Saturday, 2 November 2019

Contrasting tracks

Most of our streets came about during the period of expansion and utilisation of former fields into residential or mixed development.  Before Kingshill Avenue there was a field sloping downwards towards the former Marshalswick Farm.  Royston Road and its neighbouring streets were carved out of a large field where cattle had grazed; and Cavendish Road, though there may have been a footpath of sorts, was created from an orchard or a tree nursery or a small crop field, depending on time. 

Although there are minor roads which were formerly footpaths crossing the countryside, and roads linking towns which have existed for several centuries, it is rare to come across a road with a life stretching back into antiquity, probably part of an ancient network of trackways which traversed the region.

Pre-development Beaumont Avenue at the Hatfield Road end.
Part of one such route is now Beaumont Avenue and forms an attractive residential road linking Sandpit Lane and Hatfield Road.  Along this road was a minor spur leading to Beaumonts Farm.  The spur today is part private (Farm Road) and part adopted, absorbed by the residential estate as Central Drive.

Remove the homes which line each side of the Avenue, all but three of which arrived since 1899, and you are left with the remains of a double stand of fine trees.  

The track which wandered through the former manor estate had extended through wooded land of uncertain age north of Sandpit Lane.  Today we know this as The Wick.  Also part of Beaumonts Farm was a continuation of the track towards Hill End.  Now Ashey Road, it is a mix of early 1930s semi-detached homes, a post-war industrial estate and the green acres which are now Highfield Park, formerly Hill End Hospital.  How this section of the track contrasted with the Avenue: it had been dug for the clay and was home to a brickworks as a result; and with the exception of isolated groups of trees did not appear to have been treelined.

One further difference: the southern section, though a track snaking through the farm, was a permissive route for traffic other than that which was farm business.  The Avenue, on the other hand, had always been considered private (whether legally so is another matter) and gates were installed at both the Sandpit Lane and Hatfield Road ends.

The former BT building next to the railway, now Alban Away,  Today
part of an industrial estate and earlier a brick works and rubbish tip.

Today's Alban Way still intersects Ashley Road and demonstrates a further difference between the two sections.  But before feeling too satisfied that the avenue escaped the smoke and steam of railway tracks, it was a close call.  The Midland Railway's early iteration proposed a route which would have clipped the northern end of Beaumont Avenue and crossed in front of the former Marshalswick House.  Although Thomas Kinder, owner of Beaumonts, had not been found to have objected to the compulsory purchase of a small portion of his land, the Marten family certainly did, and as a result Beaumont Avenue retained its rural and ancient landscape.  No railway crossing the Avenue.  Same track, but quite a contrast.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

It might have been Richmond

Fifty years is a long time ago; if you lived in our East End in 1970 you would no doubt have been disappointed to learn of the recent closure of Ballito Hosiery Mills.  But the excitement surrounding its arrival on the Fleetville scene stretches back to 1925, over ninety years ago.

Edward Gould Richmond
Ballito was a major source of employment in the period when the east end of St Albans was still growing; it occupied a building where many of us today carry out our shopping: Morrison's.  At the time of its arrival the mill was as if the company was a new-start operation – lucky Fleetville.

The name Ballito may have been a new brand name (from Ballington Hosiery Mill, the manufacturer's initial name), but the company from which it developed had a long pedigree, more recently in the UK where silk stockings were imported by two New Yorkers, Alexander and Charles Kotzin, at premises in the City of London.  To secure the success of their enterprise the Kotzins had a close business relationship with the cotton mills of Edward Gould Richmond in the cotton belt city of Chattanooga, Tennessee.  

One of his mills still turned out finished cotton stockings in the early years of the twentieth century, and when silk became fashionable the company built a new mill specifically for the new product.  Cotton costs had been kept low partly as a result of the plantation system, originally based on slavery, and then on a flexible arrangement of employment in the mills which often made use of children who were, the company said, "just helping out".

There was little doubt about the success of the new Ballington silk stockings over here in the UK, but before long the government took the decision to add import tariffs on to a range of silk products, partly to raise funds for the Treasury and to protect the emerging home market.  The Richmond company's response was to allocate substantial funds for building a brand new mill near London in order to avoid the tariffs.

Well, someone saved some money, because the Kotzins discovered an empty former printing factory in Hatfield Road, Fleetville, and their only major task was to import the machinery.  Having brought over skilled operators and trained new employees Ballington Hosiery Mill, Fleetville was under way and quickly expanded.

Ballito advertising in the 1920s
Ballito may well be associated with Fleetville, but it was not, strictly a British enterprise; just a Tennessee business using its financial clout to avoid its products being too expensive when imported to the UK.  It's the way international trade often works.

There are still many families living in and around St Albans whose relatives once worked at the Ballito.  The local history group, Fleetville Diaries, is currently working on a project which includes recollections from former employees, as well as the manufacturing background to the manufacture of silk and nylon hose, the competition which Ballito faced and the success of its marketing.


Monday, 7 October 2019

New homes everywhere

We have become used to ticking off the new housing developments we come across in our local travels, not to mention those which are  proposed as private enterprises or will result from district plans, the largest for large estates in the vicinities of Redbourn and Tyttenhanger.

But lest we imagine this is a modern phenomenon alone, the demand for homes in huge swathes of Middlesex between the two wars, and resulting from families escaping the privations of poor housing in London, largely created the modern outer boroughs of the metropolis.  And it touched St Albans too in a small way, with the typical semi-detached estates, the largest of which was primed to grow from Marshalswick Farm.

As a result of such frenetic activity there developed a super-charged energy in the formation and  expansion of house building firms, most of which had previously been small family enterprises of fewer than a dozen employees.  Gone were the days when builders offered bids on a few plots on a field development sold off by a farmer.  Construction companies sought whole farms which their owners wish to dispose of; the farm name living on in the marketing,  display advertisements and show home welcome days – the flag poles and fully-furnished show homes had their genesis in the late 1920s.  Buses and taxis were even laid on to woo prospective purchasers, then a novel method of acquisition for ordinary families.

In 1938 news came through that Marshalswick Farm had been purchased by the north west London building company of T F Nash.  Already a well-known company for its many well laid out estates to its name, TFN was not afraid of programming in excess of two thousand dwellings, including small numbers of detached properties in key entry locations to an estate, and was an early adopter of both cavity wall construction and built-in extras,  garage-width sideways and garage-included homes, all with generous gardens.  As for the designs, the front elevations are certainly distinctive.  In Harrow the company even developed blocks of flats with a modernist curved-end balconies.  Throughout the 1930s it was completing up to one thousand homes a year.

St Albans was one of the company's rare forays beyond north-west London.  There was therefore a possibility that, had the war not intervened, Nash may have spread its building wings even further.  As it was, the firm joined other similar enterprises in bidding for  government infrastructure projects after domestic building ceased.  It was not until 1954 until building controls finally disappeared, but it seems that Nash had already decided to call it a day as a house builder in its own right.  Stocks of materials and equipment had been auctioned and sites sold.  Other builder-developers re-launched ready to take on the 1950s housing expansion; at Marshalswick it was McGlashan & Co.  Its office was at The Quadrant.

If you live, or have lived, in a T F Nash home you will usually know, and there are people out there who still search for the company's original brochures which set out the elevations and plans of a handful of designs in which it specialised, including their tapered rooflines, porches and shutters.  Most have now been altered, and few still sport the shutters, but recognising a Nash home is not always a challenge.

The Nash family may not have lived in St Albans, but it is a name which St Albans has taken to its heart; people just know where the Nash home are.

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Cunningham Avenue

As with many areas of St Albans their boundaries are difficult to fix, and the limits of St Albans' Own East End have always been considered flexible.  But stand in the vicinity of the former Cunningham Hill Farm and walk south-westwards, down the sweep of the open space that was home to many territorial camps in centuries past, we encounter an allotment garden few of us are probably  aware of.  Faded green railings separate us from a quiet road of homes which lead us to the busy London Road.

This is Cunningham Avenue which, before the 1920s was not even a farm track, unlike its immediate neighbour Cunningham Hill Road which had enabled an access to early agricultural shows.  The lower slopes of Cunningham Hill Farm were still being farmed, and   there is an echo of former use in the allotments as a large swathe of sloping ground was in use during the First World War as emergency allotment gardens.  

Building companies, the 1920s versions of which were minnows compared with today's combines, are constantly searching for new opportunities to continue their operations, and a connection seemed to have been made between the land owner, Earl Verulam, and a well-known builder and brick maker at the time, William Bennett.  The result was the acquisition of a parcel of land which became Cunningham Avenue and its attractive homes, all built in the 1920s and with no evidence of later infilling or unsympathetic adaptations or re-building.  

The fact that the road is a cut-de-sac may lead us to suggest fewer local people will have explored the road than would be the case if there were onward connections for vehicles.  But it does make a fruitful circular stroll from the farm, walking along the avenue, the short stretch of London Road and up Cunningham Hill Road returning to the former farm at Cell Barnes Lane.

Whether Bennett constructed each house for a specific owner is uncertain, but it is clear that, although there are features or designs common to many of the homes, each has its distinctive face to the road.  Red brick, tile-covered porches, gable timber facings and other embellishments were incorporated into almost all of the dwellings.  The garages, many of which were probably added later, have been designed to complement the design of the main structure.  The front gardens remain planted and few have been opened to the street by boundary wall removal and covered in tarmac or blocks.

It therefore seems likely a number of covenants remain in place and  the road does benefit from being within a Conservation Area.  Cunningham Avenue is one of this city's delights.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Engaging With Our Locality

Whenever families, individuals, classes at school and visitors to the district, are able to share in some of the history of their home district, the experience is always positive.  More than that, what we discover is quite joyous.

Heritage Open Days have proved the point once more, although other casual meetings throughout the year have a similar effect.  September and October is also the period of time in the school curriculum when children explore their home patch, both the school itself and the shops and homes, where we and our friends live and what we can buy at the shops.  It is therefore a delight to meet the children as they find out how the school day was conducted, how children behaved and the playground games they may have played fifty or a hundred years ago.
Fleetville School playground in the 1930s.

Throughout the year members of Fleetville Diaries carry out deeper explorations in the form of projects.  St Albans had been the home of Frederick Sander and his renowned orchid nurseries in Camp Road, and this formed the basis of a major project last year.  Its culmination was to share our findings in a glorious celebration with members of the Sander and Moon families today (Henry Moon turned Sander's orchids into exquisite watercolours).

This year the organisation has taken Beaumont Avenue as its next subject in the series Right Up Our Street; and to focus on the former hosiery mill, Ballito, which grew on the site now occupied by Morrison's, where thousands of local men and women came to work, both in peacetime and war.  Although largely based on recollections it has been important to understand how the factory came to Fleetville in the first place.

Heritage Open Day on Saturday 14th September was an appropriate occasion to bring people together, to view three exhibitions and chat with the project leaders, to do so in a building (Fleetville Community Centre) first erected in 1942 as a nursery for the young children of women encouraged to work at the Ballito works that had been turned over to making shell casings for the war effort.

Factory managers' houses in Woodstock Road south
It comes as a surprise to many that competitive circumstances dictated the original Fleet Ville did not realise its full potential and which may otherwise have become a good deal larger.  The fact that it did not enabled one of this city's major benefactors, Charles Woollam, to acquire the field left over for the recreation and enjoyment of the people of Fleetville in the form of the Rec, or as many people refer to it these days, Fleetville Park.

Summer view of The Alley.
We then take a short guided walk around early roads; are amazed that Fleetville had a unique cinema – where no-one was fortunate in watching a film there; stood on the spot where several WW2 spies were charged, discover the homes built for the factory employees in one road and those built for its managers in another; and the function of The Alley which most Fleetville folk claim never to have walked along.  There are parts of Fleetville, too, which are more ancient than the Cathedral, and a stream to cross without getting our feet wet!

People love to ask questions and are often amazed by the answers; almost always a conversation ensues.  We are all part of a community and feel a personal responsibility to learn more about it.  And it matters not whether you are a 9-year-old who has already made sense of where he lives, or an adult who has lived here for three times as long and come to realise it's no longer sufficient to take local history for granted.

One way or another we all yearn to become more involved.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Does the shoehorn actually work?

There appear to be two related definitions of the term shoehorn: it is a curved tool to help ease our feet into a tight-fitting shoe, probably an early indicator that a larger shoe size might be appropriate.  Used as a verb, it can also describe forcing something into a space which is really too small.

The north side of Hatfield Road, when first laid out, was a mix of small houses and then increasingly shops.  Living accommodation for the shop owners was in the form of an upstairs flat; house occupiers had a tiny front garden, and both groups enjoyed a small private rear garden.

In time the rear gardens were lost to rear extensions, preparation buildings and stores.  Where possible vehicle access was squeezed in from the side roads.  Even in a nearby residential road a corner property owner has foregone a rear garden in favour of building three accommodations.  Recently, it was revealed that a property in Hatfield Road undergoing alterations was about to add a  similar number of one bed accommodations on the first floor, shoe-horned into  space too awkward and inadequate for the purpose.  And our  residential districts are littered with examples of a jarring streetscape created through unsympathetic and over-sized extensions intended to overfill the plot.

A variety of well-proportioned homes form a backdrop to the open spaces of Clarence Park.

This week St Albans celebrated the publication of a delightful little book about one of the district's foremost architects, Percival Cherry Blow (1873 to 1939).  The book launch was held in one building which he had designed – Thomas Oakley's grocery, now Waterstone's – and followed up with a meal for some at another of his buildings, Ryder's Exhibition Hall, now Cafe Rouge.

A Percival Blow designed house in Clarence Road.

While most of Blow's residential buildings were substantial in size and on good-sized plots, it appears that the architect was as concerned about how the proposed dwelling would sit in the street scene, and so space was as important as the physical structure.

One suspects that if Blow had been called back to add something to  one of his houses he would have given it the same meticulous attention as the original, and would know the limit of what was aesthetically possible on any plot.

Elements of the previous building on the site are captured in the red brick
Rats' Castle public house in Fleetville, designed by Percival Cherry Blow.

In the eastern districts of the city there are examples of his domestic work in Brampton, Blandford and Stanhope roads, and a range of semi-detached and detached houses in Clarence Road.  If such detailing attention is paid to the building elevations themselves it would seem natural to apply the same attention to the street boundaries.  Of course, today this is difficult to achieve as the imperative seems to be to get cars off the road at any cost, a requirement not foreseeable in the period when Blow was practising his profession.


All of us would benefit from a read of the new book, St Albans' Architect Percival Blow, published by St Albans & Hertfordshire Architectural & Archaeological Society.  As we do so we will discover so many more buildings Percival Cherry Blow was commissioned to design; our streetscape is the richer for his endeavour.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Yes, But Is It safe?

The city has many alleys, examples of former countryside public footpaths.  Some are well trodden; others come as a complete surprise when discovered.  They exist because they were rural community ways of getting about.  When a town encroached on the countryside, homes, gardens and residential streets had to be accommodated round the public routes already present.  Most are unnamed, such as the former track between Camp Road east and Ashley Road, between Breakspear Avenue and Vanda Crescent, or between Woodstock Road south and Beaumont Avenue.  Occasionally, as in the path between Marshals Drive and Marshalswick Lane, we find a name, Wickway in this case.

It is rare to find such an urban alley which does not have street lighting.  Sure, these units are not always appropriate for the task they are required to serve – very narrow paths between gardens, and often with dog-legs and blind corners – but at least there is lighting.

Farm Road, formerly "Muddy Alley"
A form of alley, in that it was a farm lane which failed to become a public road, remains unadopted.  It is Farm Road, between Beechwood and Beaumont avenues.  The responsibility for adding lighting is that of the owners of the formerly-named muddy alley, and presumably they feel it is unecessary, although, from memory, I think one householder has fitted a lighting column.

A well-known and lengthy track, Jersey Lane, which provided a link between the drive serving the old Marshals Wick House and one of its farms, had for centuries been unlit, except by the moon; it led to open country. Nowadays it is a recognised walking and cycling route passing through Jersey Farm residential area, and because we expect to remain out and about on occasions during the night-time hours it is equipped with street lighting, especially useful given the extent of tree cover.

Jersey Lane
Another well-used walking and cycling route, one which does not have a history in the same way as Jersey Lane, it being a former branch railway, is Alban Way.  This delightful and well-used route is a hybrid, being neither between the houses, nor beckoning towards the countryside.  Instead it serves as a kind of bypass around parts of the south and east of St Albans, parallels Hatfield Road in the unbuilt distance between Colney Heath Lane and Ellenbrook, before carving its way past the Hatfield residential areas towards its old centre.

Alban Way may be one of the busiest tracks of its type in the district and is certainly enjoyed.  But there are users who do feel unsafe; their experiences of walking along it tells them so.  There are others who presume it to be unsafe at times because others have told them so.  It does not help that the local press describes the Way as "the notorious crime-ridden pathway," even though anyone who has been a victim of verbal or physical attack will likely concur with the newspaper's headline sentiment.  There will undoubtedly be statistics to demonstrate the frequency and severity of incidents – it is probably for the newspaper to justify the accuracy of the wording used.

Alban Way east
However, it seems a precedent exists for whether or not tracks such as these are, or should be, lit.  Closed circuit television is another matter, but once the principle has been established, we also have to justify the spending of required funds on the basis of need and whether other paths have been similarly funded.  Where we go from here is another matter, but it would be a shame if we are genuinely put off from making use of this gem of an open space because we feel uneasy about being there.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Idyllic Dell

The Sandpit Lane boundary of the former St Peter's Farm remained much as it had done for centuries until the sale of the farm in the 1890s.  One imagines a hedge beside the lane between what today is Clarence Road and Woodstock Road north.  There were fields for grazing cattle, but one little area was always fenced against cattle intrusion and as early as the 1841 tithe map this pocket-sized copse was named The Dell, an apt label given that it was a depression in the landscape.  Today it is a fully mature circular area of mixed woodland.

Might it have been a growing medieval pit for sand extraction?  Or – and this will surely be on your mind – the result of a sink hole?  Whatever its cause, once trees had begun to grow a distinct ecosystem thrived.  There are sporadic reports that access by the public might have been granted to appreciate what had clearly been acknowledged as a very special environment.

Following the sale of the farm it did not take long before Thomas Grimwood purchased a substantial plot of land between the road and The Dell to build himself a house, appropriately named The Dell.  Whether or not Mr Grimwood realised at the time this was the one location along Sandpit Lane where the Wastes were absent with no additional permissions required to gain access to his plot of land.  The plot was in a commanding position right on the edge of the heath.

Before the 1930s Sear & Carter used the lower part of the plot beyond the house and gardens as one of their trial grounds supporting the Ninefields Nursery, now St Paul's Place.

Before and after the First World War others constructed their homes along this part of the lane.  Mr Grimwood sold The Dell  to Mr Fletcher, and he in turn passed it onto Mr Sykes.

Housing had crept closer to The Dell in the 1930s, but not from the lane.  Jennings Road and Churchill Road had been laid out, and eventually the rear gardens of a few of the resulting homes touched the edge of The Dell from the south and west.

But something different occurred in 1965.  The Dell and The Dell became a development opportunity.  Michael Meacher & Partners, architects, and Watford's Kebbell Developments produced plans for groups of flats and houses on the site.  There was never any intention to develop The Dell itself or its approaches.  This may have been for the laudable reason of open space protection in an environmentally special part of the site, but it was also convenient that The Dell was somewhat below the level of the district's sewer and drainage network, with the practicalities of making homes work in those part of the site difficult, if not impossible.

A later phase consisted of two ranges of two-storey homes, although three storey houses had been originally planned.  So the three-bed flats fronting the lane are the only three storey accommodations.

The two open areas are the treescape which can be seen along Sandpit Lane, and The Dell itself, although buildings press hard against its boundary.

Naturally, many nearby residents formally objected to the development scheme.  Perhaps they imagined something hideous, noisy, unsightly or unsuitable for the location.  Certainly the site, as with almost everywhere else in this part of the city, is far more intensively used than when Mr Grimwood was in residence, The Dell is in tact, and therefore the habitat enjoyed. by birds and mammals.  Just as in the centuries when it was part of a farm.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Right of Way

A few followers of St Albans' Own East End may recall reading of an application to St Albans Council around 1900 to divert part of  the footpath between Princes Road (Woodstock Road South) and Brampton Road so that homes could be built in Burnham Road.  This was agreed to since walkers would have a network of paths they could use on the new road network.

A current footpath through what remains of Chandlers
Grove wood
T F Nash, the company which developed Marshalswick Estate, encountered a similar problem, imposing a new road network on an existing network of public footpaths and tracks, which is why gaps between homes have produced St Mary's Walk and an un-named path between Pondfield Crescent and Queen's Crescent, which had previously been part of the edge of Chandlers Grove.  The narrow band of woodland accommodating a right of way footpath is also preserved parallel to Chiltern Road before it forms the boundary between Malvern Close and Sandringham School.

Path between homes from Pondfield Crescent
and Queen's Crescent
So, it is unsurprising that a public right of way issue has arisen once more on the site of Sandringham School.  For the roots of the story we must wind the clock back to the days before the school existed and a network of paths linked the farms and other rural habitations on the substantial Marten estate focusing on the former  Marshals Wick House.  One such path linked St Albans Road, Sandridge at St Helier Road and Jersey Farm; another branched southwards towards the House from Sirdane, a dwelling seemingly in the middle of nowhere but which came to be at the T junction of these two paths.

When the County Council purchased land for the Marshalswick Boys' School it clearly understood the problem as the north-south footpath, which had been allowed for by Nash on the south side of The Ridgeway, becoming St Mary's Walk, intersected the new school site.  The path was therefore diverted west-east along the northern boundary of the school before joining the path mentioned above near Malvern Close.  Walkers could then use The Ridgeway and pick up the  St Mary's Walk path.  

Later, when Sandringham Crescent was driven through, the County acquired more land for the school (only half of the school had been constructed in 1959 due to a restriction of cost availability), it had neglected to adjust the footpath to the new boundary further north.  Hence today's problem as the school plans for new facilities on the north side of its site.

Marshalswick Boys' School when new, fronting The Ridgeway.  The newly-posted fence forms the northern boundary
of the school and the diverted footpath.  Previously the path had followed a route from the house known as Sirdane
(background left) towards The Ridgeway (foreground left).  The future Chiltern Road is the neck of woodland
to the right of the playgrounds.  Sandringham Crescent, also in the future, will cross the light coloured field north
of the original school boundary.  PHOTO COURTESY ANDY LAWRENCE.

But it does pose an interesting question.  What does the current path through the school grounds provide which the alternative – the original west-east extension of Helier Road towards Chiltern Road – does not?  One seems to be a duplication of the other for a few hundred metres.  If you were going to choose which path to follow, surely you would walk the path on the north side of Sandringham Crescent, where there are alternatives within Jersey Farm Woodland Park.  What would be the benefit of using the straight-line path along an educational establishment's boundary – or rather inside it – other than because the law allows us to.  Which is not a very strong argument on its own for so short a distance.

Of course, a precedent had already been set at the site of Samuel Ryder Academy, formerly Francis Bacon School, where extensions to the original boundary enveloped the lower end of Hill End Lane on its way to London Road.  At one time it had been a traffic route, but the lane had been allowed to "re-wild" along its edges and became a footpath, but as this passed inside the boundary of the school a risk was perceived to exist.  The authority therefore stopped up the path and authorised a diversion via Drakes Drive.  Drakes Drive had, after all, been constructed to replace Hill End Lane.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

The Orchid King

It is possible that you have joined one of the groups attending Hatfield Road Cemetery on one of the popular Laid to Rest story walks, organised by the local history group Fleetville Diaries.  If so you will have seen, because we have told the story of the families Sander and Moon, a rather forlorn and overgrown family plot.  Brambles and Buddleia are not really representative of one of the country's foremost orchid hybridisers of the 19th century!

Henry G Moon, artist

If you now take a walk in the cemetery you will discover an impressive plot; the offending brambles and other invasive plants have been coaxed out of the ground, the granite stonework has been cleaned, restored and re-set, fresh topsoil and weed inhibiting matting laid – and there is now fresh green grass growing inside the kerbing.  The grave is along a curved path from the main avenue opposite the chapel, leading towards the Cemetery Manager's office.

Orchid Laelia Goldiana
The work was undertaken by a team from Fleetville Diaries, having become temporary guardians under the Adopt-a-Grave process, and of course with the full blessing of today's members of the Sander and Moon families.  J J Burgess carried out much of the stonework.

Frederick Sander, informally known as the Orchid King, had his nurseries in Camp Road from the 1880s, and in-law and artist Henry Moon produced slightly under two hundred stunning paintings of orchids.  So, there are members of both families buried in the plot.  The full story of the Orchid King can be found on the Frederick Sander & Henry Moon Tribute section of   During the course of the project it was discovered that Moon had also undertaken similar paintings for Peter Barr, a daffodil hybridiser in Streatham.  Peter, rather appropriately, had been known as the Daffodil King.  So representatives of Barr's Streatham research group also joined the Tribute Day.

Before the restoration project began

On a very hot day this week Fleetville Diaries invited some eighty guests, including the current generations of the Sander and Moon families to a special Tribute Day, firstly around the grave in Hatfield Road Cemetery, and then to refreshments and an exhibition at St Paul's Church.  This was an occasion for some members of these two impressive families to meet each other for the very first time, and it is clear that they were overwhelmed by the recognition bestowed on them by the occasion.

The project on completion

Sunday, 14 July 2019

The School House

Many of us are familiar with post-war secondary schools which were built with a house or bungalow for the caretaker of the establishment.  In an earlier era it was deemed appropriate to provide a house for the head teacher in a few circumstances, and  we might use the example of St Peter's Rural Elementary School, which became known as Camp School soon after opening in 1898.

However, Fleetville Schools, nor any others in the city that can be discovered, were built without a head teacher's house.  So the clue may be in the original title of Camp School: St Peter Rural.  While there were plans for new housing nearby, the nearest existing homes were cottages at Camp Hill.  Further away were recently built homes at what we know as The Crown.  But most of the early children came from hamlets such as Tyttenhanger Green, and isolated farm cottages in the countryside.  Children attending the new school would, of course, have walked; but a school could not open if a head teacher (and his wife, to take charge of the Infant department) could not be appointed.  To minimise this risk in an area devoid of appropriate housing, the Education Board added a house on the site.

The 1912 map with the school house on the right, directly
opposite Royston Road.

The first Ordnance Survey map which shows the school house was the 1898 revision in 1912.  On this restricted triangular site the main building housed the junior and infants departments, with the senior department separated on the western boundary.  The separate building on the east side was the school house.  Behind it in the 1930s a portable building, informally named The Bungalow, was built and the last head teacher to live in the house may have been Mr Hill.  Certainly it was empty during the tenure of Mr Belcher who, having come from Fleetville School, had been used to his own family home in Beechwood Avenue.  In fact, the school house had been empty and unmaintained for around two decades until being demolished in 1972 to provide space for the new Nursery.

The architect's drawing from 1898 shows the front elevation of the school, but not the school house.  A good quality photograph from 1914 also excludes the school house, probably because the space between the house and the school was a relatively wide area used as a playground for the girls and infant children.

I have not yet discovered a photograph of the school house, but a tantalising glimpse of its design, appears to coordinate with the school; it is in the recently discovered picture of a 1930 class with a corner of the house on the right edge of the image.  Compare that with other class photos taken in front of the main building in which the entrance porch is a key architectural element.

c1930 class showing a small part of the school house on the right.

So – and not for the first time on this site – the call goes out for photographs of the Camp School head teacher's house.  Since it was designed by the same architect as the school itself, and built at the same time as the school under the same contract, it is inevitable that  one front elevation will have been reflected in the other.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

It's All in a Bag

This year's Larks in the Park on Fleetville Rec attracted the usual friendly crowd of visitors; locals in the main, although it included  many families from across the city.  To greet them were the usual collection of stalls, entertainments and stands representing such charitable organisations such as Highfield Park Trust.  And the bold new marquee charting the latest progress of the proposed new Community Centre building.

Relevant to this story was the bric-a-brac stall, the place where you hope to sell items of a miscellaneous nature, and perhaps pick up treats for a grandchild or two.  Standing on the ground was one of those very ordinary bags you might use to carry a small amount of shopping home from the supermarket or greengrocer.  One visitor carefully investigated its contents and pulled out – a photograph!

A large school photograph, mounted, but without any information of any kind either on the front or back.   Our visitor knew exactly where this picture belonged and walked over to the Fleetville Diaries stand with it.  Apologies to anyone else also at the stand who, at that moment, felt rather left out, but the arrival of the image was rather exciting, as you may gather from the version shown below.

It had been taken at Camp Elementary School around 1930, as evidenced by the back rows who were clearly senior pupils; in fact the whole class of 42 pupils are probably eleven years or over. The school lost its seniors to Priory Park and Hatfield Road schools to enable Camp to become a JMI school.  Mr E Richmond, who lived in Windermere Avenue, was its teacher; he is seen in Camp School  football team photos of the time.  As to where the class was arranged, it certainly wouldn't be possible today.  The space was part of the playground between  the headmaster's house (right) and the main school building; Royston Road is behind.  Today waste bins, parked cars and a modern building occupy the space where the house once stood.

A senior class at Camp Elementary School c1930.

But where has this photograph – still in very good condition – been since the fresh faces lined up c1930?  Not every family would have been able to purchase a copy, or even would have wanted to.  Maybe it was stored in the home of a former member of staff.  If not, it probably spent most of its lifetime in the successive homes of one member of the class shown, though interestingly there is no pencilled circle or extra finger marks around any of the faces shown as is often the case!  To make identification even more difficult – and this is a common issue – no names or dates have been written on the reverse.

Questions therefore remain: who were these children of Camp district, who would today be between 100 and 105 years old.  How did the photo in a bag reach Fleetville Rec in June 2019?  Was it the result of a house clearance, or younger family members having a sort out?  The story of this class photograph remains largely hidden from us throughout the past ninety years.

But if you have information to add please get in touch: the email address is

And if you would like similar photographs to reach a safe and permanent home – even if it is only a copy of the original – then do use the same email address.  Far too many historically important images of life in our city are being lost because their guardians just don't know what to do with them.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Avoiding Hatfield Road

At times it can seem like a conundrum with no easy solution, but the question of avoiding driving along Hatfield Road, can be countered by the equally exasperating how to avoid Sandpit Lane, and even how to avoid the bypass.

When traffic flows smoothly on all three roads between Hatfield and St Albans there is no issue, and at least on two of the roads the resulting extended travelling times are, hopefully, temporary.

In Hatfield Road, readers may recall, a few months ago gas pipe replacement work was undertaken in St Albans Road West, between Smallford and Ellenbrook.  For the next two months similar work is to start between Smallford and Oaklands with the inevitable one-way working using temporary traffic signals.  This is a busy section at the best of times and two new permanent signal sets have been installed at Oaklands College (pedestrian controlled) and at Kingsbury Gardens.  The former is near the uncontrolled  junctions of  Colney Heath Lane and South Drive, but so far the interruption to flow has been minimal.  But in a foretaste of what is to come temporary signals in three phases arrived recently near Oakwood Drive and Longacres.  Standing traffic queued back as far as Smallford roundabout.

Junction improvements in Sandpit Lane.
So, if that is not to your liking you could try driving westwards via Sandpit Lane, but you are likely to be queuing soon after the House Lane roundabout.  The reason here is road surfacing, new junction, footpaths and roundabout at Oaklands Grange, near Barnfield Road.  Work has been ongoing for several months, and the recent difficulties have probably resulted from some drivers trying to avoid the Hatfield Road works – which are about to get even worse.

Of course, once clear of Newgates the next queue is at the Beechwood Avenue lights, where there seem to be more vehicles than usual turning left to return to Hatfield or Ashley roads, but no doubt a proportion of drivers continue west to find alternative routes nearer the city.  And I have noticed a small increase in cars and vans turning north into House Lane, no doubt heading for Marshalswick and the fiveways junction at the King William IV.

So, let's try the bypass.  You might join it at the Roe Green interchange and westwards you may have a fairly easy journey as far as London Colney's congested roundabout – though continuing further west to avoid the city you could join a long queue on the approach to Park Street.  

Normally, travelling eastwards takes time on approaching Roe Green, although we might be applying the brakes anywhere back to Sleapshyde Lane, but once this junction has been negotiated, on the green as it were, you are buoyed at the prospect of a swift journey through the tunnel, except that recently eastbound traffic has sometimes been stationary underneath the Galleria and very slow moving as it leaves the A1(M) on the approach to the former Jack Olding's junction.

I can find no obvious cause except for the usual "weight of traffic", but travelling between Hatfield and St Albans is presently fraught with problems and therefore expensive on fuel and time.  Best to leave a generous amount of time for your journey and stock up with some extra patience!

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Growing and Growing

It is a measure of how busy the early summer months can be, that we have reached  23rd June, by which time the third post of the month is usually published, and this is the first June blog post!

It had always struck me how many cars lined the roads of Fleetville and other local districts during the middle of the day, where you might expect many households to be out of the house at places of work.  As most local folk have known for a long time commuters from elsewhere have combined free street parking with a brisk walk to the station; a routine highlighted recently with the introduction of residents' parking schemes in the parallel roads of Fleetville, when there was a sudden increase of all-day parking in those further roads hitherto not affected.

In the early days of the old station building in Ridgmont Road most commuters walked to the station – and there was a steady movement of westward-exercising pedestrians calling in at the paper shop on their way to catch the 8.22.  A proportion of them turned to the buses when they began to operate in the 1920s and from the 1950s the commuter might be driven to the station with the spouse returning the car to the domestic garage – we could do with more of that today but the family car has been replaced by the personal car.

The old station was torn down in 1973 when the new buildings were opened in Station Way, a road which did not exist before then.  I am sure the waiters for trains welcomed the new more spaciously provided facilities.  These, of course, have encouraged more users,  multi-storey car parks have been added, more services and longer trains.  And now the overcrowding within the station as a result of the line's popularity, is to be relieved with more concourse space, a second footbridge (who remembers the station entrance and footbridge on the road bridge itself?) and extra capacity at the Ridgmont Road entrance.

But the real question to be asked is how far from the station would commuters be prepared to park their cars and what proportion of their total journey would then be driving compared with walking?  We need to know these things, and I feel sure someone has already completed a survey on the subject.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Methodists Planted East of the Railway

Forget Fleetville, the adventurous souls who first inhabited the district settled in the homes of the Cavendish estate, and it didn't take long for a few shops and a range of employment to spring up.

The congregation first met in the workshop to the left which had previously
been a small shoe factory.  ROBB BUTLER

Meanwhile, the non-conformist city churches began to explore new locations in which they could provide a mission for new residents.  In 1894 the Dagnall Street Methodists launched their mission in Cavendish Road; initially front rooms and open spaces where houses had not yet been built; then meeting in Lee's small shoe manufactory, formerly a harness maker's shop and later to become the workshop of Butler's Motor Garage.  For a few years both the adults and the Sunday school would worship among the part-made boots and the smell of shoe leather ...

Plaque marks the arrival on the present site.

The first church building at Glenferrie Road

...Until a corrugated iron Nissen-style building was acquired on a narrow plot in Hatfield Road* which the members could fit out for permanent use.  As far as this group was concerned the dawn of the twentieth century offered a sparkling future.  However, not content with what they already had, this Methodist branch moved on and secured a site nearer to the heart of Fleetville, on the corner of Glenferrie Road.

Initially a multi-purpose hall and Sunday school room in more temporary accommodation it was at Glenferrie Road that the Methodists set their roots down permanently.

They have reached a significant milestone now that the new little suburb they joined in 1894 has expanded to become the city's largest and most vibrant district.  Next week Hatfield Road Methodist Church will be celebrating its 125th anniversary in Fleetville – for although that name traditionally belonged to the little area around the original print works (now the Morrison's site) the name could be applied to anywhere hereabouts, from Beaumont Avenue to The Crown, and is included in two wards, Ashley and Clarence.

We wish the Methodist Church a happy anniversary and hope that their tenure in Hatfield Road remains for at least another 125 years.

* Acquired by the Camp Liberal Club which later replaced the corrugated building.  This same building is now Hatfield Road Sports & Social Club.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

What's That in the Background?

Every so often you come across a photograph with so much detail it is difficult to take it in immediately.  As an example, I was given this image about ten years ago.  So many readers will be familiar with the location, near the junction of Hatfield Road and Sutton Road.  The scene was captured in 1939.

On the opposite side of the road is the original laundry attached the cottage with bay windows.  At the time the laundry also possessed a fenced front garden with the door accessed along a narrow path.

Then there is the huge former printing works which had become the Ballito hosiery mill and about to be converted to munitions manufacture.

Of course, the reason for the photo, probably taken by a member of the Tuck family, was to feature son Brian on the trike, together with his friend Alan, whose father Leon Turner owned a grocery shop opposite.  The hoses are prepared for the next motorist to pull up for a few gallons of petrol from Mr Tuck's little garage and service shop next to house – the bay window on the left of the picture.

Box made specifically for St Albans City Police.
London Transport had been operating bus services along Hatfield Road for six years and one of its standard shelters stood back from the road against Ballito's front wall; and the old-fashioned torch logo warning of the school ahead.

But there is something else in the view which, after a decade, I have just spotted for the first time.  In 1931 St Albans Police Force introduced a small number of timber police boxes, so that, in the growing city, patrolling officers would not need to walk back to Victoria Street to complete details and sign off.  Six of them were installed, fitted with electric heaters and a telephone which could also be used from the outside so that residents could make emergency calls.

We know what they looked like, as we have a photograph, above.  Now, looking carefully in the background of the main picture, can you spot a police box?  It is standing on the corner just inside Sutton Road on part of Ballito's site.  Look just to the right of the hat of the departing pedestrian!

When the wooden boxes were replaced with brick versions in 1939, the site was moved to the Hatfield Road/Beechwood Avenue junction.  So few of us will recall the wooden box as shown in the photograph.  Nevertheless the proof in this image shows it was there and adds to the stories of the local police service and communications in the early days of easy access to phones, for regular as well as emergency calls.

We sometimes need keen eyes, or a magnifying glass.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Living along the lane

The title sounds very rural, doesn't it?  And so it once was: narrow, hedge-lined and with surrounding fields.  Not an ancient lane, it was created for the use of the public and the benefit of the estate owner who did not wish outsiders passing along the drive past his big house.

The lane in question is Marshalswick Lane; the sponsor was George Robert Marten and when built in 1854 it was first given the name of New Lane, because that's what it was.

The only image of pre-development Marshalswick Lane which the author has
in his collection; has anyone got a better one?
The writing for the lane was on the proverbial wall when the estate and its farms began to be dispersed to developers in the 1930s.  Which is when homes in Marshals Drive first began to appear, together with individual development on the the south side of Marshalswick Lane.  You could say, this was the quiet part of the area's growth.  The lane remained narrow,  unmade and hedge-lined.  Even when the new Nash estate homes began in 1939, from a turning off the lane at a new road called Ridgeway West, change was false-started because of World War Two.  

Among the new residences completed on the north side before building stopped were those west of Ridgeway West.  At this time no building had taken place on Chalkdell Farm, so the hedges along the lane remained – for now.

Part of Marshalswick Lane; north side on the left.  Courtesy GOOGLE.
When building re-started in 1947, other starts joined the homes: large blocks of flats, a shopping centre, and eventually the widening and improving of the lane and the five ways junction known as the King Will, the name of the public house on the corner.  The lane became part of the city's ring road, and ring roads tend to get very busy.

For the most part the owners of the homes appeared pleased with their locations, and over the years there has been a succession of home improvements, for which we should read home enlargements, even complete rebuilding.  

A rather different approach was considered by a group of neighbours in 1972. The then owners of numbers 71 to 79 decided that life along the lane had become too busy, too noisy, too congested.  They devised a plan to have their homes pulled down and have a three-storey block of flats built in their place, and although the Herts Advertiser did not specify, presumably the number of flats would be rather more than five!  This would enable each of the group to share in a good-sized portion of the land sale cost.  One of the number was quoted: "we think we can realise enough to enable us to buy new homes in the sort of area where we want to live – the sort of place this used to be."
The elegant simplicity of a Type 6 design as build along
Marshalswick Lane.  Courtesy ST ALBANS MUSEUMS.

The aspiration of living in a nice house with a view and in a quiet location: everyone's dream, but not realisable by all.  Had the proposal been given planning approval – which it was not – it is likely that the owners' new dream location would be shattered once more as others, and still more, joined them.

The houses, much altered today, remain.  The simplicity of their. original design has changed in all directions over the years, but none has fallen for replacement flats.  The owners can at least say that they live along a

lane.  Just ignore the standing traffic waiting to reach the King Will.