Friday, 8 December 2017

A little bit further

Shortly before 1913 the City Council  deliberated over just how much of the land eastwards of the city it should take into what was known as the added areas.  Its original proposal was to extend the boundary from Camp Road (The Crown) – the limit since 1879 – as far as Beaumont Avenue; the reasoning presumably being that a boundary at this point would encompass all of the building added since 1879.  However, the authority was reminded that development was no respecter of borders and it would be useful to stretch the boundary so as to ensure that future housing would lie within the city from the start.  So it was that the council determined the limits should be defined at Winches Farm.

Two farm-related events would ensure not long would transpire before most of the green extension would turn brown.  First was the remaining acres of Beaumont Farm.  About half (Castle Road area and the Camp Estate) had been sold for development in 1899, and in 1929 the remainder (Beaumont Avenue east, Beaumonts Estate, Hatfield Road north and the Willow Estate) came on the market.  The developer, Watford Land, lost no time in erecting semi-detached homes between Beaumont Avenue and Oakwood Drive – the latter laid out but not yet developed.  This initial stage ensured that homes of a relatively high value, fronting onto Hatfield Road, would act as a shop window and provide a good initial profit to fund the later building behind.

The second event actually materialised first.  Opposite the Watford Land homes on Beaumonts Farm was Hatfield Road field.  This was the westernmost field belonging to Robert Gaussen's own Hill End Farm.  On the southern side of Hatfield Road the boundary between Hill End Farm and Beaumonts Farm was a hedge at the top of the rise east of Beaumont Avenue/Ashley Road.

Back in 1996, and in preparation for the building of Hill End Asylum, the Hospital Committee purchased 96 acres from Mr Gaussen.  In effect, the committee purchased the whole farm and then re-sold what was not required to Mr Charles Morris of Highfield Hall.  This included the Hatfield Road Field and an area of woodland stretching from Colney Heath Lane to the current Longacres.  By around 1920 Mr Morris had seen the development opportunity and sold roadside plots, although the part of the field between these and the branch railway was left undeveloped.  Meanwhile it served a use as a small brickworks and a smallholding.

The first three plots had been sold and built on by 1923 (numbers 358 and 360, and number 384, whose owner moved on after a year, selling to an incoming family from Wood Green.  The original 384 no longer exists, the wide plot now redeveloped into two new homes.  The resulting development process of selling plots, rather than houses, provides a variety of detached and semi-detached homes set well back from the road.  The original 384 was rather different in being a small detached home on a wide and deep plot, although a building extension at the back was added in the 1930s.  It was the additional plot lengths at the Oakwood Drive end of the road which enabled the Pinewood Close development, removing more than half of the rear garden lengths.

Across the road the estate-developed semi-detached homes were begun as soon as the land became available in 1929 and all but six dwellings were habitable the following year.  The 1960s style home (267) had been the yard used by the builders.  Momentum had dwindled when building the homes east from Oakwood Drive and by the late thirties had only reached 365.  It is assumed this was the result of the County Council acquisition of land for Beaumont School, although the boundary of the initial land purchase fell significantly short of Hatfield Road and would have permitted the homes to fill their allotted  space – which, in a rather different way, they are about to do.  The land behind the hedge was only purchased to extend the school field in 1948.

St Albans City Council was therefore wise, in 1913, to think ahead and stretch its boundary as far as Winches.  The land covering developed beyond there towards Smallford came into the City's hands as a result of amalgamation with St Albans Rural in the 1970s.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Learning a Little More

From the moment the news broke of new housing proposed for Symonshyde there has been a near-universal condemnation of the plans.  The reason for the negative response is undoubtedly similar to the outcries of the other housing proposals which have ever been made at various times, some of which have come about and others sunk without trace; "we're here and we don't want anyone else".  We have been offered a minimal amount of information: that the new plans for east of St Albans are part of the national requirement  to build thousands of new houses (of which Symonshyde would be a small part).  Because St Albans District Council currently has no coherent district plan, while Welwyn-Hatfield is announcing its proposals, St Albans' residents naturally feel embarrassed while the neighbouring council is getting its act together on St Albans' very doorstep.

Site of the proposed Symondshyde New Village.

Then there is the terminology: housing.  What do you imagine?  Does it leave a mainly positive or mainly negative impression?  We might substitute estate, or sprawl, or suburb.  Or perhaps village, hamlet.  We can also be conclusive, usually negatively, about its impact with terms such as destroying our green space, or ruining the countryside. So, let's explore what is actually proposed a little further.

We can all do a little digging on the internet at where there are a number of outline projects, all in the Welwyn-Hatfield area.  Gascoyne Cecil Estates is a major land owner, representing the Cecil family, and centred on Hatfield House over several centuries.  Large land owners occasionally "play" with their acreages and choose to sell peripheral fields for private development; either for housing or commercial functions. 

The evidence from Gascoyne Cecil Estates is rather different, adopting a more acceptable, almost fatherly approach to responsible management of its holdings.  So, what is actually planned for Symondshyde?

Symondshyde New Village as shown in the Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan

The charette report states: “a satellite village is a settlement which is dependent on a nearby town but which avoids urban sprawl and does not block views of open countryside.  A village would be separated from existing urban settlements by an enforceable green corridor of a size which remains capable of being easily walked or cycled.”

Other earlier settlements, such as Letchworth Garden City, have similar rural rings limiting their size and preventing encroachment from outside.

While the proposals for Symondshyde sketch in important amenities, including shops, schools, offices, bus links, and community spaces such as sports clubs and a pub, enabling any or all of these to be sustainable in the modern world is a tall ask.  If, in the fullness of time, these begin to fail, the sustainability of the village is lost and endless car journeys would develop between it and Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield and St Albans.

The planners' concept drawings are always made to appear more acceptable
by using watercolour on textured paper.
The distances between the proposed village and nearby towns is little different than for most other villages in the southern half of the county, and will therefore be no exception.  But because the risks outlined do nevertheless exist is no reason to deny the plan an airing and a reasoned debate.

There is little doubt that, at the beginning, the development will look like any other; its newness cannot be avoided.  As for the cost of living in the village, that is all wrapped up in the price of housing on a national and regional scale, and directly linked to real  shortages of accommodation.  But this village, as with hundreds of other new settlements in build or planned, will be making its own contribution to alleviation.

We will keep our eyes and ears open for a genuine community debate on the issue.

Monday, 13 November 2017

An anniversary for Glenferrie

In the late 1890s St Peter's Farm (farm homestead building extant as the Conservative Club) was sold and broken up.  This was the move which linked suburban St Albans at Stanhope Road to the Smith-inspired Fleet Ville at Bycullah Terrace.  Two of the three fields which lined the north side of Hatfield Road were purchased by Horace Slade, the straw hat and cardboard box manufacturer.  The ensuing residential development which then took place on what became known as the Slade Building Estate, was nothing short of remarkable for the period and the structure of the building industry's reliance on many independent small firms.  

Glenferrie Road, the furthest west of the three parallel roads Slade laid out, managed completion within five years of the road being carved out of the field previously known as Great Long Field.  Occupation of the homes shows evidence of an orderly construction plan, and the resulting design of dwellings suggest that two or three small developers engaged the varied construction firms to build a tidy arrangement of terraces (on the east) and semi-detached houses (on the west side).  No doubt current residents still clutching their original deeds will be able to discover who their developers were and perhaps work out what roles in St Albans' society they otherwise held.

Unlike many other roads, development was tidily arranged too, beginning from the Hatfield Road end.  On the west side we walk along the full length of what were the rear gardens of the houses in Hatfield Road – most had originally been built for domestic accommodation, while the same distance on the east side was reserved for the Methodist church's third home once it had raised sufficient funds.

The welcome sight of extensive green in the rear gardens

The two long terraces on the east side have retained their original exterior look without disturbance to glazing or other modernisations.  The second terrace, which contains more constructional decoration than the first even sports original decorated tile front paths in one adjacent pair.

The west begins with four pairs of attractively simple homes, possessing several echoes of the terrace opposite.  These give way to pairs with front bays, eaves and an interestingly simple design above the adjacent front doors, signifying the location of a porch without actually building one.  And no-one has since!

Surviving street directories suggest that the final initial occupants moved into the remaining new homes on the west side in 1907, making Glenferrie Road officially complete one hundred years ago this year.

A pre-WW1 photograph of Glenferrie Road looking distinctly wider
without its lines of parked cars.  COURTESY ANDY LAWRENCE

In the most recent census available to us in 1911, when the road was very fresh, there were no fewer than five heads of household working in the printing industry and several working for the railway.  A smattering of clerks, managers, accountants, were joined by the very new roles of electricians, a coal merchant, baker,  prison warder and an employee in a raincoat factory.  The range of occupations today is undoubtedly just as wide, but there are more occupations per household now, compared with the early 20th century.  With that comes an increase in disposable income per household; and the one external difference which has transformed almost every address in the road is the continuous line of parked cars along both kerbs.

But one view which almost no-one notices, unless they are using Google Earth is the unbelievable amount of green space – in the rear gardens of course; this in a part of St Albans which appears to be devoid of the colour apart from in the Cemetery and the Recreation Ground.

A happy centenary to all residents of Glenferrie Road and their families.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Happy Birthday

Monday 2nd November 1908 to Thursday 2nd November 2017
St Albans' Own East End wishes the children, teachers, friends and parents of
Fleetville Infant School & Nursery and Fleetville Junior School
a Happy 109th Birthday.

It is a first for this blog, otherwise we could be wishing people and places birthday greetings all the time.  Nor is there any particular reason for it on this occasion, other than the teachers at Fleetville Infant School had located the original school log book and had noted the effusively written first page on the day of opening, Monday 2nd November 1908, written in the flourishing hand of Mr Charles Wimbrey, newly appointed Head Teacher of the Fleetville Elementary Schools.

The original 3-classroom Infant building opened in 1914.

The building accommodated not only infants, but junior aged children and seniors, up to the age of thirteen.  Teachers across the district will be familiar with the next fact.  Only one of the two original buildings was opened (the smaller building was completed six years later) and the November date indicates that the handover was at least two months late!

Part of the frontage of the large building as children
celebrated the school's centenary.

Fleetville has witnessed several protest meetings since the district's birth in 1897; the first of which was the result of discontent among parents who had moved into the new houses in the years up to 1904.  The young Hertfordshire County Council Education Department, in wrestling with the issue of school places, chose the obvious solution of adding more accommodation to the buildings already open at St Peter's Rural Schools, then also known as Camp School.  However, its statement contained a critical rider to the authority's intention to build extensions to the rural school: "equivalent in size to a new school."  The meeting of parents at the Institute – at the corner of Hatfield Road and Arthur Road – simply demanded that these extensions should be built as a new school in Fleetville.

Into the former senior school buildings, dating from 1931, moved Fleetville
Juniors in 1976 – and playing fields for the first time.

No land had been reserved for a new school, nor any recreational open space.  So the new school was created by purchasing a number of house plots along Royal and Tess roads (the latter is now Woodstock Road South).

Over the decades the parents had cause to complain on several occasions about overcrowding, but now the protest meetings could take place in the school's own hall.  Classes, even in the Infant department, rose above fifty; temporary huts arrived; classes met in the old nursery (now the Community Centre); rooms in the former police houses; St Paul's Church; and finally two rooms in the former HORSA huts at Beaumont School.  This last element of "outreach" became known as the Fleetville Extension School, and when permanent buildings were constructed nearby, was renamed  Oakwood JMI School.

Not just a plain playground, but interesting spaces for young children.
Following further protest meetings the Junior Department moved across the road to the empty former Central School / Girls' Grammar School / Beaumont Girls' School / Sandfield School.  Both sections of the school felt there was space to breathe at last.

At various times during the past fifty years the original buildings have, of course, undergone a number of changes, from extensions to indoor toilets; link doorways between many of the classrooms; a kitchen; and a "new" hall in place of the old wooden huts.  The nursery has moved from the temporary wartime building and brought on site and the former divided tarmac playground (it had been gravel before that) is now a much more inviting series of spaces for children to enjoy.

The school has in its possession an interesting collection of photographs, some of which also appear on this website.  However, there will surely be a much wider range in the shoeboxes and albums of former pupils.  After all, there are now 109 years of learning behind today's celebration.  Memories too.  What might we recall about the school which has been a central part of Fleetville for almost all of the district's life?

Friday, 20 October 2017

Give me some space

It may have taken fully one hundred years but the Hatfield Road as we experience it today has only been achieved a bite at a time.  The mushrooming of Fleetville district came before any planning guidelines or regulations were available, and before motor vehicles dominated.

Widening of limited sections took place at various times, mainly on the south side, as much of that was developed later.  But no authority gave any thought to the fact that the road was a strategic highway linking two key towns.  So the last significant improvement to traffic flow and safety was carried out in the 1960s with widening between Harlesden and Sutton roads – fully half a century ago!

Other improvements which could have improved traffic flow, such as removal of the former railway bridge in Sutton Road may have helped take traffic away, but in the other direction Sutton Road is just as busy attracting even more vehicles into Hatfield Road.  The proposed road linking the Sandfield Road junction with Camp Road at Roland Street did not materialise for the practical reason that the council baulked at the price and couldn't imagine how it would take the road across what was then an operational railway line.

And at either end of the district are two complex junctions at The Crown and Beaumont Avenue, which are the only other road connections between Fleetville and Camp.

One other perennial issue, which fortunately is largely now non-existent with improved drainage infrastructure, are the places where water gathered in periods of high rainfall.  We should not have been surprised; former streams had been known, and covering the district with houses, pavements and tarred roads does nothing to help rainwater to seep into the soil.  Two of the notorious spots along the road were near the current pedestrian crossing at the Beaumont Avenue junction, and at the Sutton Road junction (the others were at Sandfield Road and The Crown).

But it is the combination of parked vehicles and increased number of vehicles overall which we now need to focus our attention.  A significant amount of both of these are probably internally generated rather than drivers using Fleetville to travel through to somewhere else.  We already have one bypass, after all, although that is also congested at times.

Fleetville has just one off-road parking area for a reasonably large number of vehicles.  Yes, it is privately-owned, but at least it is there.  A previous attempt to excavate an underground version beneath the recreation ground came to nothing, and the side roads, which are subject to current new parking proposals are limited in capacity with or without taking the roads' residents into account.  The pronouncement by Fleetville retail traders in the 1930s inviting customers from far and wide with the promise that "there is plenty of space to park your motor vehicle" is beyond a distant memory!

A quiet mid-morning in the centre of Fleetville.
We may not like it, but jointly we must become responsible for solving this problem and responsive to it.  Expensive it might be in many ways; and one of those is reduction in air quality at busy times, especially near the two schools.  Unseen, but unseen doesn't mean it is not present.

When a main road changes by small increments over a long period of time (is one hundred years long enough?) those changes largely go unnoticed.  Many of the shops which line the north side began life as cottages, with no expectation of becoming a retail centre requiring additional infrastructure, let alone an off-road parking place for the owner's "motor vehicle".

There has been one voice considering change, though the county council's offering wasn't recent.  Having recognised the success of The Quadrant as a retail location, it proposed that a similar plan should be considered for Hatfield Road.  We were not informed how this plan was expected to materialise, exactly where, or the effect it might have on those lengths of Hatfield Road not part of the Quadrant 2 development.  Perhaps Morrison's has already taken that idea forward!

It is a pity this idea was not developed further, not because the writer approves of it, but because it would spark a debate about the issue of Hatfield Road congestion; a debate which is very much needed, and from any debate often develops an even better solution than the one which launched it.

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.