Sunday, 17 February 2013

Family picnic

Around 1995 I was given a video about St Albans which was then available in the shops.  It was called Bygone St Albans – a montage of cine footage taken at various times, and included such themes as the 1948 pageant, views from the Clock Tower, the Highland Games, fetes, weekend camps and archaeological digs.  For the first time in many years I have taken the opportunity to view the video once more.  Among the fifty minutes were three gems relevant to St Albans' East End.

First were three or four pan shots of the neo-georgian building which was W O Peake's factory in Hatfield Road, opposite Clarence Park.  It was a wonderfully-proportioned building which stretched from the right of the former Crown post office (now the Chilli Raj restaurant) to Granville Road.  When no longer required as a factory it was still in very good structural condition, yet it was replaced.  Here is a tantalising picture of the Peake building (sometimes floodlit) with its climbing plants around the door and manicured lawn behind the front wall.  Surprisingly, very few pictures have surfaced of Peake's factory.  If you have one you would be happy to share I would love to hear from you.  Meanwhile, enjoy this sample.

Then, if you were a child of the 1950s and 60s you may remember the children's funfair each summer at Verulamium Park.  It was organised by fairground ride owner Charles Hart, probably better known for his fairground and theatre organ collection in Camp Road.  Once again, pictures of Mr Hart's fairground rides are rarely seen.  Here, then, is one sample screen shot from the video.

Finally, the one topic which left the confines of the Abbey, Verulamium Park and city centre, came to rest in our patch, more specifically "Marshalswick and Jersey Farms."  The narrator was not specific but mentioned "Woodstock Road and Sandpit Lane," which was rather vague, especially in connection with the first quote.  A family picnic – mother, father and two children.  Well, I assume that the camera operator is the father of the family.  No buildings are visible, the ground is steeply sloping, the landscape is scrubby and there is evidence of the base of a tree trunk.  Mother and the two children are shown, with the boy in his school blazer.  Does anyone recognise this family?  The film was taken in the late fifties.  Over to you!

The video is still available as a DVD, from

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Trust the park

A public forum meeting took place on Thursday last at the Council Chamber.  Its purpose had intended to be to discuss and to take forward proposals from the council's legal department, updating the Trust Deed which governs part of Clarence Park.  Rumours and counter-rumours ensured that there was also a sizeable public presence, as much concerned about what St Albans City Football Club may or may not be proposing; and whether the council's intended trust changes and the club's ideas were suspiciously linked.

A shaded corner of the council-run part of Clarence Park.
From the historian's perspective I could not help wondering what history would make of this civic spat; how would it be recorded for someone in the course of the next century to make sense of?

Let's start with the Trust Deed.  Since the formation of the park in 1894, the sporting area of the park – what the deed refers to as the recreational park – is controlled by the trust, and historically the trustees are all members of the city council cabinet.  The area nearest to Hatfield Road, which has all the nice trees, the children's play area and the bandstand, is managed directly by – the city council!  So the proposal is to have the trust deed cover the whole of the park, "to make it more straightforward to manage".  So far, so good.  But the original wording of the deed would, if agreed to, be embellished, with clauses such as, "the power to permit clubs, societies and organisations to carry out improvements to the recreation ground and to erect buildings and provide equipment,"  and "the power to acquire land."

This is where many smelled a rat and made their own connection with what they had heard the football club was up to.  News of a stadium, restaurants and a nursery had done the rounds, and for many that was several steps too far for a traditional Edwardian park.

City Football Club owner Lawrence Levy was present and was asked directly to explain his proposals.  It appears that there are four options which the club is considering:  a future entirely in the football zone at the park; one where the match centre is at the park with ancillary training and youth facilities elsewhere; the reverse of option two with the match centre elsewhere; and full facilities elsewhere with no presence at the park whatsoever.

A vista across the formerly gravel-worked Butterwick Farm.
The "elsewhere" site being considered by the club is already well advertised.  The East End of St Albans would be home to the new site, on space behind the north side of Colney Heath Lane.  Some of us will recall this as the home of former Butterwick Farm and Smallford Farm.  It appears to be a sensible location, near the bypass and and a walking route, Alban Way; although, no doubt, residents of the lane and its little closes will have reservations.

By the end of the evening those against football club developments at the park could relax a little, for the main decision turned on the Trust Deed alterations, plus one other rather important aspect.  The meeting was part of a wider public consultation, which included a survey form.  Many considered the questions to be poorly worded, with several of them leading the respondents towards a particular answer.  The meeting told the council to look again at the Trust Deed and to obtain advice from experts on creating a better survey form.