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.

1 comment:

  1. I have just received my copy of the Percival Blow book, which I ordered online from Waterstones, and am looking forward to settling down to read it this evening.