Friday, 30 October 2015

Here we go again

It is in the nature of these things that we pick the junk mail from the hall mat and throw away, not only the double glazing and pizza leaflets, but a vital item of information for us, our family and our neighbours.

This time some residents of Smallford may have missed attending a consultation meeting at the St Albans Rugby Club HQ  because they did not know about ...

... proposals by Brett Aggregates to open up the ground at the ends of their gardens for yet another gravel extraction site, on  land at the western end of the former aerodrome formerly belonging to de Havilland Aircraft Company and later Hawker Siddeley and British Aerospace.

Parts of the huge site have already been developed for business, residential, university and retail.  But a large swathe is reserved as open space.  Indeed, Ellenbrook Fields is a pleasant zone of recovering open land following the removal of the concrete air strip.

We must have sensed that below the surface there were useful minerals, which one day would be removed.  After all, the district does have a track record for supplying aggregates to the world, and to the east and south of St Albans we have experienced gravel extraction at Colney Street and Harperbury Lane, London Colney, Coursers Lane, Roehyde, Colney Heath, Oak Farm, Beech Farm and other sites.  So the news of proposed workings at the former Popefield Farm should not come as a surprise.

No-one would deny that aggregates are needed for the construction industry and for roads – and that there will be plenty of new homes coming to the districts between St Albans and Hatfield in the next ten years.  Some residents, of course, don't want the homes or the workings, and of the extra traffic that will come in their wake – the same fears which are attached to the proposed freight depot at Hedges Farm, Park Street. The narrow and already-busy single-carriageway Hatfield Road will indeed be busier and noisier than today.

Since the days of the St Albans Sand and Gravel Company after World War Two, when the call was for gravel to rebuild London, there have been proliferations of holes in the ground, and in recent years its successor company, Lafarge, has sought to close exhausted sites and return land to former or new open space uses – with the singular exception of the contaminated Butterwick (although that company may not have been responsible).  Where have we been in those sixty years?  We have continued with our lives and lived with the industry around us.  Today we look back and realise that, taken in the round, the result hasn't been too bad.

It is the prospect which is difficult to contemplate.  Thirty-two years is a long while to wait until the Popefield site is restored and the community park formed for our enjoyment.  Well, I will be well into  my second century by then, but it will be something for a younger generation to look forward to.

But all of this depends on whether planning consent is given!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Books and celebrations

Raise your glasses for 150 years!

First, the celebrations, because that event is happening this weekend, 16th and 18th October.

On October 16th 1865 a station opened on the newly finished branch line between St Albans London Road (then extended to St Albans Abbey) and Hatfield.  It was called Springfield, later renamed Smallford.  Later still the station name had a strapline, for Colney Heath.  Though completely closed since 1968, the former rail route is now a well-used walking and cycling path called Alban Way.

An exhibition and lecture/presentation is taking place on Friday 16th at the University of Hertfordshire.  Although all places have now been booked the event marks the start of birthday celebrations, being preceded by a walk along the route (also, I'm afraid, fully booked) from Hatfield to St Albans.

However, on Sunday 18th, a family day has been planned at four of the still-extant platforms at which the trains once called:  Nast Hyde, Smallford, Hill End and London Road.  Entertainments, music and exhibitions are on offer at times throughout the day. Freely-available brochures, Walk the Train Along Alban Way, help to self-guide you along sections of the route, pointing out features of interest which were, or are, located on either side of the line.

Although most events are free, one or two will need to charge to cover their costs, and contributions will be welcomed to cover the costs incurred in giving everyone an enjoyable experience.

Do go along and say hello to everyone you meet.

Book sale

Many of us recall the great book sales organised by Paton's of St Albans, in the old court room of the Town Hall.  Alas, Paton's bookshop in Holywell Hill is no more and with its departure went the book sales.

However, St Albans & Hertfordshire Architectural & Archaeological Society (SAHAAS) has ridden up to Market Square, as it were, with wagon-loads of books for sale on Saturday 24th October in the Assembly Room of the Old Town Hall.  Browsing and buying is from 10am to 4pm.

The event, organised in conjunction with St Albans Civic Society, is raising funds for the much-anticipated conversion of the OTH into a new Museum and Art Gallery.   The event will have a good mix of older and nearly new books.   Welcome back to the book sales – although I think this is a one-off event.  Do support it to bring the day of the new museum even closer!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Another empty space

Thousands of vehicle drivers pass this spot every day; the double roundabout at the complicated junction of Hatfield Road, Beechwood Avenue, Beaumont Avenue and Ashley Road.  Even in the 1930s there were observations about sightlines from Beaumont Avenue, and in the 1950s from Ashley Road.  The junction has always been made more difficult because Hatfield Road chooses here to bend.

The junction in the early post-war period.
Children on their way to and from Fleetville School walked along Beechwood Avenue and crossed Beaumont Avenue to reach Hatfield Road or the alley, even though their presence would have been blind to left-turning drivers from Hatfield Road.  And those children were often unaccompanied by adults.

Pre-World War Two, the proposed "Circle Road" would cross at this point and there were many discussions about installing a roundabout.  The concerns were ignored, but eventually traffic signals were installed at this intersection of the Ring Road.

The garden wall of the house built on the green space.  The
street shelter had been to the left of the blue sign, and the post
box to the right of it.
An interesting photograph has recently surfaced, showing part of the junction in the early 1950s (the caption gives a later period but I am sure that is not correct – but I may yet be proved wrong).  The green space behind the brick building was a pre-war builder's yard – the entry from the road can still be detected, the way subsequently blocked by a street plate.

The former brick police box was sited where the flowers
now bloom.  The 1960s house is behind.
The City Police Force introduced wooden remote police boxes in the 1930s so that officers did not need to return to the Victoria Street Police Station at the beginning and end of each duty.  In 1939 it was decided to renew these offices in brick.  The public could also use a phone from the window to call the emergency services.  In the same style, but out of shot to the left, was a street air-raid shelter and a posting box with an arrowed sign on top pointing to Fleetville Post Office.  The shelter was played in by children until the entrance was boarded up.

The well-known local building firm of Tacchi & Burgess was

engaged in building homes in Sandpit Lane and Chestnut Drive, and the company took the opportunity to let everyone know in the same manner as hundreds of other hoarding signs throughout the 1930s.  The sign was removed at the end of the project, but the framework remained for many years, while children played on the patch of rough grass.  When the brick police box was removed, at the same time as the street shelter, a public telephone box was placed up against the first house to the right.
Approaching the junction from the Hatfield side in c1900.

Of course, a house was eventually constructed on the grassed space, and the present flower bed stands where the police box had been.