Sunday, 27 May 2018

It's Showtime!

Everyone in the County can mark off this May weekend as soon as they receive their new diaries.  It is the weekend of The Hertfordshire County Show (Herts Show in its abbreviated form).  As this blog is being written the sun is gently warming the Redbourn show ground for its second busy day and lines of cars are being marshalled up in orderly fashion.

It seems that as long as we can remember the Show has set its collective trailers down in fields between the M1 and the old A5 just north of Redbourn for its celebration of most things agricultural – as well as entertainments which would attract the large crowds to ensure the event could cover its costs above the income from trade stands.
Appealing to families.  Courtesy Hertfordshire Life.

However, the Show first arrived at what was to be its permanent home in 1962.  In fact, the statement should be amended to "its second permanent home", in as much as permanence can occasionally be a flexible concept!

The Redbourn show ground.  Courtesy Hertfordshire
Agricultural Society
The society which manages the Show has itself a significant pedigree, having been born in 1801.  Its meetings and events took place on land at Hatfield House estate, and Hertfordshire Agricultural Society pinned the Show's birth to a ploughing match there in 1879.  Although it did move to another Hatfield site the growth of the town made that unexpandable and eventually  unavailable.  In the 1950s the event became nomadic and visited, for example, Childwickbury in 1953 and Letchworth in 1955.

This is where St Albans' Own East End enters the story, for in 1956, shortly after the land had changed hands, Oak Farm in Coopers Green Lane was selected.  The Show came to us!  I'm uncertain when it first became a two-day event at the weekend, but it was previously a single day during the working week, and so it was in 1956.  Thursday was show day.  That was an even bigger weather risk then than today for an open air agri-fest.  Mid May – for it was slightly earlier then – at Oak Farm and the previous day was very wet, so ensuring an adequate amount of mud through which to wallow.  The day itself, according to the Herts Advertiser, was sunny.
The Herts Advertiser reports on the pig classes at Oak Farm.

The requirements for a large tract of land made it inevitable that that the event would be "off the beaten track".  The proportion of visitors with cars would have been low in the 1950s; my memory is unclear about the laying on of special buses to the site.  Perhaps we all walked, but we could only have done so after school.  So perhaps this was an event, which could have been of such wonderful educational value, that passed us by.

I have never discovered a programme for the event, and no-one has recalled the Show as one of their fifties highlights.  Hertfordshire Show at Oak Farm, it seems has retreated to the great chasm of non-memory that exemplifies much of our lives.  But there may be someone somewhere who could still exclaim, "1956?  Oh yes, that was the year Hertfordshire Show came to Oak Farm."

Sunday, 20 May 2018

The Price of Coal

As with many other householders I paid my dual-fuel energy bill recently by direct debit online.  As a child I was regularly sent to place an order for coal or coke at one of the many Coal Offices, and subsequently to take the invoice – the bill – with cash to pay for the delivery recently received.

The coal offices were in Fleetville (for Stantons, then Kendalls), at The Crown, and at offices gathered around the railway station.  One of these little portable buildings stood next to the gate leading from the goods yard at the station.  If you have arrived to living in the St Albans district more recently than c1980 you will possibly not realise that the goods yard occupied all of the space which is now the busy station and the car park building. 

Martell's Coal Office c1970.  Today at Station Way.

This week I received a photo, possibly taken c1970, which shows Martell's Coal Office – not an accessible building, I notice.  Today it might not even pass planning regulations as the door steps dropped straight into a blind bend straight off the Victoria Street bridge, and just as the footpath ends.  Inevitably, the building could not be permitted to remain once the new Station Way was laid to join Grimston Road and Hatfield Road with its seemingly endless flows of taxis, buses and cars.


But there it was, and although it appears to have been abandoned at the time, someone thought to photograph it and in the context of the wider scene.  It is clear that the goods yard – which we would probably call freight today – is also neglected as more centralised handling of freight trains had been developed by the seventies.

After just over a century the station, formerly on the Ridgmont Road side of the tracks, was transferred to the other side, and the big talking-point of the period was electrification.

A 1950s coal bill for Charrington's, whose coal office was on the city-side of the tracks.

Today there is nothing left of the coal office, but we know exactly where it stood.  I did attempt to take a photograph from the same spot; taking my life in my hands, it proved impossible given the vehicle flows on the traffic light controlled junction.  I will try again early one Sunday morning, but meanwhile here is an alternative courtesy Google Streetview.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

We have a plan

In the second of a series of articles about the arrangements for educating the children of Camp and Fleetville we turn our attention to those over eleven years old.

A strategic plan for the re-organisation of schools in the East Ward of St Albans and district had been developed in the first half of the 1920s, but would, in theory, take a decade to implement, assuming that sufficient funds were forthcoming.

However, the circumstances in individual schools were becoming dire and the managers of some schools felt that they could not wait that long for improvements.  At Camp school, for example, there were places for 248 juniors and seniors, and 150 infants.  Although there was still space in the infants the junior/senior department (remember, progress was made through the school by ability and not necessarily by age), the County’s plan to add four further classrooms to a school in the centre of a fast-growing residential population, was at odds with the Board of Education’s re-organisation plans.

Strategically, the development of education services was progressing towards a system which separated schools into those which educated children up to the age of eleven, and those “post-primary schools” which provided a three-year curriculum for seniors up to the age of thirteen or fourteen and a four/five-year secondary curriculum for children up to fifteen or sixteen.  There would no longer be progression by ability.

The plan was to open a boys’ and a girls’ senior school on land which the County had purchased in Hatfield Road, Fleetville (the current Fleetville Juniors site). Camp and Fleetville schools would then become mixed schools for infants and juniors (JMIs).  The problem is that such bold plans (and this was for just the East ward) are very expensive and would take a long time to materialise.  

A surprisingly small senior class at Fleetville, possibly the final year, c1930,
in which senior girls attended the school.
Courtesy Fleetville Infants School & Nursery
In view of this urgency an interim plan was put into place for shorter-term gains, in which one half of the senior school would be constructed, for 320 girls.  Its numbers would come from the girls from Camp and Fleetville schools senior departments.  The Camp senior boys would move to Fleetville to occupy the places freed up by their girls, and the accommodation for Camp would enable the infants and juniors departments to expand.  The senior girls’ school would consist of eight classrooms each large  enough for 40 pupils (the norm at the time), a central hall and a practical block.

These discussions took place at the beginning of 1928, and at the time the education department had not even purchased a full site for one senior school, having just purchased a nominal four-and-a-half acres – enough for buildings but no playground or playing fields; that would have to come later.

Meanwhile, a site in Fleetville had already been pencilled in for a senior girls school to replace the existing Central Girls’ school – the same site!  Central schools were developed to provide further education opportunities, mainly for girls who had often left school up to a year earlier than boys. The Central in St Albans had  restricted accommodation in Victoria Street, part of the old library and school of art.  This was, essentially, a science and handicrafts centre, which itself desperately required replacing,  

Well, that was the plan.  

The Central Girls' School buildings with building added in 1938.

Fleetville and Camp areas were probably not surprised that the plan, which would have greatly advanced provision in the ward, was compromised by allocation of the senior school site for the Central girls’ school.  However, this school, when eventually built in 1931 did contain more capacity than originally intended, in order to accommodate the girls from the Central as well as those from Camp and Fleetville.  However, since a senior boys' school was not part of the immediate plan, Fleetville continued to provide for them, as well as Hatfield Road boys’ near St Peter’s Street, until Beaumonts’ and the boys’ grammar schools were built in 1938.
The new Central senior school site also included a separate block as a boys’ craft centre.  

A section of the school population with staff taken in 1931 when Central
Girls' School opened in Fleetville.

The school had not been on this site for more than seven years when the buildings were modified and re-opened as the St Albans Girls’ Modern school – by the time it opened it had already been renamed St Albans Grammar School for Girls, so becoming a secondary school.  As part of the improvements an extension was built and the craft block integrated with the main school.  The school was one of the first to have a caretaker’s house built under the many standards for secondary schools which the county adopted.  The house was built on a strip of newly acquired land which also acted as a wider and more welcoming entrance than the narrow way next to West and Sellick.

The caretaker's house added in 1938.  The new entrance was much more
imposing than the rather utilitarian gateway of today.  A detached house
set on a wide plot is now replaced by Grimsdyke Lodge, built right up to
the boundary fence.

Next time it will be the turn of the senior boys.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Fielding for free

In answer to a question about where to spend a typical summer weekend day, "somewhere exciting" would be the required comment, especially if our group includes children.  An afternoon with a picnic in the park probably doesn't cut it these days.

I was reminded of this yesterday when a friend sent a picture of his family group relaxing near the edge of a field.

His message to me includes "Apparently my family and assorted Uncles and Aunties would travel down to the Barley Mow (no idea how we got there as  nobody had a car) and sit and have fun by the river at the back. I am not sure of  the  details, I am the baby on my mother's lap in the photograph, but it was obviously near the pub as the men are drinking beer. Apparently a good time was had by all and I think we did it quite often in the immediate years after the War. Simple times!"

A family gathering at the field next to the Barley Mow.

I then realised that I had no other photograph which records such field pleasures that you would enjoy frequently.  So, actually seeing the picture is a rare pleasure.  To bring us up to date, the Barley Mow as a pub is no longer open, though the building remains.  More to the point, the field in question is still a field, as shown in the second picture.  The Barley Mow stands at a T junction, although the little lane now goes nowhere, and hasn't since the bypass was dualled.  Before then you could walk to the Colne and Coursers Lane, picking up a drink on the way at the Rainbow filling station.

The river mentioned – actually a small stream which has become even smaller in recent decades – rises, like nearby Butterwick Brook, from within the chalk of these parts and trickles towards the river Colne.

My friend asks:
"Was it just my family who indulged in this fun in a field or was it a regular outing for St.Albans folk? I would be interested to hear of any memories people might have of  the Barley Mow at this time."

The field today; courtesy Google.
There were many fields I can recall enjoying myself in, either with my family or my friends, or both.  Regular Sunday walks would find us at Jersey Farm, where we would picnic in a field where we were the guests of a small herd of dairy cattle.  Then there was a rather undulating field – again picnic oriented – where St Luke's School was then built at the top of Hixberry Lane.  Possibly not a field exactly, but very popular was the river bank in London Colney, and the spaces around the gravel pits at Frogmore, Park Street.  We took our food with us, so no need for snack bars or restaurants; we cycled or walked so needed no lifts or driving licences,  and as long as we had a cricket bat and ball we were happy.  Such days out therefore cost us nothing.  Just as well.

Today there is an expectation that we have to pay to be made happy.  There is a national sport which grew from a field and where most of the time most of the participants are fielding; it may have been cricket – or not – but it was free fun.

Incidentally, the Barley Mow had been well known as a cyclists' watering hole.