Sunday, 31 January 2016

Cambridge Friends in Smallford

Right Up My Street

For the past twelve months a small team has been working to create a history of Cambridge Road.  The members have been collecting photographs, local press items, details of former shops, lists of occupiers of all of the hundred or so houses, when new homes appeared – and sometimes disappeared.  House deeds have been scoured for detail, the origin of street names of nearby roads discovered; and how the road came about in the first place, having originally been a part of Beaumonts Farm.

Most satisfying of all have been the recollections resulting from oral interviews, now transcribed and collected into folders.

Although the project is not yet complete, current residents of Cambridge Road joined former occupiers and other members of Fleetville Diaries, coming together last week to hear and see the highlights of the last twelve months' work.  And what an evening it was!  The room was alive with enthusiastic conversation, surprises when old friends were met, and promises to exchange further information still in private albums, boxes and envelopes.

This blog has also played its part.  Recently a call went out to locate a plaque which had been presented to the road's enthusiastic residents' association, for the standard of street decoration in the celebratory year of the Queen's Jubilee, 1977.  Apart from an article that year in the Herts Advertiser, nothing more had been  discovered.  Now we can reveal that the plaque is still in the hands of the family it was originally presented to, and who once lived at number 16. Its members, with others, were a driving force in the formation and life of the residents' association.  Job done!  It is hoped that a photo will be obtained of the plaque, its owning family and a representative of the current team.


Those of us who were members of the social site called Friends Reunited will have heard recently that it is to close, having been re-acquired by its original owners. FR was, in many ways, ahead of its time, launching before Facebook and others of its genre.  Not only did it put former friends in touch once more, but it provided the facility to exchange photographs and recollections.  So school friends, work and club members and street occupiers were enabled to bring parts of their past up to date.

FR in turned spawned other groups as the remit of local history widened.  Hundreds of local groups have been formed since the launch of FR, not so much to copy what FR was itself doing, but having been inspired by the notion that groups of people living in a given area could set up small projects which brought them together.  St Albans' Own East End was one of them, of course, and from that  developed Fleetville Diaries.  Rather later came the Smallford Project.

Friends Reunited was a brilliant concept; what has been even more stunning have been the community groups which followed.

Butterwick industry

The extensive commercial site which is Lyon Way, Acrewood Way and Alban Point in Hatfield Road between Oaklands and Smallford, only developed from the 1960s, but it is sometimes confusing to trace how it developed; which companies arrived and left, and when.

Meat store on the right, timber supplier on the left.  Who, in 1951, owned the
new-looking buildings bat the top of the picture?
Until the mid 1960s most of the land between what is now Alban Way and Hatfield Road, and from  the end of the houses near Ryecroft and the stream known as Boggy Mead Spring, was woodland – Butterwick Wood.  But industry had begun to locate in a small cleared section before WW2.  Halsey's the timber supplier had been there since the late 1920s, and in 1939 appeared a substantial building essential to meat storage and distribution during the course of the war.  There is not much evidence of anything further until c1960 – other than Tractor Shafts (Smallford Planters) which was further east at the Lyon Way end.

Two additional buildings had been erected by 1950, as shown in this 1951 photograph.  But so far, their owners are unknown.  If any reader of this blog can point us in the right direction we would love to know.

The above was posted on Sunday 31st January.  As of today, Tuesday 2nd February we have an update.  The newer buildings at the top of the photo undoubtedly belonged to Frankipile Ltd.  So, query sorted!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

This was serious

Gosh, I missed that one.  At the end of last year this blog clocked up one hundred and fifty posts – and that total excludes the 70 or so on the previous platform and still available from the SAOEE website.  So that's 220 stories about the east end of St Albans.  Who would have thought it?  It is certainly not a part of the city which lacks interest, lacks stories to reveal, lacks something unusual to reveal.  Just have a look for yourself.

When you don't have a home

In collecting photographs from the Herts Advertiser for the period after WW2 I found there was one recurring theme which now makes me extremely unhappy about the people who were involved.  At the time I was blissfully unaware of such matters, growing up in a house which was there for us for all time – or so it seemed.  Everything would be just as it had been every other day you came home from school.

But there were people; mums, an increasing number of dads returned from areas of European conflict,  their children, and their bundles.  The bundles were bags or wraps of essentials, mainly clothes.  Families who were seeking a home, any home, even redundant nissen huts or service huts, which would offer basic shelter.  Illegal of course, and although some authorities did remove squatting families, increasingly councils were under pressure to allow them to stay and were given rent books to formalise the arrangements.  Then, of course they needed to arrange for water and electric supplies to be brought to the site.  Although there were locations all over the wider district – wherever there was a hut there was likely to be couple of families desperate to squat – the site which most of us have heard of was Abbey Camp, in use until the 1960s because no other houses were available. Abbey Camp was next to St Stephen's Hill where Westminster Lodge pool, car parks and open space is today.

Surviving a 1950s winter in a wooden hut would not have been a pleasant experience.

The Herts Advertiser, however, more graphically disclosed a rather more disturbing kind of distress.  I have not identified specific locations or individuals, but the newspaper did not hold back from showing photos of a family or an individual on the footpath outside a house, and surrounded by their personal belongings.  The bailiff had secured the property and his role was completed once the tenant no longer had the key.  We cannot know what led to the householder being unable to pay the rent, but we were always left with the same question: where would they spend the next night and how would they and their chattels get there. including limited items of furniture?

It wasn't only a 1950s story, of course.  It is also a today story.  The only difference is that we are unlikely to discover photographs such as the above in next week's paper to prove that it is a today story.  We may be grateful for that, but, on the other hand, without the local press informing us about such tragedies, how else would we know?  It was, and maybe still is, a St Albans issue and an East End of St Albans issue at that.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Showing off our collection

Children enjoy collecting things.  I use the word 'things' because adults like to consider their children are sufficiently sophisticated to theme their amassed boxfuls of oddments in their bedrooms.  Forget it mum!  Children are magpies  Where they are sophisticated though is in the perceived valued of individual items in their box under the bed.  They will happily trade one of their treasures for another, coveted from the collection of a friend.

There is something about that first item which makes it special – unpartable. Old bird's nest, toy soldier without its head, polished stone, a twelver from last year's conker championships in the playground.  In my case it included a cow horn, pig's trotter and a horseshoe, because our house was built on a former farmyard.  Because of the collection's tradability the contents are also fluid: sell three items you've lost interest in, and acquire one really special showpiece which last week belonged to a classmate.

Every so often you decide to impress your world of friends and hangers-on by holding an exhibition; maybe in the garden shed, or in the open.  Anywhere which will keep your collection safe and show it off to best advantage.  Naturally you yearn to hear your visitors express envy!  All too often you are vexed by criticism.  But there may be one object which impresses all; which makes the effort all worthwhile and you can close up your little event happily.

Of course there is a grown-up version of this ad-hoc display of collected objects, and grown-ups have interesting ways of managing the opportunities available.  The closure of the Museum of St Albans in Hatfield Road recently, became a critical step in the project to open the new Museum and Gallery at the Old Town Hall.  So the archived collection in almost permanent storage was swollen by artefacts from almost permanent display, now carefully wrapped in newspaper for the duration – though I doubt it is actually newsprint, more likely some acid-free technically-specified wrapping!

During the interregnum between one museum and the next, St Albans Museums is arranging occasional pop-up events.  You may remember one in an empty shop at St Christopher Place.  The next opportunity to discover a pop-up museum is, rather cheekily, at the Town Hall itself; probably one of the final events before work begins on the exciting new museum project.  Next weekend, 23rd and 24th January you can enjoy inspecting someone else's collection from their "box under the bed".  Seventy choice items selected by the wonderful volunteers who are at the heart of Museum activities.

Surely this is the best and most exciting way of discovering the Museum's range.  It places the responsibility on us to make a visit during
its 'two days only'.  The hall will be busy – very busy – and there will be wonderful conversations afterwards.  And if you take your young children or grandchildren I'll bet it will spawn other miniature pop-up exhibitions at home by our inventive junior magpies.