Sunday, 31 December 2017

Enjoy it? It Made Mondays

Every town and city, and many villages too, are brimming with groups and organisations known both within and beyond their boundaries;  known for an approach, a rich enthusiasm, a directness focused on a subject of their choice; a subject and a group with a positive reputation, and often driven by someone with passion.  Such organisations often attract new members and fresh interest from people who often pass similar organisations closer to home.  Key individuals in these groups  are able to fire up enthusiasm and keep the flames of energy going.

These wonderful groups achieve a critical mass of members who are seemingly able to maintain the organisational energy for ever, or so it appears.  But there is a risk.  Everyone with flair and skill plays their part, but we all have a natural time period, after which we move on to other interests, move away or fail to find sufficient other members to support them.  Succession, or lack of it, is that greatest risk.

Among the organisations which consistently create projects, departments, activities and skills are schools and colleges.  Somehow there are teachers out there who push harder in their professional lives and develop something new, or enhance what might otherwise have been expected in the curriculum.  These teachers, often aided by dedicated parents or governors, produce an approach which stands above the expected in the life of the school.  They make their school shine brighter,

Today, many secondary schools and academies are specialists in one or more areas of the curriculum, so we tend to expect something extra in those areas.  Often, however, it has been the specific dedication of individual teachers who, beyond the curriculum, have enabled the reputation of the school to be more widely appreciated in the locality.  This may be curriculum enrichment via language courses in other countries, or developing an enthusiasm for healthy eating or healthy exercise in a wider range of sports or foods.  Performance skills are often used to build confidence and for the enjoyment of participation in its own right.

Lest we gain the impression this is a very modern concept, the idea of "doing something extra at school" is probably as old as formal education itself; not because it was required, but because head teachers and assistant teachers alike gave their students opportunities to engage in something different, nurturing the interests and aptitudes of the youngsters in their care.  As always, however, the challenge has been to support the costs involved.  It is often for reasons such as this that Parents' Associations were created to help raise funds.

Most of us will recall those special activities which much later enabled us to admit, "if it wasn't for Mr ..., who pushed me to excel in ... I wouldn't be where I am today."  

It would be great to receive details of some of the special projects and activities for which their schools were or are known, why they were engaging and who the key drivers were.  We have usually taken those drivers for granted and it's about time they were recognised.

Recently, while trawling though old journals, the reason for keeping one of them was realised.  A feature article in one of them revealed to a much wider audience a dynamic musical force which inspired up to half of the school; a reputation developed from formative beginnings, and using experience gained elsewhere.

From today you can read about Marshalswick Music by the former Director of Music, Ian Hamilton,  on the main website  The link is on the front page.  We may even pick up a few recollections from former members of the school's choirs, bands and ensembles.  Apart from Marshalswick (now Sandringham) what else was or is out there which ensured there were challenges beyond the curriculum for their pupils and students?

Friday, 8 December 2017

A little bit further

Shortly before 1913 the City Council  deliberated over just how much of the land eastwards of the city it should take into what was known as the added areas.  Its original proposal was to extend the boundary from Camp Road (The Crown) – the limit since 1879 – as far as Beaumont Avenue; the reasoning presumably being that a boundary at this point would encompass all of the building added since 1879.  However, the authority was reminded that development was no respecter of borders and it would be useful to stretch the boundary so as to ensure that future housing would lie within the city from the start.  So it was that the council determined the limits should be defined at Winches Farm.

Two farm-related events would ensure not long would transpire before most of the green extension would turn brown.  First was the remaining acres of Beaumont Farm.  About half (Castle Road area and the Camp Estate) had been sold for development in 1899, and in 1929 the remainder (Beaumont Avenue east, Beaumonts Estate, Hatfield Road north and the Willow Estate) came on the market.  The developer, Watford Land, lost no time in erecting semi-detached homes between Beaumont Avenue and Oakwood Drive – the latter laid out but not yet developed.  This initial stage ensured that homes of a relatively high value, fronting onto Hatfield Road, would act as a shop window and provide a good initial profit to fund the later building behind.

The second event actually materialised first.  Opposite the Watford Land homes on Beaumonts Farm was Hatfield Road field.  This was the westernmost field belonging to Robert Gaussen's own Hill End Farm.  On the southern side of Hatfield Road the boundary between Hill End Farm and Beaumonts Farm was a hedge at the top of the rise east of Beaumont Avenue/Ashley Road.

Back in 1996, and in preparation for the building of Hill End Asylum, the Hospital Committee purchased 96 acres from Mr Gaussen.  In effect, the committee purchased the whole farm and then re-sold what was not required to Mr Charles Morris of Highfield Hall.  This included the Hatfield Road Field and an area of woodland stretching from Colney Heath Lane to the current Longacres.  By around 1920 Mr Morris had seen the development opportunity and sold roadside plots, although the part of the field between these and the branch railway was left undeveloped.  Meanwhile it served a use as a small brickworks and a smallholding.

The first three plots had been sold and built on by 1923 (numbers 358 and 360, and number 384, whose owner moved on after a year, selling to an incoming family from Wood Green.  The original 384 no longer exists, the wide plot now redeveloped into two new homes.  The resulting development process of selling plots, rather than houses, provides a variety of detached and semi-detached homes set well back from the road.  The original 384 was rather different in being a small detached home on a wide and deep plot, although a building extension at the back was added in the 1930s.  It was the additional plot lengths at the Oakwood Drive end of the road which enabled the Pinewood Close development, removing more than half of the rear garden lengths.

Across the road the estate-developed semi-detached homes were begun as soon as the land became available in 1929 and all but six dwellings were habitable the following year.  The 1960s style home (267) had been the yard used by the builders.  Momentum had dwindled when building the homes east from Oakwood Drive and by the late thirties had only reached 365.  It is assumed this was the result of the County Council acquisition of land for Beaumont School, although the boundary of the initial land purchase fell significantly short of Hatfield Road and would have permitted the homes to fill their allotted  space – which, in a rather different way, they are about to do.  The land behind the hedge was only purchased to extend the school field in 1948.

St Albans City Council was therefore wise, in 1913, to think ahead and stretch its boundary as far as Winches.  The land covering developed beyond there towards Smallford came into the City's hands as a result of amalgamation with St Albans Rural in the 1970s.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Learning a Little More

From the moment the news broke of new housing proposed for Symonshyde there has been a near-universal condemnation of the plans.  The reason for the negative response is undoubtedly similar to the outcries of the other housing proposals which have ever been made at various times, some of which have come about and others sunk without trace; "we're here and we don't want anyone else".  We have been offered a minimal amount of information: that the new plans for east of St Albans are part of the national requirement  to build thousands of new houses (of which Symonshyde would be a small part).  Because St Albans District Council currently has no coherent district plan, while Welwyn-Hatfield is announcing its proposals, St Albans' residents naturally feel embarrassed while the neighbouring council is getting its act together on St Albans' very doorstep.

Site of the proposed Symondshyde New Village.

Then there is the terminology: housing.  What do you imagine?  Does it leave a mainly positive or mainly negative impression?  We might substitute estate, or sprawl, or suburb.  Or perhaps village, hamlet.  We can also be conclusive, usually negatively, about its impact with terms such as destroying our green space, or ruining the countryside. So, let's explore what is actually proposed a little further.

We can all do a little digging on the internet at where there are a number of outline projects, all in the Welwyn-Hatfield area.  Gascoyne Cecil Estates is a major land owner, representing the Cecil family, and centred on Hatfield House over several centuries.  Large land owners occasionally "play" with their acreages and choose to sell peripheral fields for private development; either for housing or commercial functions. 

The evidence from Gascoyne Cecil Estates is rather different, adopting a more acceptable, almost fatherly approach to responsible management of its holdings.  So, what is actually planned for Symondshyde?

Symondshyde New Village as shown in the Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan

The charette report states: “a satellite village is a settlement which is dependent on a nearby town but which avoids urban sprawl and does not block views of open countryside.  A village would be separated from existing urban settlements by an enforceable green corridor of a size which remains capable of being easily walked or cycled.”

Other earlier settlements, such as Letchworth Garden City, have similar rural rings limiting their size and preventing encroachment from outside.

While the proposals for Symondshyde sketch in important amenities, including shops, schools, offices, bus links, and community spaces such as sports clubs and a pub, enabling any or all of these to be sustainable in the modern world is a tall ask.  If, in the fullness of time, these begin to fail, the sustainability of the village is lost and endless car journeys would develop between it and Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield and St Albans.

The planners' concept drawings are always made to appear more acceptable
by using watercolour on textured paper.
The distances between the proposed village and nearby towns is little different than for most other villages in the southern half of the county, and will therefore be no exception.  But because the risks outlined do nevertheless exist is no reason to deny the plan an airing and a reasoned debate.

There is little doubt that, at the beginning, the development will look like any other; its newness cannot be avoided.  As for the cost of living in the village, that is all wrapped up in the price of housing on a national and regional scale, and directly linked to real  shortages of accommodation.  But this village, as with hundreds of other new settlements in build or planned, will be making its own contribution to alleviation.

We will keep our eyes and ears open for a genuine community debate on the issue.

Monday, 13 November 2017

An anniversary for Glenferrie

In the late 1890s St Peter's Farm (farm homestead building extant as the Conservative Club) was sold and broken up.  This was the move which linked suburban St Albans at Stanhope Road to the Smith-inspired Fleet Ville at Bycullah Terrace.  Two of the three fields which lined the north side of Hatfield Road were purchased by Horace Slade, the straw hat and cardboard box manufacturer.  The ensuing residential development which then took place on what became known as the Slade Building Estate, was nothing short of remarkable for the period and the structure of the building industry's reliance on many independent small firms.  

Glenferrie Road, the furthest west of the three parallel roads Slade laid out, managed completion within five years of the road being carved out of the field previously known as Great Long Field.  Occupation of the homes shows evidence of an orderly construction plan, and the resulting design of dwellings suggest that two or three small developers engaged the varied construction firms to build a tidy arrangement of terraces (on the east) and semi-detached houses (on the west side).  No doubt current residents still clutching their original deeds will be able to discover who their developers were and perhaps work out what roles in St Albans' society they otherwise held.

Unlike many other roads, development was tidily arranged too, beginning from the Hatfield Road end.  On the west side we walk along the full length of what were the rear gardens of the houses in Hatfield Road – most had originally been built for domestic accommodation, while the same distance on the east side was reserved for the Methodist church's third home once it had raised sufficient funds.

The welcome sight of extensive green in the rear gardens

The two long terraces on the east side have retained their original exterior look without disturbance to glazing or other modernisations.  The second terrace, which contains more constructional decoration than the first even sports original decorated tile front paths in one adjacent pair.

The west begins with four pairs of attractively simple homes, possessing several echoes of the terrace opposite.  These give way to pairs with front bays, eaves and an interestingly simple design above the adjacent front doors, signifying the location of a porch without actually building one.  And no-one has since!

Surviving street directories suggest that the final initial occupants moved into the remaining new homes on the west side in 1907, making Glenferrie Road officially complete one hundred years ago this year.

A pre-WW1 photograph of Glenferrie Road looking distinctly wider
without its lines of parked cars.  COURTESY ANDY LAWRENCE

In the most recent census available to us in 1911, when the road was very fresh, there were no fewer than five heads of household working in the printing industry and several working for the railway.  A smattering of clerks, managers, accountants, were joined by the very new roles of electricians, a coal merchant, baker,  prison warder and an employee in a raincoat factory.  The range of occupations today is undoubtedly just as wide, but there are more occupations per household now, compared with the early 20th century.  With that comes an increase in disposable income per household; and the one external difference which has transformed almost every address in the road is the continuous line of parked cars along both kerbs.

But one view which almost no-one notices, unless they are using Google Earth is the unbelievable amount of green space – in the rear gardens of course; this in a part of St Albans which appears to be devoid of the colour apart from in the Cemetery and the Recreation Ground.

A happy centenary to all residents of Glenferrie Road and their families.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Happy Birthday

Monday 2nd November 1908 to Thursday 2nd November 2017
St Albans' Own East End wishes the children, teachers, friends and parents of
Fleetville Infant School & Nursery and Fleetville Junior School
a Happy 109th Birthday.

It is a first for this blog, otherwise we could be wishing people and places birthday greetings all the time.  Nor is there any particular reason for it on this occasion, other than the teachers at Fleetville Infant School had located the original school log book and had noted the effusively written first page on the day of opening, Monday 2nd November 1908, written in the flourishing hand of Mr Charles Wimbrey, newly appointed Head Teacher of the Fleetville Elementary Schools.

The original 3-classroom Infant building opened in 1914.

The building accommodated not only infants, but junior aged children and seniors, up to the age of thirteen.  Teachers across the district will be familiar with the next fact.  Only one of the two original buildings was opened (the smaller building was completed six years later) and the November date indicates that the handover was at least two months late!

Part of the frontage of the large building as children
celebrated the school's centenary.

Fleetville has witnessed several protest meetings since the district's birth in 1897; the first of which was the result of discontent among parents who had moved into the new houses in the years up to 1904.  The young Hertfordshire County Council Education Department, in wrestling with the issue of school places, chose the obvious solution of adding more accommodation to the buildings already open at St Peter's Rural Schools, then also known as Camp School.  However, its statement contained a critical rider to the authority's intention to build extensions to the rural school: "equivalent in size to a new school."  The meeting of parents at the Institute – at the corner of Hatfield Road and Arthur Road – simply demanded that these extensions should be built as a new school in Fleetville.

Into the former senior school buildings, dating from 1931, moved Fleetville
Juniors in 1976 – and playing fields for the first time.

No land had been reserved for a new school, nor any recreational open space.  So the new school was created by purchasing a number of house plots along Royal and Tess roads (the latter is now Woodstock Road South).

Over the decades the parents had cause to complain on several occasions about overcrowding, but now the protest meetings could take place in the school's own hall.  Classes, even in the Infant department, rose above fifty; temporary huts arrived; classes met in the old nursery (now the Community Centre); rooms in the former police houses; St Paul's Church; and finally two rooms in the former HORSA huts at Beaumont School.  This last element of "outreach" became known as the Fleetville Extension School, and when permanent buildings were constructed nearby, was renamed  Oakwood JMI School.

Not just a plain playground, but interesting spaces for young children.
Following further protest meetings the Junior Department moved across the road to the empty former Central School / Girls' Grammar School / Beaumont Girls' School / Sandfield School.  Both sections of the school felt there was space to breathe at last.

At various times during the past fifty years the original buildings have, of course, undergone a number of changes, from extensions to indoor toilets; link doorways between many of the classrooms; a kitchen; and a "new" hall in place of the old wooden huts.  The nursery has moved from the temporary wartime building and brought on site and the former divided tarmac playground (it had been gravel before that) is now a much more inviting series of spaces for children to enjoy.

The school has in its possession an interesting collection of photographs, some of which also appear on this website.  However, there will surely be a much wider range in the shoeboxes and albums of former pupils.  After all, there are now 109 years of learning behind today's celebration.  Memories too.  What might we recall about the school which has been a central part of Fleetville for almost all of the district's life?

Friday, 20 October 2017

Give me some space

It may have taken fully one hundred years but the Hatfield Road as we experience it today has only been achieved a bite at a time.  The mushrooming of Fleetville district came before any planning guidelines or regulations were available, and before motor vehicles dominated.

Widening of limited sections took place at various times, mainly on the south side, as much of that was developed later.  But no authority gave any thought to the fact that the road was a strategic highway linking two key towns.  So the last significant improvement to traffic flow and safety was carried out in the 1960s with widening between Harlesden and Sutton roads – fully half a century ago!

Other improvements which could have improved traffic flow, such as removal of the former railway bridge in Sutton Road may have helped take traffic away, but in the other direction Sutton Road is just as busy attracting even more vehicles into Hatfield Road.  The proposed road linking the Sandfield Road junction with Camp Road at Roland Street did not materialise for the practical reason that the council baulked at the price and couldn't imagine how it would take the road across what was then an operational railway line.

And at either end of the district are two complex junctions at The Crown and Beaumont Avenue, which are the only other road connections between Fleetville and Camp.

One other perennial issue, which fortunately is largely now non-existent with improved drainage infrastructure, are the places where water gathered in periods of high rainfall.  We should not have been surprised; former streams had been known, and covering the district with houses, pavements and tarred roads does nothing to help rainwater to seep into the soil.  Two of the notorious spots along the road were near the current pedestrian crossing at the Beaumont Avenue junction, and at the Sutton Road junction (the others were at Sandfield Road and The Crown).

But it is the combination of parked vehicles and increased number of vehicles overall which we now need to focus our attention.  A significant amount of both of these are probably internally generated rather than drivers using Fleetville to travel through to somewhere else.  We already have one bypass, after all, although that is also congested at times.

Fleetville has just one off-road parking area for a reasonably large number of vehicles.  Yes, it is privately-owned, but at least it is there.  A previous attempt to excavate an underground version beneath the recreation ground came to nothing, and the side roads, which are subject to current new parking proposals are limited in capacity with or without taking the roads' residents into account.  The pronouncement by Fleetville retail traders in the 1930s inviting customers from far and wide with the promise that "there is plenty of space to park your motor vehicle" is beyond a distant memory!

A quiet mid-morning in the centre of Fleetville.
We may not like it, but jointly we must become responsible for solving this problem and responsive to it.  Expensive it might be in many ways; and one of those is reduction in air quality at busy times, especially near the two schools.  Unseen, but unseen doesn't mean it is not present.

When a main road changes by small increments over a long period of time (is one hundred years long enough?) those changes largely go unnoticed.  Many of the shops which line the north side began life as cottages, with no expectation of becoming a retail centre requiring additional infrastructure, let alone an off-road parking place for the owner's "motor vehicle".

There has been one voice considering change, though the county council's offering wasn't recent.  Having recognised the success of The Quadrant as a retail location, it proposed that a similar plan should be considered for Hatfield Road.  We were not informed how this plan was expected to materialise, exactly where, or the effect it might have on those lengths of Hatfield Road not part of the Quadrant 2 development.  Perhaps Morrison's has already taken that idea forward!

It is a pity this idea was not developed further, not because the writer approves of it, but because it would spark a debate about the issue of Hatfield Road congestion; a debate which is very much needed, and from any debate often develops an even better solution than the one which launched it.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Sorry, we don't do sliced

In July this blog visited the very interesting Sutton Road to explore the variety of buildings and their former occupants as the street developed in the first half of the 20th century.

We have also discovered that a number of family shops clustered at or near the junction with Cambridge and Camp View roads.

Two of those were Morley the baker and Gray the fish shop.  For those not now living in the district it is good to report that the fish shop is still thriving on the corner.  As with so many family shops, however, once the family had done its turn in dispensing bread and rolls to its community, it closed for good.

William Morley counted himself among the truly local shops providing products required frequently for the family table.  So we encountered butchers (there were three of them in this cluster), grocers, fishmongers and bakers.  In any residential location with parades of shops, or corner versions, we  found most, if not, all of these.  

Flowers adorn the family's first house in Camp Road.
Even the grocery shops – and there were more than twenty in Fleetville during the 1930s – sometimes made arrangements with a local baker to stock a loaf or two among the tins and bags.  The grocer got the benefit of a reasonably normal day, of course, unlike the baker who rose in the dark to bake that day's bread.  Though he could justifiably close early, if he had sold out by mid-afternoon.

Mr Morley's family began life in the East End of St Albans, occupying a new house opposite the school in Camp Road.  His father worked as a carpenter in the building trade and it is likely that he had a hand in the construction of the house they moved into.  An apprentice carpenter boarder lived with them, so it is possible that William senior was self employed with his own business. In the early 1920s they found a plot in Sutton Road and built again, and is from here that their eldest son, also William, already having learned his trade elsewhere in the city,  became self-employed, no doubt assisted by other family members.  We know, for example, that his sister-in-law's family shared in the running of the business during the 1950s.  William's son Maurice also became a master baker, having gained his training in the army.  Both he and his brother, Derek, assisted in the shop.
The former Morley baker's shop, with the corner fish shop.

Maurice, now in his 80s, recalls the business employing a roundsman, delivering bread to some two hundred customers, and a boy who may have worked in the shop or assisted in the bakery at the back.  I suppose it depends on the definition of 'boy'!

William died in 1957 at the age of 67, and it is likely that he continued working in the business until then.  In many family businesses it is often a question of closing the business or carrying on after the owner would have liked to retire.  Being wholly responsible for the family firm often brings much stress, as some readers will acknowledge.
1911 census entry detailing William's parents and siblings.

As the locals will already know, the shop has been converted into residential accommodation, but it is still possible to visualise where the former display window was, and the doorway through which customers would pass, to be greeted by name from one of the Mr Morleys or their spouses from behind the counter.  More than that, there seems to be no more enticing scent on the cool morning air than the smell of freshly baked bread from the Morley ovens.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Stop Go

Well, now we know; the junction with Hatfield Road for the new housing development at Beaumont School front field will be controlled by traffic lights, and not  a roundabout.  Of course, those of you who have already seen the plans will already be aware of this decision.  The same road will also give access to the school for large vehicles.  The only information not yet circulating is the name of the new road.  Not that it will make any difference, but we could receive suggestions for a suitable and appropriate name.

It will be the last light-controlled junction until the extensive Comet group of lights, and the first since The Crown, although the light-controlled pedestrian crossing right on the junction with Woodstock Road South might as well be full traffic lights considering how often the lights change for pedestrians; how difficult it can be for cars emerging from Woodstock to turn right.  In the distance between Morrison's and St Paul's there are four recognised pedestrian crossing points, three of them light controlled, while the crossing outside the cemetery is a Belisha model.

The first traffic lights on the east side of the city were installed at the Hatfield Road/Lemsford Road junction before WW2. It took another thirty years before a flurry of junctions on radial roads intersecting the ring road were added in the early 1960s, one of which was at the Beechwood Avenue/Ashley Road intersection.  Many of you will be confused, as it is a double roundabout.  It is now and only came to be so, because the original lights, which never included Beaumonts Avenue  of course, were problematic, especially at busy times.  Admittedly, if you regularly leave the city in the busy tea-time period, you will admit that the junction is problematic today too!  There is not really sufficient public space to funnel all streams of vehicles through the western end of the junction.  All four main arms of the junction also feature a Belisha crossing, the western version being the closest to the junction.

Perhaps this is the reason for the only ring road junction to become a permanent roundabout was the Redbourn Road/Batchwood Drive junction, where plenty of public land had been reserved, the ring road having arrived before the houses.

It will be interesting to observe what congestion develops during the school term and after the houses are occupied; and to what extent it becomes part of a wider congestion zone which would include Oaklands College, Wynchlands Parade shops being trapped in between.

My guess is that the next set of traffic lights will appear at the junction with Colney Heath Lane, but naturally we will expect a generous period of mayhem first while brains click into gear to design the junction which would include or exclude the college driveway at South Lodge.

Since the Comet group of traffic lights was mentioned earlier, this might be an appropriate point to observe the perimeter hoardings being erected around the Comet (Ramada Hotel) site recently.  This may come as a surprise to many, especially if you live in St Albans, as news of the development has only been carried in the Welwyn Hatfield press (which printed the most basic faux-pas suggesting that the building was named after the 1950s jet airliner rather than the 1930s competition racer.  The original Grade Two listed 1930s building is being retained and upgraded internally, the rather unprepossessing hotel extensions are being demolished in favour of a mix of hotel rooms/serviced suites and student accommodation, and more extensive parking.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Farming outpost

We may reside in a suburb or an old-established central location, but almost all of us live where once horses (end even earlier oxen) pulled rudimentary ploughs, and labourers in poor accommodation toiled to win a harvest for their employer farm tenant.

The blue rectangle behind The Quadrant, astride Hughenden Road and
Wycombe Way, represents where the homestead was located.  The blue broken
line is approximately the route of the carriage drive directly from
Marshalswick Lane to the house and yard.

When Nash Homes published its proposals for the new Marshalswick housing development in the 1930s, the area around the old farm house was designated a high density zone.  We have seen the flats, the shopping centre, public house (not any longer), library and community centre, churches and cinema (the last, which was to have been near where the baptist church is, didn't make it).

From the 1879 OS map                       COURTESY HALS
But if any of the tenants at the farm had gazed  out of their windows in their time, they certainly would not have believed the scene which in the future would surround them.

Marshalswick Farm, also known as Wheeler's Farm according to early maps, has not been part of the geography since the early 1950s.  It was taken over for Nash's site office,  returned to temporary accommodation during the Second World War, before once again housing a site office for a short time.  There are fortunately a few people who recall the group of buildings which formed the farm, although not at its best, having not been an operational agricultural hub since the 1930s.

The aerial photo can be used to illustrate the location of the house, facing west across its formal gardens, towards what is now Sherwood Avenue, then an occupational track.  Access to the yard and barns was via what to us is the little roundabout linking Marshalswick Lane and The Ridgeway.  The surviving trees in the Quadrant car park grew in the home paddock between the house and the ponds by the lane.

From the 1924 OS map                       COURTESY HALS
What of the farm house, though?  Does anyone know what it looked like?  Fortunately, we do have an accurate picture of it in 1826.  Jane Marten, of the former Marshals Wick House, created some impressive drawings of local farm homesteads.  One of the two surviving drawings is here.  Jane would have been sitting in the garden facing east.  She has drawn it as a modest building, and it is clear that over time there have been additions.  A view (not shown) from the yard, surrounded by typical barns and stores, reveals a well house.  Both show a number of trees close to the homestead, and it is inevitable that a stranger walking along the [Marshalswick] lane, otherwise known as New Road, would have passed by with little idea there was a dwelling nestling within the group of trees.

Inside, water was drawn from a well, and, being remote, it was never connected to the gas supply, let alone electricity.  Oil lamps were used until the day the last occupier left.

Maybe that is one reason why Thomas Wheeler [no name connection] selected this farm to try his luck in stealing property in 1880.  Unfortunately, in finding the tenant, Edward Anstee, he bludgeoned his victim to death.  The story is well-known and Wheeler was apprehended shortly afterwards.

View of Marshalswick Farm by Jane Marten.                                                                            COURTESY HERITAGE ENGLAND

As a result of this dreadful event a new tenant was appointed, James Slimmon.  He, and subsequently his son William, were the last to cultivate the 300-acre farm.

While Jane Marten has left an evocative illustration of the homestead, it remains the only picture of it  I have come across.  Though it survived until after World War Two, no photographs appear to have surfaced.  It would be wonderful if, in someone's collection, there was a photograph, or perhaps a painting of Wheeler's Farm homestead.  What a find that would be.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

One day they'll do something about it

It can sometimes be a pain driving along Hatfield Road at busy times, with congestion probable at Marlborough Road, Lemsford Road, Station Road, The Crown, Morrison's, Beechwood Avenue, and Butterwick.  We will possibly need to add Longacres to that list before long with the road improvements currently underway at Beaumont School.  Ironically, that same location was congested in a different way in the 1960s, with employees from Marconi Instruments attempting to arrive or leave Longacres, where the firm had one of its factories.

In a thoroughly modern approach the Highways Board undertook a survey in 1878, a couple of years before it expected to take over responsibility for the Reading & Hatfield Turnpike Road, which included Hatfield Road.  It has turned out to be one of the very few historical traffic analyses to surface.  During the week January 12th to 18th, 1,866 carriages passed along it at the point close to where the road passes the Peacock PH, just above Lattimore Road.

Although described as carriages, we can't be certain whether this was simply a generic term to cover all vehicles other than simple carts, or whether it was specific to larger multi-horse passenger vehicles.  This would be an average of 20 per hour during the winter daylight period – it is assumed that enumerators did not remain on station at night.  It would have included both directions, given that the road would not have been laned and vehicles from both directions would have mainly used the same narrow road surface.

In comparison, during the same period 346 vehicles used Holywell Hill at Pondyards, where turnpike tolls were again chargeable (the part in between was managed by the town).  On the face of it this discrepancy is difficult to understand, except that drivers may have found alternative routes to Holywell Hill if they could: but 49 vehicles per day compared with Hatfield Road's 266?

However we explain the difference, it is clear that, even before Fleetville came into being, the east side of the city was generating over five times as much traffic as the road to the south, which, of course, was the continuation of the R & H turnpike via Watford towards Reading.  It would have been useful to compare the stats with London Road as well, but the Highways Board were already responsible for that highway, and if a survey had been undertaken it would have been from a much earlier date and hasn't yet surfaced.

So, where might this traffic from the east have originated?  Certainly there were new houses in the area then called New Town, between the old town boundary in Marlborough Road and the new railway line – the new town boundary would not be extended to The Crown (then colloquially known as the Chain Bar) until the following year.  Beyond the Chain Bar there were few properties, mainly farms and Oaklands Mansion, until Bishops Hatfield (we have now dropped the Bishop), where there was a connection with the Great North Road.  Most of the 1,866 carriages would therefore have consisted of long-distance traffic, but may have included a skeleton omnibus service from Hatfield.  St Albans is therefore assumed to have been the destination for the majority, before returning via the same route.

If the clerks of 1878 were using the statistics in any useful way, such as the probable costs of maintaining the road based on its current usage, it is also possible that they had a forward plan for improvements so that the road could be laned throughout.  Of course, at that time they would have been thinking in terms of the road width now enjoyed along the short stretch between The Crown and Cavendish Road, which we now think of as a nuisance because of its width constraint.  Within thirty years it would all become wider still.

The questions now are: if the survey was to be undertaken again today, how would the results compare?  And, given that, since the Highways Board 139 years ago would not have dreamed that  allowance would have to be made for a virtually continuous line of parked vehicles down both sides, how might we see Hatfield Road changing in the next fifty years?  Remember, the population of this part of Hertfordshire – and particularly between St Albans and Hatfield – will rise substantially if the confirmed plans come to pass.  Discuss!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Memory triggered

Between 30 and 40 times a year for the past nine years posts have been published on this site about various matters connected with St Albans' Own East End.  Sometimes the memories of readers are triggered because of a person, an experience or a place.  This connection doesn't always become converted into a message, but when it does it's pleasant to share it with others.  It is also intriguing how that often happens.  It might be expected to be in response to the most recent posting, but often the topic reveals that the reader has browsed deep into the archive.

Terraces in Cambridge Road
So it was when Brenda got in touch from her home in France in response to an old posting about Cambridge Road; it not only reminded her about her former home, but former friends, her school and a few of its teachers.

This is what Brenda recalled:

I’ve just been looking through your wonderful website!  I lived some of my childhood years in St Albans in Cambridge Road, and was amazed to see a photo of it here!  My name in those days was Brenda Anne Westfield.    My parents Bob and Marjorie Westfield’s best friends were Anne and Robbie (can't remember the surname, but he was Irish) who lived in the adjacent Wellington Road, and I used to play with Anne’s sister, Susan, when she visited.  Anne and Robbie had a daughter  called Tracy.  My Dad had been a chef in the Royal Marines, and he and Robbie worked together as chefs in the kitchens at Cell Barnes Hospital.

My mother, Marjorie Westfield, was a secretary at Marshalswick Boys' School, and her friend there was Mrs Simmons, who I was delighted to spot in a photo of Beaumont School!  I guess Mrs Simmons must have been one of the members of staff who moved to Marshalswick. 

Fleetville JMI, now Fleetville Infants School
I attended Fleetville Infants and Juniors school from approx. 1959/60 [until 1967] until the end of the juniors years.  My best friends there were Felicity Buxton who lived somewhere north of the school, and Lynn Wilson who lived south of it.  Another name I remember was Mary Briggs and I have a feeling that her parents ran the post office near the school.   Also remembered is Richard Moon.  I remember I used to walk to school on my own and I passed Marconi Instruments and the Ballito stockings factory!  I desperately wanted a pair of the black stockings which had pictures of the four Beatles faces on them!  I wonder if anyone remembers them?

Unfortunately I don't think I have any photos of St Albans to submit (only ones of me at that tender age!) but I’ll check again.

I’d be delighted to see any photos of my days at Fleetville!    Or to hear from any class mates -  I can't remember any more names at the moment.  The teachers I remember are Miss Probert a largish lady with gingery hair (I think) always in a bun, who taught geography, and Mr Blanks, a rather cruel, bald-headed man who used to like taunting Richard Moon when he was talking, by making him stand on his chair while saying ‘Get on your chair Moon, up in the sky where you belong’.   Funny what sticks in your mind!

Yes, those Beatles nylons really did exist!
Clarence Park was where mum and dad played tennis, leaving me on the sidelines with a banana ice lolly!

Thanks so much for the trip down memory lane, and I hope some of my information rings a bell with someone!

Brenda recalled other information following an email dialogue, which just show that memories can be triggered by little reminders.  I wonder whether other readers can recall the people who grew up with Brenda.  The older boys may also have been  enthusiastic about Ballito's black stockings, but for different reasons and all might have looked forward to the parties, dances and boxing for which the factory was popular!

Unfortunately there are no Fleetville class photos from the 1960s in my archive, but if you have any which you would like to share, do get in touch:

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

What do we know – about the Mos?

There are roads named after what had been a well-known aircraft; there's a sculpture of the founder of the factory which built them, Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, and there are static examples of probably the most famous of the Hatfield aircraft factory's models, the DH98 Mosquito, in the museums at Hendon and Duxford, and locally at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum near London Colney.

For all that, we have, for the most part, a forgotten memory of the former de Havilland Aircraft factory in Hatfield.  Homes, a university campus, businesses and a police station stand on the site and part of the runway.

As to the aircraft themselves there are confusions.  We are reminded every time we pass the Ramada Hotel at one end of Comet Way, that the Comet which gave the hotel its original name was not the post-war fine passenger aircraft which came from this factory, but the pre-war Comet Racer, build especially for international competition.  A red-painted model of it still stands on its column at the front of the Hotel.

Then, if we ask anyone to name a well-known World War Two aircraft, the only name in town is the Supermarine-manufactured and Mitchell-designed Spitfire.  That had came into production before the 'Mos' and over half of its production of 20,000 units came from Castle Bromwich.  It was devised as a fighter and for photo-reconnaissance, though was adapted for other roles too.  It achieved top operational speeds up to 380mph, and even today it is not unusual to see 'Spits' flying overhead at shows and in movies.

By contrast, the Mosquito came on stream in 1940, around 4,800 of the production of 7,700 were made at Hatfield or Leavesden.  It was very light, had a top operational speed of 400mph and was adapted to almost every role a light aircraft was required to undertake.  Oh, and its unique characteristic was its construction material: wood, taking advantage of readily available raw material from the Chilterns and large numbers of experienced furniture makers.

It is this feature of its construction which means its story and lasting memory is now more vaguely recalled.  You won't see the Wooden Wonder, as it came to be known, in the skies today.  The original planes could not survive the seventy years or so since they were made.  There is a restored flying 'Mos' in Canada, one in New Zealand, and that is about it.  So there is little to remind us – especially those of us who live near to the former seat of manufacture – so we let the Spitfire have its glory!

What a delightful surprise this week that a last-minute rescue of thousands of engineering drawings of the Mosquito took place at a redundant factory near Chester which had manufactured fewer than one hundred versions.  It is a miracle that so much fragile archival material came to lay untouched for so long and was finally identified by members of a project which aims to rebuild a Mosquito rescued after it crashed near Coltishall after the war.  This will not be a matter of cleaning it up and giving the remains a spit and polish.  Remember its unique quality: the Buckinghamshire wood, which made it cheaper to build and gave it such superior speed and manoeuvrability that it was considered superfluous to fit on-board guns.

For these two reasons alone, the Wooden Wonder was unique in military aircraft.  Even more important, therefore, that its story should now be better known, especially to all of us who today live here on the east side of St Albans and in Hatfield.  We will follow the promising People's Mosquito Project with interest, because its story began right here, on our doorstep.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Flag waving

Are parks and open spaces important to us?  Obvious question, and no-one, I suggest, is going to say no.

If we now set out what we might use a park for, the list will include, breathe fresh air, walk the dog, meet friends, relax, picnic, meet people who become friends, play games, organise games, watch organised games, become fitter, keep fit, read, take the children to enjoy themselves,  give us time to think, inspire us ... and so on.

So, now we don't need to ask the question, why are parks important?

On the whole, though there are notable exceptions, it is the local authorities who look after our parks, and we know that they continue to do so with ever decreasing resources.  One new resource, though, is entering the mix in helping these spaces remain open and free: revenue generation.  Not by charging for entrance, but in supporting one-off events which are revenue generating, renting out redundant buildings in them, even investing in new buildings which can then be revenue earners.  And with the support of Heritage Lottery Fund, projects for the improvement and general upgrade can keep our precious open spaces in good condition and able to support the increasing numbers of visitors most parks today experience.

Did I hear someone call out "Volunteers"?  Yes, generous and willing men and women – and sometimes children – are joining volunteer groups to keep an oversight on our open spaces.  This may include a Friends-type organisation, or doing litter-picking rounds, arranging small public events, such as story-telling under the trees, managing guided walks, or keeping an eye open for possible repair needs and checking the notice boards are kept up to date.

Each year parks – including pocket parks – public gardens, cemeteries and other open spaces are submitted to the Green Flag scheme.  The Scheme is administered through the Department for Communities and Local Government by the Keep Britain Tidy Group.

The council website declares responsibility for around 70 open spaces, but it does not declare how many of those were submitted for a Green Flag Award.  However, this year, six sites were in receipt of an award at an event at Watford's Award-winning Cassiobury Park last Friday: Bricket Wood Common, Hatfield Road Cemetery, Rothamsted Park, Sopwell Nunnery, Clarence Park and Verulamium Park.

Two of those sites are in the East End and we are very proud to see the flags flying at both of the very well-maintained locations.  Countless families help to take care of plots at the cemetery, and Fleetville Diaries local history group regularly organises story walks there.  A residents' group and specific interest organisation overseen by Protect Clarence Park, help to ensure the good management of Clarence Park.  Both open spaces are known to be well-loved by locals; St Albans Council is undoubtedly proud of its part, and John O'Conner, headquartered at Welwyn, is the partner with the council in the grounds management of these and the other open spaces in the district.

Having reached the Green Flag standard for these six locations, what next?  Perhaps, with volunteer help, The Wick, with the improvements currently
being proposed, will manage to fly a flag in future years.  Then someone might propose a general upgrade to Cunningham (Springfield) open space.  And given that Fleetville Community Centre is planning a replacement building on its current site, it would be a joy to see improvements to Fleetville Recreation Ground.

In fact, we should all be proud of all of our open spaces, with the standard high enough for Green Flags everywhere.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

All mixed up

Sutton Road, which emerges onto Hatfield Road at the Rats' Castle public house, was named by the development partnership of Ekins and Giffen as they laid out their Camp estate in 1899.  Arthur Ekins was brought up in the village of Sutton, near Ely in Cambridgeshire and therefore named the road after his birthplace.

But they weren't the only people with an interest in the road.  On the eastern side, owned by Beaumonts Farm until 1899, the former toll house had been sold off a few years earlier and rebuilt as a house with shop; the public house is now on this site.  Earl Verulam and St Albans School owned the field on the west side and sold it to Thomas Smith in 1897.  Down came the trees lining this part of Sutton Road (no more than a private farm track then) and up went his printing factory.

Under some pressure Beaumonts Farm placed all of the land on the east side on the market in 1899.  Tom Tomlinson and Horace Slade between them acquired development rights up to the railway (now Alban Way) and this became the Castle estate.  South of the railway Alfred J Nicholson purchased land for a coat factory, now awaiting conversion into apartments.  It was he who named Hedley Road, but no other changes occurred until the late 1920s.  The field on the west side from the railway to Camp View Road continued to be grazed by Oakley's dairy cows, and before Fleetville Recreation Ground was laid out, this field hosted many local football matches.  It was, viewed from Sutton Road, an attractive tree lined field.

Two shops and a laundry arrived at the junction of Sutton and Hedley roads in the late twenties.  Mrs Dennison opened a general store and confectionary on the corner; Mr Bowman's pharmacy was next door.  Next to that was built a detached house, to which was quickly added a workshop laundry.  After much open space a pair of houses was added, and after more space a pair of shops at the corner with Cambridge Road: Morley's bakery and Gray's fish shop.  The bakery is closed but the fish shop is very much open for business.  All looked out onto the field opposite.

In 1933 Earl Verulam sold the field, which extended most of the way to Camp Hill.  Ernest Stevens, a well-known house builder of the time, constructed his estate of around 150 homes fronting the west side of Sutton Road and along three new roads, Campfield Road, Valerie Close and Roland Street.  The 1930s was the period when most new housing was built with the intention of selling through building societies.  Mr Stevens built specifically for rent and his homes found tenants even before they were completed.

So, Sutton Road was mainly full, other than the spaces left on the east side.  A proposal was put forward in 1938 for the largest space to be used to bring some entertainment to Fleetville, in the form of a skating rink.  However, a similar proposal had been taken forward by the Ver Hotel in Holywell Hill, and the Sutton Road rink didn't proceed.  St Albans Coo-operative Society acquired the site for its vehicle maintenance centre –  the Society already had a dairy and a bakery nearby.  This was the building which, in the 1970s, the Society intended to make into a supermarket, but following widespread complaints and a planning refusal by the Council the Co-op purchased the former Ballito factory.  Today it belongs to Morrison's.  The original workshops are still operating as D P Motors.  During the history of this site, other commercial buildings grew up, accessed from a private road which only showed its name in recent years, Pickford Road, and the final space was finally built on with two homes in the 1960s.


There is, however, one mystery to Sutton Road.  The plot which is the site of the park homes named Woodvale Park was not sold by Earl Verulam in 1933, which presumably was not his to sell.  Being adjacent to the railway, and being vaguely fan-shaped with the narrow end at Sutton Road, it has never been used for anything other than caravans and then the present park homes.  Indeed the site  extends further west than Woodvale Park.  From Alban Way can be seen the line of the rear boundaries of Campfield Road homes.  Railways with sidings all over the country have similar shapes. Yet the railway never developed it and never seemed to acknowledge it as theirs.

So, that's the mystery, unless you can solve it.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Nine Nine Nine

Nice surprise for St Albans folk this morning to discover in the Daily Telegraph (and possibly other papers, as well as the BBC website) a grand photo of a pre-war wooden police call box – as in telephone call.

St Albans City Police Remote Police Box 1931
The reason for this and other photos issued from BT's archives, was the 80th anniversary of the 999 emergency telephone number in 1937.  And there, above the door of the box shown, is the name of the owner: St Albans City Police.  Yes, St Albans had its own police force until after World War Two.

Before proceeding further we should clear up one or two confusions.  Firstly, the impression is given that, because 999 began in 1937 and the box looked freshly painted, the box itself also dates from 1937.  In fact, St Albans City Police invested in six of these boxes in 1931, not for the prime purpose of the public making telephone calls, emergency or otherwise, but as a remote police station in miniature, where duty constables could complete their reports and file them by phone to the station in Victoria Street.  Since many officers lived local to their patch it saved the journey into the town and back again.  Since the phone was there anyway (and an electric light and small heater) an external grill was fitted to enable anyone to call the police station directly – no dialling, you simply pressed the call button and waited for the desk sergeant or another station officer to inquire the purpose of your call.  In fact, these boxes were not technically 999 phones with a dial, but of course the police station would call out other services on your behalf as required.

St Albans City Police Remote Police Box 1931
Unlike the AA and RAC roadside boxes, where members had a Yale-like key to open the door, so that they could make their calls in the dry, only police officers had a key to the police boxes.

By 1939 it was considered that a stronger box would be required during wartime conditions, and so the wooden boxes were replaced by brick structures with reinforced concrete roofs.

The question is, where were these police boxes located?  I know of two sites: Sandridge Road (but that is a long road and a more precise location isn't yet known); and the junction of Beechwood Avenue (which had just been laid out) and Hatfield Road.  The latter was, apparently, box number 1.

St Albans City Remote Police Box 1939
The two photographs appear not to be the same box, judging from the nearby homes, and neither is the Beechwood Avenue location.  If any reader can offer the possible whereabouts of the other five boxes, or at least the locations of either of the boxes shown in the photos, that would be helpful.

Incidentally, a smaller, pillar-mounted enclosure version, introduced in 1935, included, for the first time, a blue lamp which flashed to indicated to a passing police officer to call the central police station; but of course there was no little office to shelter in!