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.