Sunday, 27 May 2018

It's Showtime!

Everyone in the County can mark off this May weekend as soon as they receive their new diaries.  It is the weekend of The Hertfordshire County Show (Herts Show in its abbreviated form).  As this blog is being written the sun is gently warming the Redbourn show ground for its second busy day and lines of cars are being marshalled up in orderly fashion.

It seems that as long as we can remember the Show has set its collective trailers down in fields between the M1 and the old A5 just north of Redbourn for its celebration of most things agricultural – as well as entertainments which would attract the large crowds to ensure the event could cover its costs above the income from trade stands.
Appealing to families.  Courtesy Hertfordshire Life.

However, the Show first arrived at what was to be its permanent home in 1962.  In fact, the statement should be amended to "its second permanent home", in as much as permanence can occasionally be a flexible concept!

The Redbourn show ground.  Courtesy Hertfordshire
Agricultural Society
The society which manages the Show has itself a significant pedigree, having been born in 1801.  Its meetings and events took place on land at Hatfield House estate, and Hertfordshire Agricultural Society pinned the Show's birth to a ploughing match there in 1879.  Although it did move to another Hatfield site the growth of the town made that unexpandable and eventually  unavailable.  In the 1950s the event became nomadic and visited, for example, Childwickbury in 1953 and Letchworth in 1955.

This is where St Albans' Own East End enters the story, for in 1956, shortly after the land had changed hands, Oak Farm in Coopers Green Lane was selected.  The Show came to us!  I'm uncertain when it first became a two-day event at the weekend, but it was previously a single day during the working week, and so it was in 1956.  Thursday was show day.  That was an even bigger weather risk then than today for an open air agri-fest.  Mid May – for it was slightly earlier then – at Oak Farm and the previous day was very wet, so ensuring an adequate amount of mud through which to wallow.  The day itself, according to the Herts Advertiser, was sunny.
The Herts Advertiser reports on the pig classes at Oak Farm.

The requirements for a large tract of land made it inevitable that that the event would be "off the beaten track".  The proportion of visitors with cars would have been low in the 1950s; my memory is unclear about the laying on of special buses to the site.  Perhaps we all walked, but we could only have done so after school.  So perhaps this was an event, which could have been of such wonderful educational value, that passed us by.

I have never discovered a programme for the event, and no-one has recalled the Show as one of their fifties highlights.  Hertfordshire Show at Oak Farm, it seems has retreated to the great chasm of non-memory that exemplifies much of our lives.  But there may be someone somewhere who could still exclaim, "1956?  Oh yes, that was the year Hertfordshire Show came to Oak Farm."

Sunday, 20 May 2018

The Price of Coal

As with many other householders I paid my dual-fuel energy bill recently by direct debit online.  As a child I was regularly sent to place an order for coal or coke at one of the many Coal Offices, and subsequently to take the invoice – the bill – with cash to pay for the delivery recently received.

The coal offices were in Fleetville (for Stantons, then Kendalls), at The Crown, and at offices gathered around the railway station.  One of these little portable buildings stood next to the gate leading from the goods yard at the station.  If you have arrived to living in the St Albans district more recently than c1980 you will possibly not realise that the goods yard occupied all of the space which is now the busy station and the car park building. 

Martell's Coal Office c1970.  Today at Station Way.

This week I received a photo, possibly taken c1970, which shows Martell's Coal Office – not an accessible building, I notice.  Today it might not even pass planning regulations as the door steps dropped straight into a blind bend straight off the Victoria Street bridge, and just as the footpath ends.  Inevitably, the building could not be permitted to remain once the new Station Way was laid to join Grimston Road and Hatfield Road with its seemingly endless flows of taxis, buses and cars.


But there it was, and although it appears to have been abandoned at the time, someone thought to photograph it and in the context of the wider scene.  It is clear that the goods yard – which we would probably call freight today – is also neglected as more centralised handling of freight trains had been developed by the seventies.

After just over a century the station, formerly on the Ridgmont Road side of the tracks, was transferred to the other side, and the big talking-point of the period was electrification.

A 1950s coal bill for Charrington's, whose coal office was on the city-side of the tracks.

Today there is nothing left of the coal office, but we know exactly where it stood.  I did attempt to take a photograph from the same spot; taking my life in my hands, it proved impossible given the vehicle flows on the traffic light controlled junction.  I will try again early one Sunday morning, but meanwhile here is an alternative courtesy Google Streetview.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

We have a plan

In the second of a series of articles about the arrangements for educating the children of Camp and Fleetville we turn our attention to those over eleven years old.

A strategic plan for the re-organisation of schools in the East Ward of St Albans and district had been developed in the first half of the 1920s, but would, in theory, take a decade to implement, assuming that sufficient funds were forthcoming.

However, the circumstances in individual schools were becoming dire and the managers of some schools felt that they could not wait that long for improvements.  At Camp school, for example, there were places for 248 juniors and seniors, and 150 infants.  Although there was still space in the infants the junior/senior department (remember, progress was made through the school by ability and not necessarily by age), the County’s plan to add four further classrooms to a school in the centre of a fast-growing residential population, was at odds with the Board of Education’s re-organisation plans.

Strategically, the development of education services was progressing towards a system which separated schools into those which educated children up to the age of eleven, and those “post-primary schools” which provided a three-year curriculum for seniors up to the age of thirteen or fourteen and a four/five-year secondary curriculum for children up to fifteen or sixteen.  There would no longer be progression by ability.

The plan was to open a boys’ and a girls’ senior school on land which the County had purchased in Hatfield Road, Fleetville (the current Fleetville Juniors site). Camp and Fleetville schools would then become mixed schools for infants and juniors (JMIs).  The problem is that such bold plans (and this was for just the East ward) are very expensive and would take a long time to materialise.  

A surprisingly small senior class at Fleetville, possibly the final year, c1930,
in which senior girls attended the school.
Courtesy Fleetville Infants School & Nursery
In view of this urgency an interim plan was put into place for shorter-term gains, in which one half of the senior school would be constructed, for 320 girls.  Its numbers would come from the girls from Camp and Fleetville schools senior departments.  The Camp senior boys would move to Fleetville to occupy the places freed up by their girls, and the accommodation for Camp would enable the infants and juniors departments to expand.  The senior girls’ school would consist of eight classrooms each large  enough for 40 pupils (the norm at the time), a central hall and a practical block.

These discussions took place at the beginning of 1928, and at the time the education department had not even purchased a full site for one senior school, having just purchased a nominal four-and-a-half acres – enough for buildings but no playground or playing fields; that would have to come later.

Meanwhile, a site in Fleetville had already been pencilled in for a senior girls school to replace the existing Central Girls’ school – the same site!  Central schools were developed to provide further education opportunities, mainly for girls who had often left school up to a year earlier than boys. The Central in St Albans had  restricted accommodation in Victoria Street, part of the old library and school of art.  This was, essentially, a science and handicrafts centre, which itself desperately required replacing,  

Well, that was the plan.  

The Central Girls' School buildings with building added in 1938.

Fleetville and Camp areas were probably not surprised that the plan, which would have greatly advanced provision in the ward, was compromised by allocation of the senior school site for the Central girls’ school.  However, this school, when eventually built in 1931 did contain more capacity than originally intended, in order to accommodate the girls from the Central as well as those from Camp and Fleetville.  However, since a senior boys' school was not part of the immediate plan, Fleetville continued to provide for them, as well as Hatfield Road boys’ near St Peter’s Street, until Beaumonts’ and the boys’ grammar schools were built in 1938.
The new Central senior school site also included a separate block as a boys’ craft centre.  

A section of the school population with staff taken in 1931 when Central
Girls' School opened in Fleetville.

The school had not been on this site for more than seven years when the buildings were modified and re-opened as the St Albans Girls’ Modern school – by the time it opened it had already been renamed St Albans Grammar School for Girls, so becoming a secondary school.  As part of the improvements an extension was built and the craft block integrated with the main school.  The school was one of the first to have a caretaker’s house built under the many standards for secondary schools which the county adopted.  The house was built on a strip of newly acquired land which also acted as a wider and more welcoming entrance than the narrow way next to West and Sellick.

The caretaker's house added in 1938.  The new entrance was much more
imposing than the rather utilitarian gateway of today.  A detached house
set on a wide plot is now replaced by Grimsdyke Lodge, built right up to
the boundary fence.

Next time it will be the turn of the senior boys.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Fielding for free

In answer to a question about where to spend a typical summer weekend day, "somewhere exciting" would be the required comment, especially if our group includes children.  An afternoon with a picnic in the park probably doesn't cut it these days.

I was reminded of this yesterday when a friend sent a picture of his family group relaxing near the edge of a field.

His message to me includes "Apparently my family and assorted Uncles and Aunties would travel down to the Barley Mow (no idea how we got there as  nobody had a car) and sit and have fun by the river at the back. I am not sure of  the  details, I am the baby on my mother's lap in the photograph, but it was obviously near the pub as the men are drinking beer. Apparently a good time was had by all and I think we did it quite often in the immediate years after the War. Simple times!"

A family gathering at the field next to the Barley Mow.

I then realised that I had no other photograph which records such field pleasures that you would enjoy frequently.  So, actually seeing the picture is a rare pleasure.  To bring us up to date, the Barley Mow as a pub is no longer open, though the building remains.  More to the point, the field in question is still a field, as shown in the second picture.  The Barley Mow stands at a T junction, although the little lane now goes nowhere, and hasn't since the bypass was dualled.  Before then you could walk to the Colne and Coursers Lane, picking up a drink on the way at the Rainbow filling station.

The river mentioned – actually a small stream which has become even smaller in recent decades – rises, like nearby Butterwick Brook, from within the chalk of these parts and trickles towards the river Colne.

My friend asks:
"Was it just my family who indulged in this fun in a field or was it a regular outing for St.Albans folk? I would be interested to hear of any memories people might have of  the Barley Mow at this time."

The field today; courtesy Google.
There were many fields I can recall enjoying myself in, either with my family or my friends, or both.  Regular Sunday walks would find us at Jersey Farm, where we would picnic in a field where we were the guests of a small herd of dairy cattle.  Then there was a rather undulating field – again picnic oriented – where St Luke's School was then built at the top of Hixberry Lane.  Possibly not a field exactly, but very popular was the river bank in London Colney, and the spaces around the gravel pits at Frogmore, Park Street.  We took our food with us, so no need for snack bars or restaurants; we cycled or walked so needed no lifts or driving licences,  and as long as we had a cricket bat and ball we were happy.  Such days out therefore cost us nothing.  Just as well.

Today there is an expectation that we have to pay to be made happy.  There is a national sport which grew from a field and where most of the time most of the participants are fielding; it may have been cricket – or not – but it was free fun.

Incidentally, the Barley Mow had been well known as a cyclists' watering hole. 

Monday, 23 April 2018

Educating the Newcomers

Work is now well advanced on recreating and improving the website St Albans' Own East End; delivering it on a new, more modern, platform.  There are many limitations to the present website platform, the most important that it is no longer being serviced.  So, as they say, the time has come ...  and we will hopefully see the new site in all its east end splendour later in the summer.

One small new feature on the collection of photo pages devoted to the schools will be a brief history of each one.  We take them for granted, but they came into existence for many different reasons.  Yes, each one opened to provide more places for children living in the district, but the more we explore how their beginnings the more we understand how flimsy was the planning in each case, and how little the various education authorities took account of the data which was available to them.

Today, of course, there is so much data available – and even more can be commissioned by virtually anyone and for any purpose. Even basic facts and numbers available to authorities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as census returns and movement of households into districts, did not appear to convince planners that crunching this limited information could possibly assist in making provision for school places.

For example,  from the 1890s almost thousands of homes were emerging from the fields on both sides of Hatfield Road and for a decade the education authority chose not to commit itself to building a school in the district; not even to negotiate with the developers to reserve a plot of land on which a future school might be built.

Shortly before the emergence of county authorities the St Albans Rural Education Board constructed a school, Camp, specifically for children living in the villages and hamlets on the east side of the city.  This  became urgent because the St Albans (city) Education Board had reviewed its existing policy and denied future access by rural children to city schools, mainly Alma Road, St Peter's and Priory Park, and Hatfield Road.  

Children in all of the homes in the Cavendish, Fleetville and Castle areas were expected to attend Camp School.  It wasn't only a question of numbers either.  A child living in Brampton Road had no straight-line access to Camp School as the only rights of way across the railway line were in Sutton Road and Camp Road.

The first part of Fleetville School opened in 1908, although strangely, the authority had no expectation that many children would attend on the first day, only employing the head teacher and deputy until proof could be shown!  Between them, Camp and Fleetville carried the burden of education the east end's children – all of them up to leaving age – until the opening of Ss Alban & Stephen in 1934.  The removal of senior children into senior schools at Hatfield Road, Priory Park and, eventually Beaumont, occurred from 1930, and relieved some pressure on space. Incredibly, it was not until 1955 and 1958 respectively that new schools were opened at Windermere and Oakwood, the latter being known at the planning stage as the Fleetville Extension School.

We now have nine (10 if Samuel Ryder is included) centres educating primary-aged children, and during the post-war period the education authority was finally able to do what the 1944 Education Act envisioned: to enable primary children to attend a local school within a short walking distance of their homes.  Of course, the open enrolment concept of recent years has partly negated that aspiration, with many children being ferried by car to a school further away on the basis that it is a good school.  Yes, there's a debate to be had here.  Good schools everywhere, more open air and exercise for all, fewer cars, less stress around the school gates, cleaner air ...

Next time we will discover how bad it became for children over the age of eleven.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Spies in Glenlyn Avenue

A rather small and narrow field bordering Camp Road – which everyone had then known as Daniel's Field – was purchased by the enterprising partners of building firm Goodwin and Hart in 1930.  The two had become friends during the First World War while being sent on heavy labouring assignments as a result of their refusal to join the military.  On their release they pitched up at St Albans, thinking there were useful work opportunities.

Daniel's Field was thought to be the firm's first development purchase, as opposed to single plots; the result became the three delightful roads of Lynton, Windermere and Glenlyn avenues, developed as culs de sac mini-communities.  Windermere was different in that it had no turning circle, providing a later opportunity to build on the allotment field behind.

Homes in Lynton Avenue were occupied first, in 1931.  Owners of the £750 Glenlyn Avenue new-builds were able to take possession  by 1934.  A recent blog titled Just Dropping In reminded a reader of an event which had occurred to the parents of the writer shortly after moving into their new home.

Glenlyn Avenue today.

Many attempts were made in the decade or so after the First War, to heal divisions created by the conflict.  Government, local authorities, communities, church groups all made attempts to offer the hand of friendship.  While at the community and individual level the contacts were clearly well intended and positive, as we all realised the future at national and international level was seen by many with some suspicion. 

Although I have not yet discovered any examples I understand that advertisements were placed in the press during the course of the 1930s in which families were encouraged to offer extended vacations or 'friendship visits' to young people from Germany and maybe other European countries.   I will research these advertisements and update the blog later.

One family from Glenlyn Avenue responded positively and invited Herr and Frau Khol to stay for a while, as they spent their days exploring the district – no doubt including the Cathedral, the newly completed lakes and the curiosities of the city's narrow streets and its countryside.  The guests were expected to contribute towards the cost of their accommodation, and I have no doubt the hosts were expected to engage with their guests, and overcome any language barriers as best they could.

In this case, probably in 1935 or 1936, before the extra rooms were needed for a growing family, the contributor assures us that her or his father, having fought in the First War, bore his opponents "no ill will ... letting bygones be bygones."  No doubt there were hundreds of similar hands of friendship taking place around the country during the early and mid Thirties.

Lynton Avenue in 1931.

The Glenlyn Avenue couple clearly felt the experience of hosting a German couple had been successful and agreed to repeat the offer the following year.  A young man had brought his bicycle with him.  Perhaps he did not think that cycles might be available for hire in the UK, but nevertheless he spend much of his time cycling around the district.  This could have revealed one difference in approach between the guests.  One could imagine, though this might not have happened, hosts and guests sharing some time walking and travelling by bus together.  Unless all owned a bicycle the process of exploration would be more of an individual exercise.

And exercise might be an appropriate term since the young man from Wuppertal began quizzing his hosts about the Ballito factory in Fleetville [for those whose recollections do not extend back that far, Ballito, on today's Morrison's site, manufactured silk stockings].  They are reported to have been searching questions, which his hosts thought suspicious.  They possibly confided in friends before asking the young man to leave, no doubt contacting the sponsors of the visits, which today would be considered part of the tourism industry.

That was that; no more friendship visits, and the country was within three years of another international conflict.

The two recent stories have concerned spies, or collectors of data, who were discovered on the east side of St Albans.  During the 1930s and 40s how many more arrived and successfully collected their data and returned to pass it on?

My thanks to the contributor of the earlier post for adding her family's experience to the wider story.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Pothole Alley

With a title such as this you could be preparing to read a thoroughly modern story about the state of our roads and the inadequate amount of funding available to do a proper job in maintaining  thoroughfares and residential streets.

The state of our roads debate is probably as old as the proverbial hills.  Hatfield Road is in a variable condition at present, with entire slabs of macadam broken away like giant broken biscuit, and a few jolts here and there sufficient to wake a dozing passenger.

In the years leading to 1881 there were reports of a similar neglect of the road's condition, complaints at the authority responsible for receiving funds through the turnpike tolls, and then not spending it on repairing the road.  

The Reading & Hatfield Turnpike Trust was not considered to be very effective body at the best of times, but it did its best, at least until its final few years when closure was inevitable and take-over by a public authority.  Neglect set in, and it's anyone's guess where the income was spent.  The pictorial evidence?  The 1870s and 1880s are within the realm of early photography, though not with the popularising of techniques thirty years later.  Nevertheless, no identifiable early plates appear to have survived, if they were ever produced.  We might otherwise be able to publish spot the difference images in the newspapers!

There are many residents who will recall other potholes, although at the time of their experiences the route was on private land along a permissive way.  Who remembers The Ashpath, aka The Cinder Track?  A cart driver originally beginning at Hatfield Road, opposite Beaumont Avenue, would be pitched and jolted on his vehicle all the way to a bend close to the present Cambridge Road.  The only relief came when the horse pulled the load up the steeper gradient to pass a humped railway bridge (its modern version still takes traffic across the former railway across Ashley Road).  

When the homes on the Willow estate were built in the early 1930s the first section of the Ashpath was made up.  Our memories remain, however, of the next section.  It was wide, but there was a fearsome collection of variable holes along the whole length of the road.  After rainfall it was not possible to walk in a straight line for more than a few yards.  

Modern factories replace old Nissen huts near Hedley Road; the
former brush factory to the right, behind the hedge.

The owner, Thomas Kinder, had died in 1881 (coincidentally the year the nearby Turnpike was taken over), and from then until the 1960s when the City Council created a road out of the mess, it appeared to be no-one's responsibility.  Holes were occasionally filled with ash from the brick ovens on the east side.  Which brings us neatly to the same question posed above.

The first modern building along the Ashpath replaced the
former Owen's brickworks.
What visual evidence remains of the Ashpath as it used to be between the early 1900s until the 1960s?  The brickworks and subsequent quarry holes, eventually used for tipping rubbish?  The brush factory spewing out wood shavings and sawdust beside the track?  The large Nissen huts between Hedley Road and Cambridge Road, both of which joined the Ashpath in an uninviting way?  The ancient oak tree, only recently removed?  The bend where the path continued to the entrance of Hill End Hospital?  The latter remains as a much narrower way than in its earlier days.  Or the temporary pedestrian bridge slung over the cutting while the old bridge was being replaced?  Finally, where is a photograph of the brickworkers' cottages opposite near the end of Cambridge Road?

Photos of modern industrial estates are all very well.  But those irritating obstructions along pothole alley and the activity which grew up around them, are now limited to descriptions on the page.