Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Learning a Little More

From the moment the news broke of new housing proposed for Symonshyde there has been a near-universal condemnation of the plans.  The reason for the negative response is undoubtedly similar to the outcries of the other housing proposals which have ever been made at various times, some of which have come about and others sunk without trace; "we're here and we don't want anyone else".  We have been offered a minimal amount of information: that the new plans for east of St Albans are part of the national requirement  to build thousands of new houses (of which Symonshyde would be a small part).  Because St Albans District Council currently has no coherent district plan, while Welwyn-Hatfield is announcing its proposals, St Albans' residents naturally feel embarrassed while the neighbouring council is getting its act together on St Albans' very doorstep.

Site of the proposed Symondshyde New Village.

Then there is the terminology: housing.  What do you imagine?  Does it leave a mainly positive or mainly negative impression?  We might substitute estate, or sprawl, or suburb.  Or perhaps village, hamlet.  We can also be conclusive, usually negatively, about its impact with terms such as destroying our green space, or ruining the countryside. So, let's explore what is actually proposed a little further.

We can all do a little digging on the internet at where there are a number of outline projects, all in the Welwyn-Hatfield area.  Gascoyne Cecil Estates is a major land owner, representing the Cecil family, and centred on Hatfield House over several centuries.  Large land owners occasionally "play" with their acreages and choose to sell peripheral fields for private development; either for housing or commercial functions. 

The evidence from Gascoyne Cecil Estates is rather different, adopting a more acceptable, almost fatherly approach to responsible management of its holdings.  So, what is actually planned for Symondshyde?

Symondshyde New Village as shown in the Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan

The charette report states: “a satellite village is a settlement which is dependent on a nearby town but which avoids urban sprawl and does not block views of open countryside.  A village would be separated from existing urban settlements by an enforceable green corridor of a size which remains capable of being easily walked or cycled.”

Other earlier settlements, such as Letchworth Garden City, have similar rural rings limiting their size and preventing encroachment from outside.

While the proposals for Symondshyde sketch in important amenities, including shops, schools, offices, bus links, and community spaces such as sports clubs and a pub, enabling any or all of these to be sustainable in the modern world is a tall ask.  If, in the fullness of time, these begin to fail, the sustainability of the village is lost and endless car journeys would develop between it and Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield and St Albans.

The planners' concept drawings are always made to appear more acceptable
by using watercolour on textured paper.
The distances between the proposed village and nearby towns is little different than for most other villages in the southern half of the county, and will therefore be no exception.  But because the risks outlined do nevertheless exist is no reason to deny the plan an airing and a reasoned debate.

There is little doubt that, at the beginning, the development will look like any other; its newness cannot be avoided.  As for the cost of living in the village, that is all wrapped up in the price of housing on a national and regional scale, and directly linked to real  shortages of accommodation.  But this village, as with hundreds of other new settlements in build or planned, will be making its own contribution to alleviation.

We will keep our eyes and ears open for a genuine community debate on the issue.

Monday, 13 November 2017

An anniversary for Glenferrie

In the late 1890s St Peter's Farm (farm homestead building extant as the Conservative Club) was sold and broken up.  This was the move which linked suburban St Albans at Stanhope Road to the Smith-inspired Fleet Ville at Bycullah Terrace.  Two of the three fields which lined the north side of Hatfield Road were purchased by Horace Slade, the straw hat and cardboard box manufacturer.  The ensuing residential development which then took place on what became known as the Slade Building Estate, was nothing short of remarkable for the period and the structure of the building industry's reliance on many independent small firms.  

Glenferrie Road, the furthest west of the three parallel roads Slade laid out, managed completion within five years of the road being carved out of the field previously known as Great Long Field.  Occupation of the homes shows evidence of an orderly construction plan, and the resulting design of dwellings suggest that two or three small developers engaged the varied construction firms to build a tidy arrangement of terraces (on the east) and semi-detached houses (on the west side).  No doubt current residents still clutching their original deeds will be able to discover who their developers were and perhaps work out what roles in St Albans' society they otherwise held.

Unlike many other roads, development was tidily arranged too, beginning from the Hatfield Road end.  On the west side we walk along the full length of what were the rear gardens of the houses in Hatfield Road – most had originally been built for domestic accommodation, while the same distance on the east side was reserved for the Methodist church's third home once it had raised sufficient funds.

The welcome sight of extensive green in the rear gardens

The two long terraces on the east side have retained their original exterior look without disturbance to glazing or other modernisations.  The second terrace, which contains more constructional decoration than the first even sports original decorated tile front paths in one adjacent pair.

The west begins with four pairs of attractively simple homes, possessing several echoes of the terrace opposite.  These give way to pairs with front bays, eaves and an interestingly simple design above the adjacent front doors, signifying the location of a porch without actually building one.  And no-one has since!

Surviving street directories suggest that the final initial occupants moved into the remaining new homes on the west side in 1907, making Glenferrie Road officially complete one hundred years ago this year.

A pre-WW1 photograph of Glenferrie Road looking distinctly wider
without its lines of parked cars.  COURTESY ANDY LAWRENCE

In the most recent census available to us in 1911, when the road was very fresh, there were no fewer than five heads of household working in the printing industry and several working for the railway.  A smattering of clerks, managers, accountants, were joined by the very new roles of electricians, a coal merchant, baker,  prison warder and an employee in a raincoat factory.  The range of occupations today is undoubtedly just as wide, but there are more occupations per household now, compared with the early 20th century.  With that comes an increase in disposable income per household; and the one external difference which has transformed almost every address in the road is the continuous line of parked cars along both kerbs.

But one view which almost no-one notices, unless they are using Google Earth is the unbelievable amount of green space – in the rear gardens of course; this in a part of St Albans which appears to be devoid of the colour apart from in the Cemetery and the Recreation Ground.

A happy centenary to all residents of Glenferrie Road and their families.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Happy Birthday

Monday 2nd November 1908 to Thursday 2nd November 2017
St Albans' Own East End wishes the children, teachers, friends and parents of
Fleetville Infant School & Nursery and Fleetville Junior School
a Happy 109th Birthday.

It is a first for this blog, otherwise we could be wishing people and places birthday greetings all the time.  Nor is there any particular reason for it on this occasion, other than the teachers at Fleetville Infant School had located the original school log book and had noted the effusively written first page on the day of opening, Monday 2nd November 1908, written in the flourishing hand of Mr Charles Wimbrey, newly appointed Head Teacher of the Fleetville Elementary Schools.

The original 3-classroom Infant building opened in 1914.

The building accommodated not only infants, but junior aged children and seniors, up to the age of thirteen.  Teachers across the district will be familiar with the next fact.  Only one of the two original buildings was opened (the smaller building was completed six years later) and the November date indicates that the handover was at least two months late!

Part of the frontage of the large building as children
celebrated the school's centenary.

Fleetville has witnessed several protest meetings since the district's birth in 1897; the first of which was the result of discontent among parents who had moved into the new houses in the years up to 1904.  The young Hertfordshire County Council Education Department, in wrestling with the issue of school places, chose the obvious solution of adding more accommodation to the buildings already open at St Peter's Rural Schools, then also known as Camp School.  However, its statement contained a critical rider to the authority's intention to build extensions to the rural school: "equivalent in size to a new school."  The meeting of parents at the Institute – at the corner of Hatfield Road and Arthur Road – simply demanded that these extensions should be built as a new school in Fleetville.

Into the former senior school buildings, dating from 1931, moved Fleetville
Juniors in 1976 – and playing fields for the first time.

No land had been reserved for a new school, nor any recreational open space.  So the new school was created by purchasing a number of house plots along Royal and Tess roads (the latter is now Woodstock Road South).

Over the decades the parents had cause to complain on several occasions about overcrowding, but now the protest meetings could take place in the school's own hall.  Classes, even in the Infant department, rose above fifty; temporary huts arrived; classes met in the old nursery (now the Community Centre); rooms in the former police houses; St Paul's Church; and finally two rooms in the former HORSA huts at Beaumont School.  This last element of "outreach" became known as the Fleetville Extension School, and when permanent buildings were constructed nearby, was renamed  Oakwood JMI School.

Not just a plain playground, but interesting spaces for young children.
Following further protest meetings the Junior Department moved across the road to the empty former Central School / Girls' Grammar School / Beaumont Girls' School / Sandfield School.  Both sections of the school felt there was space to breathe at last.

At various times during the past fifty years the original buildings have, of course, undergone a number of changes, from extensions to indoor toilets; link doorways between many of the classrooms; a kitchen; and a "new" hall in place of the old wooden huts.  The nursery has moved from the temporary wartime building and brought on site and the former divided tarmac playground (it had been gravel before that) is now a much more inviting series of spaces for children to enjoy.

The school has in its possession an interesting collection of photographs, some of which also appear on this website.  However, there will surely be a much wider range in the shoeboxes and albums of former pupils.  After all, there are now 109 years of learning behind today's celebration.  Memories too.  What might we recall about the school which has been a central part of Fleetville for almost all of the district's life?