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.

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