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.