Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Memory triggered

Between 30 and 40 times a year for the past nine years posts have been published on this site about various matters connected with St Albans' Own East End.  Sometimes the memories of readers are triggered because of a person, an experience or a place.  This connection doesn't always become converted into a message, but when it does it's pleasant to share it with others.  It is also intriguing how that often happens.  It might be expected to be in response to the most recent posting, but often the topic reveals that the reader has browsed deep into the archive.

Terraces in Cambridge Road
So it was when Brenda got in touch from her home in France in response to an old posting about Cambridge Road; it not only reminded her about her former home, but former friends, her school and a few of its teachers.

This is what Brenda recalled:

I’ve just been looking through your wonderful website!  I lived some of my childhood years in St Albans in Cambridge Road, and was amazed to see a photo of it here!  My name in those days was Brenda Anne Westfield.    My parents Bob and Marjorie Westfield’s best friends were Anne and Robbie (can't remember the surname, but he was Irish) who lived in the adjacent Wellington Road, and I used to play with Anne’s sister, Susan, when she visited.  Anne and Robbie had a daughter  called Tracy.  My Dad had been a chef in the Royal Marines, and he and Robbie worked together as chefs in the kitchens at Cell Barnes Hospital.

My mother, Marjorie Westfield, was a secretary at Marshalswick Boys' School, and her friend there was Mrs Simmons, who I was delighted to spot in a photo of Beaumont School!  I guess Mrs Simmons must have been one of the members of staff who moved to Marshalswick. 

Fleetville JMI, now Fleetville Infants School
I attended Fleetville Infants and Juniors school from approx. 1959/60 [until 1967] until the end of the juniors years.  My best friends there were Felicity Buxton who lived somewhere north of the school, and Lynn Wilson who lived south of it.  Another name I remember was Mary Briggs and I have a feeling that her parents ran the post office near the school.   Also remembered is Richard Moon.  I remember I used to walk to school on my own and I passed Marconi Instruments and the Ballito stockings factory!  I desperately wanted a pair of the black stockings which had pictures of the four Beatles faces on them!  I wonder if anyone remembers them?

Unfortunately I don't think I have any photos of St Albans to submit (only ones of me at that tender age!) but I’ll check again.

I’d be delighted to see any photos of my days at Fleetville!    Or to hear from any class mates -  I can't remember any more names at the moment.  The teachers I remember are Miss Probert a largish lady with gingery hair (I think) always in a bun, who taught geography, and Mr Blanks, a rather cruel, bald-headed man who used to like taunting Richard Moon when he was talking, by making him stand on his chair while saying ‘Get on your chair Moon, up in the sky where you belong’.   Funny what sticks in your mind!

Yes, those Beatles nylons really did exist!
Clarence Park was where mum and dad played tennis, leaving me on the sidelines with a banana ice lolly!

Thanks so much for the trip down memory lane, and I hope some of my information rings a bell with someone!

Brenda recalled other information following an email dialogue, which just show that memories can be triggered by little reminders.  I wonder whether other readers can recall the people who grew up with Brenda.  The older boys may also have been  enthusiastic about Ballito's black stockings, but for different reasons and all might have looked forward to the parties, dances and boxing for which the factory was popular!

Unfortunately there are no Fleetville class photos from the 1960s in my archive, but if you have any which you would like to share, do get in touch:

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

What do we know – about the Mos?

There are roads named after what had been a well-known aircraft; there's a sculpture of the founder of the factory which built them, Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, and there are static examples of probably the most famous of the Hatfield aircraft factory's models, the DH98 Mosquito, in the museums at Hendon and Duxford, and locally at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum near London Colney.

For all that, we have, for the most part, a forgotten memory of the former de Havilland Aircraft factory in Hatfield.  Homes, a university campus, businesses and a police station stand on the site and part of the runway.

As to the aircraft themselves there are confusions.  We are reminded every time we pass the Ramada Hotel at one end of Comet Way, that the Comet which gave the hotel its original name was not the post-war fine passenger aircraft which came from this factory, but the pre-war Comet Racer, build especially for international competition.  A red-painted model of it still stands on its column at the front of the Hotel.

Then, if we ask anyone to name a well-known World War Two aircraft, the only name in town is the Supermarine-manufactured and Mitchell-designed Spitfire.  That had came into production before the 'Mos' and over half of its production of 20,000 units came from Castle Bromwich.  It was devised as a fighter and for photo-reconnaissance, though was adapted for other roles too.  It achieved top operational speeds up to 380mph, and even today it is not unusual to see 'Spits' flying overhead at shows and in movies.

By contrast, the Mosquito came on stream in 1940, around 4,800 of the production of 7,700 were made at Hatfield or Leavesden.  It was very light, had a top operational speed of 400mph and was adapted to almost every role a light aircraft was required to undertake.  Oh, and its unique characteristic was its construction material: wood, taking advantage of readily available raw material from the Chilterns and large numbers of experienced furniture makers.

It is this feature of its construction which means its story and lasting memory is now more vaguely recalled.  You won't see the Wooden Wonder, as it came to be known, in the skies today.  The original planes could not survive the seventy years or so since they were made.  There is a restored flying 'Mos' in Canada, one in New Zealand, and that is about it.  So there is little to remind us – especially those of us who live near to the former seat of manufacture – so we let the Spitfire have its glory!

What a delightful surprise this week that a last-minute rescue of thousands of engineering drawings of the Mosquito took place at a redundant factory near Chester which had manufactured fewer than one hundred versions.  It is a miracle that so much fragile archival material came to lay untouched for so long and was finally identified by members of a project which aims to rebuild a Mosquito rescued after it crashed near Coltishall after the war.  This will not be a matter of cleaning it up and giving the remains a spit and polish.  Remember its unique quality: the Buckinghamshire wood, which made it cheaper to build and gave it such superior speed and manoeuvrability that it was considered superfluous to fit on-board guns.

For these two reasons alone, the Wooden Wonder was unique in military aircraft.  Even more important, therefore, that its story should now be better known, especially to all of us who today live here on the east side of St Albans and in Hatfield.  We will follow the promising People's Mosquito Project with interest, because its story began right here, on our doorstep.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Flag waving

Are parks and open spaces important to us?  Obvious question, and no-one, I suggest, is going to say no.

If we now set out what we might use a park for, the list will include, breathe fresh air, walk the dog, meet friends, relax, picnic, meet people who become friends, play games, organise games, watch organised games, become fitter, keep fit, read, take the children to enjoy themselves,  give us time to think, inspire us ... and so on.

So, now we don't need to ask the question, why are parks important?

On the whole, though there are notable exceptions, it is the local authorities who look after our parks, and we know that they continue to do so with ever decreasing resources.  One new resource, though, is entering the mix in helping these spaces remain open and free: revenue generation.  Not by charging for entrance, but in supporting one-off events which are revenue generating, renting out redundant buildings in them, even investing in new buildings which can then be revenue earners.  And with the support of Heritage Lottery Fund, projects for the improvement and general upgrade can keep our precious open spaces in good condition and able to support the increasing numbers of visitors most parks today experience.

Did I hear someone call out "Volunteers"?  Yes, generous and willing men and women – and sometimes children – are joining volunteer groups to keep an oversight on our open spaces.  This may include a Friends-type organisation, or doing litter-picking rounds, arranging small public events, such as story-telling under the trees, managing guided walks, or keeping an eye open for possible repair needs and checking the notice boards are kept up to date.

Each year parks – including pocket parks – public gardens, cemeteries and other open spaces are submitted to the Green Flag scheme.  The Scheme is administered through the Department for Communities and Local Government by the Keep Britain Tidy Group.

The council website declares responsibility for around 70 open spaces, but it does not declare how many of those were submitted for a Green Flag Award.  However, this year, six sites were in receipt of an award at an event at Watford's Award-winning Cassiobury Park last Friday: Bricket Wood Common, Hatfield Road Cemetery, Rothamsted Park, Sopwell Nunnery, Clarence Park and Verulamium Park.

Two of those sites are in the East End and we are very proud to see the flags flying at both of the very well-maintained locations.  Countless families help to take care of plots at the cemetery, and Fleetville Diaries local history group regularly organises story walks there.  A residents' group and specific interest organisation overseen by Protect Clarence Park, help to ensure the good management of Clarence Park.  Both open spaces are known to be well-loved by locals; St Albans Council is undoubtedly proud of its part, and John O'Conner, headquartered at Welwyn, is the partner with the council in the grounds management of these and the other open spaces in the district.

Having reached the Green Flag standard for these six locations, what next?  Perhaps, with volunteer help, The Wick, with the improvements currently
being proposed, will manage to fly a flag in future years.  Then someone might propose a general upgrade to Cunningham (Springfield) open space.  And given that Fleetville Community Centre is planning a replacement building on its current site, it would be a joy to see improvements to Fleetville Recreation Ground.

In fact, we should all be proud of all of our open spaces, with the standard high enough for Green Flags everywhere.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

All mixed up

Sutton Road, which emerges onto Hatfield Road at the Rats' Castle public house, was named by the development partnership of Ekins and Giffen as they laid out their Camp estate in 1899.  Arthur Ekins was brought up in the village of Sutton, near Ely in Cambridgeshire and therefore named the road after his birthplace.

But they weren't the only people with an interest in the road.  On the eastern side, owned by Beaumonts Farm until 1899, the former toll house had been sold off a few years earlier and rebuilt as a house with shop; the public house is now on this site.  Earl Verulam and St Albans School owned the field on the west side and sold it to Thomas Smith in 1897.  Down came the trees lining this part of Sutton Road (no more than a private farm track then) and up went his printing factory.

Under some pressure Beaumonts Farm placed all of the land on the east side on the market in 1899.  Tom Tomlinson and Horace Slade between them acquired development rights up to the railway (now Alban Way) and this became the Castle estate.  South of the railway Alfred J Nicholson purchased land for a coat factory, now awaiting conversion into apartments.  It was he who named Hedley Road, but no other changes occurred until the late 1920s.  The field on the west side from the railway to Camp View Road continued to be grazed by Oakley's dairy cows, and before Fleetville Recreation Ground was laid out, this field hosted many local football matches.  It was, viewed from Sutton Road, an attractive tree lined field.

Two shops and a laundry arrived at the junction of Sutton and Hedley roads in the late twenties.  Mrs Dennison opened a general store and confectionary on the corner; Mr Bowman's pharmacy was next door.  Next to that was built a detached house, to which was quickly added a workshop laundry.  After much open space a pair of houses was added, and after more space a pair of shops at the corner with Cambridge Road: Morley's bakery and Gray's fish shop.  The bakery is closed but the fish shop is very much open for business.  All looked out onto the field opposite.

In 1933 Earl Verulam sold the field, which extended most of the way to Camp Hill.  Ernest Stevens, a well-known house builder of the time, constructed his estate of around 150 homes fronting the west side of Sutton Road and along three new roads, Campfield Road, Valerie Close and Roland Street.  The 1930s was the period when most new housing was built with the intention of selling through building societies.  Mr Stevens built specifically for rent and his homes found tenants even before they were completed.

So, Sutton Road was mainly full, other than the spaces left on the east side.  A proposal was put forward in 1938 for the largest space to be used to bring some entertainment to Fleetville, in the form of a skating rink.  However, a similar proposal had been taken forward by the Ver Hotel in Holywell Hill, and the Sutton Road rink didn't proceed.  St Albans Coo-operative Society acquired the site for its vehicle maintenance centre –  the Society already had a dairy and a bakery nearby.  This was the building which, in the 1970s, the Society intended to make into a supermarket, but following widespread complaints and a planning refusal by the Council the Co-op purchased the former Ballito factory.  Today it belongs to Morrison's.  The original workshops are still operating as D P Motors.  During the history of this site, other commercial buildings grew up, accessed from a private road which only showed its name in recent years, Pickford Road, and the final space was finally built on with two homes in the 1960s.


There is, however, one mystery to Sutton Road.  The plot which is the site of the park homes named Woodvale Park was not sold by Earl Verulam in 1933, which presumably was not his to sell.  Being adjacent to the railway, and being vaguely fan-shaped with the narrow end at Sutton Road, it has never been used for anything other than caravans and then the present park homes.  Indeed the site  extends further west than Woodvale Park.  From Alban Way can be seen the line of the rear boundaries of Campfield Road homes.  Railways with sidings all over the country have similar shapes. Yet the railway never developed it and never seemed to acknowledge it as theirs.

So, that's the mystery, unless you can solve it.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Nine Nine Nine

Nice surprise for St Albans folk this morning to discover in the Daily Telegraph (and possibly other papers, as well as the BBC website) a grand photo of a pre-war wooden police call box – as in telephone call.

St Albans City Police Remote Police Box 1931
The reason for this and other photos issued from BT's archives, was the 80th anniversary of the 999 emergency telephone number in 1937.  And there, above the door of the box shown, is the name of the owner: St Albans City Police.  Yes, St Albans had its own police force until after World War Two.

Before proceeding further we should clear up one or two confusions.  Firstly, the impression is given that, because 999 began in 1937 and the box looked freshly painted, the box itself also dates from 1937.  In fact, St Albans City Police invested in six of these boxes in 1931, not for the prime purpose of the public making telephone calls, emergency or otherwise, but as a remote police station in miniature, where duty constables could complete their reports and file them by phone to the station in Victoria Street.  Since many officers lived local to their patch it saved the journey into the town and back again.  Since the phone was there anyway (and an electric light and small heater) an external grill was fitted to enable anyone to call the police station directly – no dialling, you simply pressed the call button and waited for the desk sergeant or another station officer to inquire the purpose of your call.  In fact, these boxes were not technically 999 phones with a dial, but of course the police station would call out other services on your behalf as required.

St Albans City Police Remote Police Box 1931
Unlike the AA and RAC roadside boxes, where members had a Yale-like key to open the door, so that they could make their calls in the dry, only police officers had a key to the police boxes.

By 1939 it was considered that a stronger box would be required during wartime conditions, and so the wooden boxes were replaced by brick structures with reinforced concrete roofs.

The question is, where were these police boxes located?  I know of two sites: Sandridge Road (but that is a long road and a more precise location isn't yet known); and the junction of Beechwood Avenue (which had just been laid out) and Hatfield Road.  The latter was, apparently, box number 1.

St Albans City Remote Police Box 1939
The two photographs appear not to be the same box, judging from the nearby homes, and neither is the Beechwood Avenue location.  If any reader can offer the possible whereabouts of the other five boxes, or at least the locations of either of the boxes shown in the photos, that would be helpful.

Incidentally, a smaller, pillar-mounted enclosure version, introduced in 1935, included, for the first time, a blue lamp which flashed to indicated to a passing police officer to call the central police station; but of course there was no little office to shelter in!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Chalet Shops

Most railway stations are abuzz with activity aside from the coming and going of trains.  The platform leading to the exit, if it wasn't in the booking hall, inevitably has a newsagent, and there are purveyors of snacks by the thousand (snacks, that is, not their purveyors).  It has always been so.

Another trader was often to be found too, and that was the local coal company.  These have now disappeared but often their trading posts are still in place.  At St Albans City Station, when the station and its forecourt was off Ridgmont Road, Charrington's had a little brick building at the foot of the steps leading from the bridge down into the space where taxis pulled in and buses sometimes turned.  The delightful building is still there, but, as with many other coal merchants their businesses have burned out with the universal arrival of gas and oil central heating, and better insulated homes.

Charrington's, however, was not the only coal merchant in St Albans.  Until the 1960s Kendall's was based at the Fleetville Siding, and clustered around the City Station there were several other firms, generally arriving in the 1930s.  Previously they might have each had their own section of the station goods yard, with their ordering counters in various of the town's shops.

Shops with flats above had climbed Victoria Street from Beaconsfield Road towards the railway bridge by the turn of the twentieth century, but in the space between them and the edge of the railway cutting, someone decided to add yet more.  This was probably, though I can't confirm it, railway land.  Two flat-roofed single storey shops, the left one being occupied first by an optician and then by an enterprising estate agent called Graham Barnes.  The right shop was rather better known after its first occupier, a jeweller, left, because it became Tominey's Chocolate Box shop, where later the family  owned its Vaudeville Cafe.

Next to this pair was a "flat-packed" chalet with a pitched-roof, wedged into the remaining space before the edge of the almost vertical drop down to platform one (today number four).  This was for coal merchant Brentnall and Cleland.  Today it is an estate agency.

Across the road and at the top of the steps referred to above is a small chalet perched on stilts, such is the lack of solid level ground.  From memory this tiny shop was the home of Lockhart coal merchant, and later became the home of a local driving school and later still was Yeoman Antiques.

Fortunately these little former coal merchant chalets are still standing.  Not so the third building, having been removed when the station was rebuilt, in the 1970s, to the other side of the tracks, and the former coal yard access road opened up to make Station Road.  Right on the curved corner was a chalet used for a time by Martell coal merchants and Hichcliffe's.  As with the others, this chalet arrived in the 1930s, and I can recall calling in to pay for the previous delivery of coal and, because it was often possible to gauge how long five hundredweight would last, order the next five sacks.  There were times when coal could not be delivered when we wanted.  Harsh winters, miners' strikes and shortages caused by priorities being given to power stations and hospitals, all formed part of the logistics of timing we might expect something to keep us warm.

I have been searching for some time for photographs of Hinchcliffe's chalet without success.  So the call is out for anyone who possesses an image of the chalet which disappeared

!  We will see how long it takes before it turns up on this blog, or on the website.  The clock is ticking!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Portsmouth Ahoy

In the 1950s Beaumont was just an ordinary Secondary Modern School.  There were none of the modern buildings that spread around the site today; just the original brick structure, and three temporary ROSLA classroom buildings put up in preparation for the Raising Of the School Leaving Age – to fifteen.  A few students were, even then, encouraged to remain until they were sixteen, taking GCE exams.

Among the most remembered events were the school journeys.

I suppose, as a boys’ school, as it was between 1954 and 1960, it was inevitable that there would be connections with the armed services.  There had been the Sea Cadets which had met and trained at the school before removing to HMS Verulam at Westminster Lodge.  But post-war there must have been a constant requirement for youngsters to “join up” in order to replace those who had been serving in the lean years immediately after the war.

In 1959 Mr Arthur Coxall, who taught woodwork and lived in Elm Drive, organised a Monday-to-Friday school journey  to Portsmouth where our accommodation was HMS Vanguard, a battleship which was laid up in the harbour and was used, as far as I can recall, as a training and recruitment ship.  There were about twenty or so fourth years (year ten) who went with Mr Coxall and the newly appointed headmaster, Mr George Humphries.  

Quite why I became part of the group I am not sure, since I knew I had no intention of joining up as a career – even though they got you anyway at that time through the National Service route.  Nor was I a particular fan of the water.  It was one of those moments when, if your friends said they were going, that's what you told your parents, and they were supposed to agree.  Fortunately, they did, but with one caveat.  Whatever it cost I had to fund it.  So that would be another raid on my paper round income.

I cannot remember as much as I probably should for such a unique experience, but found myself enjoying the novelty of sleeping in hammocks, which were amazingly comfortable, until, that is, the ridiculously early wake-up call by the sailors who were in charge of us.  I wonder whether the teachers were in hammocks, or or whether they were afforded the luxury of a cabin?  

Naturally, we were given a tour of the the dull grey ship, and we joined in many of the mess activities: some of the best basic meals I can remember – there always seemed to be seconds available if we wanted them. Just as the sailors benefited from down-time, we also enjoyed games room activities; and instruction sessions on various topics I have long since forgotten.  Oddly enough I can recall a film night; a black-and-white feature film called Twelve Angry Men.  I imagined ships always possessing a constant background throbbing noise from its engines, but this was absent from HMS Vanguard, instead, being attached to mainland life by a cable!

Every day we skitted around the harbour in a little naval launch to various places.  There was a visit to HMS Victory, and a gunnery simulation building where we were able to score our ability to shoot simulated cannons at ships, and simulated guns at aircraft, with the winning team being awarded some kind of prize.  The Royal Marines hosted one day but I am not certain what we did with them.

I have to admit that the week was thoroughly enjoyable.  Who else went on this trip?  It will have been others who were also 15 in 1958.  Did it only happen once or was it a regular feature of the Beaumont programme in the 1950s?  What is almost certain is that the Vanguard week was the last one.  The ship was decommissioned and broken up in 1960, news which very much disappointed me.

I know, you are dying to know whether the experience changed my mind about the armed forces!  Well, no, it didn’t, and by the time I was 17 the government of the day stopped compulsory National Service, thank goodness.  I am sure that school journeys at Beaumont School have become increasingly adventurous, but we tend to remember the ones organised just for us.  It's just a shame I didn't take a camera!