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 –   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  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

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.