Sunday, 13 November 2016

Historic streaming

Ask anyone for the name of a river in St Albans and the answer will naturally be the Ver, with a name sourced from the former Roman settlement which has made the city well-known.

A reference might also be made to the Colne, into which the Ver flows, especially as this snakes  through Colney Heath and London Colney.  Both have been favourites for generations of families and their times of recreation.

Which raises the intriguing question about whether all rivers and streams are named.  Perhaps the notion of giving a watercourse a name only became the norm as maps became more common, from the eighteenth century onwards.  Though I have to admit, this might not be strictly true.

Let's explore more watercourses in the East End, all of them which flow, or flowed, from north to south.  A short stream or brook called the Ellen crosses under St Albans Road West en-route to the Colne.  Today it carries little water and is at its most natural as is passes through Ellenbrook Fields, although through Ellenbrook itself it has been culverted.

Just west of Smallford is a stream, also north-to-south, which has two names.  North of Hatfield Road it is known as Boggy Mead Spring, whereas south of there it has the delightful name of Butterwick Brook and was responsible for providing a name for the original Smallford settlement, since there was no bridge over the stream.  This also finds the Colne.

There have been sufficient hints and surveys in the past pointing to a stream which rose at or near The Wick and flowed southwards parallel to Woodstock Road into what is now Sutton Road and then turning near Campfield Road, across Camp Road and London Road before meeting the Ver.  No-one has seen it in recorded history, of course, but there is still sufficient evidence when we experience very wet periods.  Unlike those just described no name has been ascribed to it that has been documented.  And a similar absence of name for a further stream which may have flowed, at least seasonally (a bourne?), also from The Wick, roughly following Clarence Road, dropping down to the previously described stream on its way to the Ver.  For this one we have to rely solely on the topography – much altered of course with urban development.

There is one other stream, and this one suffers from not showing us a direction of flow, still less a name.  But there is a suggestion.  The 1840 tithe map identified two adjacent fields, where today are the Willow estate and Ashley Road industry, and named Hither Bridge Field and Further Bridge Field.  The fields would already have had established names, and 1840 was before the nearby railway.  One of the fields lay on the highest land in the immediate district, and we can still discover Drakes Drive, Cambridge Road and Ashley Road descending from the "heath".  In fact from the Hatfield Road/Beechwood Avenue junction, drive the car towards Oaklands and the first thing you notice is that you are climbing a gradient.

So, if a stream rose hereabouts where might it have flowed after the bridge which we assume was in one of the two fields?  One possibility is down the Cambridge Road gradient to join the stream flowing near Campfield Road; another is along the line now Ashley Road and Hatfield Road towards the same stream as it crossed into Sutton Road.

There was a time, therefore, when the East End was awash with streams which disappeared as the water table dropped.  As to when that might have been, someone may, as I write, already be undertaking the research, which incidentally, is unlikely to reveal stream names!

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Well done and not well done

Two events have come to light recently which link the former branch railway line between St Albans and Hatfield.  For those who are uncertain the route is now Alban Way, with stations included at London Road, Hill End and Smallford.

Smallford Station in 1947  Courtesy R D Taylor
Scene from film shot at the station in
1933.   Courtesy
The Smallford Heritage Group has recently acquired a certificate, reminiscent of those children would receive for being the best/most alert/highest scorer etc child in the school, and signed by the head teacher.

This certificate, available on Ebay, was awarded in 1947 to Smallford Station by the London and North Eastern Railway of which the branch was a part.  In the competition for best kept stations, Smallford won a first class prize.  There is no telling how many other stations took part, or won various grades of award.  Nor are we likely to know whether it was clean platforms, sparkling windows and a tidy coal yard which were considered for box ticking.  Maybe there were floral displays along the only platform.  It would be nice to think there were no weeds along the track either.  And if Smallford won a prize in 1947, did it also win prizes in other years?  Was it a question of "Smallford won, AGAIN!"

Best Kept Station in 1947.  Courtesy
Whatever did or did not happen – and assuming that the certificate did arrive at the station, maybe for a small presentation – the certificate had been retained somewhere for the past 69 years, possibly changing hands on several occasions, only to surface for auction in 2016.  It is now in the ownership of the Smallford Group.

At some future date, when the station is once more accessible and serves a useful function, perhaps the certificate will be framed and mounted on a wall of the booking office – a little late, perhaps, but nevertheless available for all to feel proud of.

A search of the Herts Advertiser for 1947 (and the start of 1948) revealed no report of the award, let alone a photograph.  But an event further along the track did just make it into print that year.  In the section – of an 8-page edition due to a post-war newsprint shortage – headed St Albans News in Brief, was the following on October 17th:

Sutton Road bridge in 1954.  It was this side which had
been demolished in the strike.
“Sutton Road was closed to traffic yesterday following the partial collapse of the LNER bridge over the road on Wednesday night.  The structure of the bridge was damaged when an army lorry struck a girder on the Campfield Road side and tore it away, causing the sleepers between the permanent way and the side of the bridge to fall into the road.  The railway line over the bridge was not damaged and traffic between the Abbey LNER Station and Hatfield was not affected.  A similar accident occurred at the same spot several years ago.”

For those who recall the Sutton Road railway bridge – where Alban Way crosses the road near the pedestrian crossing –  it was low, in fact very low.  Its headroom was ten feet, and that was after the road had been dug downwards.

The incident was at night and was caused by the driver of an army lorry.  In the years following WW2, military vehicles were common on our roads at all times of day and night, and especially on Sundays.  Bridge strikes were possibly quite frequent, then as now, but the combination of a military driver not familiar with his route and trying to use the only road linking Camp and Fleetville must have made this bridge vulnerable.  We are told that the timetable operated the following day.  Today, in spite of emergency overnight works it is probable that safety consideration would have dictated closure for at least a day.  But in 1947 it was a question of Keep Calm and Carry On.