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 The finish is probably superior to that when it was originally made."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.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

The Doorstep Pint

The earliest memory I have of milk delivery is an old motor van from the Co-op driven around our estate, and a horse-drawn vehicle, I think in cream and green, led by one of the Corley brothers from Oakley's who came next door.  The horse nibbled at the grass at the roadside, and as the milkman returned to the gate with empties in his hand the horse moved further along the road on its own; it knew where the customers were just as well as Mr Corley.

Then the Co-op received its smart new electric vehicles, and even in those 1950s days we were able to order orange drink in smaller bottles, and eggs too.  As we, along with most people, possessed no refrigerator we devised methods for keeping the white stuff cool, from cold shady doorstep to stone floor in the coolest room and covered with a tall wet inverted clay pot.  Even then in high summer there was a chance the milk wouldn't last until evening before it turned.  Thank goodness, in those days, for Sunday deliveries.  And an additional benefit was in making some rather unedifying cheese hung in a muslin pouch.

Grandmother talked about taking a jug to the cart where milk was ladled from its large container in the days before TT milk was the norm.  She who had lived her younger life in South London recalled walking to a shop to collect the milk, and returning with her jug covered in damp muslin.  Hedges Farm had such a shop on the corner of Hatfield Road and Glenferrie Road, and there were similar shops in the city centre.

Cunningham Hill Farm claimed to be the first to bottle its milk, and Marshalswick Farm claimed to be the first to deliver milk twice a day direct to regular customers – though before World War One quite who they were is uncertain given the emptiness of that part of the district.

The days of the every-day milkman eventually wound down for most of us.  As the keeping qualities of milk improved, thrice-a-week delivery was considered adequate, and then plastic containers proved less expensive than glass, especially when taking sterilising bottle-washers into account.

So almost universally bulk purchase from the supermarket took out the role of the traditional milkman and at a significantly lower price.  But in places a milk round has continued to find a niche retail position, as other dairy products, vegetables and groceries were added to the goods delivered.
Press advertising for a Hatfield-based company
offering glass bottle doorstep deliveries.

Now, the milkman is embracing the internet and the principle of offering cheaper prices for bulk buying.  While customers can still purchase milk in plastic containers, the glass bottle is back on the delivery menu.  Register

with the company by setting up an online account and suddenly buying your pinta* becomes much easier, with no more need to leave a note tucked in the top of an empty bottle, or waiting for the milkman to book you time out while you're on holiday.

From asking the farmer's wife at the farm gate, to internet ordering in one hundred years, there is still an alternative to the shop in spite of availability from petrol stations, paper shops and as many convenience stores as there were in the fifties.

Milk certainly seems to be an enduring retail product.

* Pinta was a marketing word coined in the 1950s to encourage us all to increase our milk consumption, using the slogan "Drinka pinta milka day."