Sunday, 26 January 2014

An estate called Jersey Farm

Although there had been previous hints of development,  the Land Commission's decision in 1969 rather sealed the matter, suggesting the former Jersey Farm could become a "mini-town."  Not that many people at the time were in favour; the City Council for a start.  A number of Marshalswick residents weren't overflowing with enthusiasm either.

Between the proposals for a St Albans North-East bypass, the opportunity to tip waste nearby, controversy over whether or not to include a primary school, and even whether or not there should be a link road between the proposed development and Marshalswick, all exercised local people during the first half of the 1970s.

Probably the most controversial of all, was the shopping provision intended.  If you recall these times you will know that the anchor store was to be provided by Key Markets.  If memory serves correctly this was to be one of around five retail units of which Key was to be the supermarket.  Supermarkets in the 1960s and 70s were actually quite modest affairs compared with today, but many Quadrant traders were concerned enough to take a cautious interest in the plans.

No, it wasn't Key's plan which galvanised the district, but a much more prominent name altogether.  Sainsbury declared its interest in providing a retail site.  No doubt if its plans were modest – as modest as its current Locals – the battle-lines would never have been drawn in the first place.  At the time, of course none of the major supermarket retailers had developed the concept of 'locals', whether in the forms of Local, Express, Metro, M Local or Convenience.  Just BIG and BIGGER!.  At any rate bigger than the footprint already allowed for in the layout plans for the estate.  Sainsbury was interested in the site, not for Jersey Farm's future residents, although they would, of course, be welcome, but strategically a much wider catchment.

And around a dozen Quadrant shop owners went into over-drive – to drive away the Sainsbury "monster".  Of course, Sainsbury has become hugely successful at Griffiths Way; Waitrose at King Harry, and Morrison at Fleetville.  So it is interesting to note that Jersey Farm has its Tesco Express, and Sainsbury is now well-established with a Local right next to the Quadrant.  Everybody happy?

If you have memories of those early Jersey Farm days do email St Albans' Own East End at  We will post a selection on the main website.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Spring and summer exhibitions

We get the occasional exhibition devoted to the east end of St Albans; and Fleetville Diaries has annually presented an exhibition as part of its programme.

2014 is different, in that at least three exhibitions may be expected, and all are of fascinating general interest to residents.  While none is yet far advanced, the author is involved in curating all three and so is able to provide readers of this blog with an introduction to what might be expected.

The first to air will be CAMP ROAD by Fleetville Diaries.  This 16-panel display reveals the history of development along what once called Camp Lane, from Camp Hill to Ashley Road.  Beginning with the little community at the top of Camp Hill, it also reveals the difficulties horses encountered, the alternative route, and how it was possible to avoid paying the toll on the Turnpike (Hatfield Road).  The estates on either side of the road grew slowly and the shops came and went.  Of course, allotments flourished in their hundreds, some of them between the houses; and way out east, the lane was eventually intersected by the ring road.  Nearly fifty photos are included, including one of a horse in a trench, and the arrival of the Rubber Works (currently Dexter Close).  It is displayed at Fleetville Festival on Sunday 23rd March at St Paul's, and Larks in the Parks at Fleetville Rec on Sunday 29th June.  There will be other dates, still to be announced.

Kingshill Avenue, Marshalswick © Mike Neighbour
The people of St Leonard's Parish Church are presenting an exhibition celebrating the 900th anniversary of the formation of the parish, formerly part of St Peter's.  The exhibition, THE STORY OF A PARISH, will open at the Museum of St Albans on Friday 25th April for a period of one month.  In addition to telling the story of the parish church, there are sections on the village of Sandridge, its people and occupations over a long period of time;  an explanation of what came to be known as Sandridge New Town, based on the daughter parish of St Saviour; and the thriving and energetic residential estates of Marshalswick and Jersey Farm, together with their daughter church of St Mary.

Difficult-to-reach Smallford Station © Mike Neighbour
Finally, a project, previously mentioned in these blogs: SMALLFORD, THE STORY OF A COMMUNITY AND ITS STATION.  Since preparations are still at a formative stage the title is provisional.  The project group has been meeting regularly at the University, and between times, has carried out wide-ranging research.  The exhibition is part of a longer project related to the renovation of the still-extant Smallford Station.  So, the exhibition will relate the story of the hamlet itself, and its satellites; the construction of the railway between Hatfield and St Albans; the impact of the railway; economic activity which was attracted to the line side; Smallford Station itself; and the goods which were moved along the tracks.  The Smallford Project is an excellent example of collaboration between enthusiastic people with a variety of skills and interests.  The exhibition is slated for sometime this summer, but no further details are yet available.

Here are, therefore, at least three events for you to pencil into your diaries for 2014.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Fill it up

The newest location where you can replenish your tank of petrol is probably Morrison's, and that has been around for some years now.  The oldest still in operation is the Shell filling station at Smallford, begun as an independent by Ralph Pinnock in the early 1930s.  As we will discover below, the number of locations at which we can "fill up" has fallen significantly in the last decade, and if evidence from our east end is anything to go by, the numbers peaked in the post-war years up to c1970.

It seems there are three criteria for survival.  Location, not only along a major road but in a position to be noticed, aided of course by bright and colourful canopies and signs; second, large sites which can accommodate several pumps and the ability to get waiting motorists off the road; those large sites are also expected to serve more than petrol, of course.  Shops for groceries and other general purpose goods are a must.  Third, the retailer's profit on a gallon (or litre) of fuel is counted in a small number of pennies, so a large through-put and ancillary services are important, to keep a business bouyant.

It may be a shame sometimes not to have an attendant on hand to serve us, and perhaps clean the windscreen.  Those were the days.

Part of Grimaldi's Garage photographed in 1964.
Courtesy MoSTA
From the earliest days of motoring Hatfield Road, Fleetville, sported four filling stations on the south side of the road.  First was Mr Tuck (near the Rats' Castle), who would fill you up on the road, by swinging the delivery hose over the pavement.  Then, where Kwik-Fit is now, was A Hobbs who had a couple of pumps by the edge of the pavement.  Further still was Mr Grimaldi, who had the largest and most modern site in the fifties.  Two glazed sculptured pumps stood at the drive-ins, lit internally by night with white, green and blue fluorescent tubes.  Magnet and Topps Tiles are here now.  Finally,  Robb Butler dispensed petrol from a small square site, now houses, at the junction with Cavendish Road.

Pinnock's Garage at Smallford in c1930, operating from a
wooden shed.  Courtesy ANDY LAWRENCE
From  the mid-sixties two filling stations opened opposite each other.  One partly replacing Tuck's and run by the Co-op (now replaced by two blocks of flats), and the other which pre-war had been Currell's Garage, and opened on an enlarged site, the only station on the north side of the road.  Until recently, Milcars had operated from here.

Much has changed today, but the Smallford site is still
a petrol filling station.
Away from Hatfield Road, when The Quadrant first opened the key double unit in the centre was acquired by Mr Cockram, and became Marshalswick Motor Company.  When the corner site in Marshalswick Lane became available, he built a much larger showroom, enabling Bishops Stores to expand in the parade.  By 1966, he sold the business, presumably for a healthy profit.  The purchaser was Gerald Ronson's Heron company, which opened large numbers of filling stations under the family Heron name.  The original Cockram building no longer exists, but it is a highly successful Sainsbury's Local petrol and shop business, trading very much in the Heron mould, relying on high through-put to keep the price of fuel at the low end of the market.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

A hundred years ago

Following several years of debate,  even bickering, by members of the City Council of the time, late in 1913 the city's boundary was moved outwards, particularly to the east.  From 1879 the limit was at what later became known as The Crown.  The added areas would now take it as far as Newgates, Winches and Hill End.  It was at one of these council meetings that Cllr Ernest Townson used the phrase "down in St Albans' own east end" to describe the rather chaotic assemblage of miscellaneous buildings in unfinished muddy and unlit roads in the Fleetville and Camp districts.

So, when the good folks of St Albans' own east end woke up on January 1st 1914, were their lives any different as a result of the change of concil?  Probably not.  Although undoubtedly building in their minds a vision of the future, they will have envied the residents within the old limits for the piped drainage system and sewage farm which had improved  their health prospects and made life more convenient for over 10,000 city people.  But if the eastenders hoped they would get 'some of the same' they would have a great deal of time to wait.

Hatfield Road was certainly improved, kerbed and drained, and with a pavement for most of the way, at least on the north side.  The number of shops being converted from the houses and cottages which lined that side, was slowly increasing.  T E Smith's printing works had just experienced its most successful trading year yet, and small workshops gave a few more people some useful employment.  Commuter housing spread on the western roads. The electricity generating station recently completed was able to sell energy for lighting a few homes, and the odd street lamp.  And the recently completed St Paul's parish church energetically pursued it mission in Fleetville.

Card from New York Christmas 1913.
However, two issues held the east end back from the improvements desperately needed.  Transfer from St Peter Rural Council to St Albans City Council meant an significant increase in the rates payable by home owners.  Since most Camp and Fleetville homes were rented, the landlords passed on some of the increase they bore onto the rents of their tenants – if they could without losing those tenants – reclaiming the rest by not making improvements to those same tenants' homes, by not negotiating with the electricity company for cables to be laid to supply houses, and not having the roads made up and lit.  All made more complicated by the complexity of having many absentee owners in a given street.

The greatest impact of all, would not become obvious until the autumn of 1914, when young men were exhorted to volunteer to join the yeomanry and infantry in what became known as the Great War.  Any hopes locals may have had for an improved local area and better opportunities were placed on hold for at least a decade.  The next few years would be grim for most families.  The year which may have dawned with great hope would certainly end with increasing gloom.

One hundred years later, here's wishing you all a happy new year for 2014.