We'll use what you don't want March 2011

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St Albans' Own East End                    news archive 5


Two millennia ago the Romans threw their rubbish into piles, said to include at the disused theatre at Verulamium at one point.  We have our much larger equivalents at landfill sites today.  Archaeologists of the future will have a field day at local former holes in the ground; under parts of Bernards Heath,  near College Road and the inustrial estate at Ashley Road.  All have been used to dispose of our unwanted chattels, broken or not.

There was far less of it, of course fifty or a hundred years ago.  Not only because there were fewer of us and we had less to spend, but because more "stuff" had a second life and rarely reach the metal dustbin, let alone the hole in the ground.

Even newspapers saw more life after the day of publication.  We wrapped apples in sheets of the stuff; layers of it became a form of carpet underlay; twisted tightly a sheet made a serviceable fire-lighter.  Added to compost heaps they helped matter to decompose.  Small pieces went into children's shoes to help our feet fit into slightly oversized ones.  Sheet were pushed into cracks and gaps to keep the winter winds out.  And when toilet paper was in short supply ...

Yet there was still a mountain of it to shift and re-use.  My goodness, it was the same with tin foil.  Up and down the road, at church and at scouts, we were all collecting milk tops and (clean, please!) tin foil containers which all found their way to our house.  Seven or eight large bags were gradually filled, sealed and then delivered in my car to a house just off Watford Road.  All over town deliverers were arriving with the silver and someone somewhere had a re-use for it.  The second-life of this material had a value and this supported a fund for guide dogs.

Until around 1950 there were allegedly large bins dotted around the district, arranged to be not too far from people's homes.  Food waste was deposited here, collected two or three times a week and sent to a bacon factory in the north of the county.  The council made a profit out of it.  I wrote "allegedly" because I do not remember them, and no-one else has yet admitted to remembering them.  Where could they have been located so as not to cause a nuisance?

I've certainly reduced my throw-away bag by around two-thirds in the past year or two.  Anyone any ideas for recycling plastics?  Then I will probably only need the council to collect a bag from me once a month.

We all know that recycling is not new, but just how old is it?  It seems that the more we buy, the more we throw away.

A chance meeting at the Museum of St Albans between the author and Liz Bloom, the inspiration for the local history organisation, Fleetville Diaries, led to the author's discovery of the Fleetville Festival.

Indeed, those who investigate the website of Fleetville Diaries more closely, will discover pages for Fleetville Festival.  This annual event showcases the talents of Fleetville musicians in which there is a 60-piece orchestra  a swing band, choir and an a cappella group known as Fleetville Harmony – a coming together of Fleetville's musical residents. 

To have achieved so much depth in just four years is, without doubt, due to the inspiration of one man, Paul Olive, whose death was tragically announced recently.  There is no doubt that Paul will be especially remembered at this year's Festival concert at Fleetville Junior School hall on March 27th.  The poster details are shown on the

St Albans' Own East End pauses its history in 1960, but the life of the communities which lie this side of the city flourish and prosper.  This is one of the reasons Fleetville Diaries exists: to tell the story of Fleetville from its beginnings to the present day.  To this end, the group will be presenting an exhibition at the Festival called Working in Fleetville.

The author hopes to see as many readers of this site as possible at  Fleetville Festival, for an enjoyable afternoon and to celebrate the memory of the Festival's founder. 

Dedicated to Paul Olive March 2011

"A quiet visionary"

Most of us are motorists, or we get around on two wheels.  None of us has failed to experience the surface condition of many of our roads.  We may call them pot-holes, but the gutter lines are eroding and the once-clean and smooth edges made good after trenching two or three decades ago, have now turned into a ragged and sometime dangerous ruts along or across the carriageway.

We complain; and the local authority tells us that it has insufficient funds to carry out the necessary repairs in the timescale we would expect.

Apart from the major thoroughfares, just about every road in the East End of St Albans has been created in the past 130 years, and for half of that time there was an uneasy arrangement between the council and the residents about what was called the "making up of the roads."  Until the council kerbed, paved and surfaced a street through the process of adoption – maintaining a street at public expense – the roads were considered private, which meant in the joint ownership of the owners and occupiers of the various houses.  Apart from the practical difficulty of getting everyone to agree to contribute towards the cost, there was the continual problem of whole acres of frontage not being built on because the land agent was unable to find a buyer.

Many of the roads in the Camp district, between Cambridge and Camp roads, remained quagmires of mud and standing water, or dusty deserts for upwards of three decades before building was declared finished and  the council was able to adopt them.

So, should we feel fortunate we are not in the position of a College Road resident who had moved there in 1908 and was still afraid to go out on winter evenings in 1929, for fear of losing her footing or stepping into a deep puddle, because there were no street lamps either?

Well, we could be there again shortly.  And if there isn't enough money in the road repairs fund, it is something we will have to put up with.  Whether we will be able to do what Woodland Drive residents did in 1952 and effect temporary repairs ourselves (the Big Society in action?) is a questionable point.  Oh, and it is possible that the street lights will, once more go out for the same reason.  Ah well, what goes around, comes around.

What goes around ... March 2011

Today, new roads are developed quickly, complete with all services.  It has not always been so, and many years spent trying to avoid the puddles may return to dark roads once again.

One Sunday every March has, in recent years, proved to be a musical one for Fleetville.  The hall of Fleetville Junior School resounds, on that day, to the music played by local people: Fleetville Swing Band, Fleetville Festival Choir and orchestra, and Fleetville Harmony.  There were also visiting groups, including a band from Batford.

This year, to demonstrate that, in future years the membership of these musical groups could look forward to new young talent, a choir and recorder group from Fleetville Junior School performed in the first part of Sunday afternoon's programme.

Although there had been less publicity this year it seems that just as many people arrived to join the audience in a bulging hall.  If you can regularly play to capacity audiences you must be doing something right! 

As members of the instrumental ensembles arrived it is intriguing to wonder where they all pracise their art - in the back rooms, attics and conservatories of homes large and small among Fleetville's roads and avenues; with patient and forgiving neighbours, of course.  The fact that the district can produce so many musicians and so much variety in their output, must be one mark of a mature and thriving community.

Although it might just have been missed by some of those participating – their minds being on more immediate matters – one photograph on display in the Fleetville at Work exhibition along the side of the hall showed a B flat horn manufactured in nearby Campfield Road by the former Salvation Army Musical Instrument Works.  The name and address of the maker were shown clearly stamped on the bell of the horn.  We are, indeed a musical city.

The musical suburb March 2011

Walking along the corridors of Fleetville Junior School on Sunday I experienced a rousing wall of harmonious sound.

Today, Sunday, occupied 36,000 people in an event of self-endurance, and charities the opportunity to receive millions of pounds in what must be the biggest charity-fest in the UK.  Yes, the London Marathon was run for the 30th time.  It surely does not seem that long since the author ran the mini-versions at Hyde Park!

How many of those runners came from St Albans, and of those, how many hail from our East End, and were running in London's East End?  We may get to find out in the forthcoming edition of the Herts Advertiser.

In the early years of the twentieth century an annual road race was run from Hatfield to St Albans, and was hugely popular.  Popular sports of all kinds were springing up as councils began to open parks and recreation grounds; the Health Act encouraged physical activity, and more people had a little extra free time, especially on Saturday afternoons - incidentally, the reason why football matches often still kick off at 3pm.

Football teams were set up by large firms and in local districts.  The then open space opposite Nicholsons (12-acre Field) was used by one team.  Another team, Stanville, was drawn from the occupants of the Cavendish and Granville estates, and possibly played its matches on the Gaol Field, or possibly at Clarence Park, since this team was in existence before St Albans City.

Unless photographs were taken and team members identified, there is little opportunity to discover whether great-grandfather ran in one or more of the road races or played in one of the local teams.  In that sense, these events were ephemeral.  They were just part of everyday life, like going shopping or attending church.

Equivalent events today would have a greater likelihood of records being retained.  It will be on the internet, if nowhere else.  But that is where the local newspaper is so useful, and without it future generations might be deprived of the kind of historical record that St Albans Own East End will reveal when published next year.  That is why we should keep buying our weekly issue, unless, of course, you are one of the lucky ones in receiving a free copy!

Sporting events for all April 2011

Which netball, football, running, cycling or swimming events did we take part in, and why did we participate? 

... unless, of course, it is to our advantage.

Although not in the East End, I couldn't help noticing that the building we have all got to know as a permanent fixture on the southern entrance to the city, the Noke Hotel, is not now called the Noke.  Quite how long ago this re-naming took place I am uncertain, but the hotel's owners want us to refer to it as the Thistle Hotel, St Albans.  The Thistle group have, of course, been the owners for decades, but, until the name change they were content for the establishment to retain its traditional name.  But its two restaurants are called the Noke and the Oak & Avocado (I bet most staff and guests refer to the latter as simply "the Oak").

The Oak and Avocado is one thing, but what about the Bunch of Cherries?  This post-war public house is at Oaklands, and was the favourite haunt (indeed the only one within easy walking distance) of students at the nearby former agricultural college.  The name survived the change from the temporary timber structure to the permanent brick-built house.  The owning company came to a business decision to re-name the venue the Speckled Hen, but that did not make some of its regulars happy, nor a few residents who probably never ordered a pint there.  The Speckled Hen it stayed and now everyone seems to have become used to the idea.

Not so fortunate were the owners of the Rats' Castle, who quietly altered the name to the Castle.  Presumably, since most regulars referred to their favourite watering hole in short as the Rats', Benskins would have preferred them to shorten it to the Castle instead, and promptly left them with no opportunity to apply a shortening at all.  The new name did not last for long as local opposition saw to it that the original name, and sign, was restored.

Out of area the Ancient Briton is now as likely to be called the Harvester, as it is part of that chain.  The "Will", The Crown, the Camp and the Baton happily sport their traditional names, but regulars of the former Mile House have now forged other allegiances.

What prompts a pub's name change?  Well, it sure isn't likely to be the regulars.  Regulars don't take to change very easily - or do they?

We just don't like change April 2011

We are undoubtedly rather less celebratory nowaday, when it comes to key national events.  Less bunting and fewer flags; and fewer local celebrations in parks.  In 1953 (yes, I know that was a coronation and perhaps rather more important) but a number of Hatfield Road shops entered a shop display competition.  The big works in the district had their strings of coloured lights, or, like Peake's, which had a building to show off, floodlit its frontage.

As for street parties, this site has tried to record when and where these took place from 1945 onwards (this is the list so far).  If you were at a street party and it is not on the list, do let the author know.

On a completely different topic, a number of visitors to the site have taken the opportunity of asking questions about some aspect of the local scene which they are, themselves, researching.  I am more than happy to provide fuil replies by email, but there are occasions when I am less than certain my replies have reached their destination.

A curious situation arose recently from a resident, presumably, of Burleigh Road , who was investigating the history of her road with her young son.  I provided a detailed reply and sent it to the email address of the original request, only to discover an automated reply saying that the person I was trying to conctact was away on maternity leave. No other address was given, so I'm not sure how a reply could have been sent.  So far, I have been unable to find an alternative source of communication.  So, if that was you, do please contact the author again.

Another visitor, from Australia this time, sent a photograph of an object he had acquired; he thinks it may have something to do with Fleetville, from the wording engraved on the object.  He was interested to know what it was and whether there was a Fleetville connection.  Again, I provided a fulsome reply which would have more than satisfied his curiosity.  But I did ask whether he could forward a clearer picture for closer identification.  I have no idea whether my reply reached its intended destination; there has been no response confirming that he had received the email.

Not all emails seem to have a successful journey – one that came to my inbox yesterday was dated March 11th.  Now, where in the ether has that been lurking for the past two months!

Celebrating the Royal wedding May 2011

Fleetville Diaries member Vic celebrated in his own way on the day of the Royal Wedding recently - he took his camera in search of as many street parties as he could find.

In 1900 it was just a bend in Hatfield Road, but there was a private, and one-time gated, road known then as The Avenue, later Beaumont Avenue, joining it at an angle facing towards Hatfield.  Since on both sides of the road the fields were part of Beaumonts Farm, farm tracks met each other here.  But that was all.  Then Beaumont Avenue was opened up,  Beechwood Avenue created out of the footpath on one side, and Ashley Road (The Ashpath) out of the track on the other.

When motor vehicles using the road became faster and passed through more frequently, the junction became "dangerous".  Lines were painted on the road; there were talks of a roundabout, Beaumont Avenue became a one-way exit on the one side, and a solution to a blind junction blighted Ashley Road on the other.  The result was traffic lights.  But that was years after the junction was designated part of what was at first called the circle road.

Meanwhile, it was a spot for a posting box, a public telephone kiosk, a police box, first in wood and then brick-built, a WW2 street shelter and maybe a home guard point. 

The rectangular housing plot, now 265 Hatfield Road, which a house-building company had used as its yard site in the 1930s, was left as an open space, tree-lined and a rich source of vitamin C in the blackberry season.  Here also was a temporary stopping-off point for one of the local tramps who frequented the district after the death of Tramp Dick in 1946.

And, of course, there is one other track which began at this junction.  Originally known as Crosspath, as it traversed the appropriately-called Crosspath Field, it gradually became surrounded by houses and workshops.  Today, we still use it and call it The Alley.

A really dangerous junction May 2011

This photograph of the Hatfield Road - Beaumont Avenue junction was taken in the early years of the twentieth century.  Would you stand here now?

Fleetville Diaries, the local history group, spent a welcoming and useful evening beside the busy operational railway, learning how to send trains up and down the line.  Not only that, but we changed the signal aspects, and sent and received messages to neighbouring signal boxes.  OK, so those neighbouring boxes are no longer there and the levers controlled non-existent semaphores, but we certainly began to understand how demanding and responsible was – and is – a signaller's task.

The exhibition of artefacts on the ground floor of the box includes a pair of boards which we initially found perplexing.  A board indicating St Albans, Fleetville, Smallford was understandable (photo above) as that could have referred to the branch line.  But one connecting Townsend, St Albans, Fleetville and Oaklands?  Until we realised these were points along early bus routes which plied Hatfield Road in the 1920s and 1930s.

More recollections and photographs have arrived recently, or have been promised, including from the Beaumonts estate, Hedley Road, Marconi and Sphere Works.  Exploratory work is shortly to be undertaken in conjunction with HALS to re-photograph one volume of photographs from issues of the Herts Advertiser from the 1920s.  If successful the project might be extended, and in that case would give researchers access to photographs from that newspaper for the first time.  Much will depend on the technology, the amount of time the work takes, and the fragility of the original copies of the paper now in cool storage.

One place you won't normally be invited to is a working signal box on what is called 'the operational railway.'

There's a train coming May 2011

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Photos reveals and photos sought April 2011

In the UK you can't get much further from St Albans than the Isle of Skye.  This is where Jenny lives now, although she grew up in Elm Drive, and is still in regular contact via email with a number of friends from that and nearby roads.

Jenny came across the St Albans' Own East End website and contacted the author with a number of recollections of her family's time living on the Beaumonts estate.  So, it was with some excitement that a package from Jenny arrived, and was opened, out spilling twenty or more photographs, from her family home with the original timber gates, to one of those snow-bound winters; from the inside of the old St Luke's Church, to cycling along Sandpit Lane.  A further picture from Jenny's collection appears on the Welcome page; how many will recognise themselves or their friends from class 2A of STAGGS while it was still in Fleetville in 1952? 

On this page, above, is a doorway which some of us will remember.  This was the entrance to Cotsmoor, part of the W O Peake factory complex in Hatfield Road and Granville Road, now no longer there.  Many residents of this part of the city, or their parents, will remember being employed here.  The photo is not an original, but comes courtesy of a school project, which Jenny also included in her pack. 

Returning to places for which there are no currently known photographs, the author was passing the former Bunch of Cherries PH (now the Speckled Hen) recently, when it was realised that there was still no available photograph of the original timber temporary building for the pub, a building which became somewhat less temporary! 

Also in Hatfield Road, and recently completed, is a shop and apartment block between Herlesden Road and the recreation ground, which lay undeveloped until c1960 when the Plymouth Brethren purchased the site and built its meeting room.  Locals will recall the wrought iron gates and the trees which grew to hide the building behind.  Some may recall the advertising hoarding which had previously occupied the ground in the 1950s.  Once again, there appears not to be a readily available photograph; nor a history of the group who met here over the decades.

So, it would be wonderful to discover that these two places have not been forgotten and there are photographs and memories for us all to share.

It's like opening a trinket box where each of the contents is a reminder of an event past or the celebration of a person or place.