Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Lanes That Move

Those 19th century paintings of leafy lanes show something that has always been there; we have the feeling that had we discovered an 18th century painting of the same lane the view would have been much the same.  But is that true?

Not always, and there are many examples: Camp Road in the vicinity of the blue bridge was a new line for the road when the little railway was brought through the district.  George Marten, in the 1850s, thought that his private drive, now Marshals Drive, should be reserved for his family and guests.  Unfortunately, many "ordinary people" used it as a short cut between Sandpit Lane and Sandridge Road.  The impertinence of it!  He decided the most realistic solution would be to build a public lane beyond the edge of his property.  The new road began life as New Road but was later changed to Marshalswick Lane.

Railways have been known for other diversions as well.  The same little railway, between St Albans and Hatfield, had to cross a lane near Colney Heath Lane at a steep angle; carts and pedestrians need to see oncoming trains, so a crossing point needs to be perpendicular.  In the 1860s the railway company therefore diverted a short length of road in Hill End Lane far enough to build a safe crossing at right angles to the line.

The original line of Hill End Lane (red broken line) meandering across this map, now Highfield residential district.
Another lane (brown broken line) connected with the former The Ashpath, now Ashley Road.  The later route of
Hill End Lane (yellow) was laid around the boundary of Hill End Asylum.

This footpath passes behind home to reach Ashley Road and
was formerly known as The Ashpath.
But that was not the only meddling with Hill End Lane.  Thirty years later,  Hill End Asylum was constructed near the railway line.  Unfortunately Hill End Lane, which meandered between the fields separating Hill End Farm and Beaumonts Farm, was in the way.  The asylum planners tidied things up a bit and constructed a much straightened lane along the hospital's boundary from its junction with Hixberry Lane and its junction with Camp Road and a track many locals came to know as The Ashpath – part of that track is still there behind the Camp Road houses and next to the Ashley Road businesses.

The former meandering lane was almost lost, but survived when the railway siding into the hospital grounds was built on the firm road bed in one section; and the only part to survive until today is the new Bramley Way.

There is another former remnant about which all of us will be quite unaware.  From one of the junctions with the old Hill End Lane (now under houses along part of Sovereign Park) there was another lane striking out westwards.  Today any remains lie under a warehouse and then under the access road of Brick Knoll Park, nearly opposite Cambridge Road.
Bramley Way is the only part of the earlier Hill
End Lane which is part of today's road network.

Anyone who recalls Ashley Road (The Ashpath, or Cinder Track as it was also known) in the 1950s, will remember the old clay pits being fenced off.  Part of the fencing was a tall wide (at least it was tall and wide to a ten-year-old) double gate, next to which were the brick workers cottages.

So this un-named and forgotten lane, probably always a very narrow private one, finally achieved some recognition when it was awarded the name Brick Knoll Park when the warehouses and other businesses arrived in the 1970s.  Maybe the footpath behind the Camp Road houses towards the former hospital entrance, became the public pedestrian access to Hill End Lane to prevent public use of the private track.

Of course, that is only one explanation, but without a close study of a wide range of available maps no-one would ever know that the existence and layouts of some our lanes had been altered with time.

While the 1860s are rather early for photos of the former route of Hill End Lane, it is a pity that that no-one thought to take photos of The Ashpath, a wide track which many of us keep in our memory.  If I am wrong, and there is a photo lurking somewhere, hopefully including the brick workers cottages, do please email.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

You'll Never Guess What, Mum

One hundred years ago my grandparents walked with their daughter eastwards from their home near College Road.  They, like many others, were engaged in an afternoon walk into the countryside.  They passed the school on the right, which Winifred attended. A couple of side roads on the left had been prepared but only sparsely built along.  From there the family walked along the hedge-lined fields; the recently-sold Beaumonts on the left, and Little Cell Barnes and Beastneys farms on the right.  There was no Ashley Road then, nor Drakes Drive, although the family could see smoke from the chimney of the brickworks in the distance, and there may have been a farm worker busily occupied in one of the fields.
The former entrance to Hill End Hospital today; the gates have
gone but the Lodge to the right.

Eventually they arrived at the junction with Hill End Lane.  Both of these roads were covered with crushed roadstone to fill in the wheel ruts and pot holes.  If it had been a summer day a passing cart or motor car would have thrown up a cloud of dust, but on this early spring lunchtime the damp road surface clung to their shoes.

Had they not been locals, my grandparents might have been surprised to come across a vast constructed site ahead known as the Hill End County Asylum, but they had watched its buildings  grow out of the ground for the past ten years, and new ones were still appearing.

To the right of them was the lodge building, the home of the site engineer for the asylum.  This impressive little dwelling still exists, of course, though it has undergone one or two less sympathetic alterations.

The asylum entrance one hundred years ago, the lodge to the right.  Courtesy ANDY LAWRENCE COLLECTION

Beyond the striking entrance drive and its globe-topped gate pillars – one of them ivy covered – it was possible to spot Hillside, the home of the hospital clerk or steward, and behind that Keeling, where the medical officer lived.

The family did not enter the asylum grounds, but watched respectfully as a photographer placed his camera-topped tripod in the roadway and studied the scene ahead.  His subject was no series of structures thrown up quickly and cheaply.  The walls were sturdy and capped with stone, the property protected with tall railings, and electric lamps powered from the establishment's own generators.  No other street lamps had been installed within half a mile.

At that moment along the road from Tyttenhanger Green came three young boys who attended the same school as Winifred.  One might have expected that on their own adventure in the locality the youngsters would have been boisterous, chatty, welcoming the opportunity to show off in front of an audience.  But this event was different.  They knew that, given a chance, they could pose in the scene and see themselves in the local shop later as picture postcards were sold.  Mum, you never guess what.  We were walking round by the asylum and we got our photograph taken by the man in charge of the postcard camera.

On that day the story was made by these three young boys.  Courtesy ANDY LAWRENCE COLLECTION

Of course, one hundred years later, I don't know whether the family did encounter the photographer and the boys outside the hospital; we don't know whether the boys came from Tyttenhanger Green; nor do we know they attended Camp School.  We know nothing about their demeanor, and of course we have no idea of their names.  The opportunity offered to them on that day enabled all three to appear on every copy of that postcard sold – and even on this blog version across the internet in the 21st century; it is a little personal publicity they would not have dreamed possible.

However, the quality of the negative does mean that a family somewhere might recognise a relative.  We are presented here with three boys of around twelve, ten and eight years old.  They might have been brothers, relatives or friends.  On that day they made a story – this story – which they are certain to have passed on to their parents, their class mates or their teacher.  If they had any sense they will have persuaded their parents to buy them a postcard – just to prove to whoever challenged them in the playground that they weren't telling a fib! Honest!