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.