Sunday, 8 October 2017

Sorry, we don't do sliced

In July this blog visited the very interesting Sutton Road to explore the variety of buildings and their former occupants as the street developed in the first half of the 20th century.

We have also discovered that a number of family shops clustered at or near the junction with Cambridge and Camp View roads.

Two of those were Morley the baker and Gray the fish shop.  For those not now living in the district it is good to report that the fish shop is still thriving on the corner.  As with so many family shops, however, once the family had done its turn in dispensing bread and rolls to its community, it closed for good.

William Morley counted himself among the truly local shops providing products required frequently for the family table.  So we encountered butchers (there were three of them in this cluster), grocers, fishmongers and bakers.  In any residential location with parades of shops, or corner versions, we  found most, if not, all of these.  

Flowers adorn the family's first house in Camp Road.
Even the grocery shops – and there were more than twenty in Fleetville during the 1930s – sometimes made arrangements with a local baker to stock a loaf or two among the tins and bags.  The grocer got the benefit of a reasonably normal day, of course, unlike the baker who rose in the dark to bake that day's bread.  Though he could justifiably close early, if he had sold out by mid-afternoon.

Mr Morley's family began life in the East End of St Albans, occupying a new house opposite the school in Camp Road.  His father worked as a carpenter in the building trade and it is likely that he had a hand in the construction of the house they moved into.  An apprentice carpenter boarder lived with them, so it is possible that William senior was self employed with his own business. In the early 1920s they found a plot in Sutton Road and built again, and is from here that their eldest son, also William, already having learned his trade elsewhere in the city,  became self-employed, no doubt assisted by other family members.  We know, for example, that his sister-in-law's family shared in the running of the business during the 1950s.  William's son Maurice also became a master baker, having gained his training in the army.  Both he and his brother, Derek, assisted in the shop.
The former Morley baker's shop, with the corner fish shop.

Maurice, now in his 80s, recalls the business employing a roundsman, delivering bread to some two hundred customers, and a boy who may have worked in the shop or assisted in the bakery at the back.  I suppose it depends on the definition of 'boy'!

William died in 1957 at the age of 67, and it is likely that he continued working in the business until then.  In many family businesses it is often a question of closing the business or carrying on after the owner would have liked to retire.  Being wholly responsible for the family firm often brings much stress, as some readers will acknowledge.
1911 census entry detailing William's parents and siblings.

As the locals will already know, the shop has been converted into residential accommodation, but it is still possible to visualise where the former display window was, and the doorway through which customers would pass, to be greeted by name from one of the Mr Morleys or their spouses from behind the counter.  More than that, there seems to be no more enticing scent on the cool morning air than the smell of freshly baked bread from the Morley ovens.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Stop Go

Well, now we know; the junction with Hatfield Road for the new housing development at Beaumont School front field will be controlled by traffic lights, and not  a roundabout.  Of course, those of you who have already seen the plans will already be aware of this decision.  The same road will also give access to the school for large vehicles.  The only information not yet circulating is the name of the new road.  Not that it will make any difference, but we could receive suggestions for a suitable and appropriate name.

It will be the last light-controlled junction until the extensive Comet group of lights, and the first since The Crown, although the light-controlled pedestrian crossing right on the junction with Woodstock Road South might as well be full traffic lights considering how often the lights change for pedestrians; how difficult it can be for cars emerging from Woodstock to turn right.  In the distance between Morrison's and St Paul's there are four recognised pedestrian crossing points, three of them light controlled, while the crossing outside the cemetery is a Belisha model.

The first traffic lights on the east side of the city were installed at the Hatfield Road/Lemsford Road junction before WW2. It took another thirty years before a flurry of junctions on radial roads intersecting the ring road were added in the early 1960s, one of which was at the Beechwood Avenue/Ashley Road intersection.  Many of you will be confused, as it is a double roundabout.  It is now and only came to be so, because the original lights, which never included Beaumonts Avenue  of course, were problematic, especially at busy times.  Admittedly, if you regularly leave the city in the busy tea-time period, you will admit that the junction is problematic today too!  There is not really sufficient public space to funnel all streams of vehicles through the western end of the junction.  All four main arms of the junction also feature a Belisha crossing, the western version being the closest to the junction.

Perhaps this is the reason for the only ring road junction to become a permanent roundabout was the Redbourn Road/Batchwood Drive junction, where plenty of public land had been reserved, the ring road having arrived before the houses.

It will be interesting to observe what congestion develops during the school term and after the houses are occupied; and to what extent it becomes part of a wider congestion zone which would include Oaklands College, Wynchlands Parade shops being trapped in between.

My guess is that the next set of traffic lights will appear at the junction with Colney Heath Lane, but naturally we will expect a generous period of mayhem first while brains click into gear to design the junction which would include or exclude the college driveway at South Lodge.

Since the Comet group of traffic lights was mentioned earlier, this might be an appropriate point to observe the perimeter hoardings being erected around the Comet (Ramada Hotel) site recently.  This may come as a surprise to many, especially if you live in St Albans, as news of the development has only been carried in the Welwyn Hatfield press (which printed the most basic faux-pas suggesting that the building was named after the 1950s jet airliner rather than the 1930s competition racer.  The original Grade Two listed 1930s building is being retained and upgraded internally, the rather unprepossessing hotel extensions are being demolished in favour of a mix of hotel rooms/serviced suites and student accommodation, and more extensive parking.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Farming outpost

We may reside in a suburb or an old-established central location, but almost all of us live where once horses (end even earlier oxen) pulled rudimentary ploughs, and labourers in poor accommodation toiled to win a harvest for their employer farm tenant.

The blue rectangle behind The Quadrant, astride Hughenden Road and
Wycombe Way, represents where the homestead was located.  The blue broken
line is approximately the route of the carriage drive directly from
Marshalswick Lane to the house and yard.

When Nash Homes published its proposals for the new Marshalswick housing development in the 1930s, the area around the old farm house was designated a high density zone.  We have seen the flats, the shopping centre, public house (not any longer), library and community centre, churches and cinema (the last, which was to have been near where the baptist church is, didn't make it).

From the 1879 OS map                       COURTESY HALS
But if any of the tenants at the farm had gazed  out of their windows in their time, they certainly would not have believed the scene which in the future would surround them.

Marshalswick Farm, also known as Wheeler's Farm according to early maps, has not been part of the geography since the early 1950s.  It was taken over for Nash's site office,  returned to temporary accommodation during the Second World War, before once again housing a site office for a short time.  There are fortunately a few people who recall the group of buildings which formed the farm, although not at its best, having not been an operational agricultural hub since the 1930s.

The aerial photo can be used to illustrate the location of the house, facing west across its formal gardens, towards what is now Sherwood Avenue, then an occupational track.  Access to the yard and barns was via what to us is the little roundabout linking Marshalswick Lane and The Ridgeway.  The surviving trees in the Quadrant car park grew in the home paddock between the house and the ponds by the lane.

From the 1924 OS map                       COURTESY HALS
What of the farm house, though?  Does anyone know what it looked like?  Fortunately, we do have an accurate picture of it in 1826.  Jane Marten, of the former Marshals Wick House, created some impressive drawings of local farm homesteads.  One of the two surviving drawings is here.  Jane would have been sitting in the garden facing east.  She has drawn it as a modest building, and it is clear that over time there have been additions.  A view (not shown) from the yard, surrounded by typical barns and stores, reveals a well house.  Both show a number of trees close to the homestead, and it is inevitable that a stranger walking along the [Marshalswick] lane, otherwise known as New Road, would have passed by with little idea there was a dwelling nestling within the group of trees.

Inside, water was drawn from a well, and, being remote, it was never connected to the gas supply, let alone electricity.  Oil lamps were used until the day the last occupier left.

Maybe that is one reason why Thomas Wheeler [no name connection] selected this farm to try his luck in stealing property in 1880.  Unfortunately, in finding the tenant, Edward Anstee, he bludgeoned his victim to death.  The story is well-known and Wheeler was apprehended shortly afterwards.

View of Marshalswick Farm by Jane Marten.                                                                            COURTESY HERITAGE ENGLAND

As a result of this dreadful event a new tenant was appointed, James Slimmon.  He, and subsequently his son William, were the last to cultivate the 300-acre farm.

While Jane Marten has left an evocative illustration of the homestead, it remains the only picture of it  I have come across.  Though it survived until after World War Two, no photographs appear to have surfaced.  It would be wonderful if, in someone's collection, there was a photograph, or perhaps a painting of Wheeler's Farm homestead.  What a find that would be.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

One day they'll do something about it

It can sometimes be a pain driving along Hatfield Road at busy times, with congestion probable at Marlborough Road, Lemsford Road, Station Road, The Crown, Morrison's, Beechwood Avenue, and Butterwick.  We will possibly need to add Longacres to that list before long with the road improvements currently underway at Beaumont School.  Ironically, that same location was congested in a different way in the 1960s, with employees from Marconi Instruments attempting to arrive or leave Longacres, where the firm had one of its factories.

In a thoroughly modern approach the Highways Board undertook a survey in 1878, a couple of years before it expected to take over responsibility for the Reading & Hatfield Turnpike Road, which included Hatfield Road.  It has turned out to be one of the very few historical traffic analyses to surface.  During the week January 12th to 18th, 1,866 carriages passed along it at the point close to where the road passes the Peacock PH, just above Lattimore Road.

Although described as carriages, we can't be certain whether this was simply a generic term to cover all vehicles other than simple carts, or whether it was specific to larger multi-horse passenger vehicles.  This would be an average of 20 per hour during the winter daylight period – it is assumed that enumerators did not remain on station at night.  It would have included both directions, given that the road would not have been laned and vehicles from both directions would have mainly used the same narrow road surface.

In comparison, during the same period 346 vehicles used Holywell Hill at Pondyards, where turnpike tolls were again chargeable (the part in between was managed by the town).  On the face of it this discrepancy is difficult to understand, except that drivers may have found alternative routes to Holywell Hill if they could: but 49 vehicles per day compared with Hatfield Road's 266?

However we explain the difference, it is clear that, even before Fleetville came into being, the east side of the city was generating over five times as much traffic as the road to the south, which, of course, was the continuation of the R & H turnpike via Watford towards Reading.  It would have been useful to compare the stats with London Road as well, but the Highways Board were already responsible for that highway, and if a survey had been undertaken it would have been from a much earlier date and hasn't yet surfaced.

So, where might this traffic from the east have originated?  Certainly there were new houses in the area then called New Town, between the old town boundary in Marlborough Road and the new railway line – the new town boundary would not be extended to The Crown (then colloquially known as the Chain Bar) until the following year.  Beyond the Chain Bar there were few properties, mainly farms and Oaklands Mansion, until Bishops Hatfield (we have now dropped the Bishop), where there was a connection with the Great North Road.  Most of the 1,866 carriages would therefore have consisted of long-distance traffic, but may have included a skeleton omnibus service from Hatfield.  St Albans is therefore assumed to have been the destination for the majority, before returning via the same route.

If the clerks of 1878 were using the statistics in any useful way, such as the probable costs of maintaining the road based on its current usage, it is also possible that they had a forward plan for improvements so that the road could be laned throughout.  Of course, at that time they would have been thinking in terms of the road width now enjoyed along the short stretch between The Crown and Cavendish Road, which we now think of as a nuisance because of its width constraint.  Within thirty years it would all become wider still.

The questions now are: if the survey was to be undertaken again today, how would the results compare?  And, given that, since the Highways Board 139 years ago would not have dreamed that  allowance would have to be made for a virtually continuous line of parked vehicles down both sides, how might we see Hatfield Road changing in the next fifty years?  Remember, the population of this part of Hertfordshire – and particularly between St Albans and Hatfield – will rise substantially if the confirmed plans come to pass.  Discuss!

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.