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with the spouse returning the car to the domestic garage – we could do with more of that today but the family car has been replaced by the personal car.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.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Living Near to Your Job

Residents of Marconi Way may have a reasonable idea of the economic activity which once occupied the land where they now live.  They might try digging their gardens and discover a lot of clay; they might also check the second line of their address.  The first lets them know that Hill End Brickworks thrived here between the First and Second wars.  The second informs of the highly successful business which moved in after the closure of the brickmakers. 

There was, of course, a close connection between Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company's requirement to set up a new offshoot, Marconi Instruments, and the national need for new technologies as the Second World War approached.  Two obvious problems presented themselves: the scrabble among hundreds of firms to relocate as war loomed; and the need to collect in one place a number of the best qualified staff, irrespective of their current home towns.

St Albans came to the rescue for a location.  Longacres came a little later; initially a small building would do – this was setting up time, or planning.  A building in Ridgmont Road sufficed, but the author admits to not knowing which building and would be grateful for further information on this matter.  It was the home of Marconi's formative Special Products section, before moving to Elmhurst, 29 Hatfield Road, which thousands of early students of the College of Further Education will recall in its early days.

Finding accommodation for all of MI's staff was also a headache.  As the company's Longacres premises, albeit initially in temporary buildings, ramped up, the temporary High Wycombe site was closed, and because there was so little appropriate housing in St Albans, many High Wycombe staff were brought to St Albans each day by coach from their High Wycombe homes 30 miles away.

Meanwhile, the company worked with government to supply metal bungalows – prefabs – for staff members at Lectern Lane, Holyrood Crescent and Creighton Avenue.
The first Marconi homes in Charmouth Road,
photographed in 1949 by Marconi Instruments Ltd.

By 1949 a site at the northern end of unfinished Charmouth Road, where new house-building had stopped in 1940.  St Albans Council allocated 19 licences (the method then used to control the supply of vital building materials and labour).  The first seven were for an arc of homes on the west side (one detached home was included as the number of licences was odd).  A start was then made on the remaining twelve on the east side, to the north of where Charmouth Court was later laid out.  
The same houses today.

The company expanded quickly into its new technological world and homes in other locations were also sought, including on the London Road estate.  The 1940s and 50s must have been an exciting, if frustrating, time for the company and its fledgling employees.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Only Waste Ground

There are plenty of accounts and recollections of a piece of development ground – probably enough for up to ten semi-detached homes.  It ceased to become farmland in 1929 and was nominally reserved as a site for a future church between Central, Woodland and Hazelwood drives.  During the 1930s there was, of course plenty of open space for children to play on, but by the mid 1940s when housebuilding began again "the field" became a centre of attention for a new generation of children; their very own  adventure space.

However, the field, much larger then because fewer homes had been built, was used between 1940 and 1943 by the Home Guard for training – they even had a meeting hut nearby.  One or two trenches were dug for exercises and only filled in later when house foundations were laid out in 1947.

The ground was far from level; grasses and nettles grew tall, and hiding was all part of the fun in playing adventure games.  Two badly mauled trees, previously next to the farm house which straddled Woodland Drive at that point, became their own centre of attention for climbing and swinging .  Between these trees traced the usual rough and worn path which enabled anyone to take a short cut towards, well anywhere really.

An informal game of football on the field not yet built on in Central Drive.

Out went the idea of a church; Benskin's acquired the site for a future public house, and erected a large sign to inform the world the land belonged to them.  Children saw an opportunity and used it for target practice – stones, mud, footballs.  Nearby, almost no-one noticed a square of heavy concrete which told of a former well, used by the farm.

In 1953 when just about everyone celebrated the Queen's Coronation, Woodland Drive held a street party on a part of the field where Oakwood School now stands, and in the evening the adventure field was the location for a giant bonfire and a fireworks display – this time it was the turn of the grownups to have some fun.
Team lineup with the the Central Drive shops behind.

Soon after 1960 St Albans Council's policy of making shopping more convenient for those living in residential areas, came to Central Drive and part of the field was developed for a parade of convenience shops with maisonettes above.  In time this brought a post box, and public telephone kiosk tucked around the corner of the righthand-most shop.  Not forgetting children's play, the council levelled the remaining field, and for the first time children could organise their own football games.  The worn path was still there, although foreshortened where the shops had been built.  Probably with safety in mind the Council erected one of those chestnut paling fences around the edge.  The success of the fence is doubtful, as footballs regularly soared over the top  into the 
roadspace, necessitating an inevitable indirect walk to the gateway to recover the escaped ball, which may have ended up in a garden, or under the only car then parked by the roadside opposite.

Irene Stebbings House replaces the open play space.

All good things come to an end sometime, and that end came with the 1970s building of the flats of Irene Stebbings House.  Today, the two trees have gone, so has the fencing intended to keep the footballs in.  There are no more opportunities for youngsters to engage in adventure games or get thrown into the stinging nettles or  ride their bikes over the uneven ground of little hills and hollows.

It was great while it lasted.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Was the story pieced together?

Last month a blog here revealed an account of a crashed Avro Lancaster bomber on a training flight on 23rd October 1943, and very close to Warren Farm, Colney Heath.  The details of the event had been meticulously recorded, but what brought the story to our attention was the account of a group of scouts allegedly in the area at the time and who carried out the very brave deed of removing bombs from the stricken plane and carrying them a safe distance from the farmhouse, without knowing that they were not carrying   live ordnance.

Further research has now been carried out and it seems likely that two separate stories may have been conflated, and no further information about a group of scouts related to a plane crash has yet been revealed.  There is still the possibility that scouts were present, but rather later, and were not participants in the recovery.  Scouts at camp enjoy retelling stories around a camp fire.  No-one that I can recall from my scouting days ever told me that I could not share a story unless it was true – the phrase "camp fire yarns" comes to mind, and a yarn definitely leans towards a story with an invented core!

Both Colney Heath and St Albans Fire Brigades were in attendance after the crash, with Jack Deuxberry driving the St Albans engine.  Jack was one of those who is said to have removed the ordnance onto a waiting lorry.  Possibly to offer encouragement the Chief Officer suggested this would be medal work.  However, awards would later be denied because the bombs were not live.  Sections of the Lancaster were strewn over a wide area, including Smallford, the nearby bypass and Colney Heath itself.

Inevitably, I doubt whether we have heard the last of this event.  There are many wartime photos of crashed Lancasters, but it seems the Herts Advertiser did not publish this one, even if it could have  identified the location as "somewhere in Southern England".

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Urban village

A village is generally accepted as being a mainly self-contained settlement, quite distinct from a nearby larger town or city.  Although there is a general acceptance that villages are larger than hamlets, that being the main distinction, there is an understanding that a hamlet would not have a church, whereas a village would.  So, it is not the population but the level of cultural and social infrastructure which distinguishes the two.  So we have large villages, such as Wheathampstead, and tiny Childwick Green.  We all know of settlements where continued growth has defied the accepted description and become what we would accept as a town, although for various social reasons the dwellers prefer to still think of themselves as villagers; Radlett and even Harpenden come to mind.

Fast-growing urban communities and conurbations have surrounded former distinct villages, so although the village retains. an original and historic physical community, it is, in effect, yet
another suburb of a city today.  In St Albans, St Michael's village, while not completely swallowed by the city, nevertheless cannot be said to be completely separated from the urban mix.  Historically, Camp Hill might have once been labelled a hamlet, at least until the late 19th century; St Stephen's became completely enveloped between the two wars, and I've not heard anyone label it a village.

There are other specific uses of the term, such as an Olympic Village, where competitors at the Games stay for the duration of the event; and even a changing village at the local swimming pool!

Kingshill Avenue
So, what do we make of the production company (Sidney Street), making an introductory reference to Marshalswick Village in one of its recent television programmes in a series titled Best House in Town?  Those of us who were watching would have picked up on that term for the neighbourhood straightaway.  We may have offered a throw-away comment about it being "estate agent terminology".  But perhaps we should not dismiss the label without further consideration.

In what way could we describe Marshalswick as a village?  Does the settlement  have a historical connection with the land on which it sits?  Well, yes and no.  Yes in the sense that the land for both old (pre WW2) and new (what began as the Nash estate)  Marshalswick was previously and entirely owned by the Marten/Martin families.

Can we trace any part of the built community over an extended period of time and therefore define its growth patterns?  Apart from sparse visible trace remains from Marshalswick House, the answer is no, and no archaeology either from any former hamlet near the house has been undertaken.  Certainly no extant buildings before the 1930s, other than the two lodges.

Marshals Drive
What about the status of service provision?  Covenants precluded the inclusion of shops or offices in Old Marshalswick, laid out from the 1930s – no schools either, just houses.  As for postwar Marshalswick, original plans included a cinema, a range of shops, flats, community centre, youth club, churches, schools, library and blocks of apartments.  The older development would therefore come to rely on the newer community for a range of useful services.  Marshalswick is also intersected by a ring road and is now completely enveloped by other developments. 

Finally, we might test the local vocabulary in social conversations to discover whether or not there is frequent reference to the term Marshalswick Village in everyday language, in newspaper, magazine or online advertising.  None, I'm afraid.  But lest we think this is a clever marketing campaign by local estate agents, just try Googling "Marshalswick Village".  This is the kind of lazy researching the programme production company apparently

undertook.  They probably Googled Marshalswick and on a Wikipedia page they discovered a brief summary page for the neighbourhood, and under History you will find the following introductory statement:

"The village of Marshalswick boasts a history dating back to the thirteenth century, and retains a unique Hertfordshire village feel."

Does that sound like the place you know? 

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Piecing Together Another Story

The previous post told of a confirmed story with an important, though unverified, supporting element.

This time a further story appears to have verified elements, but recently new information has thrown the known story out of kilter; it is therefore important for the right account to be recorded.

The existing record concerns a building put up in a small area of cleared land at the western end of Butterwick Wood.  Today we know this land for Homebase and Alban Point.  None of the factories and warehouses in 1939 were present and, other than the clearing, the rest was Butterwick Wood.  As part of wartime preparations the government relocated many of the central London food distribution facilities.  The foods
London Central Meats in Fleetville after a rename to Baxters.
relevant to this account were the central meat warehouses.  New cold stores were built on London's fringes, including the building, North London Meat Cold Store, listed at Butterwick in 1939.  It is also believed there was a retail arm to this operation, known as London Central Meats, one branch of which was in Fleetville, next to the Post Office.  The retail operation was later purchased by Baxter's.

The meat store building shortly before demolition, the photograph being taken
from the end of the railway siding.

It is not surprising that details of wartime operations were difficult to come by, but when post-war economic activity normalised the Butterwick Meat Store lay empty before being occupied by the British Banana Company for ripening stock in preparation for distribution to local wholesalers and shops.  The building, or an adjacent one, was also home to a grocery warehouse and distribution centre by the 1970s.  The 1939 building was demolished for the layout of part of the modern industrial and business estate at Alban Point.  Several local young men have recalled their employment at the banana store and the experience of loading and unloading from the adjacent railway siding – which is also how the meat had earlier arrived.

The group of buildings between Hatfield Road (top) and the branch railway and siding (diagonally through centre of photo).  Butterwick Wood, now gone, still very much evident.  The meat store in this 1951 picture faces the railway. COURTESY BRITAIN FROM ABOVE
The new information which has come to light and not referred to previously is the possibility of the meat store being partly a cover story.  A correspondent states that he visited the "well camouflaged" building and his more detailed account is recorded on the Your Turn page of the St Albans' Own East End website.

The key surprise in his account was the meat store's purpose and function for US Army frozen supplies, the operation there being American owned and administered.  Of course, the building may well have been a dual use space.  However, this is the first occasion we are informed of the site having a US military function; slightly odd to our minds today given Hertfordshire wasn't known for its US 8th Army and/or US Air Force presence, except for Bovingdon and Nuthampstead, unless anyone knows differently.

Which is where you come in, readers.  Any confirmed and verified information would be welcome.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Piecing Together a Story

In this and the next post I'll explore further a couple of incomplete stories which have been reported and re-told, in the hope that further details might come to light.

This post focuses on a 1943 account of a military incident which, in itself, has been well-recorded and is available to view on the internet, and I don't doubt its level of accuracy, given the source –  Military History Forum. It concerns a training flight by an RAF Lancaster on 22nd October 1943.  The flight was notable for us in that the plane crashed into a field at Warren Farm near Colney Heath.  All details of the flight had been recorded, including the names of the crew of seven who were all killed in the wreckage.  Even more, the places where they were all buried.  A book has even been published of the incident.

So far the story recorded is of the flight, the plane and the crew.  But others were also part of the story, and saw or heard the event as bystanders; maybe in contacting the authorities or attempting to give assistance.  Elements of the account are circumstantial; with little or no evidence recorded.  So we would love to learn their experience in this dreadful crash.

It is alleged that a group of scouts were in the vicinity that night.  They may have been undertaking their own scout activities – night hikes, camping, wide games – or may have been present on observational duties on behalf of the Air Raid Precautions.  It is said that the boys observed the crash and how the plane presented itself after it had broken up on impact.  Exposed were the contents of the bomb bay.  The proximity of the crash to the nearby farm house and other buildings posed a potential risk to life and property, and the scouts made what might be considered by some a reckless decision; by others a selfless act of group bravery.  An unknown number of bombs were carefully removed from their splintered compartment and carried to relative safety a distance away from the flames engulfing part of the plane.

The usual post-crash evaluations were made, the remains of the plane recovered and the bodies removed from the site.  The scouts resumed their duties and presumably returned home to bed.  It would be presumed that for such service the scouts would have been honoured with a bravery award; not that the boys would have been expecting to be rewarded; after all, they were scouts.  Nevertheless, a fuss ensued in the period of time which followed.  The obvious question: why were they not recipients of an award?  The reason given was that an award was quite unnecessary as the bombs were not live, given that they had been loaded onto a training flight.  But, of course, the scouts did not know they were dummies and carried out their duties as if they handling live ammunition.

The scout element in the Lancaster crash story needs to be credited with some authenticity and so far the author has not discovered it.  Even the detailed book Milestones of 105 Years of Hertfordshire Scouting, compiled by Hertfordshire Scout Historian Frank Brittain does not relate the event.  So, now it is open to all of us to take the story further if we know of evidence.  The scouts themselves if still alive would now be in their late eighties, but their accounts may have been passed down through their children or grandchildren.

How much, if any, of the above account is true? Do respond if you have any relevant details you could contribute.

Friday, 8 February 2019

How many miles?

Find a drawing of of Dick Whittington, probably with cat as part of the story, and the picture will probably include a milestone  "How many miles to London?"  Our mind's image of any open road, in the days before motor vehicles, will probably include these stones.  Although they were likely to have been placed along some highways before the days of Turnpike Trusts in the 18th century, when it became a legal requirement to install them, it is the turnpike roads we most associate them with today where they still exist.

Here are three brief references to them on the Turnpike Road, now Hatfield Road, as it passed through Fleetville.  

From Fleetville: four miles to Hatfield, and
later 13 miles to Ware.
You have, no doubt, spotted the mile marker at the corner of the recreation ground at Royal Road.  When it was first manufactured in the 1760s it wasn't planted in this spot; it first measured the fourth mile from Hatfield about a hundred yards further east, roughly where Simmons, the baker is today in Bycullah Terrace.  Even after the shops were built c1900 the marker was tolerated in its rightful place until the 1920s – we're not sure exactly when.  It was then deemed to be "in the way" and languished in a storage depot somewhere until it saw the sunlight once more in a more convenient location.

An extant mile marker on the road to Ware,
manufactured by a different trust.
You may have thought that someone, at some time, defaced the surface of the Fleetville mile marker on the east facing panel.  Since Hatfield was the next town it is probable that this panel had always been blank.  At some time during the lifetime of the Trust it probably took over responsibility for the road onward to Hertford and Ware, and provided helpful mileage information beyond Hatfield.  Painting the details on was much cheaper than casting completely new markers, but whatever paint was used, the handwritten characters have certainly lasted much longer than the metal paint on my garden railings!

Today, it is difficult to imagine the true width of these old roads, and when we boast about the modern width of Hatfield Road it has only been engineered that way in modern times.  So here is an example of an unwidened section, although it is not in the East End of St Albans.  Almost no-one drives along the Old Watford Road today to reach that town; we have a wonderful dualled-carriageway nearby which better serves our needs.

Old Watford Road where a toll gate had been located.
In turnpike days this WAS the Watford road, and on the right in this image, where modern homes have been constructed, had previously been sited a turnpike gate, where travellers paid for the right to use the next section of road as far as Hagden Lane, Watford, or in the other direction, the Peacock PH.  There is no evidence that the road width has been narrowed since the 1880s when the Old Watford Road became a public highway.

To hear more facts, urban myths and – as Dr Lucy Worsley likes to playfully suggest – "fibs",  Fleetville Diaries has an illustrated presentation about the Reading & Hatfield Turnpike Trust on Wednesday 27th February at Fleetville Community Centre; coincidentally one hundred metres from the Fleetville mile
marker!  Further details on the Welcome page of

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Streaming through Fleetville

Just imagine: a flow of water making its way along Hatfield Road towards Sutton Road.  Sixty years ago it didn't need imagining.  The drains were poorly connected and surface water had limited escape routes within the pipe network.  The result was extensive flooding following prolonged and heavy rain.
Might this have been a former Fleetville landscape?

Of course, before we all set up our homes in Fleetville and Camp it didn't matter, but there were locations where homes flooded or pooling of water in gardens or the road cause water seepage inside. As we have written here before, there had been, or it was believed there had been, several streams, most of them flowing southwards towards the Colne or Ver.  Two of them still flow on the surface between St Albans and Hatfield.  

Evidence of early settled population groups, possibly one or two family groups, suggested the presence  of a stream flowing from the area of The Wick towards Fleetville and Camp.  These were clear water courses springing from the chalk, and it wouldn't have only been the pure water which gave rise to small settlement groups winning a livelihood from the landscape.

Wherever there is flowing water there is a range of plants not found in drier locations; plants which we could use and can be nurtured in chalk streams and the pools which are often associated with them.   Imagine being able to collect watercress on a walk along a clear rippling stream, perhaps in the vicinity of Eaton Road or Camp Road.   Now, of course, that is not possible for the simple reason they no long flow, largely because we now occupy much of the land area in south and mid Herts.

Hampshire chalk stream and watercress.  Courtesy Geograph.
The most recent watercress beds were at the River Ver at Priory Park, and one family, the Pinnocks, made a living from the plant, having moved from successfully growing it in  Westmill's clear streams, to start again at St Albans and its  Ver.

A member of the Watercress Wildlife Association, Cath Gladding, will be presenting a talk on the watercress and wildlife theme at Fleetville Community Centre on 30th January, but there will be no samples of the wholesome green stuff to take away!  Today it is available on markets and in supermarkets from further afield.  But it is as good for us as it ever was, and can be eaten straight from the bag.  And two or three hundred years ago it was probably picked from just down your road or on your way back from the market.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Northeastern Bypass

The St Albans ring road was not even complete when, in the 1950s, one or two residents – possibly living along the ring road's route – voiced the opinion that the ring road is in the wrong place; a far better location would be further out, and suggested a line crossing Hatfield Road at Smallford.  Smallford Lane (Station Road) and Sandpit Lane (Oaklands Lane) were the only two thoroughfares guardedly named as no other roads which then existed could be lined up to even vaguely connect up a circular route around St Albans.  To draw lines through the countryside and suggest roads are constructed along them would invite trouble from the Protect the Green Belt supporters.  So there the matter rested.

A major problem with ring roads of any kind is the choices we are invited to make.  Anyone driving inwards to the city centre might  have to contend with some congestion unless or until the central ring road (inner bypass), vehemently opposed by many residents, finally came about.  But if your destination is beyond the centre – in other words, you need to drive through to the other side – you would need to make a choice based on distance or time.  To travel roughly halfway around a ring road increases distance but may decrease time than crawling through the centre.  On the other hand, valuable time may be lost crossing a ring road's radial junctions, such as Hatfield/Beechwood or Marshalswick/Sandridge.

One answer would be to increase section lengths of the ring road in order to spread the traffic out and reduce congestion.  This can only be achieved by making a larger ring.  Which is what was proposed in the 1960s Transportation Study.  Quite apart from carving out a countryside route it would suffer from the ring road's biggest issue : that it is not a full circle.  Depending on the radial road a driver is approaching the city from, the choice of clockwise or anticlockwise is skewed towards the west, north and east, because the circle is incomplete.  This may force a longer journey, by time or distance, than might be desirable.

A double bend along Sandringham Crescent

One section of the proposed northeastern bypass, or half a ring, was constructed, of sorts, in the 1970s.  This became Sandringham Crescent and House Lane when Jersey Farm development was being planned, but it doesn't look very bypass-ish today as it snakes its way from Sandpit Lane to St Albans Road.  Another section would have made use of the bypass between London Colney and Colney Heath, and traffic could then also continue on the bypass between London Colney and Park Street, where it would have diverted to become absorbed into the ring road in King Harry Lane.  In other words, a ring road which is not quite a ring, in that it would fail to join up.

Whether it would have worked in terms of alleviating congestion in the city centre and/or alleviate junction capacity on the ring road is conjecture fifty years on, because we never did benefit from the northeastern bypass.  Instead we have made do, just as we have made do without the proposed central (inner bypass) changes.

Whatever we each think, there is one element of the data which is missing: the traffic stats for fifty years ago are very different from today's traffic count.  This has been just a game!

Sunday, 6 January 2019

A Way Through

Most of us have come to terms with – or not as the case may be – St Albans being a nightmare to drive in or through.  But for us on the eastern side there was, in the early days of motoring, an indirect benefit brought to us courtesy of the government's post-WW1 roads programme.  The St Albans Bypass, which was also in part a Fleetville Bypass, was a present to the district in the 1920s.  So, we might ponder where we might be today without it.  Would Hatfield Road instead be a dualled carriageway?  Possibly, or maybe not.

In 1965 the County Council's St Albans Transportation Study (SATS) was published, the result of detailed analysis of traffic movements, congestion and other factors, such as parking, which acted as influences on everyone's journeys by road at the time.

The City Council had spent the best part of thirty years developing the ring road, finally completed the project just as the SATS was published.  As we realised fairly quickly the early parts of the road were developed, not as a single infrastructure project, but in conjunction with housing developers; the result being that the ring road was just another residential road, and as direction signs moved traffic on to it and away from the city centre, there were many objections from residents' groups, mainly because of the heavy vehicles using it.  Eventually the signs disappeared, and so did the ring road name.

Two new traffic schemes were discussed in the SATS.  One will form the subject of the next post; the other became possible because British Rail offered for sale the branch railway land it owned, now Alban Way.

Looking towards the former Northwestern Hotel, Holywell Hill.
SATS therefore proposed – another – Fleetville Bypass using railway land between London Road and Colney Heath Lane, although the maps produced showed an extension to link with the then newly dualled carriageway at the former Northwestern Hotel, Holywell Hill (or is it St Stephen's Hill at that point?).  

The link with London Road is shown as a curved road which was "thoughtfully" constructed as the later Orient Way.  A roundabout was proposed at Ashley Road, although the difference in elevation would have required some infrastructure works at a location which had only just received a new bridge.  Presumably, the connection at Hatfield Road/Colney Heath Road would have similarly been in the form of a roundabout – how today's drivers would welcome a roundabout here.
This road leaves London Road and connects with Alban Way at the former
London Road Station.

The press made the assumption that the new road would be a dualled carriageway, presumably because that is what most bypasses were.  However, SATS states that the road would be a two lane single carriageway; just as well, as the railway land would not allow for a wider road.  While raising this option as a viable option, the report also recognised a serious concern that air quality and traffic noise would be brought close to people's homes over the majority of the new road's length, and that would count against that option in any decisions the county council would have to make.

Colney Heath Lane/Hatfield Road junction.  Considering the subject
matter, in these three photos there is barely a vehicle to be seen!

Since the railway route did not materialise – nor any other option put forward – we are left to speculate on the benefits it might have had.  What difference would it have actually made to Hatfield Road?  Would it have made any difference to driving (or riding on a bus for that matter) into and through the centre of the city?

So, from the point of view of the railway route, fifty-five years on and we are still using the same road network, and goodness knows how many road possibilities have been drawn on council maps since.  Meanwhile, the original bypass (North Orbital) has since been dualled – it was initially laid as a single carriageway – and still has the land for widening to three lanes each way.  Its actual capacity is limited by its

surface roundabouts, and still lacks the overbridge at the Smallford Lane/Colney Heath intersection.  But that's another story.