Sunday, 26 May 2013

Postcard pictures

I have not mentioned the topic before on this blog, but I would like to make amends now.  The collection of old postcard views held by Andy Lawrence is impressively large.  He has published them on for all to see.  A sizeable proportion of his St Albans' finds are of the usual subjects: the Cathedral, Verulamium, St Peter's Street and other parts of the Cathedral Quarter.  There are also some wonderful scenes from Harpenden and the villages around St Albans.

Many postcard photos of the east side of St Albans, which were taken between WW1 and WW2, have appeared in local history books, including, of course, St Albans' Own East End.  There are, for example, four different views of Beaumont Avenue when it was still a private, gated and tree-lined lane.  Others were taken at various points along Hatfield Road, no doubt with the prospect of many sales!

However, I have often pondered why no postcard photo has surfaced of what is now Marshals Drive.  If views were taken of picturesque Beaumont Avenue, were they also taken of equally-private Marshals Drive?  The drive, before development, would have remained, presumably much like the Avenue, although its route was slightly different from the wide road we now have.  No postcard photos either, of the old house, vacated by the Martens and eventually sold off for demolition in the 1920s.  But there is a good selection of English Heritage photos in the St Albans' Museums' book on Marshalswick.

Even after the first few houses were constructed in the early 1930s and the new road line created, it was not as wide as today's road.  The council later claimed 6 feet of the existing frontages for the purpose of making a wider traffic route, which it intended as part of the ring road.  Have any photographs of the early development of Marshals Drive survived, or photos of the North Lodge, now 'islanded' between Marshalswick Lane and the stub of Marshals Drive at the railway end?  Or South Lodge at the junction of Marshalswick Lane and Jersey Lane?

If the postcard companies did not think to photograph the drive of Marshals Wick House, perhaps there might be pictures in private collections.  For example, a picture was taken of Alice and George Cooper Brooks outside their house, the right property of Newgates Cottages in Sandpit Lane.  This photo, taken in 1912, will appear on the main website in due course, and has been donated by the family of William Muskett, a former tenant of Newgates Farm.  To my knowledge, this great photo has not previously been seen.

You never know what might be in your photo shoebox or album!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Newgates Farm

Newgates (or Newgate) Farm, which once spread itself along the north side of Sandpit Lane between near Rose Walk and Ardens Marsh, was, as estate agents might describe it, compact.  Although owned by the Marten family, it was the only one of its farms in the parish of St Peter, for the boundary between it and St Leonard followed Sandpit Lane until it reached Newgates, where it skirted northwards to follow Jersey Lane.

There are two lovely sketches, drawn by Jane Marten, in St Albans' Own East End, Volume 1, Outsiders.  Other than that very little photographic evidence survived.  Until last week.

In the Hatfield Road cemetery is a headstone to William Muskett (died 1908) and Eliza (died 1916).  Now we have, courtesy of William's family a photograph of his extended family taken at Newgates, which dates, naturally, to before 1908.  It will shortly be added to the group photos page on the website.  What an impressive picture; William and Eliza are in the middle of the second row.

In the same week a photo of an unknown farm house came to light from the same source.  So it was possible that we were looking at Newgates Farm, but of course taken much later.  By comparing the details with the map, they match the photograph very closely.  So, I am happy to state that the photograph IS Newgates Farm.

New this week in the School Groups section are two photos of a fund-raising fete at Oakwood JMI

School in the 1960s, and three pictures taken at Marshalswick School, also from the 1960s.  Among them is Mr R Bilk, the school's Rural Studies teacher, formerly a PE teacher, then Rural Science, at Beaumont School.

Although, alas there was no article about the book this week in the Herts Advertiser, there were two items about the Fleetville district, both with photographs.  The first was about a group of Dutch cyclists passing through St Albans on their way from Holland to Oxford.  They were raising money for Marshall-Smith Syndrome (MSS) and paused outside the Strain family home in Blandford Road. Matthew Strain, aged 18, died of MSS last year.

The second item told me about a form of basketball new to me.  Beaumont School has a successful IZB team (Inclusive Zone Basketball).  Players with and without disabilities play in the same game, the court being divided into zones in which players with matched abilities are allowed.  The Beaumont team met others from across the UK in the finals; and for full details you should read the item in the Herts Advertiser.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Royal visit

We remember the past in our local area by the special events which took place there.  Processions and street parties,  Olympic torch relays,  Hertfordshire Show, the opening of particular buildings.

Last week it was reported in the Herts Advertiser that the Countess of Wessex was welcomed to these parts by members of Highfield Park Trust; and there was a photograph showing the kind of activity Royals do best.  No, not shaking hands and participating in small-talk.  I am referring to the planting of a tree – or rather, spading a small pile of top quality top soil into the neat circular hole in which the tree has already been placed.  Waiting in the background, no doubt, was a 'proper' gardener in a green top, ready to finish the job properly, and, as we are always advised to do on Gardeners' World, "water it in."
Well, it was a small start to the 6,799 further trees which will need to be planted in the area known as Hither Wood.  So that will be next weekend, no doubt.

In case you are wondering, this is not the first time Royal presence has graced the turf of Hill End.  In May 1958  the Duke of Gloucester made his way here to carry out multiple tasks.  Not for him a simple tree planting.  First, he formally opened two new wards at Cell Barnes Hospital, followed by the opening of an annexe to the nurses home, a male nurses home and the Ackland Social Centre.  He then polished off the afternoon, to the delight of many children, formally opening the playground, funded by the Playing Fields Association, by unveiling a plaque.  The excitement of the children was probably more like impatience.  While the field and its equipment had been in use for some weeks, the space had been closed on this day until the Duke had made his visit, after which there was a youthful free-for-all.

Does anyone know what happened to the plaque.

A new page has now been added to the website.  As readers of Volume 2 have realised there is an appendix listing all of the streets, roads, avenues and closes in this east end of ours – all three hundred or more.  Except that I am bound to have missed out one or two – Guildford Road, for example!  Then there are around 25 or so roads for which no satisfactory explanation has yet been established about the origin of the name.

So, if visitors to the blog or website, or readers of the book have any suggestions to make, please email the author at  Details will be added to the website page.

Finally, more pictures are being added to our group photos pages.  Do have a good look through them; there may be someone in the line-ups you recognise.  You never know.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Pageviews reach 2500

It may not sound a very large a number for a blog, but the number 2500 appeared this afternoon, to record the number of times a link to this blog had been clicked, indicating an increasing interest in the east side of St Albans.  Possibly, even probably, the majority arrived here directly from the Welcome page of the St Albans' Own East End website.  Welcome all.

I usually aim to update the blog each weekend, but the arrival of the Volume 2 books last Thursday – just too late for a Fleetville Diaries meeting at which a number of Subscribers would have collected their copies – has meant much delivering around the district during the past few days.  If you still have not received your copy, it should be with you by Friday; and that also applies to books which were sent out by post, in the form of Hermes courier deliveries.

Between the frenetic activity during the last few days I did manage to pause awhile at the Garden of Rest, the triangular cemetery at the former Hill End Hospital, and now managed by Highfield Park Trust.

I had heard that interpretation panels had been fixed next to the arch and was anxious to see them for myself.  Their arrival will do much to inform visitors of the role the triangle played during the lifetime of the hospital, and its near neighbour Cell Barnes Hospital.   One panel demonstrates the density of pauper burials at this ground, with the names and former occupations of up to eight patients in a single grave; number twenty-four in this case.  A second panel explains the management plan for the ground, which will be retained as a meadow.

I am certain that the information provided on the beautifully-illustrated panels will enrich the experience of all visitors to what was a remote corner of Hill End.

The unconsecrated spot in Hill End Lane relates very poignantly with The East End in 100 Objects feature in chapter 1959 of Volume 2.  It is not the kind of link which succeeds in being reported; for its full impact the feature must be read.  Maybe even read while sitting on the bench within the ground,  opposite the arch, through which beds of roses colour the scene in season.