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

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 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?