Sunday, 26 March 2017

Converting industrial measures

There was a time when you could, more or less, put up a factory or a workshop anywhere you wanted, wherever you had acquired a suitable piece of land.  There was no green belt, no considerations of whether an industrial building was, or was not, appropriate in a conservation area – no conservation areas anyway.  It is only since the advent of the Town & Country Planning Legislation that local authorities were given the powers to zone activities; and, gradually, most of the industrial sites in the East End, and of course in the city centre, were zoned for residential occupation (or retail in the case of the central streets).

Porters Wood industry
This gave rise to locations, mainly in the outer districts, specifically for industry to grow and flourish, although office accommodation was treated more flexibly and can be found widely around St Albans.

Porters Wood had originally been purchased by the City Council for the purpose of creating a new cemetery, but instead became an industrial estate, and has expanded considerably into Soothill Spring in recent decades.  However, access to it, especially for large vehicles, is not brilliant.
Brick Knoll Park, Ashley Road

Butterwick Wood had already become occupied by the odd industrial concern even before it was designated for industry, and early arrivals included J Pearce Recycling, to join the meat store, timber yard and Tractor Shafts.  Then, of course, came Ronnie Lyon and his serviced estates, followed by car showrooms and retail warehouses, and more recently churches and a recent attempt at leisure activity, all attracted by lower land costs, easier access and free parking.

Ashley Road had been a large brickworks before the Second World War.  Many years were spent filling in pits; meanwhile Post Office Telephones moved onto stable land where a former entrance and brick company buildings had been.  Early factories included heavyweights such as St Albans Concrete, piledriving operations and plant machinery hire.  Later these gave way to light engineering,  Polaroid photography, Royal Mail distribution and car servicing.

Lyon Way
At the Camp Road end of Campfield Road – Camp Fields on a 19th century map – the original 1900s concerns of the Salvation Army, Sphere Engineering and the Electricity Works survive as a smaller commercial area, later joined by the Herts Advertiser, now offices.

We were alerted recently to the concerns raised by the District Council.  There have been an increasing number of planning applications

for change of use from office to residential – and, if observational evidence is anything to go by, from industrial to retail and community.  The council is considering whether to apply for powers to allow it to refuse such permissions.

Small businesses at The Courtyard near Acrewood Way
To maintain thriving communities there should be an adequate supply of land for commercial and industrial activities, just as there should be for housing.  We have a buoyant commercial sector in St Albans, but shortage of space pushes up the price.  This will eventually see developers searching industrial estates for office opportunities, which will, in turn reduce industrial capacity.

The years have gone when most people walked to their place of work and often rented their home accordingly, but there continues to be sense in not requiring most of the population to criss-cross each other in their cars as our employment takes us to other towns.

My grandfather lived in Camp Road and walked down the hill to the Salvation Army works; my father lived on the Beaumonts estate and walked to work in Hatfield Road; I had two jobs which were local in the same way, enabling me to cycle to one and walk to the other.  We should applaud the Council for its attempts to keep our local economy balanced.  Article 4, whatever that specifically is, will free the authority from having one arm tied behind its collective back.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Patching Up the Past

Recently there has been good success in re-visiting one of St Albans' Own East End's unanswered questions: the mysterious golf course between Smallford and Hatfield.  Two recent blogs demonstrate what was discovered.

This week is the turn of a largely forgotten exchange scheme which came about at the end of the Second World War.  Raised as an idea by Mr Thomas Slade, the St Albans – Duisburg Relief Committee was launched; the reasons became clear from a Herts Advertiser article in 1948: "It is almost impossible to describe the conditions in the Ruhr.  There is nothing to compare it with ... there are still 2,000 people living in cellars beneath collapsed houses, and more than 1,800 others, including many children, still exist in public air-raid shelters ..."

Vera Robson on her return from the delegation's first visit to
Duisburg, with a presentation plate given by that city.
A delegation from the city visited Duisburg (population then 400,000) to assess how help might be given.  Regular shipments of clothes, blankets and food were sent.  In the other  direction small groups of children and young people arrived in St Albans for extended 3-month holidays and stayed with families, many of them in the eastern districts such as Fleetville, Beaumonts and Marshalswick.

In a further development during the 1960s and 70s an exchange scheme developed with St Albans young people visiting the homes of Duisburg families.

I was one of those young people in 1963 and 1966, and an official West German newspaper (as the country was then known) photographer took the group picture at the Duisburg Town Hall in 1966.  Among the assembled group at the Welcome ceremony were David Walker,  Peter Osborn, Michael and Barrie Gibbs, and Vera Robson.  During that year we had the interesting opportunity of watching the Football World Cup, played at Wembley, from one of many living rooms with our host families in Duisburg.  For those who need reminding, England won, and for us it was a lesson in magnanimity.

Welcome to St Albans guests in Duisburg Town Hall, 1966.

Eberhard, whose parents
welcomed me in 1966.
There will still be current or former residents of St Albans who remember these visits.  We may have found them great fun, or considered them a nervous process to encounter.  We may have learned much about our "adopted" friends and their families and an industrial city with its factory-lined river even larger than the Thames.  Almost certainly we will have learned much about ourselves.  Making some of the earliest holiday arrivals to St Albans welcome and helping them to relax in new surroundings must still be in the minds of several of us.

There is, regrettably, such a limited record of what was a generational project.  Our recollections would be a valuable resource.  Photos would enrich the experience.  If you were involved in any way, do please get in touch –

Sunday, 12 March 2017

No time for a round

Recently I brought to the top of the proverbial pile a so far unanswered question about an alleged golf course between Smallford and Hatfield.  Apart from being taken off the scent by the mis-naming of St Albans Road West as Hatfield Road, there did not appear to be anyone with further information.  Until, that is, a reader discovered a website devoted to former golf courses (Golf's Missing Links).

Great Nast Hyde.  Courtesy HALS
The brief text identified it as Nast Hyde Golf Club.  I guess the text originally came from a golfing yearbook of 1910. "...the opening of a new railway station about a mile from Hatfield, on 1st February.  The station had been built to serve a fine new residential site, and among other features will be an eighteen hole golf course.  In 1914 the Secretary was Colonel Schreiber and the professional E Gow.  An eighteen-hole undulating course on good turf, well drained on gravel soil. Subs for gents were £3.3.0 (£3.15) and for ladies £1.1.0 (£1.05).  Visitors' fees were 1/- (5p) at any time."

Very promising.  It seems from the above information that during the period  to 1914 the course was in development; hence the identification of nearby residents as workers on the golf course in the 1911 census.  The course, and the houses (of which very few now remain) were part of an attempted sale of land at Great Nast Hyde as early as 1889.  The manor house was also a working farm, separate from Little Nast Hyde Farm, and the estate included land on both sides of St Albans Road, including Beech Farm.

Golf course site circled.  Courtesy Google Maps
Eventually, over a decade, some thirty homes were erected, but it was clear that many more were anticipated.  By 1914, as soon as the golf course had opened, the dark clouds of war approached and large numbers of men volunteered or were later conscripted for military service, and were therefore lost to the local community and its trades.

 A further attempt to sell 441 acres of Nast Hyde Estate was made in 1925 by Foster & Cranfield London EC, including what had been the formative golf course, now clearly identified as 36 acres between Coopers Green Lane and St Albans Road West, immediately south of a block of woodland with shooting rights, known as Home Covert.  The 1925 estate sale brochure gave the option to re-open the former golf course, or to develop.  In the words of the brochure: "eminently suitable for the erection of medium-sized detached houses or bungalows, for which there is a great demand as very little building has been carried out in the district for some years past."  On the bulk of the land available north of St Albans Road, I think it is fair to say not a single additional house was built.  The intervention of aeronautical activity at this time is quite another story.

South of St Albans Road West it was a different story.  Although it took a further five years, two fields were developed as the Selwyn and Poplar estates, only part of the latter having been completed before the onset of the Second World War.  Oh, and the part of the 1927-built Barnet Bypass between the Roehyde Interchange and The Comet is on former Nast Hyde land purchased at the time.

Well, in spite of everything, the land which had just about become a golf course, is still undeveloped.  It is within the boundary of Ellenbrook Fields, the country park which has yet to be officially created – look forward to some gravel extraction first, maybe – so there may yet be the opportunity for a golf course, though perhaps not 18 holes.  It may even sport the title Nast Hyde Golf Course.  Speculation!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

View From the Boundary

On any walk through Clarence Park, from York Road towards the ornamental park, our eyes might be focused on an ongoing cricket match, in which case our interest is concentrated on the middle ground.  When the outfield and crease is quiet it is the pavilion which dominates.

A view of the pavilion when new – you won't find the clock in this
picture!  Courtesy St Albans Museums.
We have known this view since our first visit; whether it was five or fifty years ago the pavilion seems not to have changed.  Its sturdy red, decorated brickwork, especially visible from the rear elevation, gives the impression it would stand for ever.  The woodwork sometimes gives us our first impression that all is not well with the structure.

The pavilion is, of course, a District Council property leased jointly to St Albans Cricket Club and St Albans Hockey Club; at least that was the arrangement until recent years, when the Hockey Club migrated to facilities elsewhere.  Which left the cricket club to shoulder the financial burden on its own.

In a recent message via the Protect Clarence Park group, St Albans Cricket Club representative Paul Sands stated, "For many years the bar and social areas in our beautiful and historic pavilion at Clarence Park have been unloved and uncared for and we recognise that it is currently not a particularly attractive place to spend any amount of time. We understand that the bar really ought to be an important revenue driver for our club and should provide a comfortable and welcoming environment for teams and members to spend time together. We know , that with some thought, time and resources we can make the bar and the long room  somewhere we can be proud of. "

The club has a long-term vision of operating the pavilion as a social enterprise, to ensure the facilities within the pavilion are used effectively and appropriately, with the aim of running the building sustainably.

Meanwhile, rather more urgent work is required, which, when broken down into manageable chunks, is an ideal opportunity for volunteers.  Replacing the flooring, furniture, worn out fixtures and lighting, and providing a fresh coat or two of paint.

Paul Sands continued
, "We want to create a friendly and inviting space that members, their friends and their families will want to spend time in and that third parties might want to hire for events, thus bringing in much needed income for the club. The bar is also used by the families of our junior members particularly during Friday evening training sessions throughout the summer at Clarence Park. We would like it to be a nicer environment for them too."

The club is therefore sending the call out for volunteers experienced as builders, electricians, plumbers and other skilled tradesmen.  And then volunteers who are not necessarily skilled but can undertake tasks with a smile, and generally assist.  It sounds very much as if destruction is one key element, given that the word sledge-hammer is one tool mentioned (and how many different uses for a screwdriver can you think of?), as well as more calming tasks with a paint brush.

The third requirement is money, naturally.  The club is busy devising methods of raising funds to undertake the purchase of materials.  Meanwhile, it has opened a Just Giving web page,

To offer your service in this project (and your smile) contact Paul Sands on 07540 705966 or

Inside Clarence Park, which we all consider "ours" with pride, will soon be a volunteer group creating a new community facility in that friendly structure which gives an impressive View From the Boundary.