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?