Friday, 20 October 2017

Give me some space

It may have taken fully one hundred years but the Hatfield Road as we experience it today has only been achieved a bite at a time.  The mushrooming of Fleetville district came before any planning guidelines or regulations were available, and before motor vehicles dominated.

Widening of limited sections took place at various times, mainly on the south side, as much of that was developed later.  But no authority gave any thought to the fact that the road was a strategic highway linking two key towns.  So the last significant improvement to traffic flow and safety was carried out in the 1960s with widening between Harlesden and Sutton roads – fully half a century ago!

Other improvements which could have improved traffic flow, such as removal of the former railway bridge in Sutton Road may have helped take traffic away, but in the other direction Sutton Road is just as busy attracting even more vehicles into Hatfield Road.  The proposed road linking the Sandfield Road junction with Camp Road at Roland Street did not materialise for the practical reason that the council baulked at the price and couldn't imagine how it would take the road across what was then an operational railway line.

And at either end of the district are two complex junctions at The Crown and Beaumont Avenue, which are the only other road connections between Fleetville and Camp.

One other perennial issue, which fortunately is largely now non-existent with improved drainage infrastructure, are the places where water gathered in periods of high rainfall.  We should not have been surprised; former streams had been known, and covering the district with houses, pavements and tarred roads does nothing to help rainwater to seep into the soil.  Two of the notorious spots along the road were near the current pedestrian crossing at the Beaumont Avenue junction, and at the Sutton Road junction (the others were at Sandfield Road and The Crown).

But it is the combination of parked vehicles and increased number of vehicles overall which we now need to focus our attention.  A significant amount of both of these are probably internally generated rather than drivers using Fleetville to travel through to somewhere else.  We already have one bypass, after all, although that is also congested at times.

Fleetville has just one off-road parking area for a reasonably large number of vehicles.  Yes, it is privately-owned, but at least it is there.  A previous attempt to excavate an underground version beneath the recreation ground came to nothing, and the side roads, which are subject to current new parking proposals are limited in capacity with or without taking the roads' residents into account.  The pronouncement by Fleetville retail traders in the 1930s inviting customers from far and wide with the promise that "there is plenty of space to park your motor vehicle" is beyond a distant memory!

A quiet mid-morning in the centre of Fleetville.
We may not like it, but jointly we must become responsible for solving this problem and responsive to it.  Expensive it might be in many ways; and one of those is reduction in air quality at busy times, especially near the two schools.  Unseen, but unseen doesn't mean it is not present.

When a main road changes by small increments over a long period of time (is one hundred years long enough?) those changes largely go unnoticed.  Many of the shops which line the north side began life as cottages, with no expectation of becoming a retail centre requiring additional infrastructure, let alone an off-road parking place for the owner's "motor vehicle".

There has been one voice considering change, though the county council's offering wasn't recent.  Having recognised the success of The Quadrant as a retail location, it proposed that a similar plan should be considered for Hatfield Road.  We were not informed how this plan was expected to materialise, exactly where, or the effect it might have on those lengths of Hatfield Road not part of the Quadrant 2 development.  Perhaps Morrison's has already taken that idea forward!

It is a pity this idea was not developed further, not because the writer approves of it, but because it would spark a debate about the issue of Hatfield Road congestion; a debate which is very much needed, and from any debate often develops an even better solution than the one which launched it.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Sorry, we don't do sliced

In July this blog visited the very interesting Sutton Road to explore the variety of buildings and their former occupants as the street developed in the first half of the 20th century.

We have also discovered that a number of family shops clustered at or near the junction with Cambridge and Camp View roads.

Two of those were Morley the baker and Gray the fish shop.  For those not now living in the district it is good to report that the fish shop is still thriving on the corner.  As with so many family shops, however, once the family had done its turn in dispensing bread and rolls to its community, it closed for good.

William Morley counted himself among the truly local shops providing products required frequently for the family table.  So we encountered butchers (there were three of them in this cluster), grocers, fishmongers and bakers.  In any residential location with parades of shops, or corner versions, we  found most, if not, all of these.  

Flowers adorn the family's first house in Camp Road.
Even the grocery shops – and there were more than twenty in Fleetville during the 1930s – sometimes made arrangements with a local baker to stock a loaf or two among the tins and bags.  The grocer got the benefit of a reasonably normal day, of course, unlike the baker who rose in the dark to bake that day's bread.  Though he could justifiably close early, if he had sold out by mid-afternoon.

Mr Morley's family began life in the East End of St Albans, occupying a new house opposite the school in Camp Road.  His father worked as a carpenter in the building trade and it is likely that he had a hand in the construction of the house they moved into.  An apprentice carpenter boarder lived with them, so it is possible that William senior was self employed with his own business. In the early 1920s they found a plot in Sutton Road and built again, and is from here that their eldest son, also William, already having learned his trade elsewhere in the city,  became self-employed, no doubt assisted by other family members.  We know, for example, that his sister-in-law's family shared in the running of the business during the 1950s.  William's son Maurice also became a master baker, having gained his training in the army.  Both he and his brother, Derek, assisted in the shop.
The former Morley baker's shop, with the corner fish shop.

Maurice, now in his 80s, recalls the business employing a roundsman, delivering bread to some two hundred customers, and a boy who may have worked in the shop or assisted in the bakery at the back.  I suppose it depends on the definition of 'boy'!

William died in 1957 at the age of 67, and it is likely that he continued working in the business until then.  In many family businesses it is often a question of closing the business or carrying on after the owner would have liked to retire.  Being wholly responsible for the family firm often brings much stress, as some readers will acknowledge.
1911 census entry detailing William's parents and siblings.

As the locals will already know, the shop has been converted into residential accommodation, but it is still possible to visualise where the former display window was, and the doorway through which customers would pass, to be greeted by name from one of the Mr Morleys or their spouses from behind the counter.  More than that, there seems to be no more enticing scent on the cool morning air than the smell of freshly baked bread from the Morley ovens.