role included building some of the world's largest telescopes – so large in fact, that much of the construction work had to be undertaken outside, which is where passers-by would have seen the intriguing work in progress.  By 1925, Grubb's was merged with another company in Newcastle, and was renamed Grubb Parsons.

This story has become topical because the curator of the South Africa Astronomy Society (Johannesburg Section) is searching for an operating manual for the Grubb 26.5 inch refracting telescope, which the Society has in the city.  This model was not far off being the world's largest at the time, and if made between 1918 and 1925, was certainly manufactured in Fleetville.

So, if you are keen on astronomy, and if there's the remotest possibility that you have an operating manual for the Grubb 26.5 inch refracting telescope, could you just check your bookshelf or the loft?  I have a curator who is in need of it, and I can put you in touch.

Another alternative road name
A reader of Volume 1 contacted me recently about the lane near the old Hill End railway crossing called Hixberry Lane.  It connects this point near Colney Heath Lane, with Tyttenhanger Green at the Plough.  A friend of his is certain this lane was also called the Ashpath and wants to know whether this is correct.  With local names it is always a possibility, and one lane may have two or more such local names, in addition to a name added to a map.  The tithe map (1840) even states that it was called Beastney's Lane.  As this seems to have occurred on only one surviving document, it is not possible to conclude that it was a name in transition or whether it was a cartographer's error.

The Ashpath is well-known for being the local name for the farm track between Hatfield Road and Hill End Lane, later receiving an official name Ashley Road.  Although Ashpath is only one of the local names for the track; many people also knew it as the Cinder Track.  If you knew Hixberry Lane by another name, do please email me ( saoee@me.com ).

Of course, I would also like to receive news of any other road in the district which you or your family called by a name other than the one it was given (its official name).  I can add these to the Streets page of the website.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Getting our history right

When the number of blogs slow down, you can bet that the blogger is busy on other matters!  Not necessarily on matters of local history of course.  This is harvesting time on the allotments, holiday time for some of us, and catch-up time for the rest, who have jobs of various kinds waiting in the wings for the normal lack of opportunity to attend to them.

However, there have been several experiences or events to report.

A younger relative of an elderly gentleman contacted me this week after a visit they had made to the gentleman's childhood home.  All was going well until they arrived at Marshalswick and they were trying to orientate themselves, and he to remember back through time exactly where the house was.  They found the house, only to discover it couldn't be, since it was the wrong street.  Was the man's memory wrong?  I was able to set their minds at rest; the road was renamed c1960 to avoid confusion with an almost identical name close by.  But I can imagine it was a confusing moment, just when his memory needed that final support, only to find a completely different street plate!

Occasionally I come across examples of stories that are mixtures of fact and repeated fiction.  Such is the oft-told legend around the name of the Rats' Castle in Fleetville.  Since there will be blog readers who have not been able to read my book, St Albans' Own East End Volume 1, I have launched a new Rats' Castle page on the website.  The data currently on the page will be added to shortly, and I will find a better version of one or two of the maps.  But it is a start.

An excellent example of diligent research around a story came my way recently, when I had sight of a thoroughly researched document about a bombing incident at de Havilland's in 1940.  The author, Terry Pankhurst, had sourced nearly thirty eye-witness and other very different, and sometimes conflicting, accounts which had been recorded since the incident, teasing out the factually correct, the probable, possible, unlikely, and plainly wrong contents of the reports; and then, using the evidence available, attempting to write as correct a version as records,  common sense and the passing of time would allow.  I have no idea at this moment whether the report has been published.  If it has been I will recommend everyone to read it as a lesson to all of us who are involved in disseminating information.

A delighted reader of St Albans' Own East End Volume 2 this week had discovered a family member who had been named as a member of his school football team in the 1920s, but she did not recognise the book which had provided that information and which I had acknowledged.  I was able to show her, not only the reference, but also two photographs in Bob Bridie's book, now alas out of print, 100 years: a History of Schools Football in St Albans.  A reference to the very same boy a few years later, in the Roll of Honour in Volume 2, enabled the reader to inquire about the young man's final resting place.  Regrettably this was likely to have been "at sea."  However, by using the admirable website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, we were able to establish that his name is attached to the extensive Naval Memorial at Portsmouth.  No doubt she will be arranging a visit in due course.

Finally, and on a more personal note, I discovered, after the event, that I had been sitting almost next to a man I had last seen in 1965, when he was 15 and I was working in the same establishment.  We each of us realised the 'near miss' at the Community Archives Conference only when we each visited the same forum a couple of days later, and our names were revealed!  Since then, a project has been launched to enable the stories of around 40 children of the time to relate their early experiences which led to their arrival in the UK at the Pestalozzi Children's Village in Sussex.

Other projects where have been, or are being, collated in and around St Albans, include Home from Home by Fleetville Diaries, and Smallford Memories by Smallford Residents' Association.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

"To allot or apportion ..."

This month is the peak of the season for picking fruits.  The pigeons, snails, mice, deer, and any other non-invitees, may have attempted to eat you out of home and, well, allotment, but there is no greater satisfaction than a spell on your very own allotment at present.  That, if you have the time.  And if you don't you will lose this year's crop.  What fruits have you grown?  Maybe strawberries,  raspberries, currents in varied colours, gooseberries if you can overcome the spikes.  Later will come the blackberries, although I already have a few of the advance guard.  The hot dry weather is making it difficult for some vegetables to produce useful material for us, but, hey, we can't always win on all fronts.

St Albans abounds with allotments although there were many more grounds than exist today.  But then, allotments have always tended to be temporary in nature.  Camp district had vast swathes of former farms at Beastneys, Little Cell Barnes and Cunningham.  Hatfield Road sported allotment grounds to the east of the cemetery, and there were growing spaces in Burleigh Road, the Willow estate, Gurney Court Road, Chestnut Drive, on spaces between the houses on slow-to-develop housing developments between WW1 and WW2, and in a dozen other places.  They are the lungs of our busy lives, quiet oases (usually) where we can relax and think.  Long live allotments.

Sandridge parish of St Leonard is making preparations to celebrate its 900th anniversary in 2014 (before the 1100s it was part of the vast parish of St Peter).  I notice that the event now has its own website – www.sandridge900.com   You may like to keep an eye on it for further details of the ways the parish intends to celebrate.  After all, it's not every day that you get to celebrate your 900th birthday!

If you are reading this on Sunday 21st July before 8pm, you are just in time.  If not, there are always the ever-useful TV catch-up services.  Tonight there is finally a programme on Channel 4 about the plane which most people forget.  For once it is not the Spitfire which has caught the programmers' attention, but our very own 'wooden wonder' the Mosquito (Mozzie), designed and built by the de Havilland Aircraft Company, Hatfield.




And while on the topic of forthcoming events, the Magna Carta is coming to St Albans.  Although it sounds like a blockbuster movie,  the Cathedral is hosting this rare event, and if we book in advance, we get our own personal few minutes with the revered document.  I can't help feeling the emotion would have been completely different if the exhibition had been held in or around 1086.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Keeping it Central

Everyone has seen them and most of us have stood in front of the rotating camera which produced them.  I am referring to those panorama pictures, usually associated with secondary schools.  Not easy to handle once you get the photo in your hands, it often ends up permanently rolled into a scroll and deposited in a remote cupboard.

But the panoramas contain reminders of our friends and it inevitable that we try to reproduce them on internet sites.  But the only effective solution is to scan or re-photograph the original image in sections.  It is in this form that I have received a collection of five overlapping images of the girls and teachers of Central Girls' School when their new buildings first opened in 1931.  The quality of the original photograph was so good that it was possible to create a small portrait of a single pupil without losing too much definition.  Unfortunately, for internet purposes, I have to lose some of that quality in order to preserve the bandwidth.  But it marks a milestone in the collection of images sent to the website.  I wonder how many other panoramas are out there, waiting to be seen and appreciated once more.

A new page appears on the website from today.  Not so long ago there was a feature about the history of Camp Hill settlement.  The additional information which subsequently appeared there now has its own page, and has been extended.  It deals with the vexed subject of avoiding the payment of tolls at the former Camp Road Toll on the Reading and Hatfield Turnpike (Hatfield Road today) at the Crown Junction.  You can read about the avoiding route which can still be followed through the Breakspear estate and Dellfield towards Cunningham Hill Farm.

It is always fascinating to dip into other local history websites from other areas, and at the Conference for Community Archives this week we were introduced to a number of groups who are taking different approaches to recording and exploring in their own areas.  But, on the whole, the exploring and recording are not being undertaken by young people, if the past three annual conferences are anything to measure by.  This year, however, a major award was picked up by two Essex teenagers doing their own exploring and recording in the area around Canvey.  They weren't only keen and dedicated, they were also prepared to put others in the shade, ready to make a presentation to around one hundred delegates three, four or even five times their ages.  Just visit www.beyondthepoint.co.uk.  The second photo on their front page shows the pair receiving their award from Nick Barratt (Who Do You Think You Are?) a few days ago.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Centenary for the rec

No, you didn't miss last weekend's blog; the words didn't just evaporate, never to be seen again.  Last weekend was spent entirely in the open air, and at two local events.  Fleetville Diaries and St Albans' Own East End met many local east enders in the summer sunshine.

A story from the Laid to Rest: Baker's Dozen walk.
Photo courtesy Frank Brittain.
Around twenty-five people joined us at Hatfield Road cemetery on Saturday, where we led a guided walk.  Beginning with the rather confused and messy beginning and laying out of the cemetery, where there appeared to be a scrum-like queue for burials from Abbey parish, where alternative land had long since been exhausted.  We moved around the extensive and beautiful grounds, pausing every so often to listen to the life story of an artist, an architect, stationmaster, butcher or nurseryman.  How could we miss out that of seed man and quiet golf cup hero, Samuel Ryder?  Finally, there was a scouting story, where this part of Hertfordshire was revealed as the exemplar for how the organisation developed.

Hatfield Road Cemetery remains a surprisingly "remote" place, even though the busy Hatfield Road passes its gates.  Few of us have ventured in, and many is the time I have heard guests on our walks there admit that, though they have lived in the district for a long time, they have never taken the opportunity to spend a little time here.  Now, perhaps, 25 people will make a return call; and Fleetville Diaries will be making a return call with its second guided walk, Pioneers, on September 28th at 2pm.  Book now by emailing bloom_liz@yahoo.co.uk


Sunday was another gloriously sunny summer day for Larks on the Rec, a community fun day on Fleetville's Woollam-donated recreation ground.  I mention in passing the reference to Charles Woollam, who was a well-known benefactor in this city in the early years of the last century.  At the Woollam  playing fields along Harpenden Road the sign stands out clearly.  But at Fleetville there is no reference at all to the man who gave us the open space in which we can enjoy ourselves.

Back to Sunday.  Music drifted across the field, the aroma of cooked food as well.  Children played their games, families soaked up the sun at informal picnics – and in the centre of it all (well, the centre of one side!) the Fleetville Diaries/St Albans' Own East End marquee gave visitors a chance to view the latest exhibitions, pick up leaflets or try one or more of the activities (intended for the children but enjoyed by all).  Such was the level of interest that I realised at the end of the afternoon I had not left the marquee since midday, and had enjoyed many chats with those who had called in at the tent.  Such was the wonderfully warm weather, and the atmosphere,  I think most Larkers would have remained on the rec until mid evening, but all events have to end sometime.

How many other special events, I wonder, have taken place on the rec since it was first seeded in 1913?  Of course there have been thousands of football games and hundreds of sports days, but what else?

This is a space which we all take for granted.  One man dug into his pockets and purchased it for us to enjoy.  IT IS, ABOVE ALL, A SPACE WHICH CELEBRATES ITS CENTENARY THIS YEAR.  Thank you, Charles.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

No more chips

There was a time in the 1950s when my family kept chickens in the back garden, just like many other households.  They provided eggs, some of which we stored in waterglas under the sink, others we ate fresh.  Occasionally we used a non-laying bird for the table.  There came a time, therefore, when the birds needed replacing.  Once we received replacement stock from Sandridge, but we also walked along to Hardy's Poultry Farm in Hatfield Road, opposite Beaumont School playing field, and returned  with healthy young birds clutched in our arms.

That business, run by George Chippington, is no more.  To understand why, we may need to consider who keeps chickens in their back gardens today.  From one business which closed was born another, though.  The next generation of Chippingtons gave us the chance to transport our goods from one place to another, as the firm of Bill Chippington Haulage grew and prospered.

According to the article in this week's Herts Advertiser, the firm's management has made the decision to close the business, as the trading conditions at present have made it too challenging to continue.  That's a difficult decision to make because they had to make it; it isn't the result of bankruptcy or administration.  The family has decided to move on and develop a different kind of business away from transport. In the mean time, however, it is tough for the firm's employees.

When you think of all the manufacturing and retailing businesses in the east end of St Albans that have come and gone since the late 19th century, all had to wrestle with the prospect of closure when the time came, and the world moved on.  But for those involved was left an emotional void which none of us on the outside could appreciate.

In a very short time we will be recalling the Olympic events of the Summer of Sport.  Does it seem possible that those programmes and tickets, newspaper cuttings and photographs are already nearly 12 months old?  Our memories are, of course, still crystal clear.  The poster announced it at Morrison's; this would be our moment to shine – a strap line which was possibly intended to mean whatever we wanted it to!  But on a July Sunday afternoon, we all claimed our spot in Hatfield Road, not just on the pavement, but all over the road.  I recall last year writing on this blog that, probably, never again would children have the opportunity to play games in the middle of the main road opposite Queen's Court, or anywhere else along its length, for that matter.  What might we remember of July 8th, 2012 in ten or fifty years time?  Well, this blog might help, if it survives in any form!


Finally, we look forward to seeing you at Larks in the Parks – on the rec – next Sunday.  Look out for the Fleetville Diaries and St Albans' Own East End marquee.  We have two exhibitions:  Home from Home, and Sharing Photos.  If you still have not purchased a copy of either of the St Albans' Own East End books, copies will be available, or can be ordered
 for delivery to your home.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Wooden Wonder

Think of iconic WW2 aircraft – just recall the aircraft taking part in the memorial flypasts (Hurricane, Spitfire, Lancaster).  Does anyone mention the Mosquito?  They should do.  Although produced in smaller quantities (but over 7,000) than the Spitfire and Hurricane, the "Mossie", as it was affectionately known, was fast and versatile.  Almost anything you wanted a small aircraft to do, the Mosquito was adapted to carry out.  It was also made of laminated wood, a resource which was readily available, even if some of it was imported from Canada.

Around 18 members and friends of Fleetville Diaries visited the de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre, formerly known as the Mosquito Museum, and were conducted on a most informative tour.  And as our tour guide repeated often, the Mosquito was designed in Britain, in Hertfordshire, in Hatfield.  One of our group added ... "near St Albans!"

During the 1940s, many thousands were employed on the aircraft, including these working in shadow factories around the country, and several hundred employees travelled to Hatfield each day from St Albans,  many of those from the east end.

If you had watched Dan Snow's short series about D Day recently, there was much described about the Horsa gliders, which landed, fully equipped, near Pegasus Bridge.  The Horsa was also conceived, designed and made here at Hatfield.  Dan Snow did not mention that, although there would have been many people who had helped to make the gliders who wished he had.  Just like the Mosquito then.

Five years ago Frank Brittain, the archivist for Hertfordshire Scouts, produced a book called Milestones of 100 years of Hertfordshire Scouting.  An updated version has just been produced, with the number changed to 105.  Hertfordshire led the world in scouting developments, and St Albans was right in the thick of it.  Hundreds of events and people are contained in this impressive book, together with a large number of supporting photographs.  The Welcome page of the website contains a link to Hertfordshire Scouts.  Or email archivist@hertfordshirescouts.org.uk




Monday, 10 June 2013

Did you see the Queen?

Such was the eagerness to produce and sell celebratory goods in red, white and blue, and the readiness of the world to purchase it, that there is a fairly good chance some of it still lingers in our drawers and boxes.  London Illustrated printed a series of Royal Family portraits; Shredded Wheat boxes gave us a complete procession to "cut out and keep"; the centre of attraction in toyshops was a model Coronation Coach.  Flags and ribbons were devoured by the mile for the biggest excuse for a party since VE Day eight years earlier.  This was the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second.

We may have attended a street party – the weather for that was at least kind if held the previous weekend, even if June 2nd itself was a weather washout.  Cakes, sandwiches and jelly, with races, entertainment and a gift for the children; oh, and that other essential, a fancy dress competition.  We, in Woodland Drive, had held the '45 party at the bottom of the older part of the road.  By 1953 we had spread our wings and organised something really special on the ground which would later become Oakwood School.  In the evening a bonfire and fireworks party took place on the ground which is now Irene Stebbings House.

As to the official celebrations and crowning, if you wanted to see that you either had to be there; or – and that meant the majority of us – we found a friend or relative who had a "television receiver".  Children sat near the set on the floor (just as well, given the size of the picture, a rather fuzzy 9 or 12 inches).  In the evening a procession of decorated vehicles lined up in Oakwood Drive and made its way via Hatfield Road to the city centre and then Verulamium.  By then the rain had relented and there was a little sunshine.

Watching the procession at Ballito in Hatfield Road.
And that, my friends, was all of sixty years ago.  There have been plenty of major events since then, which we celebrate in exactly the same way.  It still rains on some of them.  Maybe the only difference is that now, we may be invited to watch the event in a friend or relative's house on their 80-inch cinema display 3D TV with surround sound and bass woofer.

A St Albans' firm which had bred and supplied orchids since the 1870s, and supplied a number to the Royal Household, earning its owner a Royal Warrant, was the Camp Road headquarters nurseries of Friederick Sander, later taken over by this sons.  The Camp Road premises was closed down in 1957, but the collection, breeding skills and expertise continued elsewhere, not least by the Eric Young Orchid Foundation in Jersey, which acquired a sizeable amount of the Sander catalogue.

The original Orchid House seen from Sander's garden on
the other side of Camp Road, now a school.
On Bank Holiday Monday Peter Sander, great grandson of the founder, spoke to a churchful of eager orchid growers and others at St Stephen's Church.  He provided a thoughtful and family-based talk on a style of business which, of necessity, was run by a fanatic.  Obsessive owners rarely provide the foundation for sustainable enterprises over many generations, and it is to the credit of Friederick's children and grandchildren that the name and reputation of  the firm and its products continue, even if the original firm no longer trades.

Unfortunately, the only tangible reference to the nurseries which exists is a name on a block of flats in Cecil Road.  Mr Sander's original and fine Orchid House in Camp Road, was demolished a long time ago.  But at least we have Vanda Crescent, Aspasia Close, Flora Grove, Lycaste Close and Edward Close to remind us of a world-renowned horticultural enterprise which lasted in George Street and Camp Road for nearly 80 years.  I have no doubt that bouquets of choice orchids were sent to Buckingham Palace for the Coronation.
A "new" Orchid House in Cecil Road.


What's the connection?

In searching through a seemingly endless collection of photographs recently, I paused on one particular shot, and rather absent-mindedly made a copy of it, for no apparent reason.  It is not an event which occurred in the East End of St Albans (although there is a connection); it doesn't show blue skies or attractive green countryside.  But, I suppose it may have caused a moment or two's reflection.  Here is someone's livelihood being destroyed before his eyes; and a number of gallant professional firefighters who are paid to assist in circumstances like these.  Not that the firefighters you see had far to bring their equipment.  The fire station at the time, 1954, was at the top of Victoria Street, just above Bricket Road, and Bricket Road is the side street in this picture.  In the end, it made little difference to the fate of the building, which was largely destroyed.

The connection with the East End of St Albans, however, is that Horace Slade, owner of the fated factory, and his family, had built a very successful business, first of all in straw hats, and then cardboard boxes.  Because of this Horace purchased a couple of fields, and through that purchase enable a number of small house-building firms to remain in business, and made it possible for a large number of people to move to this thriving part of St Albans.  The field boundaries in question lined Hatfield Road and Brampton Road, and near the current Blandford and Harlesden roads.  It was known at the time as the Slade Building Estate.

Horace Slade's story will be one of a dozen or so told at the Laid to Rest on Fleetville guided walk on the afternoon of Saturday 29th June at 2pm (see the Welcome page of www.stalbansowneastend.co.uk for booking details).




If you missed the article about St Albans' Own East End: the books, find the Welcome page link to Herts Advertiser Feature for a screen grab.

Beaumont Boys' School production of the G&S operetta
The Pirates of Penzance.
One of this week's images on the Welcome page is a programme front page of The Ghost Train by Arnold Ridley, performed at Beaumont Boys' School in 1956.  Inside is a full list of characters and the pupils and staff playing them, and those who helped behind the scenes.  Design features were portrayed, unless of course the details were hammered out on a typewriter digging into a Gestetner or Roneo duplicating stencil.  How many other play, concert, show or musical evenings are retained in private collections somewhere?  If you have one, even if it is of recent times, would you be willing to share it; and any photos which may have been taken at the time?