Saturday, 27 September 2014

Land tax

One clue to a busy month is that the number of blog posts has reduced.  Here we are on the doorstep of October and this is only the second post for the month of September.   This afternoon, in wonderfully warm weather a number of us will be meeting in Hatfield Road Cemetery for another in the series of Laid to Rest guided walks organised by Fleetville Diaries.

Meanwhile there has been some research carried out at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS) at Hertford, on the subject of Valuation Office Surveys – Land Tax Maps to you and me – which were created from 1910.  The subject may not appear to be riveting, but a huge amount of helpful data can be extracted from this key resource.

Beresford Road homes built on land once owned by
Messrs Placeham, Moody and Ryder.
The government of the day initiated a levy or tax on the increased value of plots of land between its value as a field plot and its value once developed.  The increment did not include the value of anything that land was used for – for example a building – only the value of the land itself.

For local historians, of course, this information is irrelevant.  What appeals to us is the range of maps produced, and the field books which act as reference books for the numbers written on the maps, one number for each plot of land.

The Camp estate was formed from the southern section of Beaumonts Farm, which was sold by the trustees of the late Thomas Kinder in 1899.  This was acquired by the partnership of Arthur Ekins and Francis Giffen, who laid out the roads, consisting of Cambridge, Camp View, Ely, College, Royston, Wellington and Beresford,  the southern boundary being Camp Lane (now Camp Road).  Individual plots or blocks of plots were then sold on to investors, developers or directly to small house builders.

One decade after the sale it is clear that the whole of the estate had been sold on and the Ekins/Giffen partnership in this area was able to be wound up.  The maps therefore show no references to these two men, but among the large blocks of yet-to-be-developed street-side land were the names of familiar citizens of the time.  Among them were another partnership.  Three men invested some of their resources in purchasing sizeable blocks both here and on Alfred Nicholson's land north of Cambridge Road.  They were F C Placeham of Marlborough Road, J G Moody of London Road and S Ryder of Marlborough House.  Yes, that's right, St Albans' own Samuel Ryder.
The triangle of land at the junction of Camp Road and
Camp View Road belonged to T W Gear, who also
owned a shop (the first white-fronted building on the right).

The field books tell us the owners and their addresses, the land values, and for plots already developed, the occupiers of the properties.  Where occupiers are not shown, even though the buildings are shown on the map, we can assume the structures to be only recently finished and therefore not yet occupied.

Such information helps the local historian, as well as everyone who lives here, to understand more about how the ownership of the land on which their home sits, changed through time.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

One Direction

This photograph appears occasionally in archives and publications.  It shows columns of soldiers walking (not marching) along Hatfield Road, and accompanied by a number of horses and gun carriages or carts.  A few young cyclists are looking on with interest in the approximate year of 1914 or 1915.  It is slightly surprising that there are no other bystanders, especially as the day is probably not a Sunday – several shops have their sun blinds open, indicating they would be open for business.

Probably the key question is, where were they marching to?  We know that soldiers were billeted at the Fleetville Institute, the club building for employees of Smith's Printing Agency, but I rather think there are too many men here for that accommodation – especially as we can't be sure the photographer has captured the front of the column.

It is more likely they are en-route to Oaklands.  The estate of Oaklands Mansion and its farm was the base for thousands of troops in training, just one of many training grounds in and around St Albans.  Many parades formed up in St Peter's Street before proceeding outwards along the main roads to their camps, which, on the east side included Cunningham Hill, Clarence Park, near Sandpit Lane and Oaklands.  Billets were also available at the former prison in Grimston Road.

The Union flag is flying above a house in the distance.  Behind the soldiers in the foreground is the white of the freshly-laid pavement by the County Council, while on the opposite side is the unmade footpath left higher than a roadway compressed by centuries of pounding.

Harlesden Road is just about where the horses form the line and to the right of it are two shops with a house sandwiched between.  Although we know today there is a parade of shops after the space shown in the photo, at the time of the picture the first part of the open space was still owned by Benskins in its unsuccessful attempt to open a public house on the site.  To the east of that, Charles Woollam had recently purchased the field from the executors of Thomas Smith of the printing agency, and handed it over as a gift to St Albans Council for the recreational use of the people of Fleetville.  Today we call it the rec.  The council had only recently taken over the added areas between the Crown and Winches.