Saturday, 17 May 2014

Books – and golf

In 2008 four contributors to a 48-page book they gad been working on, saw their publication go to  print. It was titled Marshalswick: the story of a house and its estate.  From the cover shown below right many St Albans people will recall seeing it on sale.  Because of its restricted funding, the volume quickly sold out.

Now, those joint authors, Brian Adams, Clare Ellis, Elizabeth Gardner and Helen Leiper, have reached an agreement with the Sandridge 900 Organising Committee, by which the latter has funded a reprint, copies which now on sale at the Museum of St Albans.

Of especial interest to anyone who was unaware of the existence of a large house sitting in extensive grounds to the south of Marshals Drive, it is also a great relief to all who had intended to purchase a copy and then discovered stocks had become exhausted.  Well, now you can.

It may come as a surprise to another author, living in St Albans, that his book, not only features on this website (and now its blog), but is an artefact at the Discover Sandridge exhibition currently running at the Museum of St Albans.

Allen Nicklin wrote an unusual fiction book in 2012, called Winning the Benevolent Cup and Reaching First Base.  I came across it in a shop called Raindrops on Roses in High Street, St Albans. It is an unusually-written story blending some eyebrow-raising accounts of teenage life in a fictional St Albans with events which we all knew about at the time through the national press.  I say fictional, but most of the places can be identified, roads, bus routes and other places are named correctly; even the main character in what is clearly an autobiographical account has a name too similar to that of the author!  Only the name of the school, which features strongly, has been changed, but it is clearly the formerly-named Marshalswick Boys' School.

The book is of special interest to me, quite apart from its entertainment value, as Allen attended that school just a few years after me, so I could tick off the same people, events and locations which he weaves into his chapters.  If anyone reading this knows Allen Nicklin, perhaps you would ask him to get in touch.   Whether there are any copies left I am not sure, but I think it may now be available as an e-book.

A recent trawl through the 1911 census returns recently revealed a place I had not previously known of.  At the hamlet which was called Horseshoes before WW2 (now Smallford) was living Frederick Simpkins, a general labourer.  With his family were staying two boarders, Charles Prickett and Frank Legg.  Their occupations, respectively, were Green Keeper and Golf Labourer, both at the Hatfield Road Links.  Yes, the Hatfield Road Links.  Further along the road at Ellenbrook lived William Parrott, a horse driver at the Hatfield Golf Club, and Edward Henderson was a professional golfer at these links.

This place does not feature on any map of the period, and if the road has been named correctly it would be located somewhere west of the former Popefield farm homestead.  It is possible, however that what was meant was St Albans Road west, which the main road is named from Popefield to the centre of Hatfield.  Great Nast Hyde is in this section, as were a number of large detached homes on the north side of the road at Ellenbrook.  All of those have now been demolished.

Does anyone have knowledge of golf links along Hatfield Road, and how long the facility lasted?  Or was it Hatfield Golf Links, not Hatfield Road Golf Links?  Suggestions?  Remember, this was in 1911.

Finally, in this blog of miscellaneous content, what a wonderful sight yesterday afternoon at Fleetville Rec.  Shortly after the schools were finished for the week, parents and young children could be heard and seen on that part of the rec near Royal Road and the Beech Tree Cafe.  Enjoying each others' company, children were using the varied items of play equipment or simply the open space, while parents, mainly mums, chatted and enjoyed a drink.  It was a scene of unfettered joy for all.  The rec has never been such a popular honeypot.

Monday, 12 May 2014

School before the corner

During the 1950s the farmland purchased by the council in the 1930s and continued in use as "chicken land" since that time, revealed its new function, becoming the London Road Estate.  A proportion of its homes were offered to London boroughs to ease their waiting lists, even though St Albans had a seriously long list of its own.

On a rectangle drawn on a map of the time was the written label site for school.  Next to it was a broken line labelled proposed new road – which later became Drakes Drive.  The rectangle did not quite reach London Road as there was a house and garden (no longer there) fronting London Road and standing next to Hill End Lane; in the 1950s this was the only route between London Road and Camp Road.  The rectangle was drawn so that Hill End Lane went through the middle, the idea being that the new road would replace it.
Francis Bacon School under construction in 1963.
Photo courtesy CHRIS NEIGHBOUR.

The county council had some success in negotiating with key London schools, in which spacious sites would be offered, enabling them to sell their metropolitan plots and move out to the countryside.  Parmiters and Clement Danes schools were among those which arrived as a result.  The two Central Foundation Schools in Islington and Bow were also aiming to rebuild their institutions in Hatfield (boys) and St Albans (girls).

For the county council this move would prove extremely useful, partly as some funds for school buildings could be diverted elsewhere.  It was also in an embarrassing position regarding the Eleven Plus selection system.  In St Albans there was a woeful shortage of grammar school places.

However, by 1959, the Central Foundation Schools decided to stay where they were, and the county council had no alternative but to proceed with the new school on its own.  The only way to launch a new school in the short term was in existing accommodation.  Dependable Alma Road was the answer, but part of Marshalswick School was billeted in the old board school building in 1960, waiting for the completion of its new buildings at The Ridgeway.  So Marshalswick was removed early and Francis Bacon Grammar School installed and born, only moving to its permanent site in 1963.
Very close to Drakes Drive the school under construction in
1963.  Photo courtesy CHRIS NEIGHBOUR.

The former Hill End Lane continued to separate the buildings from the sports field as a public right of way for many years until officially closed and diverted via Drakes Drive.

No longer a grammar school, Francis Bacon School recently changed its name to Samuel Ryder Academy, became an all-age school (in a throwback to the old elementary school system?) and has just completed extensions and a new 14-classroom primary suite.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The place with four names

Two centuries ago Smallford was a quite different place from where we understand it to be today.  At the southern end of Colney Heath Lane was Smallford Farm, and nearby were a few cottages.  At this point the lane widened to become a large space – it is still possible to see evidence of the yard – and there is still a pair of cottages a short distance into Barley Mow Lane, then called Sion Lane.  The little stream which passed near Butterwick and through Smallford Farm, crossed the lane towards the river Colne.  Today it is gullied under Colney Heath Lane, but then you crossed the ford, which, depending on season, was probably limited in its flow – the small ford.

Dury and Andrews map shows Four Wants (now Smallford)
and the original Smallford hamlet – named here as Small Foot !
Over a period of time the number of people living here reduced, but there was increased activity further north in Hatfield Road, around the crossroads which includes today's Oaklands Lane and Station Road.  At this point in the mid-eighteenth century the Reading and Hatfield Turnpike Trust set up a toll house, and over time an inn was built and a blacksmith's shop opened to service the travelling trade.

But this crossroads hamlet had no proper name.  In 1766, when Messrs Dury and Andrews published their map, the turnpike was newly opened.  The mapmakers labelled the little collection of four or five cottages, the Four Wants.  Many have puzzled over this label; did it mean the four ways?  Or perhaps it described the hovel-like dwellings, with its occupants in severe need of almost everything which might be regarded as a minimum standard of life (want, as in need).

By the time the next map was published in 1826, the little community was named 3 Horseshoes.  We assume the inn had received its name by then, and the hamlet was known by the name of its public house.  Another generation, and 3 Horseshoes had become Horseshoes; in part probably because across the road was a beer house called the Four Horseshoes.
The name has moved.

Horseshoes it remained until after the Second World War, when the name Smallford, clearly redundant at the bottom of Colney Heath Lane, was then given to the increasingly important hamlet at the top of Station Road.

So, four different names in two and a half centuries.  That's some record for a small crossroads hamlet.