Saturday, 22 December 2018

That Was the Year 2018

This line-up dates from c1954, when these children were surprised to meet Father Christmas along Hatfield Road (between Sandfield and Harlesden roads).  For further details see the foot of this post.
Was 2018 broadly the same as 2017?  Or will this year become a landmark year for you, your family, your street, or the district as a whole?  You must answer for the first three, but perhaps it is possible to pick out a small selection of changes which may or may not affect a wider number of people who live in the east end.  Whether they will ultimately improve our lives or just prove to be another irritation will depend on our personal point of view.

We'll begin with the construction launch of two significant housing developments: Kingsbury Gardens, formerly Beaumont School's front field (which, incidentally, had always been intended for houses under the Beaumont estates original 1929 plans); and Oaklands Grange, Sandpit Lane.  It is inevitable that their first residents will enjoy their first Christmas at home in 2019.  We'll try and remember to welcome them.

After noting progressive deterioration over a number of years the new access structure to Clarence Park's Hatfield Road entrance has been completed, and while not exactly originally as planned, it is  sturdy and very welcome.

Among the public houses no longer trading had been The Baton.  Former customers have since, presumably found other landlords to drink with, and after an uncertain phase M&S Food finally opened on the site and appears to be well patronised.  It is the second retailer to have crossed to the other side of The Ridgeway.

The residents' parking scheme for the 'Ladder Roads' in Fleetville finally launched recently.  Unsurprisingly, it has proved controversial, but it has made more obvious those commuters who have for a long time parked their cars in the scheme area or even beyond it and walked the last part of their journey to the station.  Parking and traffic in general will never have real solutions in Fleetville because the Real Solutions will never be accepted, by the Council, by the residents, probably by anyone.  But we will re-visit the scheme in six months.  And no doubt we will continue to grumble about the parking problems ten years from now!

Very quietly, improvements continue to be made to that green lung, Alban Way.  Undergrowth and a number of trees have been cut back.  A number of complainants have this year noticed re-growth and more open flanks to the path, new surfaces and signage, and helpful interpretation panels.  It is proposed these improvements will continue towards Hatfield.

The Green Ring, the Fleetville section of which has been open for a while now, was finally complete close to the end of the year.  Thus  far the voices in the ether have been rather quiet on any benefits, and so it is not possible to discover yet how useful residents have found it to be.  Cue comments by users.

November was also the 110th anniversary of the opening of Fleetville School, although it will be another four years before the specialist accommodation for infant children was opened for them. Anyway, happy birthday Fleetville School.

Right out on the edge of the parish the landmark and Listed Comet Hotel is shrouded behind solid fencing as the establishment faces its long-awaited upgrade, and we look forward to its re-opening.

Visitors to Highfield Park have discovered a new Visitor Centre which was opened in the summer; new extensions to its orchards and other park improvements have taken place.

We have benefited from short distances of new road surface, and most areas now sport new LED street lighting instead of those orange sodium fitments.  We have also learned (or not) to slow to 20mph while passing through Fleetville in our car – though at times some are struggling to reach that speed!  Meanwhile we continue to hold the record identified in the 1920s, of being a pot-holed suburb.

Which brings me to a couple of finishing questions.  How far down Marshalswick Lane do you now have to queue to reach the Five Ways (William IV) traffic lights at 5pm?  How many new traders to Hatfield Road and The Quadrant have we been able to welcome to our patch during 2018?

The image added to the top of this post is of course very seasonal, and it was taken around 1954 in Hatfield Road.  We know some, but not all of the children Ian, Shiela and Bruce Scotland on the right, Diana Devereux in the middle, and Father Christmas, of course.  The four children on the left have not yet been identified, and, more interestingly, what links all of these children to an event which took place just before Christmas in Hatfield Road?  We would love to discover.  Over to you.  Happy Christmas.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Railway Street

We have only occasionally given space to any of the early Fleetville roads, particularly those which were part of the Slade Building estate – Harlesden, Sandfield, Glenferrie, Brampton and Burham roads – developed by Horace Slade, a former straw hat and box manufacturer in this city.  It is often mistakenly assumed that these roads are lined mainly with terraces of small homes.  Small many of them may be considered, but in Sandfield Road there are just two terraces, and they both consist of three dwellings.  The rest are either semi-detached homes, some with porches, or detached.

Building on the estate began at the same time, 1899, as the homes around the printing works in the centre of Fleetville.  Just two years later, the 1901 census reveals that eight out of the 22 homes on Sandfield Road's east side were occupied, and five out of the 19 on the west side.  We bear in mind that builders were, on the whole one man and an assistant (or two) and the rate of build was dependent on who and when investors were available to purchase one or pairs of plots.  There is a surprising variety of styles which may lead us to assume also a number of different landlords.

After the initial modest flush of building at the turn of the century, five years passed before any further construction, and a decade before the ground was broken at many of the Hatfield Road end plots, creating a delay before the road was fully made up and lit.  Yet another street which suffered from dust in summer and random puddles and constant mud in winter.

Of the first thirteen tenants none was born in St Albans, although two were from other parts of the county; the rest came from across the UK.  Of the 33 tenants in the completed homes in 1911, four were from St Albans, but that still left a very large majority from other parts of the country.  Considering the huge level of overcrowding and poor sanitation in the centre of St Albans at the time, these origins may appear surprising, although it may suggest the rents were still higher than was affordable for some.  This, in spite of the area being part of the rural district where the rates levied on the landlords would have been lower.  In days before private transport and public transport Sandfield Road was still some way from town and access to employment was more dependant on work being available locally.

The census for 1901 reveals that almost all of the residents were employable outwards from the railway station, including straw hat making, saddling, shop work, gardening, printing and railway work.  In fact, by 1911, a quarter of all heads of household were employed by the railway – many specifically stating their employer was the Midland Railway.  Three employees were at Nicholson's Coat factory in Sutton Road, and four were occupied in the printing industry, probably Smith's or Salvation Army.  

In fact, the senior manager at Smith's printing works, Ernest Townson, lived in a detached home, number 17.  His responsibility, and therefore salary at the print works enabled him to move later, first to Clarence Road, then Lemsford Road, followed by the Hall Place estate.  One resident was a musical instrument maker, almost certainly at the Salvation Army Musical Instrument Works, which opened just a few months after the earlier 1901 census.  There were also two teachers, probably working at Fleetville and/or Camp Elementary schools.

A plot at the north end of the road remained empty and had been reserved for a future local shop, which, at the time might well have been useful for families living in Brampton Road.  Instead, shops began to appear along almost the entire length of Hatfield Road, and residents rarely needed to walk far to reach their nearest grocer or baker.  The reserved plot at the north end remained empty until the 1960s when number 39 was added, but as a home rather than retail premises.  

I have no doubt that there are many Sandfield Road stories.  Go to the Your Turn page on the website and share some interesting details with us.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Wings over Hatfield

The very tail end of 2018 is an apposite moment to stand, figuratively speaking, in the middle of what is now Comet Way, opposite the shops of Harpsfield Parade, and recreate December in 1958.

Prototype Mosquito being moved to the factory in 1941
Courtesy de Havilland Aircraft Company collection and Herts Advertiser
The carriageway on the Galleria side of what was then named Barnet Bypass was then new, obliterating the Stone House and the  old St Albans Road into the town centre.  The opposite carriageway was new at the end of the 1920s and straightaway attracted new businesses.  Among them was the de Havilland Aircraft Company, increasingly hemmed in by new housing on its Edgware site.  The company found the former Harpsfield Hall Farm site appealing and began by moving its Flying Club to a new grass runway extending from behind the houses then bordering the new road.

What makes 1958 a significant year was that anyone with any kind of connection with the company could look back with pride to the most famous aircraft type, Mosquito, the 1941 prototype of which was to be preserved, and was thus the reason for the development of what became the Mosquito Museum, now renamed de Havilland Aircraft Museum.

1958 was also the year when the post-war jet Comet IV was announced and photographs began to appear of the prototype in build at the factory; in its "Hall of Secrets" assembly workshops. Having recovered from two earlier disasters, the Company strove to create a larger and technically improved aircraft in the Comet IV.

Comet IV being assembled
Courtesy de Havilland Aircraft Company collection and Herts Advertiser

Anyone travelling along the rear of the company's site in Sandpit Lane in 1958 would have spotted the appearance of an unusual  tower, part of the Blue Streak missile project. Although it would later be cancelled there is no doubt that BS added to the experience and knowledge of ballistic missile technology.

Meanwhile, out of our area in Watling Street, Handley Page announced its new plane for the RAF, the HP111 (Treble One), a new military transport aircraft.  Handley Page was determined not to let DH have the year all to itself.

Blue Streak tower
Courtesy de Havilland Aircraft Company collection and Herts Advertiser
Well, that was 1958, where we could have looked back to the past (Mosquito), the present (Comet IV) and future (Blue Streak).  Yet the company was on the cusp of being merged into the much larger Hawker Siddley, and then British Aerospace.  Thousands of local people made great careers out of their employment at DH, although it must be admitted equally large numbers were also made redundant at key times.  Today, one or two feature buildings have new uses, there is a growing business estate and residential hubs, a major university location and, waiting in the wings, a future country park.  Roads mark aircraft which were born here and people who made them happen, and land which has a history extending back to medieval times in the form of Harpsfield Hall, has established a new chapter of the district's story.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Former Typo

Today we are familiar with the abbreviated word typo as referring to a keyboard error resulting from hasty typing, or maybe even hiding unfamiliar spelling.

However, an organisation we would today recognise as a trade union was launched in 1849.  It was the National Typographical Association, with roots in Sheffield.  Its fortunes were seemingly variable, with separate regional and local groups appearing and disappearing in several parts of the country.  Although there had been small local groups in Hertford and in London, St Albans Typographical Association (STA) was created in 1899.

St Albans was home to several printing establishments, and formation at this date would have been given weight by the print works which grew up in the Fleetville and Camp districts at this time: Orford Smith, established in 1895; T E Smith in 1897; and Salvation Army in 1901 (in the building vacated by the short-lived Orford Smith works).  Many other much smaller printing businesses survived if not thrived and enriched the St Albans printing scene.

In 1920 the STA celebrated what is described as its Coming of Age, and issued a commemorative booklet, the rather damaged cover of a surviving copy, being shown above.  Two timely observations come to mind from the contents of the brochure.  First, one page is devoted to a list of its members who had fallen in the Great War.  These announcements were widely publicised from 1919 onwards, and appeared on plaques, and later, on war memorials.  The members (shown below) are local people.  While not everyone might have been a resident of the city, most will have been.  And in case any of these men's names have not appeared in other forms during the recent Armistice commemorations, we are pleased to recognise their brave efforts here.

Second, the brochure lists the businesses which supported the 21st birthday of STA.  They were Campfield Press, Taylor & Co, Photochrom Co Ltd, Dangerfield Printing Co Ltd, Gibbs & Bamforth, and W Cartmel & Sons.

One major Fleetville firm missing is, of course T E Smith, Fleet Works.  As we have come to realise through unsuccessful research, no closure details have ever been been recorded, and although it is widely assumed to be 1918, its managers confirmed that no printing had taken place at the premises after 1916, even though the building remained continuously busy – but that's another story.

We assume that, had the Fleet Works survived the war in tact it too would have supported the STA birthday bash.  Its absence in the list, however, confirms its rocky end through lack of skilled men.  Perversely, although there would have been no guarantee of continued success under other circumstances,  the print unions (plural) did guarantee the firm's demise by their refusal to allow women to take on key roles, even though they might have learned the appropriate machine skills.

If any members had thought about it at the time, it might have added an edge to the STA's celebrations.

Note: the Typographical Association merged with the London Typographical Society in 1964, to form the National Graphical Association, which with later mergers became the extant Graphical Paper & Media Union.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Move Over

For the past ten years the website has published many stimulating images and thought-provoking commentary about the part of St Albans with no overall name – it was Ernest Townson, a manager of the printing company which arrived in Fleetville before anyone lived there, who first coined the phrase in 1912.  St Albans' Own East End was then borrowed by the author (me) for the two books about the district and for the title of this blog, which has in itself published well over 400 posts.

There comes a time in the life of all software when replacement is due, and that on which the current website was originally built is no longer supported by its creators.  We have spent the past four years with our fingers crossed, hoping that nothing would go wrong.  Fortunately nothing has, but to continue along that precarious path is tempting fate!

At the beginning of 2018, therefore, I charted the long learning process of building a new version of St Albans' Own East End on RapidWeaver.  And over ten months later it is finally here, with the support of Chillidog Hosting.

The new format enables a more versatile design and an ability to present detail in more creative ways.  Please do not imagine, however, that when you start to explore the new site you will necessarily have a fault-free experience during the next week or so.  I still have a list of corrections to make, but the new site, now labelled , will settle down and be enjoyable for all to engage with.  

And as usual there is an email page for you to let me know what you think of the new format, and to send your recollections, news and images.

The site will now no longer be updated, although it will remain available for a while while we become used to attaching the suffix or changing the address in the Favorites (favourites!) section of our browsers.      

Today, we all experience the web on a variety of devices and via several different browsers.  Fault-free running cannot therefore be guaranteed for everyone all of the time – at least for a few weeks.

Nevertheless, upwards and onwards for!

Saturday, 10 November 2018

First Pictorial Record

The first photographs to appear in the Herts Advertiser coincided with the preparations for the First World War, and through the war years there were a very few portraits of local men who had been killed, injured or honoured.

Although the number of pictures appearing gradually increased during the Twenties they were all what photographers called exterior images.  There was just insufficient light for pictures to be shot indoors.  I suspect church service pictures would have been frowned on at this time. Especially the Armistice, later Remembrance, services which took place in the Cathedral.

The first Armistice-related pictures date from 1920 when side-by-side photos of the recently completed war memorials at Welwyn and Wheathampstead appeared in the edition of 6th November, and although Remembrance articles appeared thereafter it was 15th November 1924 before photos of representative groups marching to the Cathedral appeared and a picture of the Mayor laying a wreath at the St Peter's Street War Memorial.

These were the days when photographs were taken by others and handed in to the Advertiser office, so articles were rather randomly illustrated.

Peering into a hole
Random reports of holes have probably appeared in various locations for as long as it has been worthwhile reporting them.  Last week it was the turn of Oaklands where, rather worryingly, a large hole opened up beneath the foundations of Cedar Court, just east of Longacres.  Speculation that it was the result of digging clay for the nearby brickworks (on the site of the modern Marconi estate) can, I think be discounted, as Hardy House, which previously occupied the Cedar Court site, was also constructed without its builders being aware of fill material, often including rubbish.

A clue might be in the name of the Hill End Farm field on which later developments were built: Chalk Dell Field.  Small chalk pits were common in the area, and men employed to dig out the chalk for liming fields.  They were generally not very deep and early pits may have been gradually filled by the soil lying nearby.

What is of concern, whatever the cause (and it definitely wasn't heavy rains this time), the bottom of the hole would have been twice as deep as it appears today by peering in, as the soil and subsoil had fallen into a void below.

We will all be intrigued to discover more details about the Cedar Court hole, especially the residents whose homes hover over the newly opened space.

Sunday, 28 October 2018


While we are waiting for the hoardings at the Comet Hotel to be removed following that building's upgrade, here is a related topic – and, I suppose, to some degree, a little marketing.

A few years ago I was a regular reader of a monthly magazine titled Best of British.  Its range of subject matter was, and still is, based on the periods of recent times within readers' recollections.  So, the matters of everyday life from the Thirties onwards are featured in its articles, and there is a varied collection of correspondence from the journal's readers.

Recently it appears that the publishers have had bulk deliveries sent to a selection of retailers, including supermarkets.  I am uncertain how extensive or systematic these piles have been, but I did take the opportunity to re-acquaint myself with Best of British, and I quickly re-accustomed myself to its comforting style.

A series feature near the back is called Out of the Box and appears to focus on kit models; many of us will remember arrays of plastic shapes fixed onto plastic frames.  The box of the series title includes a range of accessories according to the model, tubes of smelly glue and perhaps a miniature container of paint, depending on the manufacturer.

St Albans Refrigerator shortly after closure in 1964
Children of the 1950s sometimes purchased their Airfix kits in a box from 149 Hatfield Road on the corner with Sandfield Road.  It had been a car showroom for Grimaldi Bros but was then taken over by St Albans Refrigeration.  Stanley Lawrence also used a counter within the shop for his model supplies.

The model featured in BOB's September issue was de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moth, an Airfix kit in red and white.  In real life this was one of several small civil aircraft types manufactured by the company when it was still operating from Stag Lane, Edgware, before moving to Hatfield. Later still the Tiger Moth manufacture moved to Oxford.  Apart from use as trainers for military and civilian use, air taxis and leisure craft, this little bi-plane was affordable by individuals with a good level of income, or for hire by the hour from flying schools.
de Havilland production brochure for the Tiger Moth series

It is testament to the design and quality of this little craft from Hatfield that versions of the Moth are still in use today.  And if you should be wondering about the name applied to this series it would be useful to understand that Geoffrey de Havilland, founder and owner of the company, was an enthusiastic entomologist.  When not in the factory and at the drawing board he could often be seen wandering the extensive site on which the runway was laid out, searching for evidence of a wide range of insects.

So, there were tiger moths in the grass, tiger moths on the runway and in the air, and there were, and still are, kits of tiger moths in cardboard boxes!

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

They Recognised Me

In May 2017 the published blog was titled "You'll Never Guess What, Mum."  It centred on a published postcard showing three young boys outside the entrance to Hill End Asylum in the early 20th century.  A selective enlargement of the threesome enabled us to see their faces clearly, and although it wasn't possible to say who they were we created a possible scenario for the day on which the photograph was taken.


It was just a photograph, and these were just three boys.  Except that one visitor to this site thought he knew more.  Dennis emailed to let us know:

"I have reason to speculate the possibility of who one or two of the boys may be. You see, My great grand father, George Goodchild was the Clerk and Superintendent at the hospital for around 30 years, from around 1896, before the first buildings had been built, up until his death around Christmas time of 1927, therefore, as I understand, he would have been the resident of Hillside house at the time that the photo was taken. Furthermore, My grandfather, Arthur Gerald Goodchild (Jerry), was born to George Goodchild and his
wife  Florence Ida Goodchild, at Hill End on the 31/10/1904.

Hillside is the house in view through the gates.

MBE awarded in 1927.
So, Dennis thinks it is likely one of the boys is his grandfather, Arthur, possibly the boy on the right.  But his grandfather had an older sibling, who is probably one of the other two, with a friend.

George Goodchild.
George was already an experienced practitioner in his field before gaining the post at Hill End as the Hill End project began, before the buildings went up and before his site house, Hillside, was completed.  He must have been dedicated to his role, for in June 1927 he was awarded an MBE for his Hill End career – Dennis retains this in the family. He died at the end of the same year.

We therefore not only have possible photos of George's two boys, but we have a photograph of George himself, published in the Herts Advertiser alongside his obituary.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Behind the Main Road

In 1924 Covington's brought to auction the property called Winches.  This former tiny farm and development opportunity was not just another site on which houses could be built.  It lay immediately beyond the city boundary and therefore in the Rural District, which meant that the future occupants would pay lower rates (now known as Council Tax).

The farmhouse and rear fields were acquired by the Institute for Tropical Medicine; the narrow field to the west of the access drive would later become the plot for a public house.  It was the front field which attracted most attention, and most of us travelling along Hatfield Road associate the development with a parade of shops and a line of semi-detached homes.

If we have noticed the side road at the eastern end, the majority of us have never travelled along it – at one time there was also a through access from the western end, but that has long since been blocked off.  There had always been a notion that the western end had never been fully completed; whether true or not this is the road known as Wynchlands Crescent.

The line of shops had always provided a useful range of retail both for everyday and specialist needs, and anyone who has attempted to park outside will have discovered that the former grass bank is just as challenging now that there is a double-height kerb!

Street party parade at the western end of Wynchlands Crescent in 1945  COURTESY ANTHONY MEYRICK
Recently we showed a photograph, one of a series submitted by Tony, with children enjoying themselves on a parade at the western end of Wynchlands Crescent.  The occasion was either VE Day or VJ Day.  Next to the end house, number 44, then owned by Mr & Mrs Brimble, was, and still is, the low fence protecting a small electricity transformer supplying power to the houses in the development.  The bystander at her front door, the right-hand porch of number 40, was undoubtedly Mrs Taylor.

When Stewart recognised the houses and one or two people, it is because he used to live just around the corner in one of the Hatfield Road houses.  He wondered whether he had been part of the street party; and it does seem possible as it would not have been possible to close Hatfield Road for such an event.

'City' Garage owned by Messrs Flowers & Etches who lived in the adjacent
The council had always retained a small depot at the eastern end of the Crescent, against the Oaklands boundary, but what was stored there I have no idea.  One further property, between that depot and the first of the even-numbered houses, was a large garage for storing a few small buses.  The owners were the partnership of Mr Flowers and Mr Etches, whose families lived in numbers 2 and 4.

New properties, The Acorns and Woodland View have now replaced those former uses.  Next time you are Oaklands way, pause at the shops and then explore Wynchlands Crescent.  Maybe even Winches Farm Drive; the old farm house can still be spotted among the homes of the new estate.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Platoon ... As You Were!

Readers can always detect when life becomes extra busy for local historians, whatever they are doing: the number of blogs per month falls.  This September has been one of the busiest on many fronts, and only one blog has so far been posted.  So just in time I am able to sneak in another one!

The previous post revealed previously unseen photos of the Home Guard, submitted by reader Tony, whose grandfather featured in the images.

You will recall that we were left with a few questions; namely, the identity of the unit, the particular event, the location of the urban space with the bus stop, and of the more rural one with the avenue of trees in the background.

de Havilland's Home Guard unit at Hatfield Park.
Thanks to Tony's uncle, who has now also seen the pictures, we  have answers to all four queries.  The event was the occasion of the final disbandment ceremony for the Home Guard in 1945.  No doubt these ceremonies occurred in most districts – there was certainly one in Market Square, St Albans.  Hatfield held its  ceremony in Hatfield Park; it is believed the units of the town  marched past the Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire.  This gives our clue to one photograph.  Crowds of people are lining a wide path watching the Home Guard units march past.  Those with an intimate knowledge of the park may well identify the avenue of trees.

de Havilland Home Guard unit at Hatfield Station.
Following the march-past this particular unit arrived at the forecourt of Hatfield Rail Station.  A map of the time reveals this was the site occupied by the present, and pleasant, modern station building and car park alongside Great North Road.  No wonder I did not recognise it with its little buildings around the open space.

Finally, Tony had let us know his grandfather had worked at de Havilland's during the Second World War.  That was the final clue, for it was indeed the de Havilland Home Guard detachment.

The discovery of these photos and the background knowledge is important.  Few HG official records remain, and almost no  members of the HG are now around.  So whatever memories they shared are now our responsibility to record and share.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Platoon ... Halt!

Let's face it, most of us are quite willing to give up an unspecified amount of time to volunteer for what we believe is a good cause.  Even this week a railway company is asking for volunteers to become Station Ambassadors at a few of its otherwise unstaffed stations.  In the 2012 Olympics there were 70,000 games makers without whose dedication the Games would not have been possible in the planned form.  Most major events since then have also seen large numbers of smiling volunteers.

It's not a new concept; volunteering has a noble and ancient history, often borne from loyalty, from protection and security, and from expectation.

The call also went out by Secretary of State Anthony Eden in May 1940.  The country needed volunteers to help defend the Home Front; he eventually got well over a million members of the Local Defence Volunteers, later known as the Home Guard.

The remaining numbers who served are so few now, and most of the accounts of their training, duties and encounters have now either been told or lost; and the official logs and other records of membership and service have long since been destroyed.  But with such a large active volunteer sector, most families resident in Britain at the time and since can count at least one, and possible many, uncles, grandparents and great-grandparents who were for various reasons unable to become part of the regular fighting Services, but who were proud members of 'Dad's Army', as it was nicknamed.

Children's parade in Wynchlands Crescent, possibly 1945 and possibly linked to a street party.

One of those remarkable discoveries occurred recently when regular SAOEE site visitor Tony uncovered 1940s photographs which included his grandfather with his platoon.  A platoon group shot is accompanied by others of the group on parade.  There are bystanding crowds and we therefore assume the occasion might be either on establishment, or when the HG stood down at the end of 1944, or perhaps when finally disbanded in December 1945.  We know that Tony's grandfather lived at Oaklands, and there is also a wonderfully happy photo of a children's parade in Wynchlands Crescent, with two of their number holding a 'God Save the King' banner.

We have not yet identified the location of the parade – but it was clearly on a bus route!

There were many HG units in St Albans, but it does seem likely that this was one based in or near Oaklands, or perhaps a works unit for de Havilland's, where Tony's grandfather worked.  Still a mystery are the locations of these parades, especially the urban open space with advertisements and a bus stop (above).  If anyone recognises the place, even though it may no longer exist, we would welcome your input.  And there is just a chance that you might recognise a 'private on parade' or a junior in Wynchlands Avenue.

Was this part of the same parade? With so many spectators it was a popular open space.
Assuming everyone was present this is the complete platoon.  These pictures were often taken at a HG training hut,
but we don't yet know where this one was.  Any ideas?

It is a great little collection which can fortunately now be shared with a wider audience.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Was It That Long Ago?

Earlier this month I began a review of 1968 – fifty years ago – and promised to continue recollections of that year in the East End of St Albans in the autumn.  Realising that September onwards will be very busy, with the anticipated new St Albans' Own East End website, I should probably complete the 1968 review earlier rather than later.  So here it is!

Marshalswick was blessed with two bus routes, 354 and 341.  The latter arrived via Sandridge Road and Pondfield Crescent, terminating at a stop near Kingshill Avenue in Sherwood Avenue.  However, with the newly opened Sherwood recreation ground, the terminating bus stop was seen to be a potential danger.  The Herts Advertiser gave no explanation of the potential danger, but the bus was changed to terminate one stop back – but it still presumably passed the entrance to the rec on its return journey via Kingshill Avenue.

St Albans Rural District Council engaged Belfrey Building Systems to construct 151 homes and flats for the elderly in The Ridgeway and Chiltern Road, near to the former Marshalswick School.  Part of this development has already been replaced, probably making it first second generation property in Marshalswick estate.

de la Rue, already well known for its security and currency services in Porters Wood, now opened a third building in Lyon Way for currency counting machines and cash issuing systems.

New bridge approach in Sandpit Lane.
July brought some confusion to motorists with the complete closure of Sandpit Lane bridge for rebuilding.  An emergency weight limit had been in place.  Pedestrians were able to cross the railway on a temporary structure – the first time they had protection, for the old bridge was too narrow for footpaths.

It was announced that there is a severe shortage of teaching space at Marshalswick School.  Not surprising given that only half a school was constructed in the first place, 1959, due to shortage of funds.

Ronald George with one of his works at Arlow Gallery.
Ronald George, a former pupil of Beaumont and Marshalswick schools, presented an exhibition of his work at Arlow Gallery, George Street.

Marshalswick Free Baptist Church opened in Sherwood Avenue.  The church had previously occupied The Tabernacle in Victoria Street, from which it had brought its original organ, suitably adapted and rebuilt.  The building was designed and built by Johnson Fuller Ltd.  The church was full for its first service.

Traffic signals at the Five Ways junction between Beech Road and Marshalswick Lane have been installed.  To make the junction working more straightforward Marshals Drive was severed from the junction and diverted onto Marshalswick Lane opposite Gurney Court Road.  That leaves the other Five Ways junction – The Crown – still without lights.

The Lyon Way company of Tractor Shafts has won a silver award for its automatic potato planting machine.

Much needed remodelling and new buildings have been completed at Oaklands Agricultural College, which is responsible for three farms (Oaklands, Hill End and Bayfordbury) totalling over 700 acres.  There are now 100 residential students and over 300 part-time students on day release and evening courses.

Sunday, 12 August 2018


This week we are opening up our diaries for 1968, exactly fifty years ago.  Some of us were not then born, others will recall some of the events readily.  No further explanation, so here goes:

Nearby residents uneasy about a rubber factory in their road, were relieved to discover Belpar Rubber planned to move from Albion Road to the new Butterwick industrial area.

Hatfield Laundry, where the Emporium was until recently, opened a new premises in Wellfield Road, Hatfield.  It also traded in Wheathampstead.

The Ministry of Transport had long intended a series of pedestrian underpasses across newly widened London Road at Whitecroft, Drakes Drive and Mile House.  The City Council wanted traffic lights instead; we now know who won that battle!

Clifton's, the Smallford manufacturers of system buildings – no longer in business – announced it would also supply plant hire vehicles.  The company was located in Smallford Lane at the former access to Butterwick Farm.  Other businesses occupy the site today.

It was proposed that Hill End level crossing will be lowered to road level now that the railway has fully closed.  The height difference was eight feet and the ramp quite steep.

Marconi Instruments Ltd is to invest further at its Longacres premises, and at a three-storey block on the previous Fleetville b Ballito site, now Morrison's.

Mr A Hobbs owned 2 acres of land in Colney Heath Lane, including a filled-in dew pond.  He has tried farming it, creating an orchard, growing Christmas trees and rearing animals, but the land remained waterlogged.  He had applied for permission to build houses in 1964 and now does so again.  He was refused once more, but, from the close named after him, we deduce he eventually got his wish!

Mr W H Laver, founder of the timber importer
and trader.
At the end of March Nottcuts, a business with several garden centre outlets, announced that it had purchased the nurseries at Smallford belonging to Sear & Carter.

W H Laver, timber merchants with several branches including opposite Fleetville Recreation Ground where Morrison's Refuel is, is celebrating the centenary of its opening at Corner Hall Wharf, Hemel Hempstead.

Discussions ensued about trying to reduce the amount of traffic on the ring road.  As we know this was easily achieved in the end by not calling it a ring road!

Sherriff's, the farming family which had a long-established garden shop near Hatfield Station, opened a shop at The Quadrant.  It was located on the Ridgeway corner where Giffen's Electrical had been and where more recently is Ladbrokes.

Hatfield College of Technology.
Hatfield College of Technology, first established as a result of apprenticeship schemes with de Havilland Aircraft Company, became a Polytechnic in 1968; the first step on the road to becoming the University of Hertfordshire.

Two students from Beaumont School, Glen Wade and Malcolm Turner, were winners of a cookery competition at Hertfordshire County Show.

All of that in six months; so having reached the middle of 1968, I will pause until the Autumn before discovering what else was making the East End news fifty years ago.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Meet Me at the Drill Hall

In our, sometimes traumatic, re-living of the First World War and the churning over of the ethics and morals, inhumanity and desperation, we have reached, with much relief, close to the end. Not that anyone was in a position to confirm that at the time.  Nor was The End anything other than the the Armistice and the laying down of weapons.  There are always consequences, and for countless families it was barely the beginning of new struggles in the lives to be lived in the future.

There used to be a building in Hatfield Road, almost opposite the Marlborough Almshouses, called the Drill Hall.  Drill halls were part of town life all over the country and became the headquarters of the local defence corps, now known as the Territorial Army.

As we observe from an advertisement which appeared in the Herts Advertiser in April 1918, Captain Charles Dunning of the 23rd Herts Volunteers implored every able and willing man up to the age of 60 to meet him at the Drill Hall.  This was one of many such calls even at this late hour for men to fill a variety of duties, for fighting and for support.  The battle was not yet won.

For those who came to meet Dunning or other officers, and signed up for active duty at or behind the Front, there would then be, perhaps two or three months of training undertaken locally and then in centralised camps in other parts of the UK.  By August recruits, whether volunteers or conscripts, and both from a steadily depleted pool of available men, were fully on duty.

One such man extracted from that pool in April and sent to the lines in early autumn was Thomas W Carter, who was living with his wife and children in Hatfield Road.  Since 1916 he had successfully appealed against conscription on several occasions.  He ran a successful business.  In his defence he continued to stress his work as agricultural, a key term given the extreme shortage of some foodstuffs.  In peacetime it had been a nursery and garden contracts business – and would be again – but in wartime the emphasis had changed.

Ada and Thomas on holiday after the war.

Thomas' luck ran out in April 1918.  At his final appearance at the Tribunal the latest appeal was turn down. By autumn he was in France, and the active part of his duty lasted barely a fortnight.  Within days of November 11th, Thomas' wife received news of  injuries to her husband's thigh, neck and arm.  His right leg was amputated below the hip.

Following treatment he was returned home; the business of Sear & Carter continued and was later taken on by his children.

The Drill Hall focused people's attention on their collective duty as they perceived it, and the decisions they made on the day they signed up.  But the consequences were far-reaching for all.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Fire! Fire! Pour on water.

Much concern has spread among us recently concerning the significantly increased risk of fires breaking out on the parched and dust-dry open spaces, some of which, inevitably, lies close to where people live.  We would prefer to believe that such fires may start entirely accidentally.  When storms throw their lightning bolts groundwards, for example.  We would hope people are not careless enough to leave glass bottles around, discard cigarettes, or light portable barbecues in this kind of weather.  Whoever is to blame, or no-one, we expect to call the fire brigade, and the fire-fighters will sort it.  But it won't always be a happy ending.

The County Brigade in St Albans (which used to be the City Brigade) has had many homes: London Road is its latest, having moved from Harpenden Road.  Before that it was Victoria Street.  There was no retained brigade, nor retained horses to hook up to the fire "engine" – a water storage tank with a few useful tools.

A fire broke out at Hill End farm – not at all close to the city – in December 1878.  Some pride was expressed that attendance to the farm was no more than twenty minutes after leaving the new Victoria Street fire house, formally opened on the evening of the previous day.  It had taken fifteen minutes to amass the fire fighting party from their various places of employment, receive delivery of the horses which were usually on other duties but on fire standby, and prepare the fire truck.

What was not stated in the Herts Advertiser article (Dec 21st 1878) was the time taken for someone from the farm to be dispatched to an officer in the city to present the alarm.  Nevertheless, for the period in question, an hour or so, the time was probably no less than expected.

The old thatched timber barn containing a mixture of farm equipment, hay, seeds and corn, together with adjacent stores, were totally destroyed.  As much water was probably used by relays of Tyttenhanger villagers as was used by the brigade once it had arrived.  We should not forget either, that a prime function of the ubiquitous farmyard pond, was to contain a ready supply of water in case of such emergencies.

Mr R W Gaussen, who owned the farm, stated that the property had been insured with the London & Liverpool Fire Office; which is  probably as close at it got at the time to product placement.  Mr Gaussen did not appear concerned about the cost.

In addition to the City Brigade a second person had been despatched to the County Brigade and arrived at the scene within a few minutes of the City men.  It is assumed the County fighters came from Hatfield, but this has not been confirmed.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Welcome to our new pad

Voluntary organisations of all kinds are used to working their lives out in sub-standard accommodation.  Buildings originally designed – or at least intended – for quite a different purpose; shared spaces; former living rooms or even kitchens; rooms with no storage; buildings in the wrong place; those which are uninviting.

We continue to use them often because there is no alternative option, funds are short, donated by well-meaning folk who have our interests at heart but who recognise that most major projects will be difficult to achieve.  

Difficult maybe, but not impossible.  Two organisations in the same vicinity were searching for similar solutions, and the result is the delightful little building opened on Sunday 22nd July at Highfield Park, with a green ribbon obligingly cut by Mayor Rosemary Farmer.

Highfield Park Trust had headquartered in the nearby West Lodge, Hill End Lane, from the start of its tenure two decades ago.  OK, so you could run a typical small office from the front living room, and they have, but it wasn't laid out to satisfy the wish of the Trust to invite visitors, show off what was being achieved in the park or hosting functions.

Thanks to the new visitor centre, the Trust can now do all of those things, and probably more.  Today was also a red letter day for Colney Heath Parish Council, because it too was moving into a new home, in the same building.

There is reason enough at any time to visit the delightful Highfield, on the twin sites of the former Hill End and Cell Barnes hospitals. It possesses acres of beautiful and expansive parkland, woods, orchards and ponds.  From today one more attraction can be added to that list – a new visitor centre.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

It's In the Archive

We hear the word Archive without fully understanding that it might have different meanings for different people or organisations.  To one it might refer to their shoebox of photos in the wardrobe; to another memories in their head just waiting to be talked about; and to a third an attempt at storing and labelling a range of images or documents on a particular topic.

Visit the Community Archives & Heritage Group website ( and there are links to community archives all over the UK.  Some of the most endearing are those which contain the memories and stories of individual residents of a particular location, as memories of past times are released.

In the Fleetville district we have also recorded a number of memories, and part of the mission of Fleetville Diaries, the local history group, is to make these more accessible over time.

During the past few years the same group has also collected a range of stories with the theme Laid to Rest.  Right in the heart of Fleetville is a large attractive, and very well-managed, cemetery.  It contains the graves of several thousand men, women and children who have been laid there since the 1880s.  Of course, every one of them had a story to tell us, if only we knew what it was.  While it  was always going to be unlikely we would uncover the lives of the majority, we have nevertheless collected the stories of nearly fifty; well, it's a start!

But how best to share those stories. I am sure we will develop a more permanent archive, but, for now we have realised that the most engaging means of communication is to be present as part of a group at a person's graveside.  Not only are we able to be close to the subject's final resting place, but we can chat with others about each account, experience the landscape and peace of Hatfield Road Cemetery – whatever the weather – and as a result appreciate further what community might mean for each of us.

We have created four Laid to Rest walks, each with ten or twelve life stories or experiences.  The Baker's Dozen, Pioneers, Private Lives and Friends & Family.  Each begins with a brief account of how the Cemetery began and the story of the chapel.

If you have not previously joined one of our Laid to Rest walks do come along to Laid to Rest: Family & Friends on Saturday afternoon 28th July at 2pm.  The event lasts for about 2 hours.  There is no need to book, just turn up.  We meet at the shelter near the chapel.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Sweet Sound

The story this week is set just off the line of Alban Way in Campfield Road.  First sold in 1895 for development, the first building along the unmade track leading into the field was for printer Orford Smith (not to be confused with T E Smith's works in Fleetville).  Shortly afterwards arrived the Sphere Works and then the Electricity Works.

The former Salvation Army buildings, Campfield Road,
now demolished.
Regrettably for Mr Smith his business did not last long and the fine Miskin-constructed buildings were sold to the Salvation Army in 1901, which moved its huge printing operation from Mile End, and was quickly followed by the renowned musical instrument business.  Mr Miskin returned to add more space in Campfield Road.

The company manufactured a wide range of high quality brass instruments, and to this day it is possible to identify Sally instruments on a maintained list.  In the 1970s the company was absorbed into Boosey & Hawkes.

Back to the story.  Last week Stewart emailed me from halfway across the world with a piece of information he thought I might appreciate.  So, our subject is Steven Mead, well-known in musical circles as a virtuoso euphonium player who is ambitious in raising the recognition of this instrument.  You can find out more about him on

Steven Mead (left) with restorer Rick McQueeney.
As you might expect, he owns several examples of his specialist instrument and took the opportunity of acquiring one more, a euphonium in extremely poor condition shown on an online advert.  In spite of its state he completed the purchase last October.  He reported, "it played terribly."

The euphonium was Model A The Triumph, stamped as made at St Albans in 1915; clearly it had been a beautiful instrument at one time.
Restored Triumph euphonium ready for
its first concert.

Steven contacted a friend at McQueen's Musical Instrument Repairs in Manchester.  The instrument was taken apart to reveal the rich and pure brass and regular reports on progress were sent back to the new owner.  As soon as the euphonium had been dipped and returned to Steven he wrote, "It plays with a wonderful sweet sound throughout the range, excellent tuning right up to the top, and the valves are now quite outstanding... The finish is probably superior to that when it was originally made."

He announced that The Triumph is featuring in concerts this year and had its first outing at a concert in Bournemouth in March.

So, 103 years on this great instrument, made in St Albans, is making music for the delight of audiences in the company of its skilful owner, Steven Mead.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Recollections All Round

During the past three months there has been a steady flow of old news arriving at SAOEE.  Occasionally prompted by a previous item on the website; on other occasions quite unsolicited.

Marconi staff photographer (using Marconi technology, of
course) atop the old Hill End water tower.
Let's start with the heaviest; a collection of eight volumes dating from the 1950s, of the staff magazine of the Marconi giant, of which Marconi Instruments Ltd had three bases in St Albans, all in the east end.  The pages contain details of new technologies, developments within the factories, results and snippets from sports encounters, and on occasion the social difficulties of finding sufficient houses for the company's employees.  Time will be taken to abstract the St Albans features, which also include photos not previously seen.

House and shop of Sear & Carter, Hatfield Road
A few years back, and published in the SAOEE books, were details of one half of the Carter family, Charles, who launched a motor garage in Fleetville, which later became Hobbs Garage and is now KwikFit.  So a very warm welcome was extended to a descendant member of the other half of the Carter family.  Thomas had arrived in Fleetville before Charles and had teamed up with nurseryman Frank Sear.  The name Sear & Carter was well-known in the district, not only for its little Ninefields nursery where St Pauls' Place is now located, but also for the more spacious nursery where is now Notcutts Garden Centre at Smallford.  One result of our recent conversations has been the rediscovery of a photograph of the house and shop opposite Hatfield Road cemetery.

Occasionally the topic of the Smallford Speedway crops up (and also the nearby golf links too, but that's another story).  The names of a few cycle speedway teams have been put forward by Bill, another correspondent.  You may recall St Albans Cobras and EAC Hawks, Hilltop Vampires (Redbourn) and Harpenden Aces.  Just to show that none of us has a monopoly on local knowledge, we are trying to establish where the home grounds were.  The Cobras, for example, raced in Cell Barnes Lane, and Bill sent me a photo of a group of the Springfield houses opposite the former farm yard entrance.  Of course, the circus field was close by, so perhaps it was there.  We also need to establish the specific location of the Hawks' track.  Was it in the grounds of the EAC factory, did they share with the Cobras, or was there another Cell Barnes location, for example, at the bottom end?

Advertisement for L Rose & Co Ltd on
back cover of 1953 Pageant programme
Having long been custodian of a souvenir programme of the 1907 St Albans Pageant – printed at the works which launched Fleetville, T E Smith's Fleet Works – I subsequently acquired a cover of the 1953 pageant programme; just the cover!

 Now, through the diligence of Gill, I have both the 1948 and 1953 programmes complete.  Both contain interesting advertisements and these will appear on the website in the months ahead.

Former coal yard and coal office St Albans City Station

Rob delighted me one day recently, supplying me with a picture which had, until then, resided only in my memory; the chalet shop, or coal office, by the railway bridge where today is the road into St Albans City Station (and where many news reports are transmitted from).  There it is, looking a little worse for wear, shortly after closure, and shortly before work began clearing the former sidings and coal yard.

What a great time local history is having.  Long may it last.  Future blogs will expand on all of these topics, and more as they arrive.