St Albans' Own East End                    news archive 7


Opened houses Sept 2011

During the past two days it was likely that anyone walking in London would have been unaware of others carrying or consulting booklets with lime green covers, or failed to spot banners with lime green backgrounds.  The weekend was the annual festival celebrating our "pop your head round the door" inquisitiveness.  Hundreds of buildings not normally open to the public suddenly threw off their collective privacy and invited the world in, for free.

Among those buildings on Saturday was the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine along the Gower Street/ Keppel Street frontages.  The school has its origin in 1899 with its foundation by Sir Patrick Manson, and today's 1920s building (opened 1929) now runs courses for thousands of students in dozens of countries.  Visitors were able to see new facilities wedged in the existing courtyards; witness to rapid expansion of the school, now part of the University of London.

Readers are undoubtedly pondering over this blog's connection with St Albans.  Also in 1929 the new School also established a field station at Oaklands.  A result of the sale of the former Winches Farm, the school was successful in purchasing part of the site, including a range of the former farm outbuildings.  It was one of a number of such field stations the school developed, and much reasearch took place there over the years.

The field station may no longer be part of the local scene, but, in its time, the department contributed much to the undertanding of this field of science.

Picture: detailing above the main entrance to the School's Keppel Street headquarters.

Probably, the world's larget collection of mosquitoes were kept under Gower Street.  Maybe an equally large collection of other tropical insects were bred at its Oaklands base.

It often comes as a surprise to us that electricity was installed in many houses so recently. It was, after all possible to light homes and factories, and run machines on the new energy from the late 19th century, and  St Albans had its own generating plant from 1908.  So it might be expected that homes then being built would be "electric-ready", with cables running alongside the gas and water pipes in Fleetvill's roads.  Not so.  There was no electricity at all, for example, in London Colney until the 1930s, and although there were one or two early electric street lamps eastwards of St Albans railway station, they were often connected by overhead wires from a suitable connector box.  It was, after all, the landlords who would have to pay for the installations, and this just would not happen if the owner did not feel confident in obtaining a return through the rents he was able to charge.  What was needed was a bit of investment to encourage the market.

Enter Northmet, the North Metropolitant Electric Supply Company.  It teamed up with Mr William Young, who, in 1927, was building homes on the Breakspear estate.  Northmet temporarily took over a house in Flora Grove, thought to be either 14 or 16; had the electricians install more extensive runs of cable and additional sockets; furnished it, courtesy of Fisks, a local store; and fitted lamps and accessories of all kinds.  "A bed-head light of the adjustable type, and a modern type of dressing table lit by prettily-shaded lamps attached to the mirror supports ... are attractive and sensible items of the best bedroom fittings."  So was described the demonstration, called Electric House, in the Herts Advertiser.

The estimated running costs for such a house were estimated at between £20 and £25 per year, which Northmet considered "a low figure indeed for such first-rate comfort and convenience."

Demonstrations such as this greatly assisted the acceptance and benefits of electricity during the 1930s, although it is a fact that large numbers of homes were still without electricity in the 1950s.

So, well done Flora Grove for showing us the future.

Electricity: the new energy Oct 2011

The magic of electricity was generated from a site in Campfield Road.  Above the door still remain the words "Electricity House".

A new planning application has been submitted by the owner of the former cottage and County Laundry building in Hatfield Road.  Once expected to have covered the whole site, as far back as the alley, the current scheme appears to be more restricted, including only the existing drive, the house, and single-storey workshops.

The new access is moved to the east side, adjacent to Burgess, undertakers in order to get it away from the existing roundabout; and large vehicles requiring access will have to reverse in if they are too long, although there will be a reversing area at the back.  As before, the only on-site parking will be for three spaces – designated for the disabled, but I bet that doesn't last long, especially overnight.

The building is to be three floors in height.  Three separate shop units will be on the ground floor, with four, two-bedroomed, flats sitting on the next two floors.  A previous application condition precluded food retailing, and so it will be interesting to discover what shops open there, if the application is passed.  At present the establishment which used to be a grocer (Turner's) still trades as such, while next door at the car accessory shop, a hardware shop existed, called Blackstaffe's.  Domestic supplies and ironmongery is a particularly fickle trade which is now usually found only in out-of-town sheds.  It is to the credit of Gomm-Dearman in Camp Road that the trade still thrives here.  Maybe a similar shop serving this end of Hatfield Road might appear.

The first occupant of the house was Mrs Turner in 1907, with coach builder Arthur White and farrier William Moore occupying the workshop behind.  It was Mrs Walker, arriving in 1910, who began a laundry business in the house, which was extended into the vacant plot to the right.

It is only once the current buildings are demolished that the restricted nature of the site will be appreciated.  Surprisingly, it is triangular in shape.  And even more surprisingly, a tiny "green spce" is to be left at the apex of this shape.

Emporium app Oct 2011

Could this be the end for a once-busy laundry business that later sold plumbing supplies and tiles?

On October 22nd over forty members of local history groups and individuals, met at Verulamium Museum for a one-day conference.  We  shared the research work we are all engaged in and made formative plans to establish an electronic network which would enable everyone to maintain contact.

Mark Freeman, author of the book St Albans: a History, presented the keynote speech entitled Splendid Display; Pompous Spectacle: Historical Pageants in Twentieth Century St Albans.  There appeared to be much more to pageants than simply 'putting on a show'!

Short talks were presented on resources by Gill Harvey of Arc and Arc, and by Felicity Marpole, until recently a member of the HALS team.  Chris Green enthralled us with his historical investigation into 1 Market Place, adjacent to the Clock Tower.

Other presentations followed about Out of Sound Out of Mind, Sopwell, Wheathampstead Heritage Trail, pubs, Fleetville Diaries, St Albans South Signal Box and Photographing Buildings.

The fact that we were all there enabled us to establish our own contacts with each other, and so the proposed netwok swiftly established itself organically.

Mike Neighbour used the opportunity in his presentation to announce the launch of the Subscribers' Edition of St Albans' Own East End application list.

Two editions of each volume (volume 1 in 2012 and volume 2 in 2013) are being prepared.  One is the ordinary retail edition in hardback PPC cover format, which will be published on March 23rd next.  However, an enhanced hardback edition with cloth cover, gold block titling, ribbon marker and dust jacket will be available to subscribers.  Subscribers will be invited to the launch event on the eve of publication next March.

Applications are now invited to purchase a copy of the Subscribers' Edition.  Subscribers will be listed in the book and their copies will be individually numbered and signed.  The book price is confirmed at £29.50

Local history groups meet Oct 2011

The Network has already begun to make its connections as St Albans' Own East End moves one step nearer to your living room.

Two years ago Fleetville Diaries created a small photograph exhibition at the Fleetville Festival.  As author of St Albans' Own East End I also exhibited a number of display panels about the wider eastern districts.

Last year we focussed on a specific theme, Working in Fleetville, and the exhibition had a second outing at Larks in the Parks on the Rec. Both exhibitions generated much interest and provided many talking points, both then and in subsequent weeks and months.

In 2012 the exhibition theme is to be The Best Days of Our Lives.  This is not simply a pre-war retrospective, but is also intended to embrace more recent schooldays.  For nearly sixty years children living in the eastern districts were accommodated in just two schools up to their eleventh year.  Indeed, before 1938 most children attended Camp or Fleetville Elementary Schools until the day they left to begin work.

Fortunately, today we have a larger number of less crowded schools, which are closer to children's homes, but the first of these did not open until 1959.

Fleetville Diaries is reaching out to those residents who would care to recall their schooldays, and the educational, family and social experiences associated with them.  You may have photographs of special events, classes or even, your own head-and-shoulders pictures.

Most of us hang on to a small number of objects, such as craft items we made, certificates we earned, and the reports we received.

You may also have reasonably clear memories of school lessons, friends, teachers, visits and individual incidents.  If so, the FD oral historian, Liz Bloom, would be delighted to listen to you.

Even if the school(s) you attended were distant from St Albans, the fact that you now live here, makes your experiences just as relevant.

From the material we already have, as well as new memories and artefacts we hope you will be able to loan us, the 2012 exhibition, The Best Days of Our Lives, will be our best exhibition yet.  Our deadline will be the end of February, in preparation for the Fleetville Festival in March.

The best days of our lives Nov 2011

"The girls played in one playground, sharing it in part with the infants.  Meanwhile the boys played in a railinged-off section.  Didn't we just love those outside toilets, which the school retained until the 1960s!  The dancing and open-air musical displays were always held on the boys' playground."

One question which has been on the Info Needed page for some time concerned Ernie Cooper, a well-known dahlia grower, once living in Hatfield Road.  Ron Lynch contacted the website through the Add Memories page some time back, because he recalls working for Ernie at the smallholding at the back of the house when he was a teenager.  Now, a grandson of Ernie, Martin Cooper, has also contacted the website to provide some interesting additional details.  But while he knows about his grandfather's international reputation as a dahlia grower, he too is trying to discover more about his grandfather's life in St Albans for his family history research.   Martin and the author believe that the houses on the left of the photo (top) are on the south side of Hatfield Road, while those on the right are in Longacres.  A range of temporary sheds and nissen huts can be seen behind Ernie's shoulders.

The project to re-photograph all of the pages of the Herts Advertiser between 1914 and 1960 which have photographs on them, is also having additional benefits, as some pages also contain interesting advertisements.  One such advert for new homes on Longacres estate in 1937, reveals that you could have purchased a semi-detached property there for £685 (no extras!)

By Christmas, all isues of the newspaper between 1914 and 1938 will have been photographed.  But before the photos become available to view once more, a second stage needs to be undertaken: cropping individual pictures from the pages and indexing the information.  That second stage will take a lot longer, and will require a small team, each working one year at a time, probably over a period of several weeks.  Roughly forty hours per annual volume of 52 issues.   A team of 50 could have the job done in a couple of months, taking one year each.  On the other hand a dedicated group of four would have around 15 annual volumes-worth each – but it is unlikely that the project would see completion before Crossrail opens in 2018!  If you would like to take part, do let the author know.

Look through any good dahlia catalogue; if you discover Jescot varieties, then they originated on what is now the playing field to the west of Longacres.

Who else knew Ernie Nov 2011

For me, Christmas begins on the Sunday before Christmas Eve, and normally I wouldn't even want to talk, or write, about it before then.  But I have to admit that if I waited until that date the wonderfully berried holly will all have been taken; if not by us or market stall traders, the berries would have been eaten by the birds anticipating cold weather.  All around us, for the present at least is a wonderful display of both mistletoe and holly.  Growing up on the Beaumonts estate we had holly all around us, and most of ours was brought home from Farm Road, which at that time we just called 'the muddy lane.'

Several users of this website have contacted me in recent weeks on a variety of matters that its contents have prompted them about.  Robin from Sandfield Road reports that he lives in the house which Ernest Townson had built for him.  Townson was the General Manager of Smith's Printing Agency before WW1.  Denis has followed with interest the history of the Slade building estate to the north of Hatfield Road and has amassed a huge file of data about the owners, tenants and the bequeathed related to St Peter's Farm. 

Chris in Sandridge wanted to let me know that his great-grandparents arrived in Fleetville to open a sweet shop in Bycullah Terrace.  Brian from Australia telephoned to provide recollections about the underground shelters in wartime Fleetville, and also revealed that there was a line of three or four street shelters constructed on the roadway in Royal Road.  So far no-one else had remembered those, and I am hoping others will be able to confirm his recollection.

The Genealogy in Hertfordshire website ( )

has an entry for St Albans Own East End on its blog pages.  GinH is a fantastically comprehensive resource for historians and family historians alike, and is run by Chris Reynolds.  He welcomes donations for MIND in exchange for free use of his site.

Finally, I invite everyone to join Fleetville Diaries on a traditional Carol Singing evening around the streets of Fleetville on December 23rd.  For full details please refer to the Fleetville Diaries website.

Holly and mistletoe Dec 2011

A walk in Nightingale Lane has reminded me that at one time I used, not only to cycle along it, but I would drive my car along the single-track road.  Barriers now prevent this.

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?

Hall Heath Dec 2011

Built in 1879 for employees on the Marshalls Wick estate these three cottages, like the estate lodges and the Freelands Cottages, wear their former owner's 'badge' with pride.

It was shortly before the London Olympic Games bid in 2005 that I developed the idea of the book, St Albans Own East End.  In 2005 seven years seemed an eternity before we would have the opportunity of watching events at the greatest of all sporting festivals; yet here we are in 2012 and with just seven more months to wait..

Seven years appeared an equally long period of time to write and publish a book – which has now become two books.  But those seven years have flown by and we are within three months of seeing SAOEE published.  What an exciting prospect. 

There are still too many tasks to complete, of course, and, as with many projects of this size, the work will undoubtedly 'go right up to the wire.'

One decision now made to assist those of you who feel they have left it too late to order a subscribers' edition copy, is to extend the closing date to the end of January.  Although it tightens the final pre-press window, the extended time will permit more potential readers to have a copy of the book with their name printed inside, especially if they have just discovered the SAOEE website and details of the soon-to-be-published book.  For more information about how to order, go to Latest News.

So, you might ask, what is the relevance of the pylon photograph?  Well, none actually.  Except that they have been in the news recently, as designs for a new network of electricity pylons is beong worked on, and a number of people are already complaining about visual intrusion.  I have been photographing scenes in the eastern districts of St Albans for a number of years, and I thought that this was the first I had taken of a pylon.  How wrong I was; pylons do appear in several of my collection.  But I haven't really noticed them.  There they are, a part of our landscape and we only notice them when someone draws particular attention to them.

Without them, electricity would still need to be produced locally.  We certainly could not still use Campfield Road, so where might a generation station have been built to replace it?

Three months to go Jan 2012

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What's the time? Oct 2011

It seems an age ago now, but there was a time when a public clock existed above Fleeville Cafe.  Most of us who remember it will also recall that it rarely displayed the correct time.  But there were a few other, smaller electric clocks in the windows of shops in Fleetville; mainly sponsored by companies such as tobacco giants.  Craven 'A' I seemed to recall in colours black and red.  These were times when most people did not carry time with them, on their wrists, or, as now, on their mobile phones.

Mr Wright at The Quadrant was the only seller of time, from the early 1960s, and his window was full of clock and watch faces.  Admittedly, many of them showed the ubiquitous 'ten to two'.

Now, Morrisons, having completed the upgrade of its store in Fleetville, has once more given the district, not one, but two public clocks.  In design they echo those signs often found in the front of continental chemist shops, but rarely found yet in the UK.  The green 'chemist' symbol is intermixed with the correct time and the current temperature.  Is this a first for St Albans?

In consulting my burgeoning notebook I am reminded that I recently discovered a trader 'reborn'.  Until the 1990s the wholesale confectioner, J B Rollings Ltd had its warehouse, initially in Hatfield Road and then Camp Road.  After a short interregnum, Paul Rollings began traded the family name once more and now markets wines.  The base is in Harpenden.

A rectangular clock once graced the front wall of J B Rollings, near Blandford Road as well.

HOW much water? Jan 2012

Both Boggy Mead Spring and Ellen Brook flow from north to south into the river Colne.

Nowadays we have just two streams which flow through the East End of St Albans, both of them from north to south and both just about make it into the Colne, which itself is a tributary of the Thames – the Ver is also one of the Colne's tributaries.

The first is best described in its name: Boggy Mead Spring.  Doesn't it just give the impression of a shallow backwater of standing water which may occasionally come to life?  It used to rise on the Oaklands estate, although, no doubt in earlier times, the ground would be wet north of Sandpit Lane.  Well, for several months of the year no water is visible as it crosses under Hatfield Road near Lyon Way.

The second contains little morewater than the first: Ellen Brook, which hugs the roadside through the Selwyn housing estate just before reaching the Comet roundabout.

If you were to explore the size of the Colne itself at Colney Heath you would discover a stream of disappointing size, especially in the summer months, and not much better in the depths of winter.

So, that begs the question, why was so much money spent on what appears to have been an over-size Telford structure at London Colney; a seven arched bridge, any one of which would have safely carried three or four times as much water flowing through Colney Heath further upstream?  Two hundred years ago there must have been a good flow through the village, and even in the 1950s, when I would frequent the green near the old ford, the river was much wider than it is today, and flooding was a reasonably frequent event. 

How could we manage to get more water flowing through these tributaries once more?  Any ideas?

This now completes the blogs which were part of this website until January 2012.

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