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.