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.