Childhood Memories of Park Street
by Brian Kennedy
House building in Ringway Road
My family’s first knowledge of Park Street came in 1952 when my father, Patrick Kennedy, joined a fledgling organisation grandly titled The St Albans Mutual Housing Association. The association was formed when, in November 1951, a group of public-spirited individuals started meeting together with the aim of enabling people in rented accommodation to be able to afford a home of their own. This was to be achieved by members coming together in a co-operative venture to build a home for each member. Land in Ringway Road, Park Street was purchased from a St Albans builder because in Park Street, being in the St Albans Rural District rather than the St Albans City area, the cost was around half the amount of a similar piece of land within the City boundary. Fourteen members were selected for the project, each contributing a lump sum of £25 and then ten shillings per week to cover equipment costs and working expenses. One of the scheme members was a builder by trade and was therefore appointed foreman. He was asked to prepare plans for 14 semi-detached bungalows at a maximum cost of £950. Minutes of the committee meeting held in February 1952 record that, for this price, they could build “a bungalow to contain two bedrooms, dining room, lounge and kitchen, and the dining room could be used as a bedroom if necessary”. Other members of the Association had skills in plumbing, carpentry or electrical work. All were taught bricklaying by the foreman, and were also expected to carry out general labouring.
Initial obstacles were many and varied. Each individual self-builder was required to obtain his own licence to build. The land purchased in Ringway Road, Park Street was in the St Albans Rural District area. However, most of the scheme members lived in the St Albans City area. At first, St Albans City Council refused licences on the grounds that the land to be built on was not in their area. The Rural District also refused licences on the grounds that the scheme members did not live in the rural area! It took the combined efforts of a City councillor, Mr Frank Lavery (later an Alderman and Mayor of St Albans), supported by the local MP the Hon John Grimston, and a direct approach to the Ministry of Housing (then under Harold Macmillan MP) to clear that bureaucratic obstacle. In May 1952, following grant of the required licences work started on the site, taking two and a half years to complete. Foundations were dug with picks and shovels although the site, being woodland, had to be cleared first of all of trees and tree stumps, also with the use of hand tools. Work was carried out in the evenings and at weekends, each member having already committed to a specified number of hours work on the site each week, in addition to their ordinary jobs. In recognition of his responsibilities on the site the foreman was allocated the first bungalow to be completed, known now as 2 Ringway Road. The remaining houses were completed in sequence and, as each pair was finished, a ballot took place among the members to see who would occupy them. My parents, Patrick and Kay Kennedy, moved into No 8 in November 1953. The initial status of all occupants was termed “licensee at will” rather than owner or purchaser. This was to ensure that the Association remained in control of the whole site until the last pair of bungalows was completed, and would be in a position to enforce the obligations of individual members to provide labour for their completion.
The project costs were initially underwritten by the Cooperative Permanent Building Society (known today as Nationwide), and each member took out a conventional mortgage as they took possession. My parents’ advance was £1235 and monthly repayments were set at £6.6s.8d (£6.33)
There are some interesting snippets to be gleaned from the minutes of the Association’s meetings at that time. On 5th June 1952 it was noted that the Ministry of Food had granted a permit for tea and sugar to be purchased for use at the site. The fact that a permit was needed arose because wartime rationing had continued into the 1950’s. The availability of building materials was also restricted and orders for wood required special approval. In a meeting in August 1952 the committee deliberated on the purchase of a wheelbarrow for the project and concluded that £2.10s (£2.50) could be spent in purchasing “a second-hand iron barrow.” It was also agreed that each bungalow would be fitted with 2 fireplaces at a maximum cost of £25 for the pair. Scheme members would be able to choose their own designs provided the cost remained within budget. During the building of the third pair of bungalows it was agreed that there would be a saving of materials and an increase in front garden space if the path to the front door led off the shared driveway and the results of this late change can be seen in the road today.
Ringway Road in the 1950’s
When my parents and I moved to Ringway Road in late 1953 the area was quite different compared with how it looks today. Penn Road, Mayflower Road and Ringway Road were not at that time surfaced with tarmac. Each was an unmade road, full of puddles and potholes. Motorists made their way along the road on whichever side of it appeared easiest on the day, according to recent weather and progress often appeared distinctly meandering, when viewed from a distance. When conditions became intolerable local residents filled the deeper holes with hardcore and pebbles. It was the residents of each road who were responsible for road maintenance. The uneven state of the roads did have the advantage of ensuring that cars travelled at no more than a walking pace and the main risk for the driver was accidental damage to the vehicle’s suspension. The How Wood Estate had just been completed by the local authority and was fully occupied. However, there was no through road from Penn Road and the first part of How Wood (in front of the current shops) into this new estate: an earth bank with trees and bushes extended across the road, just past the Ringway Road junction adjacent to the off-licence. Pedestrians could walk around it but the passage of vehicles was not possible.
In How Wood we had a small general store. The front, ground floor rooms of a pair of semi-detached houses had been joined together to form the shop, approximately where the current butchers shop now stands. The shop entrance was at the left hand end. The family who ran the shop lived behind and above the left hand room occupied by the shop. Another family lived in the adjoining house, the right hand one of the pair. These houses were the only ones in between the two ends of Ringway Road and they had woodland at the rear. The general store was well-stocked and could provide for most everyday needs except fresh meat and bread. The latter was bought from the Co-op breadman who called to each house twice each week and brought a selection of bread to the back door in a large wicker basket. When fresh meat was needed a trip to Park Street village was necessary where Holdhams the butchers had their shop. At the age of 6 or 7 it was a regular duty of mine to walk from Ringway Road to the “village” on a Saturday morning to buy some meat for that day’s meal. The nearest Post Office was also there, just along the street. This Post Office also sold general stationery supplies and toys. The favourite shop of the children of the village was the sweetshop to the right of The Falcon public house. The shop was known as “Duck Your Nut” after the words of warning written above the low doorway. The shop was somewhat dark and gloomy but was nevertheless well-stocked and did a good trade. The building remains to this day but converted to a private dwelling, to the left of a much newer house, No 1 Mill View
Hertfordshire Fisheries, selling goldfish, pondweed and a selection of more unusual fish types, was located in those days in Park Street Lane in the back garden of a private house. We children would occasionally call there to admire the fish in small ponds, some of them made from old bathtubs surrounded by rockery stones. Goldfish were a popular and sought-after prize at garden fetes held by local villages and churches during the summer months. Goldfish were placed in jam jars spaced out on a table. Table tennis balls (3 for sixpence) would be thrown and if one landed in a jam jar the lucky thrower was presented with the jar and contents.
Local public transport
Those residents who did not own cars (and at that time this meant almost everyone) relied on public transport to go to St Albans or Watford. A London Transport single-deck bus on route 355 between St Albans and Radlett stopped in Park Street village. The original southbound stop was outside a row of terraced cottages immediately opposite the Park Street Lane junction. These cottages were later demolished and several shops and flats built on the corner of Burydell Lane, slightly set back from the road. The stop for the St Albans-bound bus was outside the Falcon public house. This bus stop was the nearest one for residents of Penn Road and How Wood wishing to travel into St Albans. Alternatively, the 321 bus to Watford or St Albans was generally boarded at the end of Driftwood Avenue or alternatively opposite Harpers Garage (in recent years a showroom selling high performance sports cars). The latter required a walk along a rough path from How Wood to the A405 North Orbital Road before crossing to another track and passing Pearsons nursery on the right to reach Watford Road. Pearsons Nursery was the forerunner of the current Burston Nursery, now situated on the opposite side of the A405.
An alternative means of transport to Watford or St Albans was provided by the railway branch line at Park Street Station. This was particularly useful if a family needed to go to either town taking a child in a pram or a large pushchair. The train consisted of a steam engine and a couple of carriages, including a guards van with ample room for prams and pushchairs. The fact that a lengthy walk into town was necessary at either end of the line was no deterrent. The trip to Watford had the additional feature of a passing loop at Bricket Wood Station. The timetable was arranged so that trains travelling in opposite directions met at the station. For this to work safely tokens were exchanged between the train drivers and signalmen which ensured that one train only could travel on each single line section either side of Bricket Wood Station. There were 3 signal boxes involved in this exchange of tokens, one each at the St Albans and Watford ends of the branch line and a third signal box on the platform at Bricket Wood Station.
How the children played
For the children of Ringway Road and the surrounding area there was considerable freedom. The “woods” extended from opposite the bungalows through to the back of Mayflower Road. This was our play area and all the local children used it, climbing trees to a height that would be considered foolhardy or dangerous today, playing hide and seek and occasionally making camps and campfires. If somebody managed to sneak a box of matches out of the kitchen we would set fire to the dry bracken, mostly in a reasonably controlled way. However, I recall one occasion at a weekend, when the site was being cleared for the current How Wood shops and a bracken fire got a bit out of hand. Despite our increasingly urgent attempts to control it, the fire spread rapidly through dried bracken and underneath a tractor which had been parked there by the contractors clearing the site. At this point, realising that we had lost control, we children ran home and our parents were summoned to assist. I fully expected the tractor to burst into flames at any time but fortunately the flames were put out before such a calamity occurred.
Children of various ages played happily together. Among the older ones were Roderick, Adrian and Joanne who always seemed to have the best ideas for new games and taught us how to follow trails in the woods, and where to find the best trees to climb. When it was time for their dinner their mother summoned them by blowing a whistle, a sound which could be heard even if we were in the far depths of the woods.
There was a field beyond Burston Bungalow, which led towards Pearsons Nursery (now Burston Tyler). The field contained a large natural pond in which the water was no more than 2 feet deep. A large log stretched from the bank out into the water and from this vantage point we spent many happy hours studying the pond life below the water. Bordering an adjacent field behind Burston Bungalow was the perimeter fence of Spielplatz, known to us as the “nudist colony”. This was generally agreed to be off limits for us children but on one occasion when we felt particularly daring a few of us climbed through the fence and went exploring. The place seemed very quiet and we wandered around through woods and clearings, inspecting the chalets, until eventually we were spotted by the warden and asked quite politely to leave. It was some time later when it dawned on us that, the season being winter, it was most unlikely that we were going to see what we had expected to see!
This idyllic life had changed by the mid-1960’s when Penn Road and Ringway Road were surfaced with tarmac, the houses in Spooners Drive and adjacent roads were constructed, the parade of shops in How Wood was built and opened and, probably most significant of all, we children grew up and dispersed to various secondary schools, with all the added opportunities and challenges that this brings to youngsters. Somehow, everyone and everything became more busy and those carefree days became just a happy memory.