Monday, 16 June 2014

The Way We Were

Many of us were attracted recently by the marketing of a DVD by the St Albans Review newspaper.  Called St Albans: The Way We Were, it was a collection of stills and movie clips from the history of photography, almost all taken in St Albans.

We  called out the names of places we recognised, and reminded ourselves that particular events were also shown in previous presentations – on videotape then – called Bygone St Albans and St Albans: a City to Inspire.  This new DVD enables a new generation of residents to see the familiar city back through time.

In the package was a second DVD, one in a series taken from national newsreels, of events through a particular decade.  This one was the Fifties – or "50's" as the titling insists on labelling it.  For those still puzzled, 50s does not require an apostrophe!

Naturally, The Fifties made use of a wide range of newsreel footage and told its more specific story in greater detail.  The screen lingered on buildings, on people and on incidental happenings.  After all, the film was being shot and edited by professionals on professional film, mostly in colour.

On the St Albans DVD, the concentration was on film taken much earlier, even including a few shots by Arthur Melbourne Cooper himself.  These were from rescued films shot by amateurs, mainly on basic amateur cameras and smaller gauge film stock.  Maybe the comparison is unwarranted, but it does highlight one aspect of our archiving of still and moving pictures.

It is only possible to archive what is available.  While professional newsreel camera operators are filming to order, according to a company's requirements; the rest of us film and photograph what pleases us.  And in St Albans, what pleases us most of the time is Verulamium Park, the Cathedral, Clock Tower, St Peter's Street and the market.  That material forms the basis of archives.  If no-one films the building of a public toilet, or the arrival of the bin men on Friday morning, these subjects will eventually be absent from the archives.

There were delightful scenes from George Street, High Street and anywhere else in the Cathedral Quarter; but this is only part of the city.  There was one brief shot of women working on shell casings at the former Ballito factory.  Nothing else to represent the busy and densely populated eastern districts of Camp and Fleetville, for example, key industrial centres.  There was nothing to represent the schools, nothing for the farms around the city.  It was interesting to note, however, that the little family picnic "somewhere at Marshalswick" survived another outing, having been previously shown on the videos (see above).

The producers of the DVD worked with what was available, and it is a reminder to us all that for future generations to have a clear idea about St Albans today, it is today's photographers and film makers who should be recording a wide range of events and scenarios in preparation.

We can still make some recompense for the past, however.  Many of us still have movie film and  photographs which we have held on to.  For those pictures not strictly private, is it time to give them
an airing, sharing the scenes with others?   This website and the local history group Fleetville Diaries have frequently called for us to look through our photo boxes.  And when we have done that, just email to tell us what you have found!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Starting nursery

Children attending a nursery group had always been a reality if parents could afford the fees.  But this was outside the remit of the county council which was responsible only for children of legal school age; 5 to 13, 5 to 14, 5 to 15, and so on, as the Government progressively raised the leaving age.

One major event changed all of that for a number of years: the Second World War.  The Government could not accept that women could simply stay at home and bring up their children.  There was huge pressure to encourage them to "do something for the war effort".  In Fleetville that included working at the Ballito factory, a hosiery mill where Morrison's supermarket is now.  Production of stockings gave way to manufacturing shell cases.

The car stands where once one of the ramps led below ground.  On top
the former wartime nursery building is now Fleetville
Community Centre.
However, that posed a problem: what to do with the employees' children.  The Government ordered hundreds of concrete section buildings from a firm in the county, and councils were able to claim a number of them for wartime nurseries.

Between 1938 and 1940 tunnels had been dug below ground at the recreation ground, both for the public and for the children at the school, all capped with a concrete "lid".  On top of this, in 1942, was placed one of these concrete buildings, which was fitted out as a nursery.  At each end the city council constructed brick surface shelters in case of an air raid.

All three buildings, incredibly, remain in use, in spite of the main building initially having a useful life expectancy of no more than a decade.  Since 1983 they have been the home of Fleetville Community Centre.  Before that time, the nursery continued in the period of postwar peace, and increasingly as an overflow for Fleetville JMI School.

One of the former surface air raid shelters is now
converted into useful storage space.
Unfortunately, we have no photographs of the building in use during those early years.  The author can remember walking along Royal Road from school and seeing the ramps disappear under the nursery building, and the locked metal doors preventing entry.  This scene we took for granted and did not question what was behind the steel.  My friends from other classes sometimes came from rooms within the building to join us in the playground.

But in the thirty years the nursery building was open for use did no-one take a photo or two?

If you were a young mum delivering a pre-school age child to the nursery do you have recollections you could tell?

As a pupil at Fleetville JMI school, did you have your class in one of the rooms at the nursery, and can recall what it was like to be part of the school, yet separate from it?

Do email any information, even if you think it is not terribly useful, to the author at

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Central School pupils identified

If you were thinking of spending an hour at the Museum of St Albans browsing the Discover Sandridge exhibition ... well, I'm afraid you have missed the opportunity.  The doors closed this afternoon for the final time.  Tomorrow (Monday) the displays will be moved out to make way for a First World War-related exhibition.  There is no doubt that Discover Sandridge has been popular; every time I have called in several visitors have thronged the little alcoves, and left  messages indicating how much they enjoyed the experience.  There is no indication yet, of where the exhibition will reappear – it was intended to visit various locations as a pop-up for the remainder of the year.  If and when this information is received you will find it on the front page of the SAOEE website.  However, one decision made is for the original files (from which the info-panels were formed) detailing the Marshalswick, Jersey Farm and Newgates areas, will appear permanently on the SAOEE website later in the year.

Some considerable time ago I received a photograph – in five sections – of the pupils and staff of the Central Girls' School in 1931, the year in which they moved from their inadequate premises in Victoria Street, to Hatfield Road.  These are the buildings now occupied by Fleetville Junior School.  Unfortunately, they had to appear on the website without any names.  However, another former pupil from that year also still has her copy of the same photograph, and has submitted a selection of names of the children she remembers.  These are now added to site, on the second School Groups page, together with the names of the teachers and their specialist subjects.  Now that a start has been made, perhaps others may be prompted by a pupil now recognised, and come up with one or more class mates or personal friends.

Part of the former track near Camp Road, now a footpath
behind the houses.
The guided walk along Camp Road last Thursday evening proved popular, with a full turnout for a street-based event.  Beginning at the junction of Campfield Road and Camp Road, we climbed Camp Hill, discovered the former rubber factory, and the location of the former beer house on The Hill; then there were the first two Camp shops, run by Mr and Mrs Eastall and Mr Gear; the dairy farm run by the Oakley family, and a taxi and coach enterprise owned by Mr Crain.  When we reached the school we realised it had opened, in 1898, without water, gas, electricity or mains drainage.  By the time we reached the eastern end of the road we had counted four triangles in different contexts (you will have to join the walk next year to find out more about these).

The shop now called Dearman Gomm's in Camp Road was once
owned by the Tuckett family.
The next walk is on Saturday afternoon 28th June, the first of three ambles with stories in the grounds of Hatfield Road Cemetery, under the general heading of Laid to Rest in Fleetville.  The first event is subtitled The Baker's Dozen.

The following day Fleetville celebrates its Larks in the Parks at the Rec; which is a convivial day supported by entertainment, food and activities.  Fleetville Diaries will have its marquee, within which this year's Camp exhibition will pop up for the day.  June and July both prove to be busy months for outdoor events.

Was it really two years ago that the Olympic Torch came along Hatfield Road?  How time flies!