St Albans' Own East End                     news archive 2


What a blooming surprise May 2010

During the past year I have taken possession of two impressive orchids, selected at a nearby garden centre, and have been intrigued by their cultivation.

So, it is not surprising that, while in Jersey last week, I should have taken  the opportunity to call in at the Eric Young Orchid Foundation to discover more about my newly acquired plants.  I paused at the entrance display panels which provided tantalising advanced information about the orchid arrangements visitors were about to see.  Among the images was an enlarged reprint of a poster from the early 20th century advertising the new Sander's Orchid Catalogue.  I introduced myself to the receptionist and inquired whether I might take a photograph of the poster, and was surprised when she also informed me that when the founder of the current collection in the island, Eric Young, was starting out in the world of orchid collecting, he purchased the bulk of the Sander collection in 1958.

So, what I was about to experience had its beginnings "down Camp Road."  I was happy with that bonus, and for the next hour became enchanted with the colours and fragrances of the Eric Young 2010 collection.

I took a further look at the entrance display boards on my way out, and while doing so a couple walked in and spoke to the same receptionist.  I was then aware of her informing them that "we have a gentleman here this afternoon who's writing a book on St Albans and is interested in the Sander connection."  Like me, the couple were visitors to the island, but unlike me, were already aware of the Sander connection, adding that their GP in Dorset used to be Peter Sander.  The surgery was called Orchid House and there was always a display of orchids in the waiting area.  Peter was the great grandson of Frederick Sander, who began the orchid business in St Albans.  I have since discovered that Peter was one of five children, all born in St Albans, to Louis and Barbara Sander, the grandson of Frederick. 

If I had visited the Foundation on a different day I would only have discovered one of the additional facts about Sander's.  If I had decided to spent my time in other ways and not visit the Foundation at all, I would not have been party to either of these nuggets of information.  As it was, I gained two prizes that afternoon.  What an incredible coincidence of events.

So, how does an author discover the information which will appear in his book?  Well, here is one, rather, unexpected source.

This week an intriguing community website was launched at the busy little Trestle Arts Base in what today is known as Highfield Park.  But until 1995 was the chapel at the heart of life at Hill End Hospital.

The history of, and changes to, this sprawling former institution reflects the history of society's attitudes towards mental illness and its treatments.  With the implimentation of Care in the Community the last of HE's residents left and the site came to the attention of housing developers.  Eventually, the records of HE and its neighbour Cell Barnes, were deposited at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS) where work began on initial catalogue markers.  But it is an enormous task which HALS has set for itself.

We can all now reflect on the work of HE through the years, and there are many staff and even more residents (at its height there were well over 1,000 at any one time) who have memories of their time working or living in the hospital.  Some fun, others serious.  Many poignant or sad. 

The website Out of Sight, Out of Mind? ( is based on their memories - and our memories too if we have a connection with the hospital, maybe as a visitor, the relative of a resident, or a casual employee or volunteer.  There were, after all, wonderful fetes, entertainments, and the recreation hall was hired to local orgnisations, for it had theatre facilities not found elsewhere in the town.

In a break with routine, in 1939 the hospital was requisitioned for Barts Hospital in London.  A never-ending  odyssey of the injured of WW2 made their way through its gates.

On May 24th the website went public and the preparation work of many project workers was in the ether for everyone to engage with; and over the next few years I am sure we will witness the content grow as photographs and memories are added.  Once those who have the memories are no longer around to ask or share, all we are left with are the paper records.

Out of sight, out of mind? May 2010

What could we be talking about here?  Sounds like something you might not want anyone to know about or talk about.  How true.

There are parts of St Albans which do not require to be known as a separate district, but around 1950 signs were erected to New Greens, Townsend and St Julian's; the council's post war housing developments.  You can also find a sign to St Michael's and one to Cottonmill.  Highfield is now pointed to and so is Jersey Farm.

But I have never discovered a road sign directing people to Fleetville, or Camp, or Marshalswick.  Or a sign indicating the beginning of these districts.  Perhaps that has something to do with only having a vague notion of where the boundries are.  Fleetville, does, however, appear on several cycling and walking signs along Alban Way, the former branch railway line track bed.  At least they seem to know where it is!

May's meeting of Fleetville Diaries was a busy affair with a mix of friends who were at the April meeting, and fresh faces, all bubbling over with enthusiasm, information and ideas.  We were fortunate in having with us members of the Fleetville community whose families have been trading here since the very beginning; there were previously unpublished photographs to view; and the idea of having a small group to gain experience in oral history interviewing gained momentum.  We were introduced to a project called Human Books, in which people with particular stories to tell about their past, their work, or their community, could be "borrowed", much like books in the library.  It looks as if this is a project which we will take forward and offer to local schools or at local events.

Before the next meeting is the enjoyable city-wide event known as Larks in the Parks on June 20th (see the panel on the Fleetville Diaries page).  Fleetville Diaries will be present in order to publicise its youthful existence, and engage visitors in a Post-It Survey.  We would very much like people with their own photographs of people, places and events relating to Fleetville to bring them along; that is, if they are willing to share them with others.  We can scan them on the spot and return the originals straight away.  

Last evening's one-hour meeting effervesced and continued informally for a further thirty minutes before some of us finally dispersed to our homes.  If Fleetville Diaries continues in this vein it will quickly become a dynamic community organisation.  If you live, or have lived in Fleetville, work here, or otherwise have an interest in this vibrant district do pop in at our next meeting, or make yourself known at the Fleetville Diaries stand at Larks in the Parks at Fleetville Rec.

The way to Fleetville May 2010

St Albans might be a compact city but there are occasions when district signs have been needed.  The idea was first proposed by the city council soon after WW2.  So, how far has the concept made it to the pole?

Although Aylett's Garden Centre is not strictly within the area the author has defined as The East End, being on the other side of London Road, nevertheless, part of Roger's story has its roots there, having spent his younger years living in Marshals Drive.

His father, employed by Rose's in London, had been sent in search of a suitable site to relocate the lime juice factory before the war.  The fact that he was successful in St Albans means that we have been the people fortunate enough to know Roger and his family.

To fund his demanding pursuits and home-based trials, not to mention more distant incursions into the world of horticulture, Roger's mum would leave plants outside in their front garden for passers by to purchase.  On the odd occasion we were passers by and would buy the odd plant for our garden.

We were also one of the early customers to the wilds of Cotlands on whose land, split by the bypass, the Ayletts had erected a wooden shed-cum-shop, of the type which were in plentiful supply in those days (1955).  In comparison with today's garden centre it sold a range of garden products very similar to what might be found at Sear and Carter, the little shop next to St Paul's Church.  But this was just the beginning, and we have all been returning to Aylett's for over 55 years.

Roger enjoyed his contacts with his customers and would readily offer the benefits of his knowledge and experience.  The Ayletts held many many dahlia festivals, some in sunny weather, others in marquees which nearly flew away in the wind!  And he regularly showed off the firm's plant quality at Chelsea and shows up and down the land.

Fortunately, the company is still in the hands of the family - the next generation, and thrives still.  Although Roger retired a few years ago now, giving him the opportunity to write his lovely book (cover illustrated above), I can't help feeling that he was as keen to know what was going on as Roger The Younger.

Roger's quiet smile was his password.  St Albans has lost one of those entrepeneurs who made their mark, not just locally, but throughout the UK.  Peake, Mercer, Maple, Ryder, Aylett - he'll be happy with that.

I think that deserves a little thought next time you're passing on the A414.

The dahlia man June 2010

Thousands have seen his name every time they have used what is now the A414 near London Colney.  Aylett's Nurseries, as it was known, has become a landmark, and all because of one unassuming but very friendly man.

ROGER AYLETT, 1934 - 2010

Larks in the Parks has become an established community preamble to the major St Albans Festival events at several of the local open spaces - five were taking part this year.

At the rec (no-one ever knew this as a 'park') hundreds of families celebrated their Sunday, or their birthday, or their club, and of course the weather, which was as kind to us as a summer Sunday in this country ever could be.  There were stalls for the sale of bric-a-brac, and community organisations selling themselves.  The Beech Tree Cafe no doubt benefitted from added sales.  St Albans Scouts and Fleetville Diaries were there among them, and sharing the Fleetville Diaries tent was the display for the forthcoming book, St Albans' Own East End.

We were delighted to have so many visitors to the FD tent, all of them interested in their local history, and forthcoming about where their families had moved to the city from, passing on wonderful nuggets of information.  Children took away copies of the streets wordsearch, and countless visitors were able to talk about their local memories, their work, the people they knew.  And together we unearthed a few photographic gems.

At intervals across the expanse of grass family groups spread out rugs and enjoyed themselves listening to  near-continuous music sessions throughout the afternoon, while face-painted children moved around the crowds in search of anything to attract their attention.

The St Albans Festival website called this event 'unmissable'.  And it was!  This was a coming together of local people in a typically British event where the organisation was strictly light touch.  And it works, every time.  So, congratulations to the small committee of men and women who have been responsible for giving the rest of us the opportunity to enjoy a summer Sunday afternoon on the rec.

Larks in the park June 2010

A fine June Sunday and hundreds flock to the rec for a day of relaxed family pleasure.

Here we are in high summer; a weekend of glorious weather and the diversions of major sporting events in prospect.  Yet, Clarence Park will still echo with the voices of children enjoying the open air, the sounds of bats and rackets on balls, informal groupos making up their own games of football, cricket or some hybrid version.  The grass will be littered with sunbathers, and under the shade offered by the park's majestic trees will be various picnic groups.

It is probable that the bandstand will not be in use but the children's playground will be busy, and mums will be drowning their offspring in factor 30 suncream.

Sixty years ago we didn't know about suncream, but dressed sensibly and wore floppy hats or our school caps.  Preparing a picnic at home beforehand was part of the experience and each of us children had our own metal snap tin with our favourites inside.  We walked along Hatfield Road, often with another family, for a picnic in the park, and the promise that, if we were good, we would stop for an ice-cream on the way home. Maybe, if the refreshment room wasn't open, the park-keeper's lodge might be selling them.

The play equipment then consisted of a rocking horse in which five or six people at a time would sit astride; a roundabout which younger children would sit on, screaming, while older children would race around the worn grass to see how fast they could make it revolve.  Those were near the back of the pavilion. But nearer the Crown end was the inevitable set of swings, and the rocking cone.

This last was often comandeered by the more adventurous and older children with the aim of, not only making it revolve at breakneck speed, but at the same time forcing the seating planks on the circumference (on which most children seemed to stand) to hit the centre pole, first on one side and then the other.  This was achieved by super-human effort by two children standing on the seats on opposite sides together with two children on the ground outside.

Then the earlier incarnation of the health and safety people stopped the fun and carted the equipment away.  Boo!

The photo above is of a cone elsewhere in the country.  The author would love to see a picture of our cone, preferably in use.  So, if in your picture albums you have such a picture do get in touch.  It must form part of the collection The East End in 100 Objects.  For the present, the picture above will appear, but as soon as our own version is found it will be replaced.

On warm - or hot - summer days families have always enjoyed a few hours at the park, and after more than a century they still do.

A picnic in the park June 2010

So, where are Fleetville's open spaces?  Once we have ticked off Clarence Park at the furthest extremity, and the good old rec near the centre of the district, we begin to run out of ideas.  Then someone reminds us that the cemetery contains masses of open space.  Now we are getting closer.

Walk into the well-cared for cemetery and you still won't spot it.  But we'll get there shortly.  Just time to mention that the grounds are not looking their best at present.  The grass is parched through lack of rain.  Road cones are everywhere while work is being advanced on some of the drive surfaces which have required attention.  Not to mention the programme of replacing the leaky old water pipes which serve the various taps with modern blue plastic - which is why visitors are having such a problem watering plants at the graves they tend.

Reaching the WW2 war memorial look diagonally left to the far corner next to the old branch railway (now Alban Way) and we cannot fail to be attracted towards a dainty timber arch.  Wandering through we discover a delightful small meadow right on the boundary of the school.  If the children are at play that simply adds to the enjoyment of the moment.  Not being an expert on the names of wild flowers (to my shame) I leave you to absorb the photograph above.  There's a bench seat if you would like to read, but my guess is that you will follow the movements of bees and other insects, and you will be mesmerised as the slightest breeze will gently shimmer the  stems.

It lifts the heart.  Next time you are walking along Hatfield Road, pop in.  You won't be disappointed.

Summer meadow July 2010

Find a summer meadow and you feel the desire to pause and envelop yourself among the grasses and flowering plants.  Relax, there's one nearer than you think.

In recent weeks I have discovered many treasures which represent St Albans' east end.  This (the photo above right) was at the rather unprepossessing little musuem based at Salisbury Hall near London Colney.  At this place was undertaken much design work for de Havillands during WW2, and one of those planes was the versatile and swift Mosquito, of which thousands were built at nearby Hatfield.  Part of the construction workforce at Hatfield came from all over St Albans, particularly the eastern districts.  Although the memorial is dedicated to "the air and ground crews who serviced, flight-tested and flew" this amazing craft, the omission of the men and women who built the timber aeroplane will not diminish the incredible role they played in the war effort.

Recently, valuable information has been re-discovered about the site in Hatfield Road where Queen's Court flats are now, courtesy of a resident who has lived nearby all her life.  Also recalled was a cone, similar to the children's play equipment at Clarence Park, which was located at Cunningham Hill Fields.  Both mysteriously disappeared!

Further information has been added to what was already known about the underground shelters at Fleetville rec by a Herts Advertiser reader who spent time in the shelters with her school friends.

On the same theme, the parched grass of recent weeks in the South-East's parks has revealed the locations of countless underground shelters, built at the insistence of the government in 1939/40.  The BBC website this week showed details from Sutton Green.  A partial excavation of the site has been taking place to obtain further information since no other official records of these construction projects survived.

Finally, Verulamium Museum has provided further insight into the results of an archaeological find made nearly 70 years ago in Salisbury Avenue.  Unless anything older turns up the people who occupied that site around two thousand years ago must surely be credited with being the east end's earliest residents!

Mosquito men July 2010

It is doubtful if many families are aware of this local memorial to a large group of people who served de Havilland's and the RAF in the cause of a most famous little aircraft with a name appropriate to its flying characteristics.

If you were asked to list the three rivers which flow through St Albans would you be able to name them?  Well, OK, of course you would say the Ver straight away.  You might be tempted to say the Colne, but that's really too far south. 

Give up?  It flows from north to south through part of Oaklands and it's called Boggy Mead Spring.  Wait, it gets better.  It flows under Hatfield Road at Drunken Bridge.  So, where's the bridge?  It's a bit of a cheat these days because it's not there - the spring flows under the road in a culvert.  Shame really, for its a wonderful name.  We're not talking about very much water either, even in winter.  So that's the second river. What about the third?

Keep going toward Hatfield and you reach Ellenbrook just before reaching the business park.  It's all those houses on the right, including Selwyn Drive and Ellenbrook Lane.  You've probably passed it a hundred times without realising.  The photo above, then, is literally the Ellen Brook.  Not much to look at, is it?  In front of houses, across a verge; all the way it's forced to flow in an open concrete channel.

And that is it.  The only thing they all have in common, apart from being in St Albans (and we will stretch a point for the Ellen Brook) is that they all flow into the river Colne.  But if on your next pub quiz night you get a question on local rivers, you might just be able to use this information.

It's not very pretty but it's almost all we've got.  And where might you find it?  Almost at the furthest extreme of our own east end on the Hatfield border.

Streaming through? Not much Aug 2010

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Three sites about to change Aug 2010

This yard has had a long history, but in all that time it has looked very much the same.  Is it now about to change for good?

When I walked passed this yard (above) in the fifties it looked much the same as just recently.  Until 1908 the only building to the east of Arthur Road was the Institute on the corner with its garden behind - now a car park for something called The Quadrant, which must confuse people looking for the shopping centre.  Everything beyond belonged to Beaumonts Farm.  Then, in 1908 Mrs Turner arrived with the building of a small cottage with a bay window, which is still there.  In the space behind came Arthur White, a coach builder, and William Moore, who had a farrier's business.  By the 1920s they had both gone.  Maybe Mrs Turner didn't like the extra activity, because Mrs Walker moved to the house in 1911 and began a small laundry business.   The following year a "quick-build" framework went up in the field next door, about which there was much court kerfuffle concerning misappropriation of money.  The building would, if finished, have been a little cinema for the district.  After a period of inactivity the County Laundry purchased it and the cottage next door, and they remained here until Gentle's moved their plumbing business here in the 1960s, eventually specialising in tiles.

Now a planning application has been submitted for a three-storeyed development of gound floor shops and two floors of flats, with no accommodation for cars.  The rumour that Tesco might be developing here is, apparently, rumour.

Meanwhile, just along the road Ability Housing Association has placed an application to demolish the old branch library building and construct a three storeyed building of wheelchair-accessible, two-bedroomed, flats.

Next door is the large site which older residents will still know as Currell's.  Horace Currell built a transport repair and movement business (today it would be named a "Logistics" firm), together with a house in 1926.  After WW2 it was taken over by British Road Services, Valiant Coaches and then Smith's Haulage, before becoming a service station.  The site did expand in this time, taking in the plot of a bungalow previously built on the right.  More recently Milcars occupied the centre, but the site is now empty.  So, we wonder, what will happen next?

I wonder how long it will be before there is some more interesting news about this part of what, at one time, had been Beaumont Farm's Crossfield.

And we wait with anticipation the completion of works at St Paul's and its stunning new entrance!

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