St Albans' Own East End                    news archive 4


Building on the school field? Dec 2010

Building on school playing fields has long been frowned upon, but then, Beaumont School has continued to grow and an increasing amount of its back field has gone for its own additional accommodation.  Oakwood primary school also appeared on the scene in 1958.  At one time you could start from the old gym and walk (or run!) to Sandpit Lane with grass underfoot all of the way.

Let's go back rather further in time.  In 1929 the Beaumonts residential estate was planned out.  Oakwood Drive would extend from Hatfield Road to Sandpit Lane.  Elm Drive would continue onto what is now the school site and arc round to meet Central Drive, and two culs-de-sac would connect with this new road.  The houses in Hatfield Road would have continued from Oakwood Drive as far as Winches Farm drive.  Everything would have been houses.  Then the county council purchased some land for a secondary school (a smaller acreage than the school now owns); so that scuppered the housing.  Nevertheless, the council was obliged to purchase the Oakwood Drive access points in domestic plot widths (a double one for the maintenance contractors).

The school needs to solve the chronic problem of access for such a large organisation and to improve its sporting facilities.  It has therefore decided to move eastwards into the former Winches land, relinquishing the front field for its new access and - guess what? - houses!

It looks as if Hatfield Road might need some improvement at this point, but at least there would not be the relative danger of traffic at the small T-junction of Oakwood Drive.  And if the council saw fit to accept houses on the front field in 1929, why not now?  Yes, I know, times are different.  But think of it this way; there are 75 more famillies who would live within the school's catchment, and would have no excuse for being late for school!

In 1955 there was space for a plane pilot to crash-land.  It didn't then as there were children on the back playing field (it ditched across Sandpit Lane instead).  It couldn't now because there's too little left.

The problem with the Romans as a topic of historical study, is that there is no-one alive today who remembers what it was like living in Verulamium; about their favourite shops; what they did when they went out in the evenings; or the little things they remember from being at school.  These are, after all, the essentials of oral history. But it's archaeology and not oral history that you have to rely on with the Romans.

One of the exciting themes in today's history curriculum is the period '1948 to the present.'  This is brilliantly inclusive, for it is well within the living memory of the children's parents and grandparents.  More importantly, it is entirely within the limits of their own memories; so that events and happenings the children experienced yesterday or last year form part of their history.

Earlier this week, three members of Fleetville Diaries were invited to Fleetville Junior School to meet their three classes of Year Six children.  We were wonderfully surprised to discover they were dressed in period - anything from the 1950s onwards.  We were able to talk with them about events and other recollections from our own experiences, and they were very keen to ask us questions.

The teachers must have felt relieved that they were only responsible for around thirty children each; quite unlike the author's teachers in the 1950s, who needed to find space in small classrooms for fifty or more!

We greatly enjoyed our afternoon with the Year 6s and we thank them for inviting us.

1948 and all that Dec 2010

What is in the history curriculum in today's primary schools?  In 1948 at Fleetville School the children studied the Romans at least once, possibly twice, or even three times!  One interesting topic today is ...

If you were thinking of creating a walking tour of the city, you might choose to perambulate from pub to bridge, half-timbered coach house to gentleman's town house, concluding 'this walk should take approximately one hour.'

Kate Bretherton has taken the unusual and very successful approach of identifying trees – and getting others to do so as well – as a way of walking our way around a huge variety of city and rural localities.  In her new book The Remarkable Trees of St Albans, Kate informs us in her very relaxed and personable style, why it has grown there, whether it commemorates an event or someone's life, and why that species might have been selected.  We are given a few clear beginners' tips about identifying particular species, and there are even sections on trees no longer growing, but which are still remembered from memories or old photographs.  Kate has left page after page for her contributers to tell their own accounts of favourite trees.

Needless to say, I searched in particular for East End trees, of which I knew a rich source would be in Clarence Park.  I was not disappointed.  There were garden trees aplenty, a Mexican Lime, formerly part of Sander's nursery, an oak in the vicarage garden at Cell Barnes (with the vicar mong the branches), a Wellingtonia at Highfield and a selection from Jersey Farm.

It seems that St Albans is rich in trees, and particularly examples which its residents have become attached to.  I have no doubt that Kate will receive many other suggestions in the coming months - and in this context I rather missed seeing an example from the ancient woodland The Wick.  You never know, a Remarkable Trees part 2 may be in mind; but I would like state clearly I am not starting a rumour!

What this book will do, I am certain, is encourage all of us to look more closely at the trees around us – in our gardens, our streets and our local parks.  When the weather improves people will be out there, looking up into the boughs of a respected tree while holding a copy of The Remarkable Trees of St Albans ... and I will be among them.

A remarkable book.

Remarkable trees Dec 2010

The willow on the cover of this new new book is certain to be identified, clearly located at the ford at St Michael's, but Kate Bretherton has discovered trees in all sorts of places.

It was in 1959 that a group of year 10 pupils at Beaumont Boys' School were given a taste of the new school at Marshalswick they would transfer to in September.  There was talk of specialist classrooms, an outdoor theatre and a swimming pool.  All very well, of course, but facilities like these take time to deliver and at that stage in our school careers we would be long gone.

What we did get straightaway was an instant course in working on a building site and plenty of practical history sessions discovering what it had been like for earlier generations of rural boys stonepicking at local farms.

It is, of course, difficult enough launching a new school, but a combination of weather delays and shortages of essential building materials ensured that the year 7s began their Marshalswick School career at Beaumont, and the year 8s spent the first term-and-a-half at Alma Road (every new school seemed to start there - as soon as the Marshalswick crew left pupils from the newly-formed Francis Bacon School moved in).

Nevertheless, the first year was memorable for positive reasons.  Most of us had come from very old and cramped primary schools; and found the light and space invigorating, together with the combinations of new building materials and colours.  In that first year the school had performed a play, presented a concert, run a memorable sports day, launched a school magazine, and returned a creditable set of examination results.

Pioneers will remember having to wear plimsolls in order to protect the new wood block floors.  Instead of lesson-change bells Marshalswick delivered pips (very classy!) and many of us had our first taste of using indoor toilets and a proper library.

The premises may now sport a different name (Sandringham), and of course it has long since become a mixed school, evolving a credos which has served it well down fifty years.  But the year tens and elevens of 1959 and 1960, together with their teachers and the head teacher, faced the challenges of developing a new school, and set its ground rules.

There at the beginning Jan 2011

The East End's first new post-war secondary school opened just over 50 years ago.  If you were there at the very beginning there are certain events you will remember.

An article recently in Time magazine stated, "The national census is like a giant group photo, showing us everything we might want to know about a country's population: who they are, what they do, where they live and how they live. The answers it provides are vital to historians, economists and academics — and to the running of a nation. So with Francis Maude, British Cabinet Office Minister and the man in charge of the census, revealing recently that the 2011 census will be the U.K.'s last, the soon-to-be uncounted might well ask, How will we know who we are?"

Indeed.  The census has become one of the recurring British institutional events of the modern world.  When begun in 1801 it was merely a head-count, with only the statistical totals being archived.  "We" began to be acknowledged as named individuals in 1841, and every 10 years since then the range of questions asked has become more extensive.

Great for historians, but for the Treasury, who foot the several hundred million pounds bill which it costs each time, is it necessary, and can it be done better some other way?  Presumably, the answer to the first question is yes, otherwise we would not have undertaken 20 lots of form-filling thus far.  As to the second question, you would have thought there was enough information about us all out there already if only there was a way of pulling it all together in a way to make it useful as a census.

The first census on which Fleetville first appeared was 1891; the occupiers of homes in Cavendish and Albion roads, and a few little shops at The Crown; in 1901 there were homes in most of the roads which make up Fleetville, and by 1911 the structure of the district was largely complete.  Without the census we would have struggled to understand the growth of the place and what made it into a community.

So, what will happen in the future?  That is a very big question, and the debate should probably start here.  Any ideas?

A very personal count Jan 2011

For nine years we forget all about it, and then – WHAM – its back again; our chance to put our mark on history, and to look back at where we've been.

Many decades ago the council proposed to erect signs announcing our arrival at some of its districts.  Watford proceeded with its scheme, and so appeared signs for places like Oxhey, North Watford and Garston.  St Albans took the proposal no further. 

"Excuse me, is this Marshalswick?" a visitor may ask.  Well, there's a great opportunity for on-the-street conversation, which you may consider more sociable than a sign.  I would hesitate to add to the clutter of street signs already around us, but I can find plenty of examples of existing, heavy-duty, bent, scratched and faded plates of metal that I would willingly trade for a pair of discreet "Fleetville" markers.

Another question often asked is "Where, in any given direction, have we arrived in (or left) Fleetville?"  The same puzzle applies to Camp.  It all depends. of course, who you ask and what source you consult.  You might say it is the flexible district – stretch it as far as you want.  There are local maps to consult, some historical, others more modern.  Only the electoral maps provide any kind of boundary; a boundary which serves its political purpose but which is socially unsatisfactory.  When Fleetville School first opened in 1908 an artificial dividing line between Fleetville and Camp was drawn along the, now-former, branch railway.  Rather later, several residents in Camp roads chose Fleetville as part of their address "because that sounded better".  If, today, you walk past St Paul's towards the town, when do you step beyond Fleetville?  Perhaps the true Fleetville lies within a very small compass between Sutton Road and Harlesden Road.

There is no doubt all of us have in our mind a very personal Fleetville, and a very personal idea of Camp, or of Hill End, or Marshalswick.  It only becomes really important if you are charged with drawing a line on a map.  Then you might hesitate.

There are many definitions of Fleetville's boundaries, but is there any sign to tell us when we have arrived?

Tell me the way Jan 2011

There are approaching three hundred interconnecting roads in the East End of St Albans; far more than I ever imagined when I began my research for St Albans' Own East End.

Many are historic routeways connecting towns, villages and hamlets, with equally historic names.  These are among the longest roads we have, such as Tyttenhanger Lane and Hatfield Road.

Many residential roads laid down at the beginning of the twentieth century honour individuals from the notable families who have, in their time, contributed to the life of St Albans – Jennings Road, for example – or other places where they lived, as in Woodstock Road.

Private estates were, and still are, named at the whim of the developer. Glenlyn and Lynton avenues fall into that group.  Royal Road and Cape Road are examples of roads celebrating key national events; Clarence and York roads key national people.

Finally, a theme covers a group of roads in the same area: the trees of Beaumonts estate, or the seafarers of London Road estate.  My personal favourite here are the apples of Highfield estate (Sturmer, Russett and Grenadier), partly because they have a historical link to the area which was developed after the closure of the hospital.

A surprising fact for quiz night?  There are more than four times as many roads in Jersey Farm as in a similarly sized area of land in Fleetville.  It is all to do with the fashion for laying out estates in different ways.

Here, though, is a small selection of roads for which some explanation is still required.  So, if readers have ideas which might lead us to an explanation, do please email the author:  Beresford Road, Brampton Road, Gainsborough Avenue, Glenferrie Road, Harlesden Road, Wellington Road, Shirley Road.  In fact, if you have an explanation for the naming of the East End road you live or lived in, still email the author.

And a collective noun for a group of roads in your district?  You've possibly worked out my suggestion already: A postman's round.  Any others?

A postman's round Feb 2011

What is the collective noun for a group of roads in a district?

The only reason I had not previously taken a photograph of the mile marker post at the boundary of Fleetville Park, is the condition it was in at the time - rather spattered with paint.  I sought to rectify that omission this week and had a close look at it for the first time. 

It then struck me that it, and its pals at Oaklands, Smallford and The Comet, all share one thing in common.  Their left faces contain no raised lettering.  When first cast, probably in the 1770s, by a foundry in Reading, travellers to that town were provided with a distance to St Albans and to Reading.  Eastbound travellers were almost at the end of the road, the distance being shown on the header:  "Hatfield 4"  There were no intermediate towns to mention, and so that face remained blank.

The Turnpike Trusts were required to place mile markers but only to places served by that road; in the case of Hatfield Road, between Reading and Hatfield.  It is presumed that at some time after the winding up of the Trust c1880, the Highways Board decided to show places on the next former Turnpike road.  Thus Hertford and Ware are shown.  A mile marker at Great Amwell, just outside of Ware, remains to show the way.

The markers at Oaklands, Smallford and The Comet, all show the number of miles to Hertford and Ware.

The intriguing point about the Fleetville marker is that this information has been duplicated, as shown in the photo above.  The big question is, why?

Fleetville Park (or, the rec, as many of us still like to call it) is not the original measured location for the marker.  At one time it was situated closer to Woodstock Road south, but was removed when that road was laid out.  It is thought that it was in storage for some time and may have been moved a second time when the widening by the park took place in the early 1960s.  It would be great to have some further information about this mile marker, where it was stored, and when it was removed and returned.  Would anyone like to share ?

Another turnpike mile Feb 2011

Five Turnpike mile markers remain in St Albans.  But have they been tampered with?

Google Maps has popularised maps as a finding aid for millions of people.  For the first time lots of us have seen the point of mapping.  Adding the Terrain feature, and the controversial Street View, was just wonderful icing on an already delectable cake.  Here was one giant, seamless, map we could actually play with like a toy.

Google Maps' useful toy is therefore now part of this website. See Map.  It is centred on the first new street to be completed in Fleetville, Arthur Road, but, by dragging with the mouse we can open up the vistas from Marshalswick to London Road to Hatfield – and beyond.

Reproducing older maps is more difficult and expensive.  The book itself will reproduce small extracts, but otherwise, unless we have copies of the Godfrey Edition (4 sheets cover St Albans as it was in 1898 at less than £3 per sheet), we can spend a useful hour or two in the library or at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS).

Recently there has arisen a need for a new type of map for the centre of Fleetville; and Fleetville Diaries has devised a simple map to be used in conjunction with a proposed interpretation board at the rec (or Fleetville Park, if you insist).  The interpretation board is being commissioned and sponsored by Fleetville Community Centre.  Two versions of the map were therefore produced, one facing south (for the board) and the other facing north.  The layout will provide space for other features to be added, depending on the intended project.  Scroll further down the new map page to view it.

Google Maps has popularised maps as a finding aid for millions of people.  Adding the terrain feature, and the controversial Street View ...

The East End in maps Feb 2011

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Tom and Jerry Jan 2011

On how many occasions have you seen someone walking along Hatfield Road, Smallford, as you have been motoring past, perhaps on your way to either St Albans or Hatfield.  Or maybe you needed to fill up with petrol or buy a plant at the garden centre.

The answer is probably almost never, and that's a shame, because there are footpaths to explore and those rather interesting, if plain, cottages between Wilkins Green and the Three Horseshoes; and of course, the pub itself.

Maybe we should also try to discover what is not there now, but used to be part of this little hamlet.  Let's begin with the toll house, whch stood on the corner where the small paddock is now.  Only one photgraph is known to exist of this building, which is a shame because it was, apparently, a fine little building of two storeys.

Well, we are lucky to have a picture at all of this building, because how many photos have you seen of the former pest house along Oaklands Lane?  Or maybe Sear and Carter before Notcutts moved in?  What did Wellfield Nurseries look like - they were opposite Glinwell (formerly Nielson's) in Hatfield Road?  The author has seen none, and that probably goes for you as well.  If you have noticed that Notcutts garden centre is set back from the main road, that is because, when Hatfield Road was widened here a number of old properties were demolished.  What did they look like?

A second pub, the Four Horseshoes – yes, that's right, the Four Horseshoes – was opposite the Three Horseshoes.  Anyone seen a picture of it?  There was a time when this little beerhouse was called the Tom and Gerry!  Then there was Sam's Cafe and Horseshoes Motor and Engineering Works.

All of these places existed within the lifetimes of those of us who are 65 – some will be remembered by younger residents.  OK, so who's got some Smallford pics?  Someone must have.  It would be great to discover what we can no longer see, whether we are walking through Smallford, or driving on our way to elsewhere.

There is, regrettably, far too little time to take in the view and really look at what is around us.  The A1057 (was A414) has put paid to that.

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