Sunday, 23 November 2014


View points (or viewpoints), almost by definition, are locations which enable us to see our surroundings.  Mostly, they are elevated – tops of hills, castle ramparts, church towers, cliff tops.  There are, of course, none of those in Fleetville.

However, you could stand at the north side of the junction of Hatfield Road with Sutton Road,  with your back to the track beside The Emporium.  The view takes in the entire length (parked vehicles permitting) of Sutton Road as far as Camp View Road.

Here is, or was, the entire history of Fleetville before even that name was applied.  Before even that earlier sobriquet for the old turnpike toll house: "the Rats' Castle", now applied to the public house.
On your left was the former Beaumonts Farm stretching ahead as far as Camp Road; on your right, where Morrison's is now, cows grazed in a field owned by St Albans School.  Carts loaded with goods for the market would occasionally trundle down the farm track to reach the Hatfield turnpike road and turn towards St Albans right in front of you.  That was the reason for the toll house in the first place!

In earlier times your feet would undoubtedly be extremely wet from the stream which flowed from behind you along the Emporium track, straight along the farm track (Sutton Road) before veering to the right roughly where Campfield Road is.

In the mid 19th century a branch railway steamed its way across the scene en-route between London Road and Hatfield, with a low and very narrow bridge carrying the railway track over the cart track.  The route is now Alban Way.

The thatch roofed toll house was abandoned in 1881 and left to be infested – by the afore-mentioned rats.  In 1896 a printer arrived to size up the school's field for a factory; and three years later Beaumonts Farm was auctioned for development.  The first result was a house and corner shop, called Primrose Cottage, right on the corner, where the pub now stands.  Hard on that arrival came a coat manufacturer to put up a manufactory a little way along Sutton Road.  That building is still there: Beaumont House.

Immediately to the right of you was built a terrace of homes for the printer employees – Arthur Road; and the corner building on that road was an institute for the recreation of those same men.

Immediately to the left, before the display windows of the Emporium, is still the cottage occupied by Mrs Turner in around 1905.  Oh, and the track behind us was well used by carters and horse owners  visiting the farrier who had set up a forge at the far end.

Other than at Arthur Road, there was not much other evidence of houses although the homes along Hatfield Road to our left gradually appeared during the next two decades.  But beyond the railway and opposite Beaumont House gather groups and teams on Twelve Acre Field to play football.  That was before today's Rec.

We have seen all of this – and had to imagine some of it – without walking a single step.  So I think it is fair to say this small patch of pavement is a view point (or viewpoint).

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

A road that never was

In the late 1960s the part of Hatfield Road between Hobbs Garage (now Kwik Fit) and Sutton Road was widened.  Not by very much because there is hardly room to breathe in some places.  These are the same frustrations which many of us feel now, negotiating our vehicles or cycles around parked cars, delivery trucks and pink buses, all of which have reason to use the highway here – the  frustrations were serious enough in the 1960s, and that was the second occasion; the first being in the 1920s.  After wartime restrictions on motoring, owning a car was growing in popularity – and very quickly.

Alban Way west, formerly a single track GNR branch railway.
The original bypass, designed to divert traffic around the east and south of St Albans, was itself busy, and did not appear to have much effect on Hatfield Road.  The proposed solution?

The branch railway line between Hatfield and St Albans had closed fully by 1968, and someone saw the overgrown railway track as a possible way of taking traffic away from Hatfield Road for the second time.  The news came in July 1970.  "St Albans could get a new two-mile main road from the Hatfield side of the city to the centre at a rock-bottom price by using a derelict railway line.  The land for the road ... has been offered to the city council by British Railways."

Although one person did mention a dual carriageway, in effect it would be a standard 24-foot freeway with no properties along its length, from Hill End Lane to London Road, with a connection to the city centre's controversial main distributor road (a road scheme ditched later that year following a General Election).  "A spokesman for the City Council said, This would be a very useful scheme.  We would not need to pull down any buildings and much of the preparatory work would have been done for us by the people who built the railway., so it would be a very cheap scheme to improvement."

Fleetville is still waiting for its congestion buster, but I suspect using the Alban Way would no longer be acceptable as too many people have taken their own emotional ownership of the route in their walks and rides along part or all of the green way.

Another group:

Mavis has sent us this great photograph, taken in the 1950s, of a group of employees outside their place of work, Nicholson's, at the Beaumont Works in Sutton Road.  One of the first factories to arrive in Fleetville, it had already been turning out high quality coats for peace time rain and wartime mud for over 50 years when this picture was taken.

Forty 1950s employees of Nicholson's.
Now, it would be nice to find some names – forty of them if possible.  If

you know anyone in the lineup do please email me on  They can be added to the caption of the photo on the website.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Our new Ridgeway house

Even in the earlier days of photography, at the beginning of the 20th century, moving to a new house – meaning a different home for your family or a newly-constructed dwelling – was a reason for celebration.  If the house owner did not have a camera, a photographer might be hired if this could be afforded.  The result would be a record of at least some of the family at their new abode.  There was an explosion of camera ownership after WW2, and more informality too.  Opportunities arose to take a photo or two "to finish up the roll".

The rear of 189 The Ridgeway in 1959
Last week Martin contacted the blog because he had spotted the feature about The Quadrant.  This in turn alerted him to a photo he still has which was taken at the Ridgeway house (number 189) his family moved into in 1958.

"It shows the back garden, not much more than a bit of farm land enclosed by a chain link fence, and the rear of the house.  The house under construction next door is the detached corner property (187) at the junction with Packhorse Close.  My father spent a year or so landscaping the garden to combat the slopes, much of which is still in evidence today and can be seen via Google Earth."

Previously Martin had said, "I remember the early days of The Quadrant well. Butler's butcher's shop had sawdust on the floor and a separate payment booth at the back of the shop.  The shop boy then brought your newly-acquired joint on a bike direct to your door later in the day.  I later did a paper round for Martin's, the newsagent, from 1970 to 1974, when Mr Thompson was the proprietor.  Most of the proceeds was spent in Drummonds on Airfix kits.  Great days."

I am pleased that more recollections are appearing about Marshalswick, so here are a few more prompts.  Maybe someone will remember  the old concrete scout building, youth club activities, adventures in Chandlers Wood, the old farm house, ponds, the controversy over the nearby waste tip and the greater controversy about proposed new housing at Jersey Farm and a supermarket (Key/Sainsbury).  Oh, and the early years at Marshalswick School, and Wheatfields, St John Fisher and Skyswood schools.

Dearman Gomms just before the closing-down sign appeared.
The closure notice of Dearman-Gomms in Camp Road coincided with the discovery last week in an issue of Herts Advertiser in 1970, of a feature article titled "Everything for the Keen Handiman"

"Just over 11 years ago John Dearman gave up a secure job in his father's firm, sold the house he had built himself, and with the proceeds bought some broken-down shop premises in Camp Road.  That was the first of two major decisions which changed his life.  He and his wife ran the shop as a grocery for the first three years [similar trade to the Tuckett's who were there previously].  It became more difficult to make a living out of the shop as competition from supermarkets increased.  Finally, Mr Dearman made the second decision which changed his life.  A practical man himself he foresaw the do-it-yourself boom which has materialised in the last few years."

That success story lasted until 2014!