Friday, 26 February 2016

Opportune moments

Some of us will have recalled childhood days at the seaside in the early post-war period.  Many families will have taken a camera with them – a few fortunates may have acquired an early cine camera.  Anyhow, our purchased roll of film, whether 8, 12, 16, 24 or 36 exposures, may have been made to last all week, bearing in mind the additional cost of processing will have to come from our pocket money when we returned home.

There were always commercial photographers who wandered along the promenade, looking out for personable family groups or individuals.  They would take a picture, give you a numbered ticket and let you walk on your way.  The following morning you would race to a notice board on a wall somewhere, and if the print was appealing, and you had spare money, you may have bought it.  One advantage, apart from it invariably being a better picture than any we might have taken, was that it would probably have been the only photograph featuring the entire family.  When (usually) you struggle to find father in the photographic record (it was usually father) and years later wonder whether he was even there at all, you come to realise he was always behind the camera!

A few years ago I was given a copy of the photo, above right.  The old Camp Road bridge is behind the lady purposefully walking along Camp Road near Campfield Road junction.  It is a well composed image and the lunchtime picture is taken on a sunny day.

I then came across two other photographs, one taken at the same junction and a second near the junction of Hatfield Road and Woodstock Road South.  Recently I was shown a copy of yet another photo, left, taken at the same location.

This was surely not coincidence.  Was it possible that a commercial photographer recorded local street scenes in the same way the seaside photographer did?  Could it have been a Fleetville photographer?  Unfortunately, I have copies of the original, not the original itself,  and so any photographer's printed stamp on the reverse is missing.

So here is another mystery waiting to be solved.  Does anyone have an original photo in their collection in a similar style – an individual person, couple, family, pair of shoppers – walking along a local street.  Is there a photographer's stamp on the reverse?  Is the location identifiable.  Do please email if there is any information you can offer.  This may have been a regular or occasional open-air trade operating in Fleetville, Camp, or even the park.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Where's here?

We all need to know these things occasionally.  So let's start by asking the question, "What do they call this place?"

Painted by John Buckingham shortly before the Midland
Railway arrived, from a vantage point near Grimston Road.
We'll assume the year is 1868, so this will be a historical question.  We've been walking (quite a common pursuit in 1868) towards St Albans, but we're not there yet.  We have dropped down towards a small stream valley, possibly a winter bourne, and we pass on our right an open space with, behind it, a farm homestead and a cottage next door.  On our left we note a lane coming uphill to meet the road, and stretched out across the lane and between two posts, is a metal chain, next to which is a tiny house.  Here lodges the guardian of the turnpike road, the route we have been walking.

After waiting for a young man on a loaded cart to pay his due, and the toll keeper to lower the chain, the cart driver bumps over the chain and turns toward the town where there is some feverish activity as dozens of gangers are piling subsoil onto the road in readiness for a bridge which will carry the road over the railway being constructed.  They are calling it the Midland Railway.

The toll keeper's house was where the posting box is today.
There is no further traffic for the toll keeper and so we engage in general conversation.  From my vantage point I can see back in the direction from which I had travelled, with hedges on both sides of the lane.  I now have a better view down the track from which the cart had arrived, and I can just see the bright new brickwork of another bridge recently completed, for a different railway.  Turning to look up the hill I spot the fresh brickwork of a new institutional building receiving prisoners from much older accommodation.  To its right there is a line of activity as the Midland Railway works continue, with a third bridge and the building next to it which will shortly open as the station.

Between there and the toll house are fields of barley rippling in the gentle breeze.  Cattle graze in another field.  Finally, a long field on the right of the turnpike road is bright with colour and noisy with people enjoying themselves at a temporary fair set up for the town's people – and for me when I get there!

"So, where are we?"  I ask the toll keeper.  "What do they call this place?"

"Don't rightly know, officially.  Don't think it has a proper name," he responded.  "But I know what some of us call it.  The Chain Bar, because that's the most important thing here.  If you've got animals or a cart, you have to stop and pay.  Some call it the Fete Field, because that's what sometimes happens in the meadow opposite.  Course, it's not an official name, just what folks call it.  If someone asks me where I work I tell 'em I collect tolls at the Chain Bar opposite the Fete Field.  They know where I mean."
By 1915 we got to know the place by the name of the
public house and hotel at the roundabout: The Crown.
Yes, there was a roundabout here in 1915!

Today, if you haven't guessed, we have a part of St Albans which still hasn't an official name.  You might think an official name is even more necessary today, given the large number of homes hereabouts; the same point (Chilli Raj, or rather the posting box outside it) might be located at The Crown.  Because it is a complex road junction, and that needs a name, just as the toll keeper's house did, and the place where people went to enjoy themselves.  Yes, and we still go there to enjoy ourselves, but today, instead of going to the Fete Field, we'll tell them we're off to Clarence Park.