Tuesday, 30 June 2015

A Lark on the Rec

The District Council's crazily simple idea of devoting a family fun day of the year at some of the recreation grounds around town certainly has caught on.  There was a choice of five locations in Harpenden, Colney Heath, London Colney, Folly Lane (Victoria) and of course Fleetville.

Being an outdoor event it is heavily weather-dependent, and of course the only rain in the last week – and likely during the next week – arrived  at around midday on Sunday, just as Larks was about to begin.  The stage itself was under cover and the children's choirs and Fleetville Swing Band performed in the dry, but to few visitors.  Their efforts were rewarded by as many as could who left their stands and stalls to gather around the little arena.

The rain soon passed over and crowds soon gathered.  Although not quite up to last year's numbers, several hundreds had visited by the end of the afternoon, and most seem to still be there at 5 o'clock.  Can anyone put their finger on what makes Larks on the Rec a success year after year – for it is a regular success?  And what defines success for this event?

Judging by many visitors success comes from not being too organised, not being too intense and most definitely not about being constantly hammered for money.  So often we feel as if we must fill our pocket with loose change to satisfy the needs of the stallholders and organisers; two pockets if we are accompanied by children.  None of that was evident on the Rec.  Which encourages us to be generous on the odd occasion when we have the option to give.

"Will there be enough for people to do?" is often the worry.  It seemed that what people wanted most of all, was not to be entertained (although we were), and not to be given opportunities to fill every active second with "doing something" (although there was plenty to occupy us).  Instead visitors were happy to sit down on the grass, or come across people they knew and engage in conversation.  Often we would come across an informal activity created there and then in a space, wherever it could be found.

Larks is a smiling event, a friendly gathering of local people.  Conversations were often had with people they had never met before.  Those who live here possibly took it for granted, but the atmosphere certainly impressed a few who were just around for the weekend before returning home to other parts of the UK.  Larks on the Rec was most definitely in the spirit of the friendly district of Fleetville; after all, the Rec is at its heart.  Long may it continue.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Could we start again, please?

In 1914, as this photograph demonstrates, Hatfield Road has been much improved!  Not that we, in 2015, would appreciate that.  But considering that only fifteen years previously, this was a narrow lane, supposedly only wide enough for one cart to pass at a time.  So in that context, the road is certainly much improved.  After all, the County Council had kerbed and paved one side – the side where shops were opening up.  Not that many users were attempting to use the footpath; pedestrians were perambulating the full width of the roadway, and cyclists too.  Since everyone was travelling in the same direction, we may presume they are leaving the factories to make their way home.

Incidentally, the bushes on the left indicate that the shops east of Royal Road had yet to be built.

Fast forward another two decades and a second pavement will have been added, and motor traffic would have been sufficiently busy for an official parking zone to be created in Royal Road, and a bypass created between Ellenbrook and The Noke, via London Road and Watling Street, partly to relieve the congestion along Hatfield Road.

Bycullah Terrace in 1964
During the forties the amount of traffic reduced considerably as severe petrol shortages kicked in and men were serving in the Forces.  It was during this period that young cyclists demonstrated their skills – or foolhardiness – by accelerating to the point where Andrew's, the greengrocer was, and still is, and freewheeling towards Sutton Road.  Naturally, what a waste of energy if you didn't actually do anything, and so little tricks were attempted, such as throwing out one's legs to the side, or drawing them up to the handlebars, carefully kneeling on the saddle, or taking one or more passengers over the rear wheel.  It was, naturally only a matter of time before accidents were had, but those who tried it must have thought it great fun.  Don't try this at home, or even in Hatfield Road!

From the sixties onwards parking became an increasing issue, the road was widened again, Sutton Road became busier after the former railway bridge deck was removed, and eventually the factory site which had been Ballito hosiery mills and Marconi Instruments, was developed as a retail centre.

The complexities of the road and its many junctions and access points now included light-controlled crossings and roundabouts – two of each in no more than three hundred metres.  Where, at one time, almost all of the children from the two schools would have walked to school, with or without their parents, now a significant proportion appear to be taken and collected by car.  Further, since most children attending the junior school on the south side, actually live on the north side, the crossings are well-used and help traffic to slow to a halt.

Which brings us to the latest improvement, added as a result of the Green Ring, which crosses Hatfield Road at the Post Office crossing, is a 20 mph limit zone from Morrison's roundabout to the Emporium.  I am sure this is useful at quiet times, but it is possible that travelling above this limit is pretty-well impossible anyway at the busiest hours of the day.  If only we could start again in designing Hatfield Road, Fleetville ...  No, no, no, let's not even think about it.  Nobody likes change. Except that, check the photo again; isn't that just what has happened, a great deal of change.

Further along Hatfield Road is a temporary yellow sign announcing Street Lighting Not Working.  It must rank among the least helpful notices for road users.  During the day no-one cares; after dark no-one can read it!

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

A View from the Pavilion

Much work has been carried out in the past two years, by volunteers, to raise the profile of our dear Clarence Park and its needs.  The remit is – even if it is not expressed in these terms – by looking after the needs of the park, we also look after the needs of ourselves, its users and potential users.   It is a question of health and well-being, active lifestyles, inspiration, providing a place for calm reflection.

Might this be the final season for the Hatfield Road entrance?
Leading the approach has been the Protect Clarence Park group (PCP) and Clarence Park Residents' Association (CPRA).  The rest of us owe them our thanks for their vigilance in energetically pursuing park issues with St Albans City & District Council.

This blog has already featured the scare of possible closure of the remaining Hatfield Road entrance, now fortunately behind us.  This was linked to the deteriorating condition of the timber structure which takes visitors down to park level.  Representatives from CPRA sit on the City Neighbourhoods Committee Task Force and Finish Group (CNCTF); it has formed the opinion that a sturdy metal structure is preferable to a short-life timber one, and that recycled plastic material might be sympathetic to park use for the walkways.  So, work on planning the Hatfield Road entrance improvements is under way.

With  completion of an upgrade project for the Lodge, attention must now turn to the serious structural condition of the pavilion, another of the park's original structures.  It has recently been treated for dry rot, but it has been decades since any serious work of any kind has been undertaken.  At one time the 'pav' was well-utilised on sports days, rallies, cricket matches and cycling events.  Even the hockey matches have now moved elsewhere and cricket remains the only spectator event for which the building can be utilised.  The changing rooms probably lack facilities but are still used, and now that the dry rot treatment is complete it is probable that the high level refreshment space can be re-opened.

Most of us are familiar with the front, but few take in the
view of the rear elevation, with its red brick and tiled decoration.

However, a long-term plan for the pav seems a likely outcome of current discussions.  Though costly, the building which everyone loves, at least from the outside, is in dire need of investment.  It should probably be considered an Asset of Community Value to add status to plans for its revival.  An imaginative plan without compromising the view of the building across the park is surely possible; and there are equally imaginative funding schemes around to help make any reasonable proposal a reality.