Tuesday, 29 July 2014

New licks of paint

First of all, the title itself is a conundrum, though it is not meant to be.  Licking is an action you do with your tongue.  It begs the question, what would you be trying to achieve by licking paint.  Of course, there may be a difference between the verb and a noun, but I'm afraid I am not sure of the connection between using your tongue (for refreshment, sealing envelopes) and applying paint to undertake a repair job.  However, that's not important.

A short while ago some fuss was made – and a photograph appeared in the local press – about a repaint which has been given to the frontage of Fleetville Post Office.  I cannot now remember what colour it was before the workmen arrived, but now the woodwork is freshly painted "post office" red. And that decision appears to have pleased many people, presumably based on the historic assumption that post offices should be painted red.  To be honest, although Royal Mail vans and posting boxes are red, and so are the little oval signs announcing the presence of a post office, I am convinced that post office buildings – window frames, doorways, fascias, floorings and fittings – are not universally red, though sub post offices, of which Fleetville is one, may have had some signage which is a mixture of red and green.

On the other hand there is quite a lot of red in the newly-revamped main post offices which are gradually appearing.

If you are unfamiliar with Fleetville and are looking up and down Hatfield Road for a post office, you might well spot the stand-out colour on the corner of Woodstock Road and make a guess that it is a post office.  From a distance it points us in a likely direction.

Another lick of paint, slightly further afield, has been applied to the down-at-heel former Odeon Cinema in London Road; a very calming cream.  Suddenly that cinema is feeling very exciting, and I am looking forward to the new sign, Odyssey, which I hope will be fixed to the front shortly, in advance of a celebratory opening before the end of the year.

This building is not quite the nearest cinema Fleetville residents had access to in the heyday of movie-going.  The Gaumont (formerly Grand Palace) in Stanhope Road, was closer.  Three early attempts at giving us some screen entertainment came to nothing.  A temporary building, on the site where Fleetville Post Office was later built, did not last long enough to see its first screening.  A small cinema was also proposed, in the 1930s, for the Quadrant (where the Baptist Free Church is today).  Finally, a little further away, and a short ride on the 330 or 341 bus, would have been a large 2,000-seater next to de Davilland's if it had been built, but it became a shopping parade at Harpsfield Hall instead.

Whether there will be a distinctive colour scheme for the Odyssey, has not yet been revealed, but I have no doubt that plenty of East End folk will relish the thought of visiting the cream and ..... building for an evening of screen entertainment once more.  And for the first time we will all discover the inside has not just been given a lick of paint, but a complete new appearance.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Dream Wall

With apologies to all lovers of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, the title actually refers to a less human wall, which, at least until now, may or may not have existed as a complete and outstretched "character" in the story of Hatfield Road Cemetery.

It is certainly known that each of its four boundaries were treated in a different way when the cemetery was laid out in the early 1880s.  The finest boundary was, naturally, at the front, facing Hatfield Road.  This is the stone and iron gate frontage still there today.  But it does not extend the full length of the frontage.  Which begs the question, was it built like that or had part of it been removed?  Or was this a dream plan, too costly to realise?

We know that Hatfield Road was widened to its present width in 1927, and that 12 feet of cemetery land was acquired to accommodate the works.  We are also informed that consequently the wall and gateway was to be demolished and rebuilt.  So what we see today is the rebuilt version.  But what about the two end sections of the frontage?  What happened to them?  When the 1881 specification told us that the front elevation would be a stone wall, we naturally assumed that to mean all of it, from the eastern boundary to the west.  The one photograph (above) in the public realm and which was taken cWW1, does not show any part of the wall which is not visible today, so that does not help to solve the conundrum.

Until recently we considered two options: either that, in spite of the original specification, only the central part of the wall and gateway was approved, the council being able to save on the cost of the cemetery project by purchasing iron railings where better was not required (as along the eastern boundary).  Or when the demolition and rebuilding came in 1927, only the central section was rebuilt; the surplus stone being sold to help pay for the rebuild and the provision of iron railing fencing, which, of course, is in position today.

I am grateful to the eagle eyes of Andy who has discovered a previously unseen (at least by me) picture of Hatfield Road (right), taken from outside the former Liberal Club, again cWW1.  It is striking how narrow the road was – the same as the width of the hill down to the Crown.  But look to the right and we see a thick hedge.  Now, if there had been a wall here there would not have been room for a hedge, and the council would certainly not have wanted its expensive wall to be hidden, would it?

I think we can conclusively state that the wall was never built where it does not stand today, whatever the building specification stated.  The written record is not always the complete truth!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Court playing tennis

I have made good use of the past two weeks, sitting in front of the television with the remote control, attempting to keep up with various tennis matches on BBC1 ("this match continues on BBC2"), BBC2, the ubiquitous red button and online.  So, by the time the annual yellow-ball-fest came to a close, I still had just a few small strawberries left to savour.

While devouring these my mind began to wander to all those locations I once knew in the our East End where it was possible to play tennis.  On Sundays there was once a council regulation about enjoying oneself in one of its open spaces.  If you were caught you might have had to present yourself at a court of the legal variety – a couple of young men playing an informal game of footy in Camp Road were apprehended by a well-turned-out police officer and were delivered a fine for breaking a bylaw.

Courtesy St Albans Tennis Club
To play tennis "properly" you took your wooden racket in a frame, plus a couple of off-white or grey balls to the man at the booth in Clarence Park.  Until Mr Samuel Ryder paid for the grass courts – where the all-weather pitches are today – you could play on the football field which was marked out for the purpose in the summer months.

Three other opportunities opened up for play.  In the 1930s the County Council decided to install courts at its secondary schools.  But generally this meant when schools were in session, or by arrangement with a member of staff and the caretaker on Saturday.  School courts were, and still are, largely unused throughout the summer holiday period.

Then there were the private clubs, such as the Salisbury Tennis Club (still extant), and Trinity Church Club in Camp Road, now Ulverston Close.   Or those belonging to factories.  Hence the former Ballito sports ground at Smallford, or the Peake's courts in Cell Barnes Lane.  There was also a court or two to one side of the Campfield Press.

A pre-war garden court, when there was space.
Finally, several of the more substantial houses in the district had their own private courts: Sandpit Lane, Marshal's Drive, Jennings Road and Beaumont Avenue were among the roads where various surfaces were laid in the rear garden; maybe even sharing the space with a neighbour.  Today there are probably no garden courts left; householders lead busy lives and we have left the period of the leisured well-to-do behind.

Instead, garden courts have been replaced by modern clubs and sports centres, such as at Jersey Lane and Cell Barnes Lane, which cater for tennis players, among others.  The gardens have become grassed spaces for the children to kick balls around, and when they have left home, the occasional garden party and a zone for today's golfing dads to practise potting a few holes.  Come to think of it, we did that at home when we were children; only then it was a game called clock golf, and played on the same worn lawn on which we also played French cricket, which was safer than English cricket, which kept our's, and the neighbour's windows in tact and saved our parents' embarrassment when it came to an apology and compensation.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

One hundred blogs

Summer months are busy months, and as regular visitors to this blog site have realised, there was no post last weekend.  Which was probably a pity because we then reached our centenary.  One hundred posts.   The St Albans' Own East End main site contains a feature called One Hundred Objects (which represent the East End of St Albans).  It is therefore about time that an index to the blog stories is included.  That is something for the autumn; and having briefly celebrated the blog birthday, it is time to move on.

At the end of June each year Fleetville celebrates with a community event under the Larks in the Parks brand, or Larks on the Rec.  The 2014 event, last Sunday, was doing some celebrating of its own.  Larks was ten years old.  By general acceptance there were more activities, more visitors and more entertainment.  While a number of visitors arrived for a spell and then left, lots of people spent the whole day Larking, even picnicking under the trees.

The rec itself was also celebrating a birthday.  It was in 1913 that Charles Woollam purchased the field from the trustees of T E Smith's estate, and gave it to the city "for the recreation of the people of Fleetville".  The city council ensured the space was adequate enough to use by the following year, and installed a boundary fence.  The rec was therefore available for recreational use, which makes 2014 the centenary of the rec.

Another open space is even older, and its benefactor, Sir John Blundell Maple, ensured that the section of Clarence Park devoted to organised sporting activity, was retained as such for the people of St Albans, through a trust deed.  Because the southern section of the park was "ornamental" and not used for sporting activity, the trust deed was not considered necessary  there.

This disparity has exercised the minds of the council in recent years, to ensure that governance of the whole park is more simply structured, making it easier to apply for funds to improve and upgrade facilities (toilets fit for purpose would be a start!).

The football club also announced that it was considering upgrading its facilities, either in the park or on another site.  News that its lease would shortly be reviewed, as well as the above-mentioned governance issue, were in people's minds at the same time, alerted nearby residents to possible changes over the way the park may be used in future, or the way the traditional Edwardian space may look.

Thus were born two new organisations.  The first was a residents' association for the home occupiers of the roads surrounding the park.  And the second was the Protect Clarence Park group, open to anyone who has an interest or concern for protecting the park as an open resource for all.  The residents' group is now a member of the City Neighbourhoods Committee.

Issues of concern currently include lighting, the state of the pavilion and lodge,  temporary closure of a footpath, the renewal of the football club lease, and the agreement between the council and Verdi's, which may or may not be part of the park, depending on your historical definition of the boundary.

Between the various groups and the council it should be possible to keep a guardian watch over the well-being of the park and its many users.  And all of us will be grateful for the work they have set out to achieve.