Sunday, 22 March 2015

Striking Camp

The district of Camp is alleged to have received its name from the succession of eighteenth-century military training camps held on Earl Verulam's land at Cunningham Hill.  Probably to service the needs of soldiers present, a part-time supplies shop would have been created, which, inevitably, included the sale of alcohol.  The little community which grew up around these military requirements became the early Camp Hill, which defines its geographic location perfectly.

By the late 19th century the Old Camp Beer House was still open for business, along with the adjacent shop, but Thomas Kinder, and then Adey & White, successive brewing owners, had found it a trading millstone, operating from a building which was almost impossible to improve.  So Hertford brewer McMullen's purchased the Old Camp, but its acquisition was for the license alone.  The Camp district had just begun by the turn of the 20th century, and McMullen's, with an active license, could take advantage of the opportunities a growing population offers.

Shortly before the First World War it had constructed and opened an impressive new structure further along Camp Road (on the corner of Roland Street although that road did not appear until the late 1920s).  First called the New Camp – to distinguish it from the former premises – and later the Camp, it became a highly successful establishment, with offshoot social clubs and groups.

The Camp PH has been at the heart of the district for over a century, and many of us can be forgiven for thinking it will always be there.  But it is a business, and as a business it has to make a profit.  So it will come as a blow to many locals to discover that McMullen's has decided to close the premises in May of this year.

As I understand it, not even the impressive building will remain for another use.  The flats to be constructed on the site, if granted planning consent, will be new builds.  But there is still time for plans to change, as often they do.

After May, Camp will be a dry district, which is how Fleetville was for three decades until the arrival of the Rats' Castle.  That pub will now be the nearest public house for most Camp residents, or the Crown for those living at the western end.  Perhaps one of the beneficiaries might be the Royston Club.  It does pose an interesting question though: is any other residential district in this city 'dry?'

As McMullen's strikes
camp and move out we take a look at how social the premises were in the 1920s and 30s; one of the groups – its darts team – lining up for a photo with supporters before heading off for a day out.

Musical group accompanying darts team on a charabanc outing before the
pub was upgraded.  Photo courtesy TERRY SWAIN.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Catching up

A recent blog was devoted to the Green Ring walking and cycling route around St Albans, part of it visiting Fleetville.  A more detailed plan of that part of the route between Woodstock Road South and Sutton Road – a tiny but very complicated section – has been published.

Work seems to have begun on the pedestrian crossing, which will accommodate cycles as well as pedestrians.  Rather less space than envisaged is allowed for the route on the south side, with only the bus shelter being moved back onto Morrison's land.  It appears that the footpath itself will remain the same width and will be shared with cycles.  Let's hope that works.  On the map (right) the 'blue river' is the shared path on the south side of Hatfield Road; Woodstock Road South junction is on the left; and Sutton Road is top right.

Then there's the question of road speed.  It is to be reduced from 30 to 20, which surely will not make any difference to actual speeds except in the middle of the night, given the obstacles almost always in the way.  It's not the speed of cars but the speed of cyclists which may concern pedestrians, so we'll see how that works out.  Let us hope the scheme functions as intended.

Following the blog recently about the non-yellow signage at Morrison's, this observation was picked up by the firm who sought an answer for us.  Their something-or-other department came back to state that the changeover from yellow to white – the only one of the stores with white lettering instead of yellow –  was part of a marketing experiment in 2011.   Clearly unsuccessful as no other stores have opened with the same white MORRISONS (without the apostrophe, of course) external signs.  The same department, it informs me, has clearly forgotten to restore brand yellow!

Last week's blog featured the concern of many that the embankment steps in Clarence Park might be closed permanently.  Following the Council's City Neighbourhoods Committee meeting this week we should be able to relax on that one.  The council has to include all possibilities, and the committee was quick to announce that option 1, closure of the Hatfield Road entrance, has been voted out, and a decision on the remaining four will be made later in the summer.  That just leaves the question of how the replacement will be paid for.

The question raised in the blog, of how the existing structure, only 12 years old, came to be made from such poorly-specified materials, has not yet been explained.

Many travellers along Hatfield Road at Oaklands have noticed the works proceeding just west of the Speckled Hen PH.  Now that permission has been granted, the work to swap the front playing field at Beaumont School with one behind Winches, the new school access road can proceed.  The new road cannot come soon enough for residents of Oakwood Drive, coach drivers and parents who feel the desirability of delivering their teenagers to school is more like essential.  The effect the new junction will have on Hatfield Road traffic is currently one of the district's unknowns.  But anything must be better than the risk of bulky fire engines not being able to access the existing school driveway.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Right of passage?

A report about to come before St Albans District Council's City Neighbourhoods Committee concerns the entrance to Clarence Park by the Midland Railway bridge, sometimes known as the embankment steps.  It appears that the steps-and-ramp structure installed 12 years ago needs to be replaced, and four options are to be considered, the most drastic of which will be to close that park entrance, possibly permanently, if the money cannot be found to replace the structure.

The 'embankment steps' entrance to Clarence Park from
Hatfield Road railway bridge
The un-asked question so far is, why has this structure only lasted 12 years?  The original railway sleeper steps lasted one hundred years; and boardwalks in country parks, often with mesh walking surfaces to guard against slipping, last for decades without being replaced.  Was it the wrong timber, or was it not prepared properly?  Answers are needed!

So, let's start with why the park entrance is here in the first place.

The embankment entrance pre-dates the park, and even pre-dates the railway (although the access to the field would  probably have been nearer the present Lemsford Road).  Before the park was opened in 1894, the field against Hatfield Road was known as the Fete Field because of its occasional use for public events (at other times cattle were grazed there).  When there was a fair or other entertainment, people from the city gained entrance to the field at the first advantage point from the road (possibly a gated gap in the hedge).  


The west section of the former St Peter's Farm.  Fete Field is in green, with the footpath drawn across it.
When the railway was built in the 1860s the Midland Railway company was required to reinstate the field access. This required moving it, and as the road had been embanked to bridge over the railway, the new access involved a series of steps down to the level of the field. This would be the reason why the original steps were made from railway sleepers.  The embankment steps, or its equivalent, have therefore given public access to a public place for, possibly, 160 years or more.  That must count for something when considering access to footpaths in other contexts – and the St Peter's Farm map drawn in the 1870s clearly shows the footpath from the road, still twenty years before the park was created.

One point which may not be obvious to all is that there used to be two entrances in Hatfield Road.  The other was opposite Granville Road.  This location suited the residents of Hatfield and Granville roads when the park was new, but was closed when the original fencing was replaced.  Commentators have suggested this might be a better entrance than the embankment steps as no ramp would bet needed.  However, this is not the case.  A proper ramp would need to be re-instated and the photo below shows the difference in level, even at this distance from the bridge.

There is a safety issue to be considered too.  Since it is a city park, many users – which will include children –  will approach on foot from the city direction.  Using the embankment entrance is therefore much safer than walking along Hatfield Road to the Crown, where the entrance through the cafe is not very wide and is at times busy with cafe activity.  With the embankment steps closed there would be three entrances on the east side, and only one small entrance, via the stepped and therefore non-accessible York Road bridge, near the north west corner.  Does that make sense?
The former Granville Road entrance viewed from inside
the park – a ramp would still be needed.

I would treat consideration of of this issue exactly as I would a Safer Routes to School scheme, or a Walking Bus route.  Forcing everyone from the city approach to walk a less safe route to the park is probably not very intelligent.

And while we are talking better and safer access, a pedestrian phase on the Station Road/Hatfield Road traffic lights might be helpful, since for many park visitors arriving by bus the bus station will be their obvious destination; they will walk along Station Road, not Beaconsfield Road.

The report suggests that the group of park users most affected will be commuters, but this is not so.  Commuters are just one group; but what about the rest of us?

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Green Ring

Recently, the Mayor, Geoff Harrison, formally opened a revamped play area at the Rec in Fleetville.  Half-term was clearly a great time to host a special day for the children, and a range of activities was brought to the play park to support the opening.

The permanent equipment now includes an activity boat, climbing unit and and slide.  Also part of the range of equipment are a fitness trail and swings.

The upgrade was paid for through Section 106 funding, and followed a research period linking the council and park users in a steering group.  The group assessed the range of equipment which best served the needs of the users of the park.

It is clear this corner of the Rec will be even more popular from now on.

Not just the Rec is receiving a makeover.  Fleetville is one of the districts which provides routes collectively known as the Green Ring, and improvements are being made to the new walking and cycling initiative.  The map below shows the roads adopted for the circular route around the city.  In the east new signposting will include a small section of Sandpit Lane, Lemsford Road, Jennings Road, Woodstock Roads north and south, Sutton Road and Alban Way.

The length of Hatfield Road which is to include a shared path for walking and cycling.

A particularly busy and congested portion, though, links Woodstock Road South and Sutton Road at Hatfield Road, where careful attention is being paid to the layout of the pubic space.  Fortunately there is a light-controlled crossing between the Post Office and Morrison's, and the report on the project determined that a small amount of the frontage owned by the store could be used to provide a short length of shared cycle/walking path.

The council is due to erect way signs shortly, but news regarding the Hatfield Road modifications have yet to be programmed.  Nine kilometres will be the full distance for those who wish to keep fit in a gentle way.  We don't need to wait for the signs; the roads and paths are already there, so this Spring we can be early discoverers of the Ring's delights.

The Green Ring of roads and paths around the city.  Map courtesy ST ALBANS DISTRICT COUNCIL.