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.