Sunday, 27 April 2014

A significant birthday

Before the twentieth century St Peter's parish was huge in area, as evidenced by the roll map which can be inspected at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies at Hertford.  Since then bits have been removed, such as St Paul's, St Luke's, St Mary's, St Mark's and St Peter's London Colney.  But just imagine all of those parishes sewn together, and then add some more.  The "more" would be St Leonard's at Sandridge.  Before about 1100AD St Leonard's was part of St Peter's as well.

This year, 2014, the 900th anniversary of St Leonard's parish is being celebrated.  The decision to form a new parish out of part of the old one was taken approximately 900 years ago – and that is the reason for the small addition sign next to the celebration organisation's logo.  It would be nice to mark the anniversary in the correct year, but no-one is quite sure when that was.

While there are several events in Sandridge this summer, one, in particular, is of special interest to those of us who live or have lived in Marshalswick or Jersey Farm.  Remember that before those developments were built and found themselves in the new parish of St Mary, they were part of St Leonard's and its church in the middle of the village of Sandridge.

An exhibition, Discover Sandridge, is now open at the Museum of St Albans, and will remain open daily until June 1st*  An opening function was held last Thursday evening in the museum gallery at which some 40 invitees attended.  It is a busy exhibition, with over thirty panels of information and pictures, as well as a number of artefacts, and two screens showing slides and videos throughout the day.

It may be the youngest part of the exhibition, but already visitors have engaged with the Marshalswick and Jersey Farm area of the display; and a number have spotted the little info boards identifying their road and how it came to have that name.  That is the problem with young districts; it is assumed they are too youthful to have a history or a story to tell.  Young or old, a few decades or a millennium, there is much to explore.  Don't think of popping in for ten minutes.  Once you are there the time will fly.  You may end up making a return visit.  It is certainly one of those events you will find yourself recommending to friends.  Oh yes you will!

Amazingly, at the time of writing this blog, the St Albans Museums' website carries no information about Discover Sandridge, and is still advertising Gadgets and Goggles, which closed on 13th April.  More disturbing, the website devoted specifically to the Sandridge900 celebrations, ( carries no front page marketing about the exhibition, and you have to dig into an inside page to find a brief reference. Forget Discover Sandridge; it is a matter of Discover a poster!  So, well done St Albans' Own East End, which has carried front page marketing about the exhibition for two months, and now this article.  And, of course, we first asked residents to look out interesting photos as early as last winter.  Chris Reynolds also came up trumps.  His Hertfordshire-Genealogy website
 ( posted the exhibition opening the following morning.

SAOEE also lists events happening at Highfield Park and Fleetville Diaries.  If you have a website which people want to return to, inform people of what is going on; that is why the number of visits to this website has been increasing steadily month on month.

* Although the original poster, which we have used on the website, says the final day is 29th April, Discover Sandridge will remain open until Sunday 1st June.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Quadrant

As with The Ridgeway and The Park, The Quadrant always has the definite article as part of its name.  Oh, and by the way, The Quadrant is fifty-five years old.  I know, can you believe it?

Opening a trade show in 1960.
Until 1959 there was Fleetville, of course, or Wynchlands Parade, or Beech Road.  Mr Dench had a little front parlour general shop in Sandpit Lane at Newgates.  Several traders, aware of the difficulties Marshalswick residents encountered, ran mobile operations for essential goods.

Twenty years after the first homes went up on the former Marshalswick Farm, the shops finally arrived.  The three linked blocks facing the car park and a wing of five shops on each side.  A few years later five more units were added on each side.  The car park seemed vast at the time and there was always plenty of space.  Yes, really!  And many drivers and cyclists used the service road directly in front of the shops as well.

Pride of place at the front was a double-sized unit which went to Marshalswick Car Sales, with a grocery on each side of it – Pearks and Bishop's.  However, within 3 years the showroom had moved to the petrol station site and Bishop's (now Budgen's) snapped up the showroom to triple the size of its grocery; or shall we call it a supermarket?

One of the first shops to open was Edward Carter, where Marshalswick Furniture is today.  Mr Carter ran a diy store, leasing two units, as well as having a shop in Beech Road, both later being taken over by Timberland.  In order to promote business in a growing residential estate he organised trade shows at St Mary's corner, both in the hall and in marquees.  Somehow he managed to find Harry Oakes who agreed to open the show in 1960.  Harry won't mean much to people now, but in 1960 he played the patriarchal role in a young radio series.  It was called "The Archers".  The same series runs even more successfully today.

Bishop's Stores, now Budgen's
Early shoppers will recall two shops called Martin's; one a chemist and the other a newsagent which incorporated the sub post office.  There was a specialist toy shop (Drummond's); a specialist shoe shop (Blindell's); a specialist cycle shop (Pearse's); specialist electrical shop (Giffen's); a specialist ironmongery (Allen's) and a specialist butcher (Butler's).  Although those no longer exist, the following are still trading, at least under the same name:  Martin's newsagent; Wright's watchmakers; and of course, the two banks, Barclay's and Lloyd's.  On the other hand, today we have little cafes and restaurants, two charity shops and a pet supplies shop, which were not part of the mix in the early years.

The centre block at the front in 1959.  Some shops are not yet
open and you could play football on the car park!
Photo courtesy CHRIS CARR.
The Quadrant is now known as a "destination shopping location" and therefore deserves a reference on direction signs.  Oh, and one more difference: if you take your car, you might find it difficult to find a parking space at busy times.

The same view on a recent Friday morning at 9am.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The back garden

Browsing the suburban landscape on Google Earth or Apple Maps I am struck by the amount of green in back gardens.  Where, at one time, there would be tiny pockets of grass, much of the space would have been a mottled green/brown, depending on season, indicating where householders grew vegetables, fruit and flowering plants.  Today, there are extensions, swathes of reasonably low-maintenance grass and, in family homes, the occasional adventure playground and/or pool.

Homes which lost their newness decades ago also have a forgotten history.  New owners or tenants decide on their own utilisation of the back garden space, though elements of what was previously there may remain.  Most of us would guess at how the space began and its first incarnation as what could be described as a garden – replacing whatever the builders left behind.  Unless of course photographs remain!

An intriguing picture arrived recently, passed on to the present owner by the family who had first occupied the house shortly before World War Two.  And because I already have photographs of the back garden further along the same street, Woodland Drive, taken around three or four years later, we can compare the two.
The builders have left, and the rest is up to you!  Photo courtesy JOHN ALLEN

The top picture shows the daunting task facing any new owner, with field weeds – and probably a goodly amount of rubble.  A start has been made with clearance operations and laying out a border.  The low and open fences between the properties are friendly, encouraging neighbours to talk with each other.  They also made the garden feel so much larger, your own garden blending into those of your neighbours.  Today, these seem to have been replaced by six-foot paling fences for privacy.

The houses in the background are in Oakwood Drive, and the undeveloped space between will later become Hazelwood Drive.  The family photographer's viewpoint was the window of the back bedroom.

Gardens brimming with fresh food for the table.
Now compare this with the bottom picture.  Here the middle ground has already been developed, becoming Beechwood Avenue.  The middle of WW2 and the space is full of vegetables, including a large area of potatoes in the foreground.  Again, the low open fences encourage neighbourly chat; and the back bedroom is, once again a viewpoint for the photographer.  Ten years later and the scene would look very different, with the addition of lawns, swings, chicken enclosure, tree house, and the young trees already planted would be fully grown and offering apples and plums in abundance.  Twenty years later and a pond will also have been dug, but the tree house and swings swept away as redundant

.  Fortunately there is a photographic record of most of these changes.

How many of us have photographic record of our own back gardens; how they were and how they are today?