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.

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