Sunday, 23 February 2014

They manufacture silence

Sometimes headlines do something special: they capture your attention.  I know, all headlines are supposed to do that.  But "Factory Wins New Contract" is not half as captivating as "They Manufacture Silence."  Well, it worked for me.

A Herts Advertiser article in 1966 opened with this paragraph:
"Firms have sold refrigerators to Eskimos and sent coals to Newcastle.  But in a noise-conscious age a St Albans' firm, Dawson Insulations Ltd, of Guildford Road, has built its success story on SILENCE."

This firm, then, were so quiet that I hadn't even heard of it.  Begun by Mr Charles Dawson at Hemel Hempstead, the firm moved to St Albans c1960.  The article gives no further information about its location along Guildford Road, but 2 million square feet of insulating material per year will not be possible in a domestic garage.

The article continues: "Rockets, motor cars, trains, road drills, aeroplanes, computers [computers in 1966!] and washing machines all create noise and vibrations.  A range of high-efficiency noise-damping or sound barrier materials, made by Dawsons, help deal with the problems created by noise and vibrations."

The firm had 20 employees, and its production manager was Mr Martin Pascal.

The article continues to detail a few contracts where noise has been a considerable issue, and how the company managed to reduce it.  I hope it used its products to dampen sound from the machines it used at its own factory!

Were you one of those twenty employees, or was another member of your family?  How long did they remain at Guildford Road?  Which building did they work from?   So many questions, but it would be great to know more about the success of this "quiet" manufacturer.  Its history deserves to be recorded.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Me ... and my grandma

Camp School senior class early 1900s.  Courtesy Darren Stanton.
The first photograph was taken c1900.  These were some of the earliest pupils of Camp Elementary Schools, probably twelve year-olds in Class 1 of the Senior School.  Within a short while these children, boys mainly, will be leaving to take on employment, while it was common for girls to remain a little longer.  Perhaps a former pupil is no longer present, having gained a place at the High School or St Albans School.  Note, there are 22 pupils present, and it is assumed that constitutes the whole class of the year group.

In the very early 1900s many of the pupils will have walked to school from hamlets such as Tyttenhanger Green; the number of houses at Camp would have been relatively small.  However, given the Fleetville Schools did not open until 1908, one or two from Fleetville may be in the line-up; and the supplier of this picture assures me that at least one child lived at Castle Road.

Camp School junior class c1940.  Courtesy George Smith.
Now for the second photo.  Same school, then known as Camp JMI School, with children only up to the age of 11.  This group may have been the top group of c1940, or those in what we now know as Year Five.  The class now has 43 children present, and there may well have been one or two more, not at school on the day the photograph was taken.

Look to the right of the 1940 picture, and across the entrance porch ... was taken the 1900 photograph.

Notice too, that in both pictures the boys and the girls are in separate rows (but spot the exception).

Most, if not all, of the boys in the top picture, will have joined the call to arms in a few years time; how many of them survived to return to civilian life later?   Many of the children in the bottom picture had fathers, uncles, even older brothers, who had been called to serve in the later war.  How many of them still had that father/uncle/brother five years later?

The chance of recognising a relative from 1900 is fairly slim, but the possibility of of recognising someone from 1940 is that much greater – and the subjects themselves will now be in their eighties.  Is there anyone who can say, "That's me!" ?  Or perhaps you can spot your mum or dad.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

A Walk to the Station

When the idea materialised, of local newspapers bolstering their incomes by extra advertising, many of them hedged and issued their usual end-of-week issues, while introducing a mid-week edition with a limited amount of "lighter" editorial and bulked up by advertising and "advertorials" – advertising features.  This edition they delivered free to your door, or gave away at the local station.

That began in earnest during the 1980s, but wasn't actually new, although the free bit might have been!  The Herts Advertiser regularly produced advertising features on one of its middle pages in the 1930s.

Recently I was directed towards another short-lived mid-week edition of the Herts Advertiser, called Hertfordshire News.  It was published from the end of WW1 until 1922, and appeared to provide extra page space for events taking place outside of St Albans, in the huge swathe of the county then covered by the paper, from Hitchin and Hoddesdon, to Barnet and Berkhamsted.

Smallford Station from the road bridge.  Courtesy Roger Taylor.
I was encouraged to seek the microfilms of the Hertfordshire News for one reason.  In 1920 a report described the retirement of Smallford's stationmaster. Mr Thomas North.  "Approaching 70 years old Mr North even now blames the worry of the war as though it were [sic] necessary to excuse himself the fact that he is retiring."

It appears that Mr North's workload was considerably increased by the billeting of soldiers nearby.  Although it is not more specific, Mrs Fish, the owner of Oaklands House, is known to have handed her home over to the military while she went to live at the town end of Hatfield Road.  In addition to soldiers under training there were many POWs on the estate.

The article states "When Smallford, in common with many other quiet English country places, became the scene of military activity, as many as 20,000 soldiers were being stationed for training in the neighbourhood."

This information, taken together with the apparent "worry" experienced by Mr North during the war, gives us a rather distorted picture.

Twenty-thousand.  That, indeed, is a huge number of passengers being served by a tiny country station, and we may wonder how the single track branch railway coped with the strain, let alone Mr North.  I think the truth is slightly different.  While there may have been around 20,000 soldiers and POWs at Oaklands between 1914 and 1919, that number would not have been there for the full period.  Given that training is unlikely to have taken more than two months, and may have been considerably shorter, it is doubtful whether more than 600 or 700 would have been residing at Oaklands and its outbuildings at any particular time.

The only puzzle might be, why Smallford was used rather than the nearer Hill End Halt.  But then, Smallford did have an extensive assembly point at the yard.  You may have a different idea; or maybe both stations were used!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Recognisable faces

Last week, on the Welcome page of the website, was displayed a photograph which had first appeared earlier last year.  We would like to know more about it, should anyone recognise the subjects.

This is a still from a home movie shot in the late 1950s.  It was introduced to the public when that movie joined others in a compilation for a video called "Bygone St Albans", designed for nostalgic  home viewing.  Among the Abbey and Verulamium scenes, model boat regattas and a variety of events recorded in the warm summer sunshine some of us remember from that time, was a brief pictorial record of a picnic.  A family picnic: mum, dad and two children; but we don't see dad because he's behind the camera!  The narrator states that it was taken at Marshalswick and narrows it down by helpfully referring to a location beyond Woodstock Road.  Sandpit Lane is mentioned, and the partly wooded scene is on a hill slope.  This might be at Newgates, or the woodland near Skys Wood Road.

The end of the video helpfully provides credits,  presumably people who have lent or given their home movies.  So, in the hope that one or more of the names mentioned might jog someone's memory, even if you do not recognise the three subjects – or the school uniform badge – here they are: Edna & Charlie Garden; John & Nancy Everett; Suzanne & Rob Cranley; Nigel & Joan Wedgebury; Hilary Tootell; Joan Stanley; Walter & Margaret Wright.

Another photo has made a previous appearance, and can still be found on the website's photo library page, is this one.  A Home Guard unit for the east side of St Albans was first of all based at Oaklands House at the start of WW2, but was

soon re-located to a training hut at the junction of Central Drive and Hazelwood Drive.  Being an unfinished housing estate there was plenty of rough open space, and the opportunity to dig trenches.  This is the hut in the photo, on the roof of which someone has wittily painted "Home Sweet Home."

Of the twenty-one men lined up, the name of only one is known – front row, second from right.  I recognise him, because he was my father.  Although there is a slight possibility of one or more of the men still being alive, it is much more likely that sons, daughters, nieces or nephews of the volunteers will be looking at this photo.  Do you recognise any of the platoon?  Or have any other photos of Home Guard activities from WW2 been passed down to you?