Early years at Grove Hill

Memories of Hemel Hempstead from 1967

Judy Baldwin

Grove Hill contruction site, 1967
Me shoe cleaning
Our house
Back garden covered in snow
Front garden covered in snow

It was 1967 when we came to Grove Hill. As it was then written. This was built on land to the far north west of the town on the Redbourn Road. There had been farms and farmland before. Earlier residents of Hemel Hempstead can remember the country walks they took there. There were still the remains of the hamlet at Cupid Green with the old public house when we first arrived. This pub has long gone of course. The old listed farmhouse still survives and in 2003 was privately bought once again and is undergoing much rebuilding in the grounds. Hopefully the old house will be left to be much as it was.

New Town

The first buildings erected by the New Town Commission were completed in summer of 1967. There were 1000 dwellings between St Agnells Lane, Washington Avenue and Crawley Drive. They were a mixture of houses to rent and buy, two storey and three storey town houses and a few flats. All the roads were to be wide and all the houses were to have a garage attached or in a block. It was at the time when Milton Keynes was being built and the concept at that time was that everybody would have a car – this was still quite a new idea. The plan included car-free areas so a lot of houses looked onto open spaces while the roads wound around them.

We came because I was appointed to Apsley Grammar School as Physics teacher. We knew that accommodation at that time was offered to key workers but expected only a flat being a couple with no children. Because of the paucity in applications to live in this new development we, to our amazement, were offered a house. Like many before us we were so thrilled that we overlooked the fact we had decided we could no longer afford to run a car or furnish a whole house and accepted the offer and moved in on August 15th.

Moved in too soon

When I think back to how we were put in to live before the area was really fit for living in I find my memory played me false. I thought like all other areas we were very badly treated and moved in far too soon before even pavements were laid or any facilities offered to residents. I was very surprised when I had some old photos developed to see how in fact it was even worse than I remembered. No garden topsoil well one could probably cope. We did have to employ a man with a portable cultivator to turn the soil, which was heavy clay.

The lack of pavements in our pedestrianised way was more of a problem. The houses opposite were not completed until December, those residents moved in for Christmas. No trees planted – how we wish it had stayed that way – and of course no grass laid in what was supposed to be idyllic squares and pedestrian ways. Of course we had open fields all around and we were at the top of the hill from the town nestling in the valley so any adverse weather seemed terrible.

You can see from the photo below that when we walked three doors up to the main road it was necessary to clean our shoes even in what was obviously a sunny day in late August of 1967.

The early days

There were no shops for at least two years. A mobile van came round selling necessities. The owner of this was an Austrian living here. After a year they put a shop in a house at the far end of the estate for a year before they built some shops in a square, which is now known as Henry Wells Square. One of our first shops was a large Co-op. It had a resident butcher and at first one could get meat and cuts one wanted. They also built a very poor substitute for the old pub that they pulled down.  

There was a senior school built, opened in 1967, then called Grove Hill Grammar School but I was teaching on the other side of town.

We had a doctor who had a practice in the house two doors up from us. It was a long time before a doctor’s surgery was opened but no other doctors in Hemel Hempstead would take new patients from Grove Hill.  

We had our own bus. I remember that as a delight. It was our own Grove Hill bus and ran about ever half-hour down to the town and back. No detouring as they do nowadays around all the estates on the way to town. The fare was 4 old pence. It was a little old bus and had a driver and a conductor who were both working their time to retirement. This was the jolliest thing about the early days and about the only real service of any kind we had.  

When we walked across the estate we came to where one day there would be the Link Road and we saw across the green swathe a walled city. It had a forbidding appearance because the flat roofed houses had been built into a long wall. This was known as Highfield 14 and led to Bellgate where the next shops were.

Some things did seemed to be better in those days because transport had not been privatised and so we could catch a double decker bus at Bellgate and go all the way to Aylesbury. After shopping we could then come all the way back at a much more civilised time than present.  

Later when our new bus service bus ran to town through Highfield, cars were prohibited from going into the road from Aycliffe Drive that led to Bellgate. They had various schemes to prevent this such as a barrier that raised for the bus. There was only one entrance and exit to Grove Hill for many years and that was the roundabout at Cupid Green.  

1960s design

Our house, as others, was roomy and well planned except for the lack of a utility room. We had a brick built garden shed instead but as time went on I would have preferred the former. The design was very 1960s with large windows and a Swedish style, they said, of plasterboard and breezeblock with little brickwork. This has caused problems in describing the building structure for insurance.

They were often built so the sun was in the living room in the evening. This meant that many houses had the kitchens at the front, which was still a little unusual. However, they still sell and have lasted and are warm in winter but also in summer. The NTC however must have bought up 1000s of items of obsolete stock because, even though new houses, very early on if an electrician was asked to change a socket he would shake his head and say “that has been obsolete a long while”.  







Snowy winters

The first winter 67-68 was a bad one. Certainly for us. Maybe because we were still so open to the elements as there were no buildings over on the other side of our main road Washington Avenue. The winds blew and the snow came. There were quite a few inches as you see in our back garden.    

When we opened the front door there was a drift half way up, blown from across the fields.  

Around that time the winters still seemed to be winters. There was the year when icicles formed that hung from the guttering down to the top of the living room window.  

There were three of us on this estate who taught at Apsley Grammar. We set out to walk to school, as there were no buses. We went across the top of the town through Adeyfield to Bennetts Gate taking over an hour. Not many of the pupils made it that day as we then had a large catchment area reaching to Kings Langley. Pupils also travelled from other parts of the town and they had no buses either. In those days of Grammar Schools and choice there was no well-defined catchment area.  

In 1967 for senior schools we had Grammar schools and Secondary Modern schools. There were several in the town that have now been closed such as Highfield, Bourne Valley, Mountbatten and they have all become housing estates.    

In 1970 the educational revolution brought Comprehensive schools to Hertfordshire as well as many other areas. Gone were the good-sized 600+ pupil schools where everybody could know everybody. In came the gigantic 1300+ schools where I would not have liked to be a pupil especially at the age of 12. Apsley Grammar and Bennetts End Secondary became Longdean School. Grove Hill School became Astley Cooper School and swallowed up Highfield School eventually. Bourne Valley was closed and Halsey School was taken into Cavendish only the old Hemel Grammar School was allowed to stay with a larger intake and a very reluctant dropping of the word Grammar from its name.  

More interesting shopping

The town as I first remember it was well developed. There were better shopping facilities than we have nowadays. We had a Tesco’s and a Sainsbury’s in the Marlowes, which was open to traffic then. We had a Boots and a Timothy Whites and a large Co-op store for clothes and furniture and electrical goods. We had two proper furniture stores and we had dress shops and corsetieres and a Woolworths which was worth shopping in. The market was thriving and shopping was more interesting with less Building Societies and ‘pound shops’. It was the time when there was a pedestrian bridge to cross over the Marlowes to avoid the traffic. The Shell building making a bridge of itself was still at the end of Marlowes and the Wagon and Horses was a public house sadly missed. We had a cinema in the town and next to it a fish shop with a super restaurant attached where we had many a good fish and chip meal. There was no Kodak high rise building when we arrived, although Kodak was such an important place on the Industrial Estate that it was often suggested that the town should be renamed Kodak Town. There was no ‘magic’ roundabout or ‘funny’ roundabout, whatever you chose to call it, leading out of the town. 

This page was added on 13/09/2010.

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  • Thanks Judy, very interesting to read of your experiences.

    We moved into Washington Avenue in 1972, one of the 3-storey houses opposite St. Agnells Lane, and were the second occupants of the house. Things seemed a lot more developed by then compared to your experiences! As kids, we thought the place was a great adventure to explore, and we had games of hide and seek that lasted all day ranging over the whole estate.

    Wooton Drive hadn’t yet been constructed, nor had the whole of Grove Hill West or Woodhall Farm, so we overlooked open fields. The extension of Washington Avenue through GH West did exist however, eerily meandering across ploughed fields, ending in a huge delivery of paletted bricks anticipating the next phase of development, but which was delayed for years. We kids used to build our own structures from these bricks, which was probably quite dangerous, but those were the times.

    The main shop at the time was “C.H.Kaye” supermarket, later becoming a “Fine Fare”. There was a Martins newsagent/sweet shop but I forget what else. The area where the church now stands was undeveloped, and there was a remnant of the old lane (Picotts End Lane) and a chalk pit there, with two enormous beech trees which I believe were known as “Two Beeches”, a name that lives on in the area and is shown on old maps. These trees were climbable if you were fit, and many treehouses were built. Unfortunately a child fell and hurt themselves very badly one day, and it wasn’t long after that that the trees were felled to make space for the church building (1975), and the old lane was obliterated forever under more new housing.

    I started at Eastbrook School, but just for one term, and the move to Grove Hill was very disorientating. I’d moved from Gloucestershire and the local accent and speech were very new to me. I couldn’t understand half of what other kids said to me, and they mocked me for my accent. I was bullied terribly for the first couple of years, and it was a difficult time generally. However, despite that I have quite fond memories of the area, and of course not everyone was a bastard! GH School only became Astley Cooper after I left, so after 1978. There was always a rivalry with Highfield, both the school and the “tribes” based on where you lived (never understood it), so no doubt merging with Highfield was a bitter pill for some.

    GH West finally started to be built in the mid-70s, but took a long time to finish, due I understand to a series of company bankruptcies. By the time GH West was started to be occupied I’d left school and that part of Grove Hill is still “the new bit” to me and one I never entirely warmed to. In 1983 I do recall there was a huge fire in the field behind GH West and Wooton Drive, due to weeks of a very dry hot summer that year. Probably started deliberately, for all I know.

    In some ways this mid-70s period was a high point for Grove Hill, because after the right-to-buy schemes and general scaling back of council maintenance in the 80s, the area seemed to enter a long slow decline. Playgrounds such as The Dell gradually fell into disuse, and became dumping grounds for fly tippers. Health and Safety laws led to a lot of the amenities for kids being removed as too dangerous, and even basic things like keeping the weeds down on paving seemed to stop. Lack of council maintenance led to lots of houses becoming run down over a long period of time. It’s a vicious circle, because without feeling you’re part of something worthwhile, why bother having any sense of shared civic pride? It saddens me that all that optimism faded away.

    I left Hemel in 1985 and now I live in Australia, but I still have friends and family there and visit when I can. I notice many changes of course, and some are not for the better. But overall I still feel it’s a pleasant town with lots of green space and is actually quite attractive in the summer.

    By Graham Cox (12/07/2022)
  • Thanks Judy. Very interesting. I was in the first year of children who attended the Grove Hill School. We spent the first year squatting at Highfield School, much to the irritation of schoolchildren at Highfield, and very much in waiting for our own school to be finished.

    So in 1967 we all moved there and picked up a new first year. Quite an adventure, everything was new and mostly finished. Punishment was picking stones out of the playing fields. One of the joys was watching the fireworks being tested at Brocks Fireworks, just behind the woods.

    It never was a grammar school as people think of Grammars; no history and an unconventional headmaster (Schlessinger) who didn’t seem convinced.

    Fond memories of catching the bus, if we were let out early – otherwise it was as quick to walk at least part way down to Hemel.

    I remember the houses which were being thrown up street by street – and the unfinished roads (no pavements) – and the lack of cars. Why would you want to drive there!

    By Scott Blum (08/08/2021)
  • Moving in day, 8th August, 1971, unlike Judy, our arrival a very different environmental experience. Purchased from the ‘New Town Commission’ the house from its rear blessed by the open fields she speaks of from Washington Avenue and as far as the eye could see (and understood to be the extent of its development – but not of cause the full story). The square in which it stood, off St. Agnells Lane adjacent too Cupid Green Roundabout, on this lovely summer morning revealed in beautifully maintained lawn and twelve young saplings (the one remaining when I moved away in 2016 proud of the house height); and overlooked by the wild rose hedges and neat front gardens of its recently acquired residents. Ours previously occupied by families of young GPs at Highfield Surgery no exception.
    For many, Thursday morning and the busy town market was the high-light of the week – and the convenience of the Salvation Army Playgroup where children were safe while mothers freely wandered among the stalls and surrounding shops. What a pleasure to note buses from numerous out-lying villages arriving at Waterhouse Street Bus Station discharging passengers from the young to the very elderly on a weekly jaunt. The latter taking a rest on surrounding benches some with overflowing bags awaiting the bus for the return home journey – and often eager to chat. The town alive with people enjoying the respite from daily life.
    The influx of new professional arrivals in the late 60s and early 70s and its consequent hotchpotch community at Grove Hill had a considerable influence on a way of life for the indigenous rural population. The community at Cupid Green regularly engaged me with stories of family and community life on the bus journey into town on Thursday morning – and which I enjoyed immensely.
    I often asked the question about what change the influx at Grove Hill had meant for them and the response almost wholly positive in that it had brought life. There was of cause some resentment particularly surrounding the compulsory purchase of family land and farms. But that toward early residents, fortunate to live in the green haven of Grove Hill, came from a different quarter and manifest in a derogatory and underserved reputation of which those who remember the far off halcyon days know better.

    By V Tranfield (23/03/2018)
  • Judy Baldwin was my Physics teacher at Apsley.

    Thanks for good memories Judy

    By Tony Evans (17/03/2015)