Sunday, 31 December 2017

Enjoy it? It Made Mondays

Every town and city, and many villages too, are brimming with groups and organisations known both within and beyond their boundaries;  known for an approach, a rich enthusiasm, a directness focused on a subject of their choice; a subject and a group with a positive reputation, and often driven by someone with passion.  Such organisations often attract new members and fresh interest from people who often pass similar organisations closer to home.  Key individuals in these groups  are able to fire up enthusiasm and keep the flames of energy going.

These wonderful groups achieve a critical mass of members who are seemingly able to maintain the organisational energy for ever, or so it appears.  But there is a risk.  Everyone with flair and skill plays their part, but we all have a natural time period, after which we move on to other interests, move away or fail to find sufficient other members to support them.  Succession, or lack of it, is that greatest risk.

Among the organisations which consistently create projects, departments, activities and skills are schools and colleges.  Somehow there are teachers out there who push harder in their professional lives and develop something new, or enhance what might otherwise have been expected in the curriculum.  These teachers, often aided by dedicated parents or governors, produce an approach which stands above the expected in the life of the school.  They make their school shine brighter,

Today, many secondary schools and academies are specialists in one or more areas of the curriculum, so we tend to expect something extra in those areas.  Often, however, it has been the specific dedication of individual teachers who, beyond the curriculum, have enabled the reputation of the school to be more widely appreciated in the locality.  This may be curriculum enrichment via language courses in other countries, or developing an enthusiasm for healthy eating or healthy exercise in a wider range of sports or foods.  Performance skills are often used to build confidence and for the enjoyment of participation in its own right.

Lest we gain the impression this is a very modern concept, the idea of "doing something extra at school" is probably as old as formal education itself; not because it was required, but because head teachers and assistant teachers alike gave their students opportunities to engage in something different, nurturing the interests and aptitudes of the youngsters in their care.  As always, however, the challenge has been to support the costs involved.  It is often for reasons such as this that Parents' Associations were created to help raise funds.

Most of us will recall those special activities which much later enabled us to admit, "if it wasn't for Mr ..., who pushed me to excel in ... I wouldn't be where I am today."  

It would be great to receive details of some of the special projects and activities for which their schools were or are known, why they were engaging and who the key drivers were.  We have usually taken those drivers for granted and it's about time they were recognised.

Recently, while trawling though old journals, the reason for keeping one of them was realised.  A feature article in one of them revealed to a much wider audience a dynamic musical force which inspired up to half of the school; a reputation developed from formative beginnings, and using experience gained elsewhere.

From today you can read about Marshalswick Music by the former Director of Music, Ian Hamilton,  on the main website  The link is on the front page.  We may even pick up a few recollections from former members of the school's choirs, bands and ensembles.  Apart from Marshalswick (now Sandringham) what else was or is out there which ensured there were challenges beyond the curriculum for their pupils and students?

Friday, 8 December 2017

A little bit further

Shortly before 1913 the City Council  deliberated over just how much of the land eastwards of the city it should take into what was known as the added areas.  Its original proposal was to extend the boundary from Camp Road (The Crown) – the limit since 1879 – as far as Beaumont Avenue; the reasoning presumably being that a boundary at this point would encompass all of the building added since 1879.  However, the authority was reminded that development was no respecter of borders and it would be useful to stretch the boundary so as to ensure that future housing would lie within the city from the start.  So it was that the council determined the limits should be defined at Winches Farm.

Two farm-related events would ensure not long would transpire before most of the green extension would turn brown.  First was the remaining acres of Beaumont Farm.  About half (Castle Road area and the Camp Estate) had been sold for development in 1899, and in 1929 the remainder (Beaumont Avenue east, Beaumonts Estate, Hatfield Road north and the Willow Estate) came on the market.  The developer, Watford Land, lost no time in erecting semi-detached homes between Beaumont Avenue and Oakwood Drive – the latter laid out but not yet developed.  This initial stage ensured that homes of a relatively high value, fronting onto Hatfield Road, would act as a shop window and provide a good initial profit to fund the later building behind.

The second event actually materialised first.  Opposite the Watford Land homes on Beaumonts Farm was Hatfield Road field.  This was the westernmost field belonging to Robert Gaussen's own Hill End Farm.  On the southern side of Hatfield Road the boundary between Hill End Farm and Beaumonts Farm was a hedge at the top of the rise east of Beaumont Avenue/Ashley Road.

Back in 1996, and in preparation for the building of Hill End Asylum, the Hospital Committee purchased 96 acres from Mr Gaussen.  In effect, the committee purchased the whole farm and then re-sold what was not required to Mr Charles Morris of Highfield Hall.  This included the Hatfield Road Field and an area of woodland stretching from Colney Heath Lane to the current Longacres.  By around 1920 Mr Morris had seen the development opportunity and sold roadside plots, although the part of the field between these and the branch railway was left undeveloped.  Meanwhile it served a use as a small brickworks and a smallholding.

The first three plots had been sold and built on by 1923 (numbers 358 and 360, and number 384, whose owner moved on after a year, selling to an incoming family from Wood Green.  The original 384 no longer exists, the wide plot now redeveloped into two new homes.  The resulting development process of selling plots, rather than houses, provides a variety of detached and semi-detached homes set well back from the road.  The original 384 was rather different in being a small detached home on a wide and deep plot, although a building extension at the back was added in the 1930s.  It was the additional plot lengths at the Oakwood Drive end of the road which enabled the Pinewood Close development, removing more than half of the rear garden lengths.

Across the road the estate-developed semi-detached homes were begun as soon as the land became available in 1929 and all but six dwellings were habitable the following year.  The 1960s style home (267) had been the yard used by the builders.  Momentum had dwindled when building the homes east from Oakwood Drive and by the late thirties had only reached 365.  It is assumed this was the result of the County Council acquisition of land for Beaumont School, although the boundary of the initial land purchase fell significantly short of Hatfield Road and would have permitted the homes to fill their allotted  space – which, in a rather different way, they are about to do.  The land behind the hedge was only purchased to extend the school field in 1948.

St Albans City Council was therefore wise, in 1913, to think ahead and stretch its boundary as far as Winches.  The land covering developed beyond there towards Smallford came into the City's hands as a result of amalgamation with St Albans Rural in the 1970s.