Sunday, 29 December 2013

Hello Marshalswick and Jersey Farm

Long forgotten in the mists of time, the parish of St Peter encompassed the village of Sandridge and surrounding farms, and that included Marshalswick and Jersey Farm; in fact, everything north-east of Sandpit Lane.  St Peter was a vast parish, and clearly too huge to effectively manage.

The spire of St Mary's
Parish Church
Which is why c1114, nine hundred years ago, a new parish was created.  The former modest chapel became the new parish church of St Leonard, Sandridge.  St Leonard's continued to minister to the needs of everyone north-east of Sandpit Lane until residential development on a large scale became evident on Marshalswick Farm, adding to what was already partly complete at old Marshalswick.  Later this would include Jersey Farm.  A daughter parish was created based on St Mary's Church.

In 2014 the significant anniversary of 900 (whether or not it is precise to the year) will be celebrated under the banner of Sandridge 900+.

Among the events planned is an exhibition to be held in May at the Museum of St Albans, following the life of the parish over 900 years.  Part of our brief is to celebrate the role played by the former Marshalls Wick House, for part of which time the home of the Marten family.

The only photo known of the unmade Marshalswick Lane.
More than that, the creation of the residential estates of old Marshalswick (on the old House estate grounds); new Marshalswick (on the former Marshalswick Farm); and Jersey Farm, will feature boldly.

To that end we are searching for a number of new photographs of the new districts from their beginnings to recent times.  Please do search through your shoeboxes and albums, especially for the unfinished estates in the 1950s and 1960s – or even in pre-WW2 days.   It would be great to see once more lanes, field gates and ponds which no longer exist; even pictures of the former farm homesteads.  Maybe your own home as it was being built or in the early days family members trying to tame the garden.  At school, concert performances, parents contributions to building a small swimming pool or garden.  If photos need to be scanned we will willingly do so; you only need to be willing to share them with others!

If you have programmes or other documents related to community events, to school happenings, sports teams, early meetings pressing for the youth club and community centre, meetings about bus services or phone boxes, do please consider sharing them.

We still have not identified this family
or where the Marshalswick area picnic
was.  A still from a 1950s home movie.
Finally, if you are able to relate recollections of moving to and living in this district of St Albans and can jot down a few notes, emailing them to Mike at

, we would like to include as much as can be collected in the exhibition.

From next week there will be a new page on the website St Albans Own East End, devoted to Marshalswick and Jersey Farm, including any new material which is sent in.

So, let's get searching and remembering ...

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Fire, fire!

The work currently in hand to bring to life, once more, the photos which had previously appeared in the Herts Advertiser, has reached the 1920s.  Anyone needing to read, for research, issues from that time can only do so via the microfilm reels at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS) or St Albans Central Library.  While it is possible to read the stories themselves, the photographs which accompany them are extremely dense or appear as black rectangles.

The houses behind are those in Hill End Lane, near its
junction with Colney Heath Lane.  HERTS ADVERTISER
The re-photographing project has enabled the original pictures, as printed, to be restored.  In reaching December 1928, the story of a serious fire at a brickworks was published.  Separately, on the back page, were two photos, now clearly revealed, of the devastation the conflagration caused.

There were two brickworks in close proximity.  One belonged to Owen's, a Wheathampstead company, on a site now occupied by an industrial estate in Ashley Road.  The other, a smaller business, fronted on to Hill End Lane, near the former railway branch line crossing at the double bend in the lane; and was known as the Hill End Brickworks.

Both were created to supplied bricks for local building needs, but the smaller yard was not profitable and was taken over by Owen's in the early 1920s, although its original name was retained.

In the knowledge that small ventures such as these have a limited life, many of its buildings were of timber construction.  Given that fires were also required nearby for the kilns, there must always have been a risk to the temporary buildings on the site.

The photos demonstrate how complete the destruction was.
The site then appeared to remain derelict for some time, and a former resident recalls, as a child, walking from Hixberry Lane, across the railway crossing and taking a path skirting around the old buildings to Hatfield Road.  The path would have followed the route we now know as Longacres; and when redeveloped it became the site of Marconi Instruments Ltd.  Now that further redevelopment has taken place, the houses of Marconi Way occupy this space between Fleetville and Oaklands.

There is one conundrum to the brickworks fire.  The report indicates that hoses were laid from a hydrant in Hatfield Road, across a back garden on that road, and across the railway.  But the railway track is beyond this brickworks site, although the Owen's brickworks are, from Hatfield Road, beyond the tracks.  Did the newspaper reporter muddle his facts.  Surely the fire engine did attend the correct site!  So, where did the description of laying hoses across the railway come from, unless the supply was taken from the Hospital instead of, or as well as, Hatfield Road.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

What shall we do about Hatfield Road?

We can only imagine what Hatfield Road was like in the seventeenth century, but by the mid-eighteenth sufficient angst had built up to warrant improvements by making it a toll road.  Unfortunately, tolls there were but how much improvement was made to the highway cannot be ascertained as detailed accounts from 1868 to 1881 no longer exist.

Then came the early local authority period.  Still a narrow road with passing places.  Some of that narrowness exists today near the Crown.  The road was subsequently widened to become the double-lane size it still is today; although still unmade until the teen years of the twentieth century.

As the number of motor vehicles increased, and in recognition of it being a shopping street with direct access to the city centre, the thirties brought some welcome relief when the bypass road from Roe Green to the Watford road encouraged traffic with no business in St Albans to miss it out altogether.

At Smallford some further widening took place, and the bend at the rec was shaved to provide a better sightline.  Otherwise, the road today is the same as it was in the 1960s.  It is not that there was no ambition on the part of the County Council.  Two proposals from that time may linger in some people's memories.  The first, and most radical, was to bulldoze the "straggle of shops" out of existence, replacing them with clusters of shops and residences further from the road.

The second was to make the street into a local road, and divert through traffic on its own mini bypass as a dual carriageway on the route of the former branch railway between Camp Road and Smallford.  The report did not state whether there would be access junctions at, say Sutton Road, Ashley Road and Hill End; nor did it acknowledge that a four lane highway is rather wider than the railway, even though there was sufficient width for two tracks.

Neither of these schemes, as we know, went anywhere, and since then a further fifty years have passed with its inexorable increase in traffic and parking demand.  But at least Morrison's has provided some additional parking.  What is surprising is that, as new buildings have sprung up on the south side through Fleetville, no allowance was made in the planning applications for future widening.  And at the worst section of all, no additional lane was provided for buses outside Morrison's.  What were the authorities (not) thinking of?
Smallford, towards Hatfield.  The tollhouse on the left (where the paddock
is today), with the Four Horseshoes beyond.  On the right, the cottages are
no more.  But the road IS wider.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Whose error?

Last week I posted details of some confusion over a field at Beaumonts Farm which the farmer, Mr William Moores, had been instructed to plough up near the end of WW1.  I will not repeat the details here, since the blog entry can be referred to directly.

During the course of the week I took the opportunity to view the original file of documents – mainly copies of letters between the County War Agricultural Committee and Mr Moores.  As a result I have to make a couple of corrections.  One of the errors was, regrettably, mine!  I had understood the name Fleetville Field to mean a specific field.  In fact the email I received referred to "a Fleetville Field"; not the same thing at all!  So Home Meadow, between Beaumont Avenue and the present Beechwood Avenue south of Farm Road, was probably still named as such; and we can ignore all references to the Grammar School Field next to Hatfield Road Cemetery.

But there was some incompetence on the part of the Committee.  There was, in the end, only one instruction: to plough up one field.  The Committee knew which one, since someone had presumably made a field inspection, but they just couldn't get it right when corresponding with Mr Moores.

The first letter from the Committee detailed the pair of field numbers (included in which he was also asked to grub up the trees in the intervening hedge).  Mr Moores replied in a carefully worded letter, that he was not responsible for those fields.  The Committee admitted that these were part of Mr Titmuss' land at Winches Farm (between Beaumonts and Oaklands).  I noted there was no sign of apology in the Committee's response.    The Committee then sent another letter instructing that Mr Moores plough up another field which actually was part of Beaumonts Farm.  It was known as Heath Field, fronting onto Beaumont Avenue and Sandpit Lane.  This time Mr Moores had to tell the Committee this field was already being cultivated.  Again no hint of apology, but the Committee then made another attempt to correct itself.  This time it was the field 821 (Home Meadow) mentioned in my last blog, where the farmer was unable to plough because of the number of people using it for recreational purposes.  There is no further correspondence, but a short while later the work of the Committee was transferred to the County Council.  As we often say in texts when we have made a mistake over a rather trivial matter: oops.

Cemetery wall
At the time the Hatfield Road cemetery was created one of the proposed construction elements was a boundary wall, but since no early photo of the cemetery from Hatfield Road exists, except for the ornate entrance, it is not possible to illustrate the rest of the boundary to its extremities as it was for around half a century.

In the 1930s Hatfield Road was widened at this point and the Herts Advertiser stated that the front wall was moved back 12 feet and rebuilt.  So the question has always been, what happened to the outer sections of wall (assuming they had been built in the first place)?  Did the Council sell the rest of the stone, replacing it with less expensive railings?

A file of documents at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS) reveals that a contract was awarded to Mr Charles Chamberlain of Bedford Road, St Albans for the construction of a boundary wall at the cemetery, 600 feet long and 6 feet high,   with piers, 1 foot 6 inches square, placed every ten feet.  Materials were to be “good, hard, well-burned grey stocks of the neighbourhood.”  I take that to mean that it is a brick wall.  The contract price was £142 and was signed off in December 1883.

This is the first evidence that a wall the full length of the Hatfield Road frontage was constructed.  The reason why the wall was not reconstructed when the road widening took place in the 1930s, was undoubtedly the cost of reconstructing a wall in brick.  In any case, by that time there was a significant shrub and tree screen.  Today, the railings are not the dominant feature; instead, we enjoy walking beside a rather attractive mature hedge.