Thursday, 10 September 2015

Goodbye ... for now

The weekend of 12th and 13th September, is the district's Heritage Open Days.  A number of buildings and sites will be open for everyone to visit, often arranging special activities or displays.  How many residents of the city have never climbed to the top of the Clock Tower?  Come on, be honest.  Yes, I thought so.  Take the opportunity now!  We are used to the Signal Box being open every month, for us to pull levers and investigate what an old-style box was like inside.  This Sunday the Signal Box is also hosting an exhibition of photographs and artefacts by the Hertfordshire Home Guard Living History Group.

The Museum of St Albans, at least until September 20th.
The following weekend, September 19th and 20th, is of course London Open House weekend.  But there is a far more important event to celebrate closer to home.  On Sunday 20th the Museum of St Albans (MoSTA) closes its door for good.  Born as the Hertfordshire County Museum, the building has been added to and knocked about a bit over the years, but hundreds of residents have known it as the "dear little museum in Hatfield Road.  Most of us are quite unaware that the former archivist's bungalow at the back has been home to some remarkable research as well as being a key meeting place for planning new exhibitions and installations.  And beyond that a restful garden.

However, this little gem is no longer able to provide an appropriate level of exhibition space to satisfy  a district with the history of this great little city – even without the wonderful Verulamium Museum.  This is where the Old Town Hall enters the story, for as soon as the final funding is received, it is the OTH which will be home to the New Museum of St Albans.

View through the top floor round window to the garden below.
Which brings us back to Sunday 20th.  An intriguing art installation has been growing on the top floor of MoSTA recently, even as other galleries are being denuded of their displays and placed into storage.  Lyndall Phelps has used a number of recently accessioned artefacts in her installation; they represent a range of the significant industries which once thrived in St Albans.  Visitors are able to see the gallery grow, and reach completion on Sunday 20th September, when there will be a celebration of the museum's longevity between 2pm and 5pm.  The Mayor, so used to opening things, will be on hand to formally declare MoSTA permanently closed.

At that point it will be time to look forward to 2017, when a different mayor will no doubt do his or her civic duty and open the New Museum of St Albans at the Old Town Hall.

Hopefully we will be welcomed by some of the staff and volunteers who, during past few years have welcomed us as we walked through the Hatfield Road doors.  To them a big thank you for your smiles and helpfulness.

So, on September 20th it will be goodbye ... but only for now.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

New estate

Marketing brochures – we come across them all the time.  All the big house-builders produce glossy magazines in colour; their pictures looking stunning in their pristine surroundings with newly-laid grass.  'Don't anyone tread on the drive now we have raked it for the publicity pics!'

The unmade Lynton Avenue when the
builders were still on site.

It was just the same seventy or eighty years ago.  The photos will have been black-and-white, and the paper an inferior quality.  The content was the same but, to us at least, told in an old-fashioned style.  The message: buy our houses because they are the best around.

Internal views from one of the
first homes to be finished.

In 1928, Charles Hart and Walter Goodwin purchased a small field, Daniel's Field, on the south side of Camp Road.  Daniel's wasn't very deep and the layout of the homes reflected that: three closed avenues.  The left and right ones, Lynton and Glenlyn avenues, were culs-de-sac, with two pairs of semi-detached houses around the turning circle.  The middle road, Windermere Avenue, was designed rather differently, with houses along both sides, but leading to a white gate at the far end.  Beyond was an allotment field, but it was designed in this way to enable the opening up of this road in the future if the allotments should ever become homes.  Between the avenues there was space for homes along the Camp Road frontage too.  Taken together, this was the New Camp estate, distinct from the Camp estate on the north side of Camp Road.

The illustrations for the brochure were all taken in Lynton Avenue, the first of the roads to be completed.

"The general character of the houses seems to indicate the most careful forethought of the needs of the future, combined with tasteful variety of detail and meticulous selection of the best material.  The main consideration has been that of fitting up the houses with labour-saving devices in such a way as to reduce domestic work to an absolute minimum, and no consideration has been allowed to interfere with this idea."

Photo postcard for the Firwood estate.
The same partnership went on to construct other developments, including the first part of the Firwood estate off Colney Heath Lane, which was then completed after World War 2.  Goodwin and Hart continued to market their homes, with brochures, posters and photo postcards.

In other areas A A Welch distributed brochures for his houses on the Beaumonts estate, and T F Nash enticed potential owners with similar brochures for the new Marshalswick estate.  No doubt there is similar illustrated printed material for other housing developments in and around St Albans ... if only it could be found.