Sunday, 18 April 2021

Wanted to Be On His Own

Today, Hutton Street is still a narrow street near Fleet Street, but comprise modern office buildings
instead of tightly grouped trading factories next to the Whitefriars Glass Works.

Hutton Street is tucked away behind the lower end of Fleet Street, near Ludgate in the City of London.  Its association with the printing industry was long established and many nearby firms developed as jobbing printers for the hundreds of City firms.  Thomas E Smith & Co was just one of them. Its footprint, like almost all back-street businesses, was typically small to reduce cost, but instead it grew upwards.

Fleet Street is just beyond the top margin of this map.
COURTESY NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND

In 1896 Smith's really wanted to expand into other ranges of work than churning out endless quantities of invoice blanks, letterheads and forms.  Colour work was attracting attention but the new colour machines were considerably larger and more complex, and were difficult to accommodate on the existing floor spaces, quite apart from the weight restrictions on upper floors.

Smith's inserted a promotional supplement into the 1907 St Albans Pageant book which it printed.
The Hutton Street premises is on the right and the expansive Fleet Works in Hatfield Road has
replaced the field sold to it by St Albans Grammar School.

Smith set up a separate arm of his business which he named the Smith Colour Printing Agency; and given that colour work would be in the form of catalogues, brochures, advertising and booklets, with the likelihood of large national distributions, a location away from London but with convenient transport connections was sought.

1896 was also the year in which the Trustees of St Albans Grammar School gave serious consideration to the inadequacy of its existing accommodation and to the future of the School. The tithe map reveals that with Earl Verulam the body owned three fields along Hatfield Road.  It was intended that the fields would be offered for development and the income used to create new buildings for the school.

The Grubb periscope and telescope works occupied the building c1916 and left in 1925. One or
two of the largest instruments were constructed in the open air at the back of the works.


A 1950s view of the factory in the second phase of the Ballito era. The side road on the left
is Sutton Road and in the foreground was the toll house nicknamed the Rats' Castle.

Mr Smith required a large site but nowhere near where others lived, so there would be no distractions for his employees.  He would build homes for them, provide shops and an institute for their downtime needs.  He would not need public houses or other risqué entertainments, nor provide them himself.  So he purchased two of the three fields, one on each side of Hatfield Road and in an area he thought of as "remote".  The factory, called Fleet Works after his London printing centre of the company's origin, went up on the south side of the road.  Houses, shops and an institute were planned for the north side in a development he established as Fleet Ville.

So we now know exactly where it was because locals have been calling it Fleetville ever since.  And once you give a place a name people have reasons to be attracted to it.  No sooner had Smith's walls gone up than Earl Spencer sold his St Peter's Farm to add to the earlier housing at Granville and Cavendish; and the trustees of Beaumonts Farm disposed of the first tranche of its land.  Smith did not want his printing agency to be anywhere close to others; regrettably for him, that was not in his gift, and within a few years his factory and ville were surrounded by homes and workshops belonging to others.  But it did give him plenty of employees living close by, and a hugely successful business.

The field on which the factory was built, bounded by the branch railway, Sutton Road and Hatfield Road, gave the district its life blood.  T E Smith Printing Agency lasted until 1918 (although no work was likely to have been undertaken after 1916, the firm having lost almost all of its skilled employees during the war.  Sir Howard Grubb & Sons Ltd were clandestinely moved in by the Government to continue its submarine periscope research before developing some of the world's major optical telescopes.

An aerial of the expanded works with a multi-storey building.  The bus is passing in Hatfield
Road.  The greyed-out section top right includes the adjacent timber yard run by W H Laver.
COURTESY ST ALBANS MUSEUMS

In 1925 the buildings were acquired by the Ballington Hosiery Mills (brand name Ballito), another successful business both before and after the Second World War.  During the war the factory turned out millions of shell casings. 


Aerial view today but it includes the former timber yard. No part of the original factory complex
survives.  Although the supermarket is substantial in size it is still smaller than the factory it
replaced.
COURTESY GOOGLE EARTH

Ballito moved out in 1967 and the site became home to Marconi Instruments for a few years before the site was cleared for supermarket use: first the Cooperative Society, then Safeway and currently Morrison's.  We will return to this retailer next time as land has been added in recent times.



Saturday, 3 April 2021

What's that on the corner?

St Albans has been given a policing power as a borough and later city.  Most of the rest of the county was governed by the County Constabulary.  Before 1948 both forces were represented with buildings in Chequer Street and Victoria Street.  But this post is not about the history of these two bodies.  It is about what happened as a result of the expansion of St Albans.

The building on the right, at the top of Victoria Street, was the St Albans City Police Station,
 replaced in the 1960s by the new station recently demolished.
COURTESY ANDY LAWRENCE

Until 1913 the County Police found itself responsible for an increasing area east of The Crown as Camp and Fleetville districts spread, and some more rural communities expanded.  So a new St Albans Rural HQ was set up in Tess Road, now Woodstock Road South, where the nursery parking area is now situated.

In 1913 the city boundaries were expanded in several directions, most dominantly out towards Oaklands.  So the County's net spread wider and the City force took over within the new urban boundaries. Additional officers were therefore employed, but it became increasingly difficult without telephones for beat officers to report into Victoria Street from a wider patch while they were on duty.  And no easier for residents and business owners distant from the city centre to make contact with the police.

Police Call Box, location not yet identified, installed in 1932.
COURTESY HERTS ADVERTISER

Duty policeman seated inside to complete a report.
COURTESY HERTS ADVERTISER

In 1932 a number of portable police boxes or cabins were manufactured and sited in strategic locations.  An officer could then  complete forms and report by phone directly to the police station, either at the end of his duty, or on other urgent business.  When the station needed to contact the cabin a blue flashing light on the roof was lit.  If the officer on duty was sighted away from the box it was not unknown for members of the public to alert him "his Sergeant wants him on the phone!"  Residents could also use the phone directly to call the police station for the equivalent of a 999 service which had not yet been invented.  Although the phone was inside the cabin the listening and speaking parts were accessible from a little door outside.

By 1939 the wooden structures were deteriorating, and in preparation for wartime brick cabins with reinforced flat roofs replaced them. I was always aware of such a brick structure at the junction of Hatfield Road and Beechwood Avenue and had therefore assumed the earlier wooden cabin to have been there as well.

Brick replacement cabin with reinforced roof from 1939 located at the junction of
Hatfield Road and Beechwood Avenue.
COURTESY PHILIP ORDE

Recently I noticed in the background of a 1938 photo taken in Hatfield Road looking towards Ballito Hosiery Mill at Sutton Road corner, what looked very much like a wooden police cabin.  It was also marked on an OS map published in 1937 and therefore surveyed earlier.

Ordnance Survey map published 1937. The circled square in the corner of the Ballito Hosiery Mill
cycle yard is the Police Call Box.
COURTESY NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND



Circled in red is the PCB, or cabin, from the map above and pictured in 1938; this photo was also
shown in the post of 10th March.  The cabin is partly hidden by the hat of the lady walking towards Sutton Road and the Ballito Hosiery Mill.
COURTESY JANET STALEY HAINES COLLECTION

One of Fleetville's frequent flooding incidents, this in 1936. Circled is another view of the Police
Call Box.  The weather may have had something to do with the visibility of the
cabin in the picture!
COURTESY HERTS ADVERTISER

However, unlike other wooden cabins this one was not replaced in 1939.  So, did Fleetville not have a brick replacement?  It seems likely that during the later 1930s, and with the Beaumonts area expanding, the decision was made to shift the position of the brick cabin to Beechwood Avenue.  

I realise the quality of the photo was not good, so I was delighted this week to see another Herts Advertiser 1930s photo of flooding near Sutton Road; in the background was a wooden police cabin next to the footpath just inside Sutton Road, with its foundation just outside the end of the mill building where there was a row of cycle racks.

After World War Two the City Force was subsumed into the County Constabulary, and for as long as it was required the Woodstock Road South station continued to be occupied.

As telephone cables had been increasingly laid, lighter and slimmer police pillars appeared on a few street corners.

One of a range of pillar-type PCBs.  This was installed near St Peter's Green, St Peter's
Street.  No comfort, though, for police officers!
COURTESY HERTS ADVERTISER

But one final thought before the roll-out of relatively portable mobile communications: was there a wooden cabin, or later brick version, sited anywhere on the Camp side of the former railway line?  The 1937 map shows there was one at the Sandpit Lane entrance to The Wick.  The search continues.


Sunday, 28 March 2021

Pub on the corner

 No prizes for guessing that the one we're talking about is the Rats' Castle.  Against the odds by a substantial number of property owners – though not necessarily their tenants – it received its licence in 1927, roughly 85 years after the first building which farmer and land owner Thomas Kinder allowed to be built on the edge of his farm.  Kinder was a trustee of the Reading and Hatfield (R&H) Turnpike Trust, of which Hatfield Road was part.  A number of road users discovered they could make use of the road without paying a toll by taking an alternative private track, now Sutton Road, without passing the toll house at the Peacock PH at the edge of the town in Hatfield Road.  Around 1840 Mr Kinder agreed with his fellow trustees to erect a simple toll house; a map shows it to have been a small cross plan rather like a four-bay barn form familiar to farm environments.  From observations made at the time it appears to have had a straw roof, and probably had a central fireplace with a chimney emerging from the highest part of the roof.

The road crossing the map between left and right is now Hatfield Road. The private farm track
leading to it is on the edge of Beaumonts Farm.  The pink cross-shaped building was the toll 
collecting building on the side road, which, today, is Sutton Road.  MP was the location of the mile
post halfway along where Bycullah Terrace would be built c1900.  A few years later the post was moved further west (so therefore not strictly accurately placed).  This map is from 1879.

As it was intended to catch toll evaders rather than regular traffic it is likely that the tollkeeper's presence was intermittent.  Further,  closure of toll charging was widely anticipated, possibly up to a decade in advance, and the R&H Trust was not known for its diligent  record keeping the toll house may have been empty for some time.  However, it was at least standing when a map in 1879 was issued.

By common knowledge the roof spaces were occupied by rats and by the 1880s the local landmark was commonly known as the Rats' Castle, and the field in which it stood was equally well known as Rats' Castle Field.

The enumerator's route description for the 1891 census.  In the centre of the red circle is the
name Rats' Castle (with a following apostrophe) identifying both the former toll house
and the corner of the field in which it had been built.

The old tollhouse had been demolished as soon as Mr T E Smith's nearby printing works arrived in 1897; an opportunity for Mr T Cooke to take advantage of the site for a house and shop, which was known as Primrose Cottage.  It is possible plans by Smith for shops opposite the works were unknown in the public realm, but Mr Cooke and then Mr Percy Stone both sold beer and spirits in addition to  stocking a range of grocery items.  Swiftly businesses and homes grew up in the Fleet Ville district; a number of their owners objected to the sale of alcohol.  In the case of spirits only large bottles could be purchased anyway, beyond the pockets of most residents but possibly not their landlords or employers!

Primrose Cottage shop when it was managed by Percy Hector Stone.  He would later move
across the road to trade from Bycullah Terrace.  This building had a short life of less than thirty years.
COURTESY ST ALBANS MUSEUMS

Two well-known businesses had already attempted to open hotels and public houses: Trust Houses and Benskins.  Animosities occasionally flared up between vested groups through to the 1920s.  Benskin's had a "Plan B"; it acquired the ownership of the corner shop because it had already secured its off-licence shop and spirits supplier from the previous occupant P Perkins, and installed its own tenant, C Griffin and then George Hopkins.

Finally, Benskin's received its full on-licence in its own right, and engaged local architect, Percival Blow to design the new building, the frontage having distinct echoes of Primrose Cottage and shop.

The 1920s public house which replaced both the toll house and Primrose Cottage.
Somewhere on the site there will probably still be evidence of a well.  Architect: Percival Blow.

"The Rats" as it became known to regulars, has never been short of clientele.  Benskins at one point during the 1970s decided that the rodent might put off possible customers, and an adapted hanging sign  went on display with the name The Castle.  The new name did not last long, thanks to some sterling defence by regular customers, and even Fleetville residents who would not normally take up such a cause.  Within a few months the traditional title returned.

The short-lived hanging sign for The Castle –
without a rat in sight!








But one aspect of the sign never wavered; the artists, presumably under company instructions, have never included an apostrophe, when a following apostrophe would be expected by default, a singular rat not being sufficient to sustain a population of the rodents to maintain the story, which may remain unique in the UK – but it would be great to have this confirmed.

If the Rats' Castle is on one corner of Sutton Road we might think Ballito was on the other.  Next time we will discover whether that was true.

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

The Bakery and More

The development land between Sutton Road and the Ashpath became available from 1899, as we discovered in the last blog.  To be specific, until then it had been arable, bordering the south side of Hatfield Road.  According to the 1841 tithe survey its traditional name was Broad Field, but by the last decade the space was locally referred to as Rats' Castle Field and was named so on the 1891 census.  More of that in the next post.

This map was surveyed in 1922.  The blue shape is the former Primrose Cottage.  Orange marks
the land occupied by the Co-operative Bakery, and the green circle shows the approximate position of the tree in the photo below.
COURTESY NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND


The righthand most house is Charles Tuck's house, though it is in deep shadow in this picture.  The tree further along the road is shown as a green circle in the above map.
COURTESY HALS

     So how come the first two plots to be built on were at the Far Eastern end (Symons Laundry and house, and Tuck's house right in the middle?  If I chose from a box of chocolates that were all the same, it wouldn't make any difference whether I selected from a corner, the bottom row or in the middle.  So if the plots were the same size would it be any different? 

A late 1930s picture taken outside Tuck's workshop and house looking towards Ballito Hosiery Mill. 
The laundry building is opposite.
COURTESY THE JANET STALEY-HAINES COLLECTION

Nevertheless, Charles Tuck chose his plot and while not dead centre, there was plenty of empty ground on either side. He wasted no time in having his family house put up, with space for his workshop to the left of the house.  And because neither is there today we should mark its former location; there is a block of flats with the exterior walls painted cream (to the right of the flats painted blue). Tuck's house is the left half of the cream flats.

Charles and Louisa were settled in their new home with a bicycle and motor vehicle repair workshop up and running as Fleetville itself grew, and we was able to dispense fuel for motor cars via a pump which went over the pavement.  Charles was a keen footballer and took responsibility for managing at least two community teams in the district, one based on young men living in groups of Fleetville streets; the other members of the Adult Schools in Stanhope Road.  The family were members of the Hatfield Road Methodist congregation.

The Co-operative Bakery, followed by Tuck's, in a photo taken in 1964.
COURTESY ST ALBANS MUSEUMS

Before moving on, I mentioned the blue flats above.  Until around 1914 the land to the left of Charles Tuck was vacant but the St Albans Co-operative Society purchased the block between Hatfield and Castle roads and built itself a bakery, retailing the bread in all of its stores.  Following an overnight fire in 1954 the bakery was closed but the site retained and subsequently used as a petrol filling station.  Therein lies the story of today's blue flats!

Today's view of the previous photograph.
COURTESY GOOGLE STREET VIEW

Five years after the Tuck family moved into their new home builder William Bastin moved into his three plots.  Let's be clear, because he was a builder, he built a house to live in and run his business.  This has now been replaced by the right half of the cream flats.  

You will note a driveway leading to what was Bastin's work yard, and which connected directly to plots in Castle Road; Mr Bastin also built those – 29 to 41.  To the right of the driveway in Hatfield Road is a semi-detached pair; Mr Bastin built that too, but in 1938 both were converted to shops with flats upstairs.  Number 258 was a baker's and caterer's, although it succumbed to the post-war betting craze as a Ladbroke's.  Number 256 became the Woolpack Boot Repairs, renamed Fleetville Shoe Repairs after World War Two.  There will be a few residents who recall the animatronic model of a traditional cobbler endlessly banging hobnails into a little boot. Today the premises is an Indian Takeaway named Shaad.

The four shops between Bastin's driveway and the semi-detached pair just before the Rats' Castle. 
Photograph taken c2012

Two more shops were added to this little row, one filling in a gap, having been acquired in the name of Mrs Bastin. But that did not arrive on the scene until just before World War Two; until then the weeds continued to grow. Long before then Mr and Mrs Hill chose a plot with unoccupied ground on both sides.  Perhaps the Hills felt by 1938 this part of the street was becoming a little crowded, so they moved; the result being the downstairs was converted into a shop.  Early residents of Fleetville will have remembered the Needlecraft and Wool Shop (Mrs Bastin's); the other called Spendwise.  The latter began as a greengrocer, although there were eventually plenty of greengrocers in Fleetville.  So Spendwise then specialised in floristry.  Today 254 and 252 are an Indian restaurant and The Lantern House Chinese Takeaway.

The righthand most shop when it was Spendwise florist in 1964, followed by a semi-detached pair.
Finally is the Rats' Castle public house.
COURTESY ST ALBANS MUSEUMS

Perhaps it was the arrival of the next properties which had finally encouraged the Hills to move, for Emily Lindley, from Salisbury Avenue, purchased the remaining double plot just as the Primrose Cottage next door was to be rebuilt as a public house.  250 and 248 have remained as built, as a low-height semi-detached pair.

The City Council, now greatly more empowered by planning regulations, drew a line, both here and on the north side; this is where retail in Fleetville should stop.

For readers who feel the Rats' Castle has been rather casually omitted, the public house is far too significant and receives its own post next time.



Tuesday, 2 March 2021

A Look at the South Side

 During the latter part of 2020 our posts explored the north side of Hatfield Road, and during that time we covered the distance from Clarence Road to Beaumont Avenue.  Now it is time to turn our attention to the south side of the road, beginning from Ashley Road, thus returning to where we began.

Tree-lined Hatfield Road looking westwards towards The Avenue (Beaumont Avenue).  
This is when we were "out in the country" and we were able to launder in the middle of the road.
COURTESY ST ALBANS LIBRARIES (HALS)


The countryside continued, along the tree-line Avenue towards Beaumonts Farm.


While building was taking place for the printing factory and the Fleet Ville, we would have crossed the boundary into Beaumonts Farm.  If we had ventured further east along the road towards Hatfield our way would have taken us through the quiet of the countryside, for in 1898 there was no building after passing the Rats' Castle toll house which was being prepared for an enterprising build called Primrose Cottage.  We would have passed those Beaumonts Farm fields on both sides, probably not in the best of cropping condition as in the following year they would also be prepared for development.  Individual field and hedgerow trees were being sold as standing timber, as evidenced by little adverts in the Herts Advertiser.  Beyond The Avenue a continuous line of boundary trees stretched all the way to Harpsfield with few breaks along the way.  We were well into the rural tranche for which Primrose Cottage became appropriately named.

A board was erected at the end of The Avenue indicated an amount of land for sale.  One block to the west of The Avenue as far as the foot of the hill; another block bounded by the Ashpath track, Camp Lane, the track later known as Sutton Road, and the branch railway; and finally, a narrower rectangular block between the railway and the road to Hatfield.

This last block was purchased by the development business of T R Marriott of North Walsham, Norfolk – who also acquired a large tranche of the Salisbury Avenue block, along with Alfred Nicholson. A number of single plots were sold for building by Marriott's, but small groups of plots were also transferred to Charles Blow, David Massey and William Bastin.

Unfortunately I have not seen any photos of the Ash Path, its junction with Hatfield Road or its approach towards the railway bridge shortly below the bottom edge of this map.  This is the 1924
OS map shortly before a number of houses which will occupy the two square sections of the field
above.
COURTESY NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND


The aerial photo above  shows Hatfield Road across the lower half of the view, with Castle Road
across the top half.  Ashley Road is on the extreme left.  When the Ashley Church later arrived it
was able to tidy the angled corner on the left; it made use of the former Handalone Laundry
which Mrs Symons' business used before she and her family  migrated to 
Australia c1930.
COURTESY GOOGLE EARTH

The private road and farm track which would shortly be known as The Avenue (then Beaumont Avenue) was continued on the south side of the road to Hatfield.  This was effectively a crossroads within a farm.  On all four quadrants was Kinder-owned farm land, and the track on the south side leading to Hill End, which the newly opened Owen brickworks had gradually given a new name from the patches of ash and cinders used to improve its surface – the Ash Path or Cinder Track.  This was a permissive path used to enable public access to Hill End and it was inevitable it would become a future road.

For the first few years of the 20th century nothing much happened; there was no rush to build.  In fact just one property went up immediately, which will be described in more detail in the next post.

Ryegate, 282, the first house to be erected c1906, although the OS map appears to show the
house as a semi-detached pair.

The second property, a house given the name Ryegate (today's 282), was first occupied by Arthur Nightingale in 1906.  A further two years passed before a further house near the Ashpath corner quickly became Mrs Symons Handalone Laundry.  

The field remained quiet again until c1912 when a group of houses next to Mr Nightingale was put up, and gradually the rest of the spare plots were occupied between the end of World War One and 1926.  We should also bear in mind that the gardens behind these homes met gardens which fronted onto Castle Road.

We discover from the 1911 census and 1939 registration something of the occupations of the people living in the homes between 268 and 314 Hatfield Road.  Many were employees of railway companies or local printing works; and inevitably, given buildings were springing up widely, there were occupations related to the building sector.

For the most part this row of varied houses has remained unremarkable during the past century, not because they have not deserved to be otherwise, but because until we reach nearer the Rats' Castle PH, there has been less variety in the land use; and the Editor has to admit he knew no-one who lived in any of those houses during the period in which he was growing up!

In the next post we will pass bread, tyres, flowers and a drink or two.








Friday, 26 February 2021

Cycling and Walking in Fleetville

 Fleetville has always been subject to suggested changes; you might say there have been plenty of ideas, although most have bitten the dust before seeing the light of day.  There was to be the new road between Sandfield Road and Camp Road, which got as far as Roland Street/Campfield Road because someone else paid for it.  There was the roundabout to replace the first one at the Crown junction; that became the 'teccy' traffic lights (and not before time).  Once The Quadrant had opened in 1959, there was a suggestion to replicate the idea somewhere along Hatfield Road and take more of the shoppers' parking off the main road;  I don't think they had Morrison's in mind.  Oh, and there was a proposal for an underground car park at the Rec – yes, where and how would they have sent the sub-soil? By road of course.

Hatfield Road walking and cycling anywhere you want in 1906.

The main road has been widened in places, but we still have to breathe in as we descend the narrow hill towards The Crown.

We may have benefitted from the building of the St Albans' bypass in the 1920s, but we could have done with another rethink in the 1960s.  In fact, with the closure of the branch railway line someone thought it would be great to send traffic between Holywell Hill, London Road and Hatfield Road at Colney Heath Lane.  No, that didn't get anywhere; neither did the plan to extend the Abbey Line onto the "Alban Way" route to Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City.

A car-less Blandford Road in 1907
Courtesy HALS

As the number of cars per household increased passing through the parallel roads became more challenging, not least for residents, but also for drivers trying to pass each other having met in the middle from each end.  The one-way concept did not meet with majority approval, and zoning is the latest idea for parking, but of course that has put pressure on roads just outside the zone.

Tunnel parking in Sandfield Road
Courtesy Google Earth

The new proposal up for discussion is a Low Traffic Neighbourhood. LTNs attempt to address several deficiencies in the current road network.  First of all it tries to ensure those who live in the LTN are able to move around within their patch with greater ease.  Keeping rat-running to a minimum so that drivers who nave no need to be in or pass through the zone are dissuaded, and vehicles which need to be there a maximum speed is reduced to 20mph. By these three measures cleaner air near people's homes should be possible.

But there is a second range of possibilities through reducing the number of vehicle movements and speeds;  the zone has pavements which are narrow and close parking head to tail is inevitable. Visibility for pedestrians can be limiting and is no better for cyclists.  With shops close by it is hoped that cycling and walking can become the default methods of travel.

The proposed Low Traffic Neighbourhood bounded by Hatfield Road, Beechwood Avenue, Sandpit Lane and the Midland Railway
Courtesy Hertfordshire County Council

The county council would be designing the scheme if it proceeds, and that would include signs and alterations to improve visibility at junctions.  But no doubt other arrangements would be considered.  Unfortunately, its website does not show what has been achieved in other places where LTNs have been introduced.  Without such examples it is difficult for us to imagine and comment meaningfully what a Low Traffic Neighbourhood might impact on the lives of Fleetville residents, whether we live inside or beyond the boundaries of the zone.

Residents have until 16th March to make their comments.  The website is www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/activetravelfund.  Responses can be made directly from the website.

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Park View

 In the previous post we virtually walked along Granville Road, one of the three roads which formed the 1880s residential development of Hatfield Road field.  At the Hatfield Road end of this road the residents had been given the benefit of their own entrance to Clarence Park once that had opened in 1894.  That gate is now blocked off, but from the perimeter path in the park it is still possible to to see where it was.  And that would have been quite a steep ramp from Hatfield Road.

Hidden behind the foliage is the former gate opposite Granville Road.  Today the old ramp has been
made steeper than the old path.

Where the Hatfield Road Bridge park entrance is the maximum height of the embanked road, and the timber zig-zag pathway before it was replaced recently.


Keep walking along the perimeter path towards the Midland railway and the surface of Hatfield Road on your left keeps climbing towards the bridge.  That helps us to understand how several of the Clarence Villas were built.  There had been little difference in the elevation of the land in what would later become the park – still the fete field in the 1860s – and that in the Hatfield Road field; just a gentle gradient.

In fact gradients play a key part in The Crown corner. Hatfield Road drops down from Cavendish Road to the Crown junction.  Turn left and there is a further fall through the entrance into Camp Road; turning right into Stanhope Road and the gradient increases, only levelling out beyond the Stanhope Road shops.  If you had walked along Hatfield Road from The Crown towards the city before the mid 1860s the ground would have been quite level until you reached the beginning of the city hill, where is the original Loreto College building.  Undertaking the same walk today would be very different, with a long steady climb to the bridge and then down again westwards past Lemsford Road; notice too the steep gradient turning left into Beaconsfield Road.  All of our route would be on made-up ground.

Just five years after the railway opening the embanked Hatfield Road (where the number 412.092 is on one side and the blue lake on the other) shows where the subsoil was placed. Beaconsfield Road is where the line of trees is drawn on the map.
COURTESY NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND


Hatfield Road between the bridge and The Crown junction with the embanked road on both
sides.  It is presumed the Nursery was to stabilise the ground before the villas were built.
The road leading towards the Goods Shed is today's Station Way.
COURTESY NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND

Much heavy manual work was undertaken in removing subsoil from the railway cutting and creating an embankment on both sides of the railway in Hatfield Road to enable traffic to pass over the bridge; it is that embankment we noticed when we took the perimeter path in the park.


Two views of the upper row of villas. To the right of the top view it is possible to spot the rear garden space is below road level.
Top view: COURTESY GOOGLE STREET VIEW

So, what has this to do with the Clarence Villas in Hatfield Road?  Look carefully and the architect has taken a design opportunity with those villas west of Granville Road. They were built with a lower ground floor – the original ground level – with a short flight of steps up to the front entry at first floor level above the new street level.  Although the front view from the lower floor would have been limited to the the embankment itself, the rear garden would have opened directly from the rear living space.  Extra living space without the expense of excavating deeper foundations.

The OS map of 1898 with the undeveloped plot (orange) in the middle of the
lower group of villas. A track from Hatfield Road leads to a narrow building 
against the rear boundary.  In a few years this would become the first site of
W O Peake Ltd, the coat manufacturer.
COURTESY NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND

Between The Crown junction and Granville Road building development had been slower and the infill from the railway had been levelled out, providing for much easier house building.  Today we only have map evidence as none of the original homes survive.  But you will notice there is a large plot in the middle with a path leading from the road to a narrow building against the rear of the plot, much as we find in other occasional unfinished streets.  If anyone has an idea about the function of these narrow boundary buildings the author would be pleased to know.

In the same location as the 1898 map above, the Peake's factory has consumed the whole of
the Hatfield Road frontage and has built deep into Granville Road.  This is the OS 1963 map.
COURTESY ORDNANCE SURVEY OLD OS MAPS

In 1911 Mr William Peake moved onto the middle plot with the intention of making coats.  And the rest, as they say, is history; a history which came to dominate this part of Hatfield Road, and St Albans itself. Too detailed for this post and definitely requiring a blog all to itself.