St Albans' Own East End                     news archive 3


A street party for Eaton Road  Sept 2009

It is a fine September Sunday.  What would you do?  Well, the residents of Eaton road, joined with some friends in nearby Burnham Road, and held a street party.  Of course, it wasn't quite so impulsive as that.  For a start, the council needed to be informed, a risk assessment undertaken no doubt, and a notice issued informing everyone of a road closure for the day.  Finally someone from Highways arrived in a truck with a couple of Road Closed signs and a pair of cones.

Up went the bunting and flags, clusters of balloons were attached to front fences and a gazebo was perched across the kerb for some pleasant music through the decades.  What a wonderful idea.

On this one day the children could play in the street in the true sense of the term, sit down in the middle of the road and play giant board games or hop scotch.  The grown-ups meanwhile chattered away, introduced themselves to new neighbours and brought out photographs of events past.  A mix of live music, and food generously donated by everyone, makes for an enjoyable afternoon with fine English September weather to bask in.

The reason for such a street party?  Who needs a reason?  But there was one nevertheless.  One resident woke up one morning not so long ago, consulted the deeds for her house and realised it was one hundred years old.  In fact, her house was one of the last to be occupied in Eaton Road, and a centenary party would have been more appropriate around 2002 in recognition of the first family to move in at number 2.  But I repeat, who needs a reason?  Everyone enjoyed themselves.

It's Woodstock Road south's turn tomorrow, but their road will be closed for attention to the road surface!

When did your road last have a street party?

There is nothing like a street party for getting your neighbours together for an afternoon - and probably the only time you can claim the street from the car!

Summer holidays quite often bring a flurry of maintenance or new building work at some of our schools: "You have six weeks to complete this task, and your time starts NOW!"  Insides occasionally require remodelling; a new coat of paint may be the instruction; or a modest building extension to create a new office.  You know it's serious when a new classroom is added, because that implies additional commitments in the form of staffing costs.  Now it is a bigger school.

Well, Cunningham Hill reached that expensive point in its history this year, as, during the summer break contractors delivered a double classroom temporary building - which was the easy bit, according to one of the employees I spoke to; the lengthy task was connecting all of the services.

Rather different from the days when Camp School was built in the 1890s.  The only service connected then was gas.  It was some years before even water was piped to the site because the mains just did not go that far.  If the County Council had its way the Cunningham Hill School(s) would have  replaced Camp, which would have been bulldozed.  But somehow, the population continued to grow.  First Springfield, then the completion of the New Camp estate, and what might have been finally, the London Road estate in the post-war years, including Windermere School.  The present finally, has been the growth of Highfield.  So, I suppose that brings us back to Cunningham's new classrooms. 

However, in another link to the past, the County, who had investigated  bringing a primary school back to Alma Road once more - though in a new building - has instead investigated the possibility of incorporating a new primary into the Francis Bacon site to form a new "all-through" school.  Innovative?  Or just a return to the elementary approach?  I m sure we will watch this educational space with interest.

Expanding and changing schools Sept 2010

It seems that the district's schools keep on growing, and ongoing work at Cunningham seems to confirm that yet more spaces are needed.

When, before the twentieth century had even dawned, St Peter's Parish Church took the adventurous step of building what we might now call an outreach church "beyond the tracks" little could its congregation have imagined what might evolve.

Fully one hundred years after the permanent new parish church of St Paul had been planted on the corner of Blandford Road, the doors were opened for inspection for a third time.  On Saturday 25th September hundreds of people from all over Fleetville and beyond walked up the curved steps and through the dramatic new concourse.  Without a doubt the church itself, albeit now internally facing a different direction, made a huge visual impact as members of the Verulam Big Band performed to visitors in the many rows of new chairs - sections of the old pews now adorning many local homes!

Between the church and the old hall has been created an array of rooms and offices for young people, church and outside organisations on two levels and reached by an impressive spiral staircase.  Technology abounds with solar panels on the roof, passive lighting controls, umpteen monitor screens and video projectors and an impressive control desk.

All of this was magnificent of course, but none of it was ultimately important.  Behind the new paint and the hard-wearing carpets, the bar and new car park, is a team of dedicated people ministering to a mature community, and the members of that community coming together in common cause.

And, my goodness, did they come together on Saturday afternoon.

Congratulations, St Paul's.  Forward to the future.

Another era begins for St Paul's Sept 2010

Everyone is familiar with the church on the Blandford Road corner, even if they've never been inside.  If you now open the door and venture inside you are in for a surprise ...

Hill End Asylum (later Hill End Hospital) was busily administering care and treatment to patients before Camp district saw any houses other than those at the top of Camp Hill; and before Fleetville was born.  After its closure in 1995 the enormous site has been substantially developed, although an extensive mixture of open spaces has been retained, including the old orchard.

The comprehensive records which the hospital generated have passed into the care of Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS).  A Heritage Lottery Fund project to bring the history of Hill End to a wider public and pool the collective memory of its patients, staff, visitors and friends into a single interactive website, was launched last year.   It is called

Now the project has morphed into an exhibition presently showing at the Museums of St Albans (MOSTA) in Hatfield Road, until the end of October.  To reach it visitors will walk through the bright new ground floor exhibition gallery created from the old Salaman collection of agricultural artifacts.  No doubt, as October progresses, paintings from the University Arts Faculty may well begin to appear.  Which reminds us that, at Hill End, patients were occupied in a range of practical activities, including painting, woodwork and needlecraft.  I wonder whether any of the artifacts produced by them can still be found in the homes of St Albans relatives and friends.  A possible contribution towards our St Albans' Own East End in One Hundred Objects, maybe?

The exhibition is at MOSTA, Hatfield Road, Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, and Sundays 2pm to 5pm until 31st October.  As with all other exhibitions, admission is free.

Hill End exhibition Oct 2010

For just short of a century the needs of the mentally ill were served by the Hill End Hospital.  Closed since 1995, an exhibition on the institution is now showing at St Albans Museum.

Fleetville Diaries (FD) came about as a result of a chance meeting at one of the "tea and chat" meetings at the Museum of St Albans (MOSTA), prior to the publication of MOSTA's book Fleetville: a Community in St Albans in 2009.  Two of the participants at that meeting were Liz Bloom, a member of Fleetville Festival Community Band and Choir, and Mike Neighbour, author of the forthcoming book, St Albans' Own East End. 

Liz had already undertaken a number of oral history projects, while Mike had mounted a small exhibition at Fleetville Junior School for the 2009 Festival afternoon.  Together, these had attracted a huge amount of enthusiastic interest among the hundreds of visitors to the event.

So it was that in the autumn of 2009 Fleetville Diaries was born, with monthly meetings at the Community Centre.  During these first few months the embryonic group needed to discover what kind of an organisation it wanted to be, and there has been much input from several residents, not all of whom live in the district we call Fleetville.

In October 2010 FD was able to announce its own website, which is being celebrated in this blog.  So if other St Albans organisations with websites would like to establish a web link to FD (or even SAOEE!) the group will feel that has really joined the worldwide web.  Let us know who you are and we will reciprocate.

Mr T E Smith, whose printing agency effectively named the district when he built the Fleetville printing works in 1897, would surely have been pleased.  Much of the output from his works was promotional and marketing material.  Today, we engage with much of the world's promotions and marketing through www.  It's good to feel a part of it.

Fleetville Diaries website Oct 2010

Fleetville Diaries now has its own website.  Click on the image to the right to discover more; the page opens in a new window.

The new Fleetville local history group, the enigmatically titled Fleetville Diaries, has launched its first three projects; to engage its members, but more importantly to secure for the future the knowledge of what it was like to be an employee (or even an owner) of one of the city's workplaces situated in the greater Fleetville district.

There was no Fleetville before the first factory set down in a Hatfield Road field in 1896.  Smith's Printing Agency began it all.  Regrettably, it failed to grow to the size its buildings were constructed for, partly the result of World War One and unfortunate circumstances at its sister print shops in the City of London.

Since then Howard Grubb Telescopes, Ballito and Marconi have all occupied the site as manufacturing premises.  Since then, the Co-op, Safeway and Morrison's have retailed from new buildings there, but Morrison's is probably employing a greater number of men and women than Smith's in the first decade of the last century.

Few firms were new start-ups, but had moved to bigger premises or better or cheaper locations.  One of the most recent of the well-known companies was Service Headwear, better known to us as Calverstone; they moved to the old Conservative Club building after World War Two from their former home in Lambeth.  Kwiz Darts rose to prominence for the high quality of its darts, which were not only to be found in pubs all over the country, but were used in major competitions throughout the world.  The Brush Company and the Ribbon Company, took up sites in the Hedley Road area, relocating from other parts of the city.  Even St Albans Rubber, another early arrival, was forced to make the move from London Road following a serious fire.  The residents of Camp Hill were not pleased!

If you, at any time during your working career, were employed by, or employed others, in any manufacturing or service undertaking in the Fleetville area,  Fleetville Diaries would like to hear from you.  Your experience in whatever work it was, your recollection of routines, the people you worked with and for, the firm's history and marketing, and any photographs you may have of the company, its products and people, are all needed for a major project to document the role of Fleetville as a place of work.  Email from this site ( ) or contact Liz Bloom ( )

Fleetville has always been the industrial quarter of St Albans.  Factories and workshops galore, and plenty of workers' housing for their employees.  What's changed between 1896 and 2010?

Working in Fleetville Nov 2010

On Thursday it might have been to sprinkle poppy petals in a London lake and visit the field of remembrance at Westminster Abbey.  Today it might have been to buy an emblem from one of dozens of collecting points in shopping strrets wherever you are.  Tomorrow it might be to spare two minutes with the rest of the nation and remember a life lost.

We live where we do and it may be nowhere near to where our families were living in 1914 to 1918, or 1939 to 1945.  There were so many families who sent their boys to war from Sleapshyde and Camp. Tyttenhanger and Fleeville, Sandridge and Marshalswick.  Today their families might be living anywhere in the world but here.  But there are others who, since those conflicts, have migrated here and will stand with those whose families have remained.  It is a time for sharing.  Cenotaph, St Peter's Street, Hatfield Road cemetery or village memorial.  We will all be there.

I had sight of a letter recently from a man, now living in Spain, but whose family was living in Cavendish Road, Fleetville during WW1.  The breadwinner was killed in action; a subscription was raised to assist his widow and three children.  He was one of the soldiers known by name only, but in the intervening years more details of his service have been revealed, including where he fell.  The letter-writer is anxious to have his grandfather's details added to the Roll of Honour.

Pte Alfred T Hopkins, 242 Co Machine Corps, kia 20th September 1917, Menin Road, Ypres, Belgium.

... and there are those who have no memorial Nov 2010

Offer me a colour for autumn and it will be the bronze of the dying year; offer me a colour for November and it will will be the blood red of remembered poppies from summer shown again as we stand silent.

If the initial plans for the shops at Marshalswick had proceeded, then we would have seen a line of shops along each side of Sherwood Avenue (then still called Woodlands Avenue).  Since the council had more specific requirements - such as the retention of the venerable trees and generous parking facilities - we got The Quadrant instead.  Planning was approved by mid 1957 and the first phase of 31 shops was largely complete by the end of 1958; the number of side shops was extended further along Sherwood Avenue and Ridgeway east later.

Several well-known brand names acquired premises, among them Bishops Stores, the novel self-service grocer, in the year after Tesco turned its St Peter's Street shop into a self-service store with "thousands of cut-price items."  Allied Bakeries brought Notts and Allied Retail introduced Martin's newsagents.  Pearks gave some competition to Bishops, Grants opened a wine shop and Kingstons (with their famous chrome block lettering) gave us a butchery.  We could also have our clothes dry-cleaned at Eastmans.  Gerrards sat next to Bishops, while, to start with the large central unit remained empty but was soon taken by a car showroom: Marshalswick Motors.

Of the local retailers, Giffens had the right-hand corner unit, Edward Carter occupied one of the single-storied lock-up units; Martin's, the chemist; Josephine's, the confectioner; Butler, the butcher from St Peter's Street; and Micheline de Paris offered ladies' hairdressing.  We recall Pearce's cycles at the front, and Allen's ironmongery on the righthand side.  With later arrivals in shoes, furniture and textile, fried fish and banks, there was some shop for almost anything

The Quadrant was certainly a local shopping area but it soon became a destination for people travelling from all over St Albans - hence the large car park.  Well, it seemed large then; but you try finding a space at busy times.  When it first opened you could drive your car along the front service road; you can't do that now!

Welcome to the Quadrant Nov 2010

Just over fifty years ago St Albans' first district shopping centre opened; can it have been that long ago?

Just a short while ago this website received a recollection about a weekend job the contributor was fortunate enough to have with Mr Cooper, a dahlia grower in Hatfield Road.  This resulted in the recalling of other facts about "Ernie" at the Jescot Nurseries.

He cultivated a number of varieties, some of which formed the Jescot Collection, some of which can still be purchased today.  He had been trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, had lived in St Albans since the early 1930s and had cultivated a smallholding near Longacres for most of that time.  Articles had been written about his work and he himself, an outspoken man, wrote at least one letter to the local newspaper.  The young Mr Roger Aylett worked with him on part of the Aylett nursery land in the early days.  After leaving St Albans he continued his interest in dahlias at Bognor Regis, Sussex, following the trend of many plant growers in the home counties where their land here was more valuable for housing.  Well, that's a staggering amount of information in three weeks.

I wonder how many other questions on the Info needed page could be answered in the same way.

For example, did you ever go to the Smallford Speedway, make the move from London to the London Road estate, become a member of one of the eastern Scout or Guide groups?  Were you employed at the ribbon factory, the brush factory, one of the rubber works, Sander's, the mineral water works, J B Rollings or one of the many shops in Hatfield or Camp roads?

Do you have personal recollections, or through your parents or grandparents, of the home guard, Sear and Carter, pig bins, pig clubs, street or underground shelters, Fleetville or Camp Schools, or the buildings which were, in turn, the Central, Girls' Grammar, Beaumont Girls' and Sandfield School?

Or, do you have photographs which might help to illustrate some aspect of life in one or more of the east end districts?

There are plenty of answers out there and we all share a little bit of the east end story in St Albans.  Apart from contributing your memory to this website, you might also like to join us at Fleetville Diaries, the new local history group for Fleetville (and a little bit further!).

Ernie Cooper was a well-known dahlia grower, but do you also remember Rob Butler and his little green sports car?

There are plenty of answers out there Nov 2010

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Lost Rails Oct 2010

Last week it was Out Of Sight Out Of Mind; this week Lost Rails.  The Museum of St Albans (MOSTA) is excelling itself.  Last Thursday evening the venue really needed the space offered by the new, and as yet unoccupied, gallery which once housed the famous Salaman collection.  There were so many in attendance at the private view it was almost impossible to get near the displays, curated by Ros Goulding, who was also one of the three authors of MOSTA's recent Fleetville book.

Lost Rails tells the story of the creation of a number of branch lines opened by one or other of the main railway companies in an attempt to extend their reach beyond the mainline stations.  As they say, the branches seemed like a good idea at the time.  Although carrying useful amounts of mixed freight, they failed to attract a critical mass of passenger traffic.

One such branch, the Hatfield and St Albans, was essentially a shuttle between those two stations and was conceived when St Albans did not even have its own mainline route.  A small handful of sidings and minor halts (even Smallford, first named Springfield, was not part of the initial plan).

Apart from creating a cross-platform link with what we now know as the Abbey Line, the company engaged in almost no other passenger initiatives.  The one which would have made a significant improvement to passenger numbers was a Fleetville station.  But the sour relationship between the company and St Peter's Rural and then St Albans City Councils made that impossible to achieve without one or other party admitting to compromise.

In fact, the company was largely correct in its stance.  There was no reason why it should pay for the bridge to be widened, drainage to be improved and the new road surface to be dressed or metalled; the developments had arrived around it a full four decades after the railway set down its track across farm fields and a farm track.

Today we are fortunate in being able to walk or cycle along all of these branch routes, in part or in full.  Several organisations have come together to produce detailed leaflets (cover of Alban Way leaflet above right) mapping the routes, access points and places of interest nearby.

Lost Rails is at MOSTA until next February.

The second new exhibition to open at the Museum of St Albans in a week explores the history and legacy of a number of 19th century branch railways in the county.

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