Sunday, 16 April 2017

East(er) End Round-up

There are times when we need an opportunity to catch up with events ...  So here we go.

We kick off with a group which has been around informally since 2012.  At Smallford the group took an interest in the vulnerable timber building which was the former ticket office at Smallford Station, located beside Alban Way and recently freshly protected.  The group, then under the auspices of Smallford Residents' Association, applied for, and received, Heritage Lottery funding under All Our Stories; the exhibition and brochure which followed celebrated the community around Smallford and the history of the branch railway line which passed through it between Hatfield and St Albans.  More recently, celebrations were arranged for the railway's 150th anniversary, and now the group is working closely with Countryside Management Service and St Albans City & District Council in the upgrade of Alban Way, including signage and interpretation panels.  In recognition of this the group has created a new organisational structure under the label Smallford Station and Alban Way Heritage Society (SSAWHS), throwing open its membership to anyone with an interest in Alban Way.  Further details will appear shortly at

Every time I visit Heartwood Forest it seems that I notice the recent plantings much as we tend to view grandchildren or the children of friends we haven't met for some while: "oh, my, how you've grown!"  And if you have heard about bluebell woods but never been stunned by the beauty of the scene others are always talking about, then make your way to Langley Wood.  Passing through Sandridge, the Woodland Trust entry and car park is on the left and the forest routes are well-signposted.  You will not be disappointed.

Recently, the front page and Info Needed pages of the website have carried an inquiry raised by a resident associated with Ashley Road Church: "Can anyone offer any information or account of the Ashley Church at the corner of Ashley Road and Hatfield Road?  Formed in 1939, a permanent building opened in 1954.  Between times the church had met in a former laundry outhouse at the end of the garden of 312 Hatfield Road.  The new church was constructed on part of a triangle of land at the road junction.  Missionary Gladys Aylward is reputed to have made a visit at some time in the 1950s.  Does anyone know if this is so, or have any details of this event, or about the church between 1939 and the present?"  The questioner beavered away and herself discovered documents which confirmed Gladys' visit in October 1955.  The documents in question were the ordinary meeting records and visitors' books kept by almost every voluntary organisation, which, when we add to the notebook page each week, we give little thought to why we are recording it.  But here we are, sixty-two years later, the books have survived and useful information has been gleaned.  Gladys' own handwriting, for a start, and an entry in two languages!  Her talk to the group was on October 26th.  Her topic was verse 17 of  the Second Book of Corinthians, chapter 2.  Fifty-one people attended, the largest audience of the period.  If we wonder why we continue to find space for such documents, it is for occasions like this!

In 1899 a plot of land was sold to the Welwyn brick making company of J Owen.  It was the site currently occupied by Ashley Road (Brick Knoll Park) business park.  The launch of the brickworks here enabled much of Fleetville to be built.  The works turned out bricks until 1948 before being taken over, first for waste disposal to fill the many pits, and then for Holloway's plant hire and Hill End concrete suppliers.  New firms, including car showrooms and Polaroid appeared from the late 1970s.  Finally, the time came to remove the remaining brickworks buildings.  The one removal which everyone will remember was the arrival of the 301st Airborne Squadron Royal Engineers one Sunday in May 1979 to detonate the demolish the 100-foot main chimney stack, in front of a considerable crowd.  The same Squadron had attended the same site in May 1954 to remove another stack of the same height.  And just across the road a chimney belonging to the Co-operative Dairy had also been removed in similar fashion.  Quite a pyrotechnic hotspot!

Monday, 10 April 2017

Engineering in the round

For a major Fleetville engineering works it has always seemed surprising that so little of its history is in the pubic domain.  Occasionally someone will reveal s/he was a former employee of the Sphere Works, a business which most of us associated with Campfield Road.

It is not just its early history which is vaguely known; a record of the nature of its activities from the 1930s onwards, and the role it played during the Second World War, which has been largely forgotten.  We are indebted to two sources, Grace's Guide to UK engineering companies, and Simon Cornwell, who has a well-documented history of street lighting, one of ELECO's specialities.

I have, of course, covered this theme previously on the St Albans' Own East End blog, when two specific topics brought it to wider attention.  The first was an alleged incident when one of the firm's demonstration street lighting clusters fell onto a parked car below; and a question included in the Info Needed on the St Albans' Own East End website, about locating a manufacturer of garage doors.  Although there was a possibility of it being the Sphere Works, there was no follow-up – until now.

Dennis, a former employee, has also been disappointed with the lack of information, and decided to record what he could remember of his former work place.  Among the products he recalled were "lamp standards with many different heads.  ELECO bought (I think) Bell & Webster which made reinforced concrete lamp posts; public footpath and bridleway signs cast in aluminium; aluminium road signs for councils; bulkhead lamps and Aldis lamps for the Admiralty; Falcon aluminium wheels for cars; bakelite cases; and garage doors."

He also recalled an impressive list of work colleagues and other members of the company: "Mr Bird, Mr Proctor and Mr Gilby (Directors); Harry Fothergill (Works Manager); Geoffrey Pruden (Technical Manager); Bill Batt (who had interviewed Dennis); Lionel Clowes (lamp head assembly foreman); Mary Zelda (lamp assembly); Barny Spicer (lighting stores); Mrs Deadman (nurse); Alfie (metal stores); Bert Bray (radial driller); Snowy (welder); Dennis (vacuum forming); Charlie Butt, Alf Guilfoyle and Les Twiddy (inspection); Tony Edwards and Ray (designers); Chris (the final apprentice); Butch (lorry driver); Bill Holland, Bill Scivier, Fred, Cliff Bond, Phil Scott, Winkel and Les Barnes (toolmakers); Tiny Hibbert, Bud Fisher and Mick Howell (capstan turners); Peter Freeman (bakelite shop); Harry (paint shop)."

Such an impressive list of names may well encourage others to engage in a conversation about Engineering & Lighting Equipment Company Limited (ELECO).

The company had begun as the Gilbert Arc Lamp Company in Chingford.  That firm had made the ornate lamps which line the Victoria Embankment; the company may have changed its name as early as 1905.  Street lighting was undoubtedly the company's most widely marketed range of products; its products being featured in many specialist journals.

Although a limited amount of historical information is circulating about ELECO there is one aspect of its operation about which there appears to be nothing.  I have seen no photograph of the works, nor of any of the processes or activities which contributed towards the wide range of products which made ELECO well-known.

Perhaps Dennis' recollections will spark the memories of other former employees.  Meanwhile, there is one published recollection which could be included on this site at a later date.

But at least, the identification of a local firm which once made garage doors, seems to have been answered: ELECO made them at the Sphere Works.  Which possibly leaves one major question: what was the origin of the company's address?  Did it have anything to do with the globes, probably made elsewhere, which enclosed the ornate lamps?

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Converting industrial measures

There was a time when you could, more or less, put up a factory or a workshop anywhere you wanted, wherever you had acquired a suitable piece of land.  There was no green belt, no considerations of whether an industrial building was, or was not, appropriate in a conservation area – no conservation areas anyway.  It is only since the advent of the Town & Country Planning Legislation that local authorities were given the powers to zone activities; and, gradually, most of the industrial sites in the East End, and of course in the city centre, were zoned for residential occupation (or retail in the case of the central streets).

Porters Wood industry
This gave rise to locations, mainly in the outer districts, specifically for industry to grow and flourish, although office accommodation was treated more flexibly and can be found widely around St Albans.

Porters Wood had originally been purchased by the City Council for the purpose of creating a new cemetery, but instead became an industrial estate, and has expanded considerably into Soothill Spring in recent decades.  However, access to it, especially for large vehicles, is not brilliant.
Brick Knoll Park, Ashley Road

Butterwick Wood had already become occupied by the odd industrial concern even before it was designated for industry, and early arrivals included J Pearce Recycling, to join the meat store, timber yard and Tractor Shafts.  Then, of course, came Ronnie Lyon and his serviced estates, followed by car showrooms and retail warehouses, and more recently churches and a recent attempt at leisure activity, all attracted by lower land costs, easier access and free parking.

Ashley Road had been a large brickworks before the Second World War.  Many years were spent filling in pits; meanwhile Post Office Telephones moved onto stable land where a former entrance and brick company buildings had been.  Early factories included heavyweights such as St Albans Concrete, piledriving operations and plant machinery hire.  Later these gave way to light engineering,  Polaroid photography, Royal Mail distribution and car servicing.

Lyon Way
At the Camp Road end of Campfield Road – Camp Fields on a 19th century map – the original 1900s concerns of the Salvation Army, Sphere Engineering and the Electricity Works survive as a smaller commercial area, later joined by the Herts Advertiser, now offices.

We were alerted recently to the concerns raised by the District Council.  There have been an increasing number of planning applications

for change of use from office to residential – and, if observational evidence is anything to go by, from industrial to retail and community.  The council is considering whether to apply for powers to allow it to refuse such permissions.

Small businesses at The Courtyard near Acrewood Way
To maintain thriving communities there should be an adequate supply of land for commercial and industrial activities, just as there should be for housing.  We have a buoyant commercial sector in St Albans, but shortage of space pushes up the price.  This will eventually see developers searching industrial estates for office opportunities, which will, in turn reduce industrial capacity.

The years have gone when most people walked to their place of work and often rented their home accordingly, but there continues to be sense in not requiring most of the population to criss-cross each other in their cars as our employment takes us to other towns.

My grandfather lived in Camp Road and walked down the hill to the Salvation Army works; my father lived on the Beaumonts estate and walked to work in Hatfield Road; I had two jobs which were local in the same way, enabling me to cycle to one and walk to the other.  We should applaud the Council for its attempts to keep our local economy balanced.  Article 4, whatever that specifically is, will free the authority from having one arm tied behind its collective back.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Patching Up the Past

Recently there has been good success in re-visiting one of St Albans' Own East End's unanswered questions: the mysterious golf course between Smallford and Hatfield.  Two recent blogs demonstrate what was discovered.

This week is the turn of a largely forgotten exchange scheme which came about at the end of the Second World War.  Raised as an idea by Mr Thomas Slade, the St Albans – Duisburg Relief Committee was launched; the reasons became clear from a Herts Advertiser article in 1948: "It is almost impossible to describe the conditions in the Ruhr.  There is nothing to compare it with ... there are still 2,000 people living in cellars beneath collapsed houses, and more than 1,800 others, including many children, still exist in public air-raid shelters ..."

Vera Robson on her return from the delegation's first visit to
Duisburg, with a presentation plate given by that city.
A delegation from the city visited Duisburg (population then 400,000) to assess how help might be given.  Regular shipments of clothes, blankets and food were sent.  In the other  direction small groups of children and young people arrived in St Albans for extended 3-month holidays and stayed with families, many of them in the eastern districts such as Fleetville, Beaumonts and Marshalswick.

In a further development during the 1960s and 70s an exchange scheme developed with St Albans young people visiting the homes of Duisburg families.

I was one of those young people in 1963 and 1966, and an official West German newspaper (as the country was then known) photographer took the group picture at the Duisburg Town Hall in 1966.  Among the assembled group at the Welcome ceremony were David Walker,  Peter Osborn, Michael and Barrie Gibbs, and Vera Robson.  During that year we had the interesting opportunity of watching the Football World Cup, played at Wembley, from one of many living rooms with our host families in Duisburg.  For those who need reminding, England won, and for us it was a lesson in magnanimity.

Welcome to St Albans guests in Duisburg Town Hall, 1966.

Eberhard, whose parents
welcomed me in 1966.
There will still be current or former residents of St Albans who remember these visits.  We may have found them great fun, or considered them a nervous process to encounter.  We may have learned much about our "adopted" friends and their families and an industrial city with its factory-lined river even larger than the Thames.  Almost certainly we will have learned much about ourselves.  Making some of the earliest holiday arrivals to St Albans welcome and helping them to relax in new surroundings must still be in the minds of several of us.

There is, regrettably, such a limited record of what was a generational project.  Our recollections would be a valuable resource.  Photos would enrich the experience.  If you were involved in any way, do please get in touch –

Sunday, 12 March 2017

No time for a round

Recently I brought to the top of the proverbial pile a so far unanswered question about an alleged golf course between Smallford and Hatfield.  Apart from being taken off the scent by the mis-naming of St Albans Road West as Hatfield Road, there did not appear to be anyone with further information.  Until, that is, a reader discovered a website devoted to former golf courses (Golf's Missing Links).

Great Nast Hyde.  Courtesy HALS
The brief text identified it as Nast Hyde Golf Club.  I guess the text originally came from a golfing yearbook of 1910. "...the opening of a new railway station about a mile from Hatfield, on 1st February.  The station had been built to serve a fine new residential site, and among other features will be an eighteen hole golf course.  In 1914 the Secretary was Colonel Schreiber and the professional E Gow.  An eighteen-hole undulating course on good turf, well drained on gravel soil. Subs for gents were £3.3.0 (£3.15) and for ladies £1.1.0 (£1.05).  Visitors' fees were 1/- (5p) at any time."

Very promising.  It seems from the above information that during the period  to 1914 the course was in development; hence the identification of nearby residents as workers on the golf course in the 1911 census.  The course, and the houses (of which very few now remain) were part of an attempted sale of land at Great Nast Hyde as early as 1889.  The manor house was also a working farm, separate from Little Nast Hyde Farm, and the estate included land on both sides of St Albans Road, including Beech Farm.

Golf course site circled.  Courtesy Google Maps
Eventually, over a decade, some thirty homes were erected, but it was clear that many more were anticipated.  By 1914, as soon as the golf course had opened, the dark clouds of war approached and large numbers of men volunteered or were later conscripted for military service, and were therefore lost to the local community and its trades.

 A further attempt to sell 441 acres of Nast Hyde Estate was made in 1925 by Foster & Cranfield London EC, including what had been the formative golf course, now clearly identified as 36 acres between Coopers Green Lane and St Albans Road West, immediately south of a block of woodland with shooting rights, known as Home Covert.  The 1925 estate sale brochure gave the option to re-open the former golf course, or to develop.  In the words of the brochure: "eminently suitable for the erection of medium-sized detached houses or bungalows, for which there is a great demand as very little building has been carried out in the district for some years past."  On the bulk of the land available north of St Albans Road, I think it is fair to say not a single additional house was built.  The intervention of aeronautical activity at this time is quite another story.

South of St Albans Road West it was a different story.  Although it took a further five years, two fields were developed as the Selwyn and Poplar estates, only part of the latter having been completed before the onset of the Second World War.  Oh, and the part of the 1927-built Barnet Bypass between the Roehyde Interchange and The Comet is on former Nast Hyde land purchased at the time.

Well, in spite of everything, the land which had just about become a golf course, is still undeveloped.  It is within the boundary of Ellenbrook Fields, the country park which has yet to be officially created – look forward to some gravel extraction first, maybe – so there may yet be the opportunity for a golf course, though perhaps not 18 holes.  It may even sport the title Nast Hyde Golf Course.  Speculation!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

View From the Boundary

On any walk through Clarence Park, from York Road towards the ornamental park, our eyes might be focused on an ongoing cricket match, in which case our interest is concentrated on the middle ground.  When the outfield and crease is quiet it is the pavilion which dominates.

A view of the pavilion when new – you won't find the clock in this
picture!  Courtesy St Albans Museums.
We have known this view since our first visit; whether it was five or fifty years ago the pavilion seems not to have changed.  Its sturdy red, decorated brickwork, especially visible from the rear elevation, gives the impression it would stand for ever.  The woodwork sometimes gives us our first impression that all is not well with the structure.

The pavilion is, of course, a District Council property leased jointly to St Albans Cricket Club and St Albans Hockey Club; at least that was the arrangement until recent years, when the Hockey Club migrated to facilities elsewhere.  Which left the cricket club to shoulder the financial burden on its own.

In a recent message via the Protect Clarence Park group, St Albans Cricket Club representative Paul Sands stated, "For many years the bar and social areas in our beautiful and historic pavilion at Clarence Park have been unloved and uncared for and we recognise that it is currently not a particularly attractive place to spend any amount of time. We understand that the bar really ought to be an important revenue driver for our club and should provide a comfortable and welcoming environment for teams and members to spend time together. We know , that with some thought, time and resources we can make the bar and the long room  somewhere we can be proud of. "

The club has a long-term vision of operating the pavilion as a social enterprise, to ensure the facilities within the pavilion are used effectively and appropriately, with the aim of running the building sustainably.

Meanwhile, rather more urgent work is required, which, when broken down into manageable chunks, is an ideal opportunity for volunteers.  Replacing the flooring, furniture, worn out fixtures and lighting, and providing a fresh coat or two of paint.

Paul Sands continued
, "We want to create a friendly and inviting space that members, their friends and their families will want to spend time in and that third parties might want to hire for events, thus bringing in much needed income for the club. The bar is also used by the families of our junior members particularly during Friday evening training sessions throughout the summer at Clarence Park. We would like it to be a nicer environment for them too."

The club is therefore sending the call out for volunteers experienced as builders, electricians, plumbers and other skilled tradesmen.  And then volunteers who are not necessarily skilled but can undertake tasks with a smile, and generally assist.  It sounds very much as if destruction is one key element, given that the word sledge-hammer is one tool mentioned (and how many different uses for a screwdriver can you think of?), as well as more calming tasks with a paint brush.

The third requirement is money, naturally.  The club is busy devising methods of raising funds to undertake the purchase of materials.  Meanwhile, it has opened a Just Giving web page,

To offer your service in this project (and your smile) contact Paul Sands on 07540 705966 or

Inside Clarence Park, which we all consider "ours" with pride, will soon be a volunteer group creating a new community facility in that friendly structure which gives an impressive View From the Boundary.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Junction by design?

The country end of Sweetbriar Lane!
During the Second World War it was deemed essential by someone in charge that the road junction at The Crown should be protected by road blocks.  It is likely that wardens and guards queued to volunteer for this duty as their mess was The Crown Hotel.  The records at Hertfordshire Archives specified the number of yards from the junction a road block was to be set up.  They do not specify exactly what kind of block, but possibly concrete blocks and iron bars.  They were to be set up in Stanhope Road, Clarence Road and the two arms of Hatfield Road.  The block on the eastern arm just east of Albion Road.  So, that just leaves Camp Road, which apparently had no road block at all, but no explanation was given.  Of course, any alien vehicle driver with a map could turn into Cavendish Road and exit Cecil Road and thereby avoid the block altogether – but that would depend on what they were up to!

Stanhope Road meets The Crown.
A strategic junction The Crown may have been, but no-one in their right minds would have designed a junction this way.  It is rather a mess.  So let's explore how it came to be.  Hatfield Road from the east drops down a little hill (possible sign of a former stream valley) before bending to the right en-route towards St Peter's Church; but other than climbing out of the little valley there was no long climb to the bridge as there is today; that was a construct of the railway.

At the bend arrived a backwater lane which for centuries had wound its way past hamlets and villages, supporting the tiny rural population needing access to the town market and its parish church.  In the 1750s a small toll house appeared at the junction, roughly where the postbox is today.  Travellers from now on would be entering and using a privately run highway, a turnpike road.  Inevitably it did not take long for a few travellers with carts or animals to find ways around the problem, avoiding the junction, possibly with the agreement of the landowner, or possibly not.

A roundabout of sorts at The Crown.
Courtesy St Albans' Museums
By the time the next road to be added to the junction came about, the "illegals" – travellers avoiding payment, had become used to picking their way and making an entry to the town where a little lane, known locally as Sweetbriar Lane, finally petered out.  Sweetbriar is now Victoria Street.

It probably wasn't surprising, therefore, that when the wedge of land we know as Stanhope and Granville roads was being developed a road connection between Hatfield Road and Victoria Street was created, with the junction just a few yards before the toll house!  By the time the road was laid, however, the turnpiked Hatfield Road was taken over by the Highways Board and the tolls dispensed with.  Drive today from Hatfield Road east, turn left and then sharp right into Stanhope Road, and then imagine trying the same manoeuvre with larger carts or carriages with two or even four horses.  Not surprising, therefore, that a new roadway sprang up (still there today) to leave Hatfield Road obliquely, and in front of The Crown Hotel (the road was there first; The Crown arrived later).  All of which created a little crossroads.  Not much of a problem before homes began to appear, but it's not surprising that the little road in front of The Crown was eventually closed, although it was useful in creating an informal roundabout at one stage.

The park once included all of this street area; at least the
building of the toilets opened up a view for motorists
looking right.  Courtesy St Albans' Museums
The last road to join the junction was Clarence Road.  Not a road at all before the 1890s and the opening of the park; the opening went just  as far as the present park gates, its purpose being to give access to the farm buildings (now Clarence Park Mews and the Conservative Club).  Once houses were built, though, you probably wouldn't want to drive to the Crown Junction and risk easing out without knowing what was coming down the hill from the right.  Until the early 1930s the park fences, shrubs and trees came right down to the corner, until the park was cut right back when the public toilets (now Verdi's) were built in the early 1930s.

As you see, rather a messy junction.