St Albans' Own East End                    news archive 6


Oops there goes another ... June 2011

Recording the events and people of the past is frought with problems.  For example, there are now no buildings next to the road on the north side of Hatfield Road at Smallford, behind which is the garden centre.  The Herts Advertiser in 1935 had announced that the road was to be widened, and for that to happen the old tollhouse and other buildings on that side would have to be cleared.  The report did not say "and all other buildings" but the implication was clear. 

The directories, however, continued to suggest that the beerhouse called the Four Horseshoes remained open until at least the 1960s.  Then, when an SAOEE website user emailed to say that the location of Fred's Cafe, about which I had also queried, was also on the north side and had also  remained open until the 1960s, some serious re-thinking had to be done.  Although I would have been aware of these buildings as a regular passenger to Hatfield and WGC, clearly my memory was faulty!

So, our ever-alert website readers have assisted once again at keeping the course of history more accurate than it might have been.  Many thanks, Colin.

Meanwhile, at the Crown end of Hatfield Road, the grandson of former owners of a confectioner's shop there has been in touch with photographs of the shop in the 1980s.  If you remember Goodey's (later Bugler's the baker's, you will also remember Hopkins, or Adams, or Stratford, who successively took over from the family Thompson between WW1 and WW2.  The two shops were adjacent businesses.

Recording history is a collective and community activity; we all possess interpretations of parts of the story, and the more of us who contribute the more complete is the story.

Occasionally we record something incorrectly.  It comes about through relying on a single source.

The St Albans Festival programme informs us that, "This year's sea, sun and sand theme includes giant seahorses, Edwardian gentlemen in their stripy bathing suits and the chance to take home a stick of Larks rock and enjoy traditional English seaside pursuits."

We are a long way from the sea, the sun might be in short supply.  As to the sand, there used to be a sand pit at the Burnham Road end of the recreation ground, but that hasn't been seen for decades.  But we will look forward to discovering people in Edwardian costume, discovering seahorses and tasting a length of Larks rock.

While you are enjoying those delights you could also pop over to the Fleetville Diaries marquee (well, a large tent really).  The organisation is displaying the Fleetville at Work exhibition first shown at the Fleetville Festival in March.

Sharing the space will be a stand for St Albans' Own East End.  The author (yours truly) will be present, and now that publication of the first volume of the book is just nine months away, answers to many of the questions still puzzling the author are still sought.  We are also searching for further interesting photographs, and we are close to our target of locating 100 interesting objects which, in their own way, represent the history and spirit of the eastern districts of St Albans – we have now identified seventy two objects.  Maybe you have an object from your family which, photographically-speaking, could be added to the collection.

We look forward to welcoming you to Larks in the Parks at Fleetville Rec on Sunday 26th from 12 noon to 5pm.

A lark in our parks June 2011

It might be wet or  – well it probably will be wet – so bring the brolly and enjoy yourself with us.

We need not have worried.  The wet weather of Wimbledon's first week blended seamlessly into a pleasant Saturday and a wonderfully hot Sunday.  It could not have been better.

Larks in the Parks once more attracted a huge number of visitors.  The circle of stands gave us all an opportunity to meet representatives of other organisations, people we had not met for a while, listen to impressive music and enjoy some food and drink.

We were delighted with the interest taken by visitors we welcomed at the combined Fleetville Diaries/St Albans' Own East End stand, where a photo ID competition was popular and the Diaries' 2011 exhibition, Working in Fleetville, encouraged much conversation.  The author was able to add a few more objects to the One Hundred Objects collection (only 25 to go now!).  One photograph on display – a class from Camp School, taken in 1917 – surprised both the author and one other visitor.  It seems that both of our mums appear in the same picture.

In a rare quiet period there was time for reflection about the venue itself, presented to the people of the district by Mr and Mrs Charles Woollam in 1913, having previously been a temporary woodyard and builders' site.  It was nearly cleared for allotments in WW1, and lost most of its railings in WW2.  Tunnels for shelters (still there) were dug in 1938 and 1940, and a temporary wartime nursery erected in 1942 (still there as the Community Centre).  Public toilets arrived in 1938, which, as Beech Tree Cafe, thrives for mums and young children.  A strip was shaved from the Hatfield Road end to improve sightlines for traffic, and the swings in the corner have been replaced with a joyful mix of equipment for children to play on.  I think Mr and Mrs Woollam would have been mightily impressed.  We shall never know, but the benevolent spirit of the couple may well have been mingling with the crowds on Sunday.  So, on behalf of us all: a hearty thank you for your wonderful gift to the community.  And thank you, too, to the organisers of Larks.

What a 'luvverly' time we had June 2011

There were many of us wondering whether our gazebos and tents would stand up to the anticipated wet weather.

The author took a photograph once it had been noticed the Heras fencing was in place.  Just three days later, on the day the demolition company had moved, in Fleetville Diaries' photographer Vic Foster, arrived to witness the final destruction of what had been a small but homely branch library.  His photograph is here.

Councillor Stephen Simmons had urged the city council to allow the people of Fleetville and Camp to use the fine new Carnegie library in Victoria Street.  But since the districts were then outside of the city the request was declined.  It was not until the 1930s that the plot was secured and a two-storey branch library planned.  The war intervened and it was not until 1959 that this new St Albans branch library was opened.

Although some had considered the location not to be as convenient as a site closer to the recreation ground, as the city continued to grow outwards it found itself better placed for those on the edge.  The branch had replaced a mobile library which had served the districts well, and we were all impressed with the improved facilities and range of books on offer.

Once the building became the responsibility of the Hertfordshire Library Service its future became vulnerable, given that there were two other branches not too far away (Quadrant and Cell Barnes Lane).  If the building had been constructed as originally intended, there would have been community space, and its later survival may have been assured.  With just one remaining branch, not very centrally placed, to cover the whole of the East End, can we say that we have enhanced cultural progress for our communities?  Have all who used the facility simply transferred to one of the other libraries, or has a proportion just given up?  This is not simply a local issue; it is an important national one too.  What are we willing to pay for, and if not a library today, will it be a community centre tomorrow and a playing field the day after?

All is not lost, however.  The library may now have disappeared, but shortly will rise a group of small apartments designed especially for those with limited physical mobility.  So, among us, there will be those who will look forward to better living.

Gone! July 2011

The East End is still growing, but two of its three branch libraries have now closed.  Is that cultural progress?

Who is carrying out a study or other research into an aspect of life in St Albans District?  The chances are that you will struggle to name any individual or group.

That is not to say there is a complete absence of interest in aspects of district, city local or community history.  Quite the reverse; much is going on below the radar.  Think of the small groups who are undertaking oral history projects, such as the one at St Luke's Church, and of course the young Fleetville Diaries (see Links page).  Then there are groups who have taken an interest in a specific building and are determined to discover as much about its earlier history; such as the embryonic Odyssey Cinema, which was formerly the Odeon, and much more before that.

But do we know who is doing what?  To take steps to improve communications between all of these disperate groups and individuals the Museum of St Albans (MoSTA) is sponsering a conference in October, to which it is inviting all groups, organisations and individuals who have been or are engaged in research about people, places and events in the St Albans local district.

Here everyone will be able to network, to inform others of what they themselves are doing, and discover the kinds of research being undertaken by a surprisingly large number of residents.  It is intended that this will be the start of a network to which we can all register; and we will all find it that much easier to support each other in the valuable work we are all doing.

Network Aug 2011

It's not just a modern business term, but a very social method of discovering something significant about what we are all up to; in this case community history.

Driving along Marshalswick Lane in the rush hour it is not unusual to join lengthy traffic queues at either end, the Quadrant roundabouts can be irritating, and much time can be wasted waiting to join the road from The Ridgeway (west). 

Anyone with knowledge of the road before c1950 will know that the Lane really was a lane: narrow, muddy, pot-holed, and with a hedgerow on the north side.  It might be believed that it was an ancient lane which had not been brought up to date.  In fact it was a "manufactured" route, created by the Martin family in the 1850s, in order to divert "the public" away from the driveway (now re-created as Marshals Drive) which ran past Marshalswick House – hence the regularity of its curve.

But just look at three narrow lanes today.  Above right is Jersey Lane; even narrower than the old Marshalswick Lane, but only meant for farm traffic, although, in living memory, farm vehicles were able to connect with House Lane instead.  But this latter road is, in places, as narrow as you would want to get with modern traffic passing in both directions.

As for Wilkins Green Lane, it is only in recent years that it has been truncated, the middle section unavailable to motor traffic.  The speed de-limit sign appears superfluous!  Not the kind of road to drive along, unless you knew when the next passing place was.  Before the car, Wilkins Green Lane carried the odd farm cart, but mainly pedestrian traffic, which it does once more.  Apart from a slight drone from Hatfield Road nearby, is is a peaceful lane to walk.  Definitely not like Marshalswick Lane!

The story of four lanes, all different in character.  Only two are lit at night; only two can be driven along; and one does not look like a lane at all.

Passing traffic Aug 2011

There was a time when an enterprising firm offered to clean carpets for householders in the Bedford Park district.  They took your carpet to a plot of spare ground in Alma Road and set to work.  Nearby householders were none too happy with the dust lingering in the air, of course, but it gave people work and carpets got cleaned.

At home we beat our own carpets; rolling it off the floor, carrying the roll to the back garden and struggling with it over the washing line.  Any old implement was used, including the garden spade to thrash a year's-worth of dirt out of the fabric.  I expect the neighbours complained, even though they probably did the same thing.

Before the carpet was returned, I would kneel on the bare room floor and read the pages of newspapers which had been laid years earlier under the carpet.  I still enjoy reading old newspapers, but that is not the point.  The papers may have been the Herts Advertiser, but they were equally likely to have been the News Chronicle or the London Evening News.  In so many cases the little panel advertisements on either side of the masthead (title) on the front page were for Ballito (or ballito, for the firm always used a lower-case letter b).  The company spent a lot on advertising, but even though I never purchased their stockings, silk or nylon, a boy couldn't help being drawn by the design of the marketing posters and adverts.

An original copy of a brochure surfaced recently. Printed for Ballito in 1945, it brought a memory back.  Called Ballito from Peace to War and War to Peace, it tells, on very rough war-time paper, the story of the company and its change-over from stockings to munition shells and back again.

This is where the typeface, shown above, fits in with this blog.  Was it one chosen from a commonly used face of the time – the 1930s – or was it specially designed for Ballito?  If you have a knowledge of typefaces, you may know the answer.  If so, perhaps you would be kind enough to get in touch.

Under the carpet Aug 2011

Ballito was the Fleetville company which specialised in the manufacture of silk, then nylon, fashion stockings.  Its factory was on the site Morrison's supermarket trades from today.

Five years after the end of WW2, the country finally got an opportunity to let its collective hair down, and bring some colour to an otherwise grey world.  1951 brought us the Festival of Britain, one hundred years after the Great Exhibition of 1851.

And this summer, sixty years on at the South Bank, where it had all happened, a flavour of '51, returned.  The entertainment was there; so were the fountains and the concerts, the seaside and the land.  The South Bank is not short of sculpture now, as then.  Of course, the permanence of the Royal Festival Hall, built for the exhibition to replace the old bombed-out Queen's Hall, cast its warm shadow over the site.  Instead of the Dome of Discovery, where we can now relax in Jubilee Gardens, we now have the Eye.  Two features are, nevertheless, missing: the wonderfully quirky funfair upstream at Battersea; and, of course, the evocative Skylon which stood guard over the exhibition.

The Festival of Britain was not just a London event.  We celebrated in small ways in St Albans, although, I have to admit, the only event I have a memory of, was the arrival, briefly, of the journeying Guinniess Clock on wheels.

But it was all a memorable experience, and judging by the comments and nodding heads of people in the crowds who have been visiting the little cinema (a replacement for the TeleKinema of '51?) in the Festival Hall, many others were here now because they were also here then.

Were you one of the eight million people who were part of the South Bank Exhibition of 1951?

'51 returns to the South Bank Sept 2011

Hands up if you are old enough to remember going to the Festival of Britain at the South Bank in the summer of 1951?

There are photos of buildings, and photos of posed groups.  Then among the assortment of miscellaneous pictures are moments of very ordinary time captured for quizzical sorters to pore over sometime in the future.  On the face of it, there is not much here for an archivist to work with.  Fortunately, in this case, there is a note penned on the reverse.

The hut seen here began life as a tennis club HQ for the Trinity Church Tennis Club, on land purchased by Samuel Ryder.  The grass in the 1950s is now not manicured short for match play, having been taken over by the 8th St Albans Scout troop.  On this day the troop is fund-raising for a permanent HQ by holding a fete, that most traditional of British social events.  The houses in the background are those of Edward Close.

Historically, the field which became the tennis club had been part of Gaol Field, part of the package of land purchsed for the construction of the prison in Grimston Road.  It was here that the circuses would pitch up; a useful site, close to the railway station, by which means the animals, including those for a menagerie, would be walked.  The walk was advertised as part of the arrival event.  By the 1930s the available land remaining after much house-building, shifted the circuses to Cottonmill and then to Cell Barnes Lane.  The land was offered for sale for warehousing or small workshops, but Samuel Ryder got in early and offered a price for the entire site, together with its access road.

So, on a Saturday afternoon in the late 1950s a group of St Albans' people were enjoying themselves at a more dometic form of entertainment – but the event did, apparently include a dog show!

Today, the site has become Ulverston Close.

If there was nothing much else on, at least you could rely on a circus. 

They came regularly to St Albans, but two old sites are now covered by houses.

Goodbye circus Sept 2011

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Going to the park July 2011

It was there before Fleetville, but the folk living in Stanhope Road and the Cavendish estate could watch from Hatfield Road as it was laid out.  I'm writing of Clarence Park; gift to the city by Sir John Blundell Maple in 1894.  He used a former cattle pasture belonging to St Peter's Farm and which in the 1880s was used for fetes and fairs – and no doubt, impromptu football matches too.

More than a century later the layout has changed little.  The recreational section is still separate from the cricket.  There was no separate football area to begin with, but when it came, it and tennis shared the same playing surface by season.  The cricket pavilion still dominates and the park keeper's lodge still welcomes us.  We are now one gate short of a complete set since the Granville Road entrance closed.  We can no longer buy an ice lolly or a cup of tea from the little cafe to the left of the pavillion – don't look for it, for it was demolished in the 1960s.

With the popularity of tennis in the 1920s and 30s the cricket ground was truncated to accommodate it, but it certainly did not have all-weather and all-sport surfaces, or floodlighting.  The park was designed in the days when competitive cycling was hugely popular and a cinder track was placed around the perimeter of the outfield; this was shared by athletes developing their fitness on its quarter-mile track.

Gone too are the swings and cone (or witch's hat) where people now picnic near to Verdi's restaurant, and the second cricket stand.  Before WW2 the cricket scores were announced at a simple board at the pavilion.  Then arrived a grand timber score box, built in the garden of a house at Marshalswick.  The present box, when closed, looks altogether too utilitarian, with its roller shutter and uninspiring brick construction.  The original bandstand, with its neat thatched roof was eventually removed and became a circular flower bed; but now we have a bandstand once more.  Hooray!

But it is the trees of the park which give the place its true character.  Hundreds of them provide oxygen for our busy lives, and inspiration for our shattered nerves and frayed tempers.  Who could possibly have an argument, or quarrel, in such a calming environment.

Spot the difference.  Some of us can take lengthy memories with us on a walk to the park ...

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