Thursday, 28 April 2016

Our Engagement is Announced

An important event in the Fleetville district will take place on Saturday 7th May, and repeated at Larks on Fleetville Rec on Sunday 26th June.

After carrying out a condition survey in 2014, and assessing demand and the space available, the Trustees of Fleetville Community Centre agreed to proceed with their intention to replace the current building in Royal Road.  Not that it would be an easy decision to make, nor an inexpensive one.

In 2015 a preliminary proposal was made and discussions held with current user groups at the Centre.

Since 2012 the Government's Localism Act (2011) has enabled communities to take more control of community developments in their area.  This is a process which St Albans City & District Council has embraced, and the Community Centre Trust is working with the Council to enable improvements to be made to its site adjacent to Fleetville Rec.

Although being a long-term process, with the probability of no new building until the mid 2020s, all major projects have to start somewhere.  The Early Stage Engagement Event at Fleetville Community Centre will show visitors the history of the site and how it developed from wartime nursery to community centre, and on to the hoped-for next step.  Outline proposals will be explained – although it is far too early to show plans and drawings.  There is, of course, one important reason for this: it is not the function of the Trust to state what will be provided for the community, but the intention that members of the community will engage with the Trust, open a dialogue, and enable a new building to evolve which will meet the needs of residents.

Trustees will be on hand to engage in conversations and answer questions; and visitors will have an opportunity to suggest ideas and to express your opinion.  Information gleaned from the Early Stage Engagement event will be fed back to those who participated, and those who join in the Fleetville Community Centre New Build Project Facebook conversation.  Email  We will even add you to the mailing list if you post to this blog. The project's website can also be consulted:     Printed copies of the feedback will also be available from the Community Centre from mid-July.

Do take the opportunity to call in anytime between 10am and 5pm on Saturday 7th May, or while you are enjoying yourself at Larks in the Park on Fleetville Rec on Sunday 26th June, 12 noon to 5pm.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

It's the Journey

Today, Sunday 24th April, is just the day to record what little is known about an annual event which once passed through the East End of St Albans.

The emotion involved in watching the process of thirty-six thousand runners pacing the streets of London, is insignificant compared with the bravery and effort of those same magnificent athletes pounding along the blue lines.  But each year yet more potential finishers join the list.

Before WW1 and during the inter-war years another annual event was taking place, but on a much, much smaller scale.  It had nothing to do with fundraising, or mass participation, or sponsorship, and it certainly wasn't a marathon.

Although the headline says otherwise, it was definitely a Hatfield to
Interest in athletics in general and St Albans City Athletic Club in particular, had grown since  facilities were provided at the 1894 Clarence Park.  The park was the athletics centre for the city, until emphasis moved to Westminster Lodge in the 1960s.

Cross country runs had always been popular among serious runners, especially those who enjoyed getting wet and dirty.   Someone then had the bright idea of a road run, presumably for athletes who disliked ditches, fences, gates,  shrubbery and other obstacles, which may have included field animals.

The route chosen was from Salisbury Square, Hatfield, to Market Square, St Albans.  It is assumed that the event was popular, because the event was run annually, presumably with the exception of WW1.  By the 1920s there was only sporadic reportage in the Herts Advertiser, and in 1933 the newspaper indicated there were just twelve participants.  In 1927 there had been even fewer; illness being given as the reason.  So, it could not be identified as a large scale event!

While today crowd fencing would be erected, traffic diverted and a police and marshal presence engaged, it is assumed the runners looked after themselves, crossed streets and ran near the road edge, dodging any vehicles they encountered.

The route itself would, though, have been more straightforward.  There was no Town Centre and no Barnet Bypass (Comet Way).  It would have used New Town and St Albans Road West, passing a few new large villas on the right (now demolished) on the way along the narrow main road to Nast Hyde.  The country lane nature of the road would have persisted until the runners reached the partly-developed Fleetville at Ashley Road.  Although it was a made-up roadway, the rest of the route included the drag past Clarence Park and a further drag until reaching The Peacock public house.  No rest though, for it would have been necessary to dodge the market throng in St Peter's Street.  While many of today's events take place on Sundays,  activity on the first day of the week was severely restricted, and so took place on a Saturday.
The torch relay moves along Hatfield Road, Fleetville, on its way towards
the city centre.

We know how much crowd support there would be if a mass participation event was to take place along St Albans Road west and Hatfield Road today – the Torch Relay in 2012 is testament to that.

Is anyone up for organising a 10K event between Hatfield and St Albans once more?

Saturday, 16 April 2016

What's so special?

Your blogger was, today, searching for useful data on Rochford's, the former Lea Valley nurseries at Cheshunt.  For a sizeable company, which many of us remember for its house plants, but was equally well-known in earlier times for its exotic fruit and salad crops, there is comparatively little in the way of written history or photographs.  The huge estate of glasshouses was demolished in the 1960s when  the Greater London Council purchased the site for housing.  Today, residual collections of images are probably restricted to personal collections, a topic which has appeared on this blog previously.

Kingshill Avenue 2014

Burleigh Road 2014

From our neck of the woods here are two photos chosen at random.  Are you are impressed with my restricted selection?  While you consider, here are two further images, the first, a print, from the late 19th century, and the second from just before the First World War.

Print now surviving as a photo
c1910 photo of part of Sutton Road

The impressive shop front represents much from this period; no doubt this print was intended for newspaper reproduction.  But it was also a time when photography was as much to do with people as places; the new paintings, much as MP3s are the new CDs in music.  The fact that few pics from the period remain is because relatively few were taken.  The cost of a photograph was expensive, and certainly beyond the range of ordinary people.

Printed postcard photos became very popular in the early 20th century; even today most of us will probably know at least one collector of early 20th century postcard photos and his/her batteries of boxes containing treasures of the period.  We therefore have a much more familiar view of our home district as it was in the 1910s and 20s than either earlier or later until more recent times which are within our memory.  We develop an emotional attachment to them, and once seen we crave to discover more – hence the popularity of various "then and now" books.

So, what happened after the 1920s?  It's a bit of a mixed bag, of course.  It's the period of developing personal photography, so there are masses of tourist pictures, but there is less balance in the range of places and people photographed, and more importantly, retained.

Aware of the risk of unspeakable damage to landscapes and buildings during World War Two, a number of  artists were commissioned to record urban and rural landscapes at risk from 1939 and though the forties.  Thank goodness for the Recording Britain project, now in the V&A Archive; an   exhibition is currently touring Britain.  A similar project on shopping streets in St Albans was commissioned in 1964, as a record of vulnerable city streetscapes of the period.

Demolition of 9 and 11 College Road
Now, let's return to those first two photos.  They are a fairly common sight; typical residential street scenes.  If we live nearby we will see them on most days.  So, why keep something so ordinary?  The point seems to be, that in 50, 75 or 100 years, what will those scenes look like?  Will the houses still be there?  How will the roadway have changed?  Will we be surprised that the streets seem empty?  If we don't maintain a record of our environment we won't be able to fill in the detail later.  As an early supermarket once proclaimed, "when it's gone, it's gone."

Let us, therefore record our local areas, the little details, the unusual, the ordinary, or the just-in-time, as in this final picture.  And let us grab our photo boxes to see what we can find and which might be a valuable resource for all of us now, and for those who come after us.