Sunday, 29 January 2017

Oh for a Bypass

Recently I posted about the cherished idea of a Circle Road, now the St Albans Ring Road, to take traffic away from the centre of the city.  As an idea in the 1920s it was innovative, but has since thrown up many concerns.

In the same period, following the end of the First World War, the government created a huge infrastructure programme to manage the expected increase in motoring, and to protect the historic heart of many of our towns and cities.  So, let's see what that meant in practice for St Albans.  The trunk roads from the county's towns to the north and east reached Hatfield and funnelled through busy Fleetville to the centre, squeezing through St Peter's Street and Chequer Street, leaving St Albans through developing Chiswell Green towards Watford.  Yes, we know that Fleetville appears even busier today.  Nevertheless, it was one of those planning issues that never seemed to go away: what to do about through traffic in St Albans.
Off-peak at London Colney Roundabout

By 1927 the A1 improvements, including the Barnet Bypass were complete between Stanborough and Hatfield, and two years later the Watford Bypass between Garston and the A41 North Watford was opened.  They were designed to a common standard with three-lane dual carriageways, 10-foot wide footpaths and a wide grass strip to carry pipes and cables.  Only one carriageway would be built initially.  Because the section of the strategic route, labelled the North Orbital Road, wasn't even begun around St Albans, the effect of wonderful new roads to the east and south funnelled even more traffic through our eastern suburbs.

When it finally arrived our brilliant new St Albans Bypass certainly made a statement.  No longer was it necessary to grunge through the ancient city, just as it had not been necessary to splutter head-to-tail through Hatfield or through St Albans Road in north Watford.  Fleetville immediately felt the benefit.

The bypass attracted two rather prosaically-named filling stations: the Humming Bird (at the Noke) and the Rainbow (near Colney Heath).  There were downsides, however, for those who lived nearby the new road or whose journeys needed to cross it.  At Colney Heath, White Horse Lane,  Napsbury Lane and Tippendell Lane there were simple cross-road junctions – only the Napsbury junction has been flown when the carriageway was dualled in the fifties.  For all of us still struggling with Colney Heath longabout it will be galling to discover that within two years of opening flyover junctions were planned for Colney Heath, and at Park Street (one of two junctions – the other being London Colney – provided with small roundabouts from the start).  Both flying junctions were cancelled as the funds dwindled.  Meanwhile, White Horse Lane was closed to traffic when that section of the bypass had its second carriageway added in the 1960s.

Park Street roundabout's original diamond junction has been widened but remains a challenge, especially on the Park Street side, and its throughput as been overwhelmed ever since the M10 was opened.  The other diamond junction, at London Colney, remained until plans for London Colney Bypass were put in place and London Road straightened.  The original road on both sides of the new and enlarged roundabout is still visible, but there is still a feeling of being cut off from St Albans when negotiating a journey from London Colney.

As with the Ring Road, the St Albans Bypass (North Orbital) – in planning the saviour of Fleetville's traffic problems and relief for the city centre – has always thrown up problems of its own, and now accommodates too many vehicles for its closely-spaced junctions to handle at peak times.  As Hatfield has expanded, as additional lorry movements from a new Smallford

gravel site are given the go-ahead, and whatever development is finally approved for the old Handley Page site, one issue will still be around: how to handle the traffic on the bypass.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Road with a View

Walk along Camp Road and you always look down; down towards Campfield Road at Camp Hill, downhill past Cunningham Hill playing fields to London Road, and down Camp View Road to Sutton Road.

Camp View Road was right at the edge of the farm which extended from Sandpit Lane to Camp Road – Beaumonts Farm.  A track linked Camp Road to Hatfield Road, across which the farm extended.  A private track, of course, which some people abused during the days of the 18th and 19th century turnpike trusts, to switch between Hatfield and Camp roads to avoid toll payments.  Naughty but inevitable!

Part way along this track, now Camp View Road, a pair of cottages existed, set a short way back from the track.  In the 1860s a hay dealer by the name of John Constable, lived in one of them.  The dwellings were probably behind numbers 15 to 19.

The owner of Beaumonts Farm was brewer and farmer Thomas Kinder.  His health deteriorated in the latter part of his life and four of his five daughters survived him in 1881.  In order to support them in their intended marriages, there being no male heir, the estate was eventually sold in stages Thomas's trustees.

The part of the farm south of Hatfield Road was sold by auction in 1899 to a pair of local businessmen: Francis Giffen and Arthur Ekins, local solicitor and chemist respectively.  The developer pair laid out the two fields south of the branch railway as the Camp Estate, upgrading the existing track as Sutton Road and Camp View Road.

At the same time small builders were busy erecting homes on a similar estate north of Hatfield Road, and although there was no shortage of investors willing to take blocks of land on the Camp Estate, the developers needed homes to appear in the short-term.  Francis Giffen therefore generated enthusiasm, found his own builders and employed them directly to put up terraces along Camp View Road, and within about five years the road was finished.  A complete contrast with the rest of the estate where sporadic construction continued for nearly sixty years.

Some of this blog's readers will recall a highly successful project in 2016, in which residents of Cambridge Road explored the history of their street, the growth of its shops and the comings and goings of its residents.  The new project team have already begun to collect useful data for the Right Up Our Street: Camp View Road project.

Residents of the road, as well as former residents and those who live in nearby roads, are being invited to a Camp View Road Drop-in Afternoon at Fleetville Community Centre on Saturday 4th February, from 2.30pm to 4pm.  The afternoon is very informal.  If the drop-in event for Cambridge Road is anything to go by, the time will be very engaging and much conversation and enjoyment will be had by all.  

Photographs and maps will be on display, and the project team will be in "over the garden gate mode," where, with refreshments at the ready, community information can be exchanged and we can grow the story of this little street over recent decades.  Team members have already scoured historical documents to find out some of the goings-on in the earlier years.  Finding out is, of course, a shared experience.

If you have your own photographs of life in Camp View Road which you would like to share with others, bring them along.  We can scan them so that you can take the originals back home with you.  By the end of the afternoon you will undoubtedly leave with new friends.

If you have never visited Fleetville Community Centre before, you will find it in Royal Road, next to Fleetville Recreation Ground.  The team look forward to meeting you there.

Monday, 9 January 2017

A circle road

Just as in the years following the Second World War, there had been a new degree of enthusiasm for owning a motor vehicle in the early 1920s as life settled down once more after WW1.  There was also a significant interest within the commercial world for deliveries of goods by large motor vans and lorries; horse-drawn carts would gradually be replaced.

St Albans, of course, was significantly smaller than it is today, and most roads, with the exception of St Peter's Street and a few hundred yards of Victoria Street, were the same width and standard as they had been in the 18th century or earlier.
King Harry Lane – who remembers it
like this?

Yet, St Albans Council did appear to be aware that in the future its highways would need to be laid out to accommodate a petroleum world and in exponentially increasing numbers.  An ordered world for filling points, parking, junctions and speed  would have to be wrenched  from early chaos.  The modern highway was new territory in a new age.

So, in an effort to divert as many vehicles as possible from the city centre, the Council borrowed a well-tried idea from elsewhere and planned what it called a "Circle Road".  We would recognise it today as the Ring Road, but in the mid 1920s it did not exist except as a "future planned road" on its planning maps.  In terms of cost it was never actually conceived as a complete circle, because the government was already building a series of strategic highways, including an upgraded A1 and the North Orbital Highway of which the Barnet Bypass was part.  So, when complete, the circle road would approximate to the curved part of a capital letter D.  All the Council would have to do was wait for developers to bring forward their own plans for housing and encourage them to create a through road as close as possible to what the council had on its map.

The first section to be planned was a replacement for Everlasting Lane in 1929, although it was another twenty years before the machines moved in to create it.  Beechwood Avenue was the first to open from 1930.  The one section which was actually planned as a dual carriageway to protect mature trees (though never completed as such) was previously Green Lane and renamed Batchwood Drive at the Old Harpenden Road end.  The accompanying view of King Harry Lane illustrates how Marshalswick Lane and Hill End Lane had also been for centuries; and Beechwood Avenue had previously just been a footpath.

Unusually quiet Beech Road.  No part of the Ring Road had
been 'made up' before the 1950s, except a short section
of Beechwood Avenue.

As soon as residents of Beechwood Avenue began to move in to their semi-detached homes during the mid 1930s, and found that a bus would be travelling along their bit of the Circle Road, this, they complained, was not what they had imagined their road on the edge of town would be like. A group proposed that the Circle Road was therefore in the wrong place, and should instead be further out, even suggesting a line based on Oaklands Lane and Station Road.  The issue of Hill End Lane was neatly solved with the late 1950s London Road housing development, which had attracted government funding as a post-war expansion housing zone serving a few London boroughs: Drakes Drive was therefore incorporated.  Not quite a direct link to the North Orbital, but locally convenient, and avoiding a separate junction to it.

The final "bits" weren't completed until the 1960s: from Batchwood to Bluehouse Hill and part of Ashley Road previously known as The Ashpath.

The official sign was
never applied to the road
If the council thought that, after forty years, the Circle Road Project – now universally known as the Ring Road – was complete, there followed two further issues.  The first was a more-or-less universal dislike by those who now lived along the road, of signposting which re-directed through traffic away from the city centre and via the Ring Road.  The authorities eventually relented.

The second revealed a lack of junction planning.  Ring roads always generate a greater array of right and left turns, and since the road had only been designed for two lanes of opposing traffic, and was therefore just ordinary sections of residential street no margins had been allowed for in future expansion and more complex junctions.  In only one place was there space for a full roundabout (Batchwood). In all other cases there eventually sprouted traffic signals.  Two awkward junctions later became twin roundabouts.  One of these, Ashley Road, not only had an additional 45-degree road at the junction, Beaumont Avenue, but Ashley Road was a blind junction with Hatfield Road to its right, and was undoubtedly the most dangerous of all the ring road's junctions and intersections.

There is no denying that in 2017 the Ring Road is still, in parts, a congested route, not so much for its vehicular flow capacity, but the limited number of vehicles its junctions are able to handle.

Not an easy problem to solve.  But it is what we have, and even persuading drivers onto alternative routes, we must wonder where those alternatives are.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Speak or text?

At the turn of the old year and while watching the Thames fireworks, there arrived a flurry of text messages wishing me a happy New Year.  Others came via email, and I reciprocated.  Over breakfast this morning I pondered over how the very first residents of our East End would have carried out this informal greeting.

The first telephone I have come across was one applied for in 1884 by Friederick Sander to link his George Street shop with his brand-new orchid nursery in Camp Road.  We are talking overhead poles and loosely strung wires, and the council did not like the idea.  It didn't want them on the footpaths, but required the telephone company to strike private deals with property owners.  I bet that went down well!

Bearing in mind that the first homes east of The Crown were put up in 1881 – it is possible that Shakespeare Cottage in Cavendish Road was the first – and telephony was in its infancy, progress was slow, very slow.  A copy of the 1906 directory shows only seven lines in the Fleetville area, only two being purely residential connections both in Clarence Road.  The others were the police house and four manufacturing firms.

By 1928, Cunningham Hill, Cunningham Avenue and Clarence Road had 57 "telephonic apparatus machines" between them; two years later only 130 connections had been made to all types of premises in the East End.  Hence the importance of the public telephone box, the first of which were outside Fleetville Post Office and The Crown Post Office.  Police telephones could be used for emergency purposes by the public as well.

Early phone box outside Fleetville Post Office.
Is that someone waiting to make a call?
Even in the 1950s, and still with manual exchanges where call connection was made via an operator sitting at the exchange (initially at the Corn Exchange, then the Post Office building in London Road, removing to a former villa in Marlborough Road, next to the later purpose-constructed and current exchange) new connections were only slowly acquired because of equipment shortages at the old exchange.  Some of us will remember the days of party lines, where we shared equipment with someone on the other side of town, and we were dared by our generally more responsible parents not to listen in on the other party's calls.

Those who came to live at the new Marshalswick estate n the fifties were desperate to have a phone, but not only were they denied (the aforementioned equipment shortage) but there were no opportunities to wire in even one public phone box.

Forward to the 1970s, we had the novelty of local dialling, then subscriber trunk dialling, and then incredibly and futuristically,  international dialling.  Wow, how cool was that, if such a phrase had been invented then?  Among the brilliant new services, apart from the speaking clock, was one for youngsters; a selection of pop numbers changed weekly.  Because parents often disapproved of the home telephone being used for such non-essential purposes, there began the trend of teenagers collecting around public call boxes, much to the annoyance of others who had a genuine need.

One story was relayed to me by a lady who had rushed along the road in Sherwood Avenue to make a 999 call from the box at The Quadrant in respect of a relative who was desperately ill.  She had found it surprisingly easy to persuade the teens to let her use the phone, because, as they had said afterwards, none of them had ever made a 999 call and wanted to listen in on the experience!  They even reputedly hung around after the call, watching out for and timing the arrival of the ambulance.  Such innocent pleasures from a stressful situation.

Technology then brought us other ways of getting in touch; first with the brick-sized mobile phone, then tiny "mobs", which then became smart, and therefore larger.  And, of course, the internet.  Most of us no longer keep small change in our pocket in case we need to make a call while we are out.  The world without wires no longer requires us to share party lines, or negotiate to be the first in our street to introduce poles and wires.  Not even insisting on calls being kept private, many of us talk to ourselves while we walk along the street, or sit (or stand) on the train.  Ours is a very public world.

Today you may have texted a New Year message to a friend, emailed it, or sent a card by mail.  You may have called at a nearby house to wish New Year greetings.  A very modern method a century ago would be to show off your wealth and use the telegraphic apparatus.  One touch-screen press today and you are through while getting on with your life.

Me?  I'm blogging a New Year Greeting to you all.  Happy 2017.