Saturday, 30 July 2016

1966 And All That

If there are two historical dates which it is thought everyone would consider significant, maybe we might choose – and both appropriate for this year – 1066 (William of Normandy/Battle of Hastings) and 1966 England uniquely win the World Cup.   They were 950 and 50 years ago respectively, and in the case of the World Cup it was 50 years ago this weekend.

In case you are wondering what the BoH and World Cup have to do with St Albans, well, the first doesn't specifically of course, but there was another event fifty years ago which connects with the World Cup and was specifically do do with St Albans and with a specific city in Germany.  That country is key, because of the team England was playing in that rather special game of football.

To start at the beginning – or maybe it should be the end; a group of people living in St Albans at the end of the Second World War heard from friends returning from the industrial city of Duisburg on the River Ruhr, Germany, about the dreadful conditions a large proportion of families were enduring.  They were holed up in basements, or the remains of bombed out buildings, with meagre supplies of firewood, food and clothing, and many suffering seriously deteriorating health.  Volunteers in St Albans collected clothing, food and simple medical supplies, and several lorry loads were taken across land to Duisburg, gifts which would be most welcome in winter. The exercise was repeated for two more years at least.

St Albans meets Duisburg and its mayor at Duisburg, Germany July 1966.
In the summer of 1948 the first group of Duisburg children arrived in St Albans by train for an extended holiday, paid for by the people of St Albans.  It became an annual event and later young people from St Albans stayed with Duisburg families, but this only became possible when living conditions there were much improved.  For our young people it was an exercise in healing wounds, even if our knowledge of German was poor.  Visits included to Cologne Cathedral, the Krupp steel works, the industrial energy of the Ruhr port, and a visit to the reality of the Ruhr dams.

The organisers were not to know who would be playing in the World Cup in the summer of 1966, and the visit of St Albans young people to Duisburg was planned ahead as usual.  We were already staying with our hosts when the teams playing in the final became known.  No visits were planned on Final day and we spent the day and evening with our host families.  For some the atmosphere was a little tense.  In my host's house there was a gathering of a number of my host's relatives and friends, and the atmosphere was relaxed.  Food and drink were prepared and I had the distinct feeling the spread was for an expected victory.

In a large and crowded sitting room everyone sat where they could; I sat on the carpeted floor, leaning against the arm of a settee.  There was much animated excitement throughout the match, and part way through the second half, realising I was the only Brit in the place, I did the unpatriotic thing and in my head I hoped Germany would win (I thought that might be the safer option).  But that goal at the match's conclusion which secured a win for England against Germany, taught me something wonderful.  Instead of a ribbing, even in jest,  every one of the fifteen or so family members in the room shook my hand and said, either in German or English "Well done".

I know that not every one of our party had the same positive experience in the homes in which they were staying, but it was a very uplifting experience for me.  A St Albans east end 22-year old had an experience that day which was more that just a result in a rather important football match.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

A Tramp's Life

Last alive in 1946, not many days or weeks pass without, in some context or other, without mention of the name Tramp Dick.

News of his death was featured in the Herts Advertiser in the issue of 15th March 1946, with the sub-title, "Death of a St Albans Recluse".  Most people who have lived most of their lives on the eastern side of St Albans, and who were born before WW2, will have a story to tell about this vagrant.  But if you were born in the 1940s or 50s you are more likely to have known someone quite different – with a trench coat, beard, swept-back hair and big army boots.  So, wasn't that Tramp Dick?  Well, no, but many children at the time, including me, called him Tramp Dick anyway, having picked up the name from our parents.  And he occupied the same corrugated iron hut in Jersey Lane, used by his namesake.

Another confusion: Tramp Dick – the real one – wasn't thought to be Richard at all, but Thomas, or Tom.  Tom Whiting.  But he had a brother called Richard.  Richard Whiting was the manager of the Gaumont Cinema, formerly in Stanhope Road.

Tom Whiting, aka Tramp Dick, sitting on a wall in Fleetville.  Are
there any other photos of him?
We make judgements about people all the time; it was just the same with Tramp Dick.  It comes as a surprise to many who knew something about him, to learn that he was intelligent, and although he liked to keep himself to himself, he could contribute confidently to conversations.  As to why he chose the open air life of a vagrant there is no firm evidence.  The legend has it his life collapsed after the breakup of a relationship with a young lady many years previously, but as with most legends the evidence is in short supply.

He was also said to have received an allowance, but who from, no-one is quite sure. But he was able to pay for his everyday necessities.  Since 1939 he had his own ID card and ration book, kept for him at a shop in Fleetville.  His income, other than any allowance, came from casual work on farms or from selling flowers or berries – which also earned him the sobriquet Blackberry Jack, even though his name wasn't Jack either.  Of course, it is possible that name  really belonged to someone else.

One fact is certain, according to those who knew him: he did not beg.  If he was given an item, a coin or some food, Tom would ensure he repaid the favour.  A very moral tramp.

Tom was found at home (Jersey Lane) by a resident of Long Acres.  He was thought to be 68 year old.  After a simple funeral, he was buried at Hatfield Road cemetery.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

We'll make a list

710 windmills, a skate park, 49 wrecks (of the ship variety), 9 tower blocks and 9,507 tombs.  These are among 398,000 other items on a list which accumulated through the whole of the 20th century.  Included also are two roller-coaster rides, thousands of churches, tens of thousands of houses, a collection of designed landscapes and monuments, and the occasional battlefield.

This, of course, is the National Heritage List, which has passed through the hands of at least three former government bodies before being welcomed by Historic England.  It is well on its way to becoming a Trust, independent of government, but has a daunting task ahead.

We have previously established on this blog the paucity of Nationally listed structures in the East End of St Albans.  So let's filter the list for those structures added in 2014/15.  Four hundred and seventy-six (plus, or rather minus, 260 items removed from the list).

So, were there any new listed structures in Hertfordshire?  Excitedly, yes.  One.  St George's Church in Letchworth. which is probably more inspiring inside than outside but is in the mould of brilliantly-designed post-WW2 places of worship in the county.

Historic England would now like us all to get involved, and as a result we have the opportunity to add our own contributions to structures on The List in an area of Historic England's website called Enriching the List.   It is one way the daunting task of keeping the detail of entries in The List, accurate and relevant for today.; but remember
What of our East End of St Albans?  We know that, other than Hatfield Road mile posts and a factory facade (Smallford Station is locally listed), nothing else has been identified as being worthy of listing.  Are there any features in our patch which we would like to see on The List in the future?  Before going wild on suggesting sites, do visit for examples.

Would you select the 1894 Cricket Pavilion at Clarence Park, North Lodge at Marshals Drive or South Lodge at Oaklands, or even Oaklands Mansion itself?   Or maybe the front elevation of Camp JMI School, or the homestead of Popefield Farm.  Is Queen's Court worthy of being protected?

Add your suggestion(s) by clicking the pencil below; but remember, it's only a game.  We are not intending to launch a petition to get a structure or a place on The List.  Unless, of course, someone would like to begin to collect the evidence.  The website does tell you how to set about the task.