St Albans' Own East End                                     news archive 1


All change  Dec 2009

Our first instinct is to query why such destruction is needed.  People dislike change.  However, change in St Albans own east end has been going on almost since the beginning.  The corner of Sutton Road and Hatfield Road has seen its third generation building in 120 years - and the most recent one, the Rats' Castle pub, is already 80 years old!

The former Co-operative dairy site in Burleigh Road is now awaiting new homes, and the original Conservative Club in Hatfield Road has seen three very different uses.

The most dramatic of changes have been experienced at Hill End and Cell Barnes hospitals, while the old Great Northern branch railway now sees us walking and cycling the route rather than sitting in a small, rather uncomfortable train.

The old Rubber Works on Camp Hill has changed from a place for people to work to a place for people to live.  Arguably, not terribly inspiring architecture, but the sloping site offered extra interest for the developers of Dexter Close.

If you know of a building or open space near to you which is likely to be permanently destroyed in the near future, do email the author on this site so that the change can be photographed and recorded.

Second generation:

Many sites, especially former industrial buildings, now have other uses.  Mainly they have been transformed into homes, or, as here, become a welcoming restaurant/cafe.

After much research and discussions with residents, the Museum of St Albans (MOSTA) published a slimline volume called Fleetville: a community in St Albans.  The authors, Brian Adams, Elizabeth Gardner and Rosalyn Goulding, have turned out a very readable overview of this sprawling community with uncertain boundaries.

Judging from the experience of their previous publication, Marshalswick, the story of a house and its estate, which, incidentally, is currently out of print, now will be the time to purchase a copy of the new book!

Readers will be familiar with the majority of photographs, but there are a few interesting surprises, and for those whose knowledge of Fleetville is very general, the authors have created a walking tour, starting and finishing in Campfield Road.  Details are on the last few pages.

There are few books about individual districts in the city and all are believed to be out of print.  So a new book on this, the largest, of all the districts is very welcome.

New book on Fleetville Dec 2009

Fleetville: a community in St Albans, is available from  Verulamium Museum or the St Albans Information and Tourist Office, price £6.00.

Modern photography came of age after World War Two.  Before then the school photographer certainly came round and class photos were taken, but there is an informality about the photo above compared with the one taken at Camp School (home page) in the early twentieth century.  Come even closer to the present and we might even see the children smiling!

In the picture above there is also a purpose in taking the photograph - by Juliet Haddon - for we see the result of what looks like an Easter activity.  This was the mid-fifties and the early days of school uniforms in primary schools.  You may have older pictures in your collection which will demonstrate the comparative recentness of that term "primary."  The old elementary schools were finally split in St Albans around 1930.  But class sizes still remained large, and in the burgeoning East End of St Albans, very large.  Classes of 50 were not unknown, even in the 1950s.

If you can spot yourself in this photograph (have a look at a larger version on the Photo Library page) or imagine yourself to be there, at that age, what might your perpective on life have been?  What lesson highlights and significant events were there?  We might have felt frustrated at not being able to fulfill tasks we were set, encountered a relentless assault on our group of friends by others intent on spoiling our fun.  Some of us of a certain age may recall growing up without the presence of our war-casualty father.  Walking to school (and it was almost always walking) seemed one of those timeless daily adventures which only ended at the school railings. Maybe four times each day.  Without watches how did we ever know how much time was left ?  Were we ever late?

While we can tick off many similarities with the experiences of children at school today, what made our experiences different also makes them personal and unique to our time.  And if we were to listen to our parents, their experiences would be unique too.

All are worth recording in some shape or form.  It is deep in the psyche of human kind to record what is unique to those doing the recording; prose or poetry, painting or drawing, photography, diary writing or lists.  From cave painting to blogging, each attempt is a bit of us for someone further down the line to examine.

Was that really us? Jan 2010

Thousands of photographs were taken during the time we were at school; from the head-and-shoulders individual pic to classes, teams and activities.  What was our perspective on life then?  

This week the British Museum and the BBC have jointly launched a project to tell the story of the world - essentially the story of humankind - through one hundred objects which have been left behind by the people who formed them.  Each one tells a fragment of that story and is the subject of a 15 minute programme each day on Radio 4.

It seems to the author that the story of the eastern districts of St Albans, the East End of the title of the book, can be told in a similar way.  Whether one hundred is an appropriate number only time will tell, but within the communities which make up this slice of the city is, potentially,  a rich mix of artifacts which can be added to the collection already begun (see 100 objects)

So, how rich is this mix and where are these artifacts, these objects which are the props in our story?  Some will undoubtedly be very public, such as the marker posts which result from the expansion of the city to encompass new eastern developments; or enamel street name signs so distinctive of their period.  Others will come from the products of industry hereabouts: brushes, publications, stockings or sheds. Even orchids.  Objects will be found in attics and boxes, or on shelves of people's own homes and which marked special events; national, local or family.  Although buildings are not allowed in the collection, the bricks used in their construction are - maybe from Owen's.

The people who live, or who have lived, in our East End will add to the collection.  Indeed, it would not be possible to make a representative collection without the inclusion of the "things" which we all keep.  Some of the artifacts will come from those already archived.

All, in the end, will have a special place in St Albans' Own East End.  Because they will be part of our story.

One hundred objects Jan 2010

How to tell the story of a place through the artifacts which are left to us.  They may not be of national significance, but they surely are important to us.

The recreation ground in 1938 was a plain area of well-worn grass.  There were no perimeter trees, although shrubs had been planted at the front.  Even the toilets were not built until a year later.  Iron railings marked the boundary all the way round, with a gate in both Hatfield and Royal roads.  Until, that is, the railings along these two roads were removed for turning into ships.

In 1938 emergency trenches were dug and these were improved in 1939/40.  The National Fire Brigade sited an emergency water tank nearby, about which a question was raised in the Commons concerning  its proximity to the underground shelters. 

The city council offered a portion of the ground to the county council for a wartime nursery on condition that the site was returned to the city for children's play space as soon as the county no longer needed it for nursery purposes.  Well, that never happened!

Many residents who recall those days may be able to help with some further details; such as, was the water tank circular or rectangular, and exactly where was it?  Exactly where were the 1938 unlined shelters?  Who was engaged to construct the "blitz shelters"?  How was access achieved?  Were they lit?  Were there benches and bunks?  Did they have a telephone connection to a warden point?  We know they were locked in quiet times to prevent "unauthorised use"  So where was the warden's house from which the key should be obtained (we know that on at least one occasion the key behind a glass panel outside the shelters was stolen).

Who was responsible for erecting the nursery, and when?  Where in the district were street shelters erected (two were at Homewood Road/Sandpit Lane and Beechwood Avenue/Hatfield Road).  Where were blast walls constructed?  The entrances at Fleetville (now infant) school were protected with such walls, which remained in place until the modern extensions took place.

That's a lot of questions.  If you are visiting the Fleetville Festival at Fleetville Junior School on March 21st, 3pm to 6pm, you will be able to contribute to the debate and view the aerial photographs taken in 1939 and 1947.  In addition to the music by Fleetville Swing Band and the community choir,  and stands by local organisations, there is an exhibition and display on the theme Fleetville in the Second World War.

The rec in wartime March 2010

Since being bequeathed to the city in 1913 our recreation ground has changed much.  It was considered for conversion into emergency allotments in WW1, and might have been considered again in WW2 had there not been a number of alternative sites.

Above: RAF aerial photo 1947

On a sunny Sunday afternoon there was a large gathering of Fleetville people at an impressive Fleetville Festical Concert on March 21st; the venue was Fleetville Junior School.  The Fleetville Band, Fleetville Swing Band and Fleetvillie Community Choir together occupied nearly half of the school hall; many of the audience overflowing into the adjacent corridor.

The reason the above photograph appears on this blog is the similarity of the hall's ceiling shape - a shallow barrel-shape - to the one at Fleetville Junior.  Some eight years separates the design of the two, the photograph having been taken of the upper hall at Beaumont School back in the 1950s.

At the the refreshment area it was gratifying to discover so many visitors were interested and intrigued by the display of information about the forthcoming book.  The displays were essentially content from this website, so those of you who were not able to be there will still have access to it through these pages. 

A new Fleetville local history organisation called Fleetville Diaries was also represented at the exhibition.  It has its inaugural meeting at the Community Centre at 7pm on Thursday 29th April.  Liz Bloom, who is launching this new group, would love to see you there if you are interested.  There will be more news in the next blog.

One topic of discussion dominated above all others at the event: Where are the limits of Fleetville?  What defines Fleetville, it seems, can only be loosely mapped out.  Each visitor had his or her own interpretation of where they live.  Not much to doubt if you live in Harlesden Road maybe.  But is The Crown part of Fleetville; if so, does that include Stanhope Road?  South of Hatfield Road when does Fleetville start becoming Camp?  Can you still call the Hatfield Road/Ashley Road junction part of Fleetville? If so, what about that part of the main road between Beechwood Avenue and Oakwood Drive?  And how far north of Hatfield Road would you walk before leaving Fleetville and enter the realm of Marshals Wick ?

Everyone has their own opinion and it is a mark of this thriving community that each person possesses an identity to a personal Fleetville, whatever a political border line might suggest.  The district is able to embrace these personal boundaries.  Wherever they live each one of the visitors to the Fleetville Festival day came because they knew they were a part of a Fleetville.

Exhibition at the band concert March 2010

When local people meet they talk about local issues and enjoy delving a little deeper.  They are never happier than when one of their number asks, "Do you remember when ...?"  That happened a lot on Sunday 21st March ...

The South Bank Exhibition was held alongside the Thames (between County Hall and Waterloo Bridge) throughout the summer of 1951.  What do you remember about it.  Probably the Skylon, the Dome of Discovery, the Festival Hall (still there) and Festival Fun Fair.  Oh, and this logo.

The Festival of Britain was also a national event.  There were touring exhibitions; towns and cities fielded local events and celebrations; and local organisations were encouraged to organise their own shows, pageants and other special programmes.

And what was it celebrating?  Well, it was the centenary of the Hyde Park 1851 Great Empire Exhibition, and probably the earliest opportunity the country could afford a celebration of the new peace, looking forward to "that bright new future" everyone longed for?

It seems that official events in St Albans were kept low key.  The council saw no good reason to expend money needlessly on this massive fling.  After all, if Winston Churchill determined that it was a huge waste of public money who was St Albans City Council to disagree with him.

But there were local events and commemorations.  It was the commemorations which were especially significant, because as we would express its purpose today, there would be a legacy value.

Marshalswick was the great pre-war residential vision of T F Nash Builders, but only the homes of Ridgeway west and the Pondfield Crescent area were completed before war broke out, and a little line of houses along Marshalswick Lane to the tin church of St Mary's. Remember that little building?  The formative estate's early residents formed an association and were a pro-active group, ensuring that at the earliest possible opportunity a bus service was brought to them - this was the 341.

The group decided to celebrate the F of B by purchasing 112 flowering almond street trees which they wanted to plant in the grass verges and around St Mary's.  What a commemoration.  Why 112?  How many of those trees survive?  That's for you to answer!  But it was due to the forward-thinking Marshalswick Residents' Association that every springtime from 1951 and well into the future its members were reminded of the F of B and their desire make even more pleasant the public spacess around them.  Next year that will have been sixty years ago.

Remember this logo?  This was the official emblem of the Festival of Britain, held in 1951,  What do you remember about it if you are currently 65 or older?  Probably the South Bank Exhibition.

Festival of Britain April 2010

St Albans Own East End takes the Midland railway line as its western boundary.  The nearby roads to the station have always contained commuting households, and as the railway grew, housed an increasing number of people who worked for the Midland Railway Company.

I was speaking this week to two brothers whose uncle worked at St Albans South signal box.  Well, there is another job which no longer appears in railway statistics, as the signalling has long since removed elsewhere. 

While St Albans North signal box was removed when the goods sidings closed (to enable the present station buildings to be erected), at least St Albans South box is very much still with us, though no longer part of the railway infrastructure.

The box, now listed, is in the care of the St Albans Signal Box Preservation Trust.  The Trust has restored the building itself, including repainting it in its original colours of maroon and cream.  Inside the lever frame has been renovated and demonstrations are given in signalling procedures.  There is also space on the ground floor for a mini-museum and a very attractive railway garden. 

Visitors are welcomed on the second and fourth April-to-September Sundays in each month, from 2 to 5pm.  In the winter it is just the second Sunday.  There is a link to the Signal Box website on the links page.

I can't think of a more appropriate spot to watch the trains go by!

St Albans South signal box April 2010

This structure is now looking better than ever it has in any of our lifetimes.

You might have heard the wind in the telephone wires, or the gossip over the coffee tables at Morrisons.  You may even have tripped across the purple page on this site, or picked up the word at the recent concert at Fleetville Festival.  A new group has been formed in the district, called Fleetville Diaries.  A nucleus of new friends met in a small committee room at the Community Centre on Thursday evening, just for an hour - or so.

Being the first meeting there was no set agenda; we were feeling our way under our guide and inspiration Liz Bloom.  We had come together because we all had an interest in Fleetville, its people and how the district  had begun and grown.  Gradually, between sips of coffee or wine, we offered possible ideas which might engage our inquisitive brains in the weeks and months ahead.

At some time in the future, when Fleetville Diaries is a local history group as well-respected and well-known as any you might find on the noticeboards of the central library, the group will remember Thursday and will be able to say, "I was there."

We have already discovered that how we got to Fleetville in the first place (and I don't mean the 300 bus) was not so different as those first settlers in the late 19th century.  We chatted about what we each remembered, suddenly recalled we were at school with at least one other member of the group, or had heard the same story about this firm or that shop.  And excitedly we discovered steps outside which might have led to the underground air-raid shelters built in 1939.

You see, you never know where an idea will lead.  The next meeting is at 7pm on Thursday 27th May.  We hope you will be there too.

New group in the neighbourhood April 2010

Take a few people with a keen interest in Fleetville; and they will talk for hours over a cup of coffee about ...

Every year it's the same: local elections.  Every so often it's the same: national and European elections.  And then, for rural residents there are the parish elections.

We need a space where people can vote; just a room will do.  Schools are the favourite.  Historically, because of the design of the older buildings either school was in session or the polling people moved in.  Either/or.  It was down to the local authority to decide.  Today some schools work quite happily with the outsiders in order to avoid a day off - which, of course, as children, we all enjoyed.

Occasionally a church room would be pressed into service and the paraphernalia of the council would arrive: a pair of old wooden cubicles (they seem to have done away with the old half-length curtains); one or more ballot boxes (which are now like the storage bins you get at B&Q, rather than the old clanking metal cannisters); a collection of thick pencil stubs;  polling station posters and This Way signs.  And at one time you even got a police constable thrown in.  Whatever happened to him?

Growing up on the Beaumonts estate the nearest station we had was Ashley Hall, but Fleetville School was also used for those nearer the centre of the suburb.  When Oakwood School opened in the mid fifties we used that place, and it was intriguing to see other children's classrooms in other schools.  

Today, to the list of schools and churches can be added community centres, and even the fire station.  Nationally, a castle was used, even a bus, a little caravan sitting in a layby and several shipping containers!  All became polling stations for the day.  There's something rather exciting and unpredictable about this voting thing we go through each year.

Now, if, for any reason, the established polling stations are not available, can I suggest a few alternatives (with the owners' permissions of course).  The old branch library (take a broom with you); Morrisons cafe (because you can get a coffee at the same time);  how about a marquee set up on the green in front of Queen's Court; the pavilion at the park might be nice if there's a cricket match on;  the CAMRA building might prove a welcome place, or maybe the Rats' Castle; Mr and Mrs Smith would love it if we used their sitting room - they love having visitors for a cup of tea; and when the old underground shelters at the rec are fully excavated they would prove a wonderfully austere polling experience - as long as you took your gas mask with you.  Readers may have other suggestions.  Just joking.

Another visit to the polling station.  Some have not changed for decades, but as the city has grown new stations are required.  You may not have guessed, but there are 62 stations in the district, including one scout hut.

Where is the polling station? May 2010

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